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Last Train Out of Town

December 12, 2001

Historian's Notes

This story struck me initially as just another study of a railroadís financial woes, but when I finished reading I realized that with the ending of the railroad really the entire town was ending as well. Itís a sad, poignant affair that I felt deserved itís own place on the Almanac. Actually, the town was set to be inundated by the waters of Kaw Lake shortly so itís not really all that sad, but still it made think about the countless numbers of people who were born, grew up and died living out their dreams and ambitions in a town that is no longer.

Resources

Chronicles of Oklahoma (Autumn 1972). 50 (3).

Almanac Transcript

Last train out of town this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.

Railroads like airlines and trucking companies are a business, they run on profit and if involved in a money losing pursuit will soon either quit that particular venture or go out of business. For isolated rural towns the success or failure of a railroad can mean the success or failure of the entire town. In the early days of Oklahoma towns and counties fought viciously over the placement of rail lines knowing full well the implications of such decisions. The history of Kaw, Oklahoma is an excellent example of the tight almost symbiotic town/railroad relationship.

Situated just northeast of Ponca City the first train to enter Kaw, or Kaw City as it is sometimes called, did so in 1903 as a part of the Eastern Oklahoma Railway Companies line between Newkirk, Burbank, Ralston, Fairfax and Skedee. For a number of years traffic on the line ran much like any other sleepy railway service between small towns, but the discovery of oil in the area changed everything.

The late Twenties and early Thirties were the high period of rail travel through Kaw with more trains and traffic than ever before. Every boom, however, has its bust and Kaw was no different. By the late Thirties rail traffic decreased as oil production slowed and truck and automotive use encroached upon railroad business. By this time the line had been purchased by the Santa Fe Company and traffic was severely curtailed.

The 1950ís saw the end of all passenger service and a reduction in the amount of freight traffic through the area. By that time as well most of the rail service facilities were removed from the area, as well as once heavily used switching rails and equipment. The reduction of rail traffic also served to reduce the size and stature of Kaw City.

On December 10, 1971 a train departed Kansas bound for Kaw; it would be the last train ever to run through the tiny town. Awaiting the train as it pulled into the Kaw station was eighty year old resident John Brown. Mr. Brown had ridden the first train through Kaw in 1903 and now was allowed special permission by the Santa Fe to have his picture taken on the last. Reporters and citizens gathered at the station this week in 1971 to witness the departure of the last train and ultimately their town. Disappearing trains and towns this week on the Almanac.

That's what happened this week in Oklahoma History.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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