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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Motorcar to Matfield!

Date: 02/07/17 23:47
Motorcar to Matfield!
Author: santafe199

This thread/story will be a bit on the long side. And the format will be a little different than what has been the norm here in Railroader’s Nostalgia. But I hope you the reader will bear with me. I am thinking (hoping) you will end up enjoying these next several paragraphs as much as I have enjoyed writing them!

In the 40+ years I’ve been an active railfan I’ve run into, or have been a part of many happy surprises and richly rewarding railfan events within this great hobby of ours. To be sure, many of those memorable times came about because I had my foot in the door as a train service railroader. While most of these events have been out in the field behind a camera, all of these events have allowed, even forced me to contemplate and celebrate my deep sense and deep love of railroad history.

My latest pleasant railfanning surprise involves my coming into contact with fellow TO member Joe Watts, who goes by the screen name “jdw3460”. I have a great story here from Mr Watts’ childhood. I have been in contact with this man since last summer when he posted an old picture of Santa Fe’s motorcar train #26 sitting in Winfield, KS. This is a town I worked through many dozens of times during my 9 year tenure in Santa Fe train service. So of course, I immediately got into contact with him. In the ensuing PM dialog Mr Watts has relayed to me a few Santa Fe-oriented anecdotes from his childhood years growing up in Winfield. His testimony is fascinating all on its own. But the fact that 3 decades later I worked over the very same rails he road as a kid has drawn my own meager Winfield Santa Fe history into the same nostalgic ‘chatroom’ as his much more poignant Winfield Santa Fe history.

But there’s a twist! Mr Watts was never a railroader. So some of the more hard-crusted TO membership might raise objections to my using his own words here in Railroader’s Nostalgia. But we do have Santa Fe Middle Division territory in common. And in actual fact Mr Watts’ words, and his obvious delight as a young railfan richly echo so many experiences I myself had growing up. One more twist: I am going to tell Mr Watts’ story through the PM dialogue we have happily exchanged. I will embolden his words, while italicizing my own. 3 consecutive periods (…) indicates where I have edited out some of the dialogue. Enjoy:

Re: "Santa Fe 'Little Ranger’ 1957" Author: jdw3460 Date: 06/06/16:
( http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,4046542,4046542#msg-4046542 ):
This is an ancient photo (circa 1957) of Santa Fe Train #26, the Little Ranger, waiting on a siding at Winfield, KS for the arrival of train #6, the Ranger before its departure for Emporia, KS via Augusta & El Dorado. … Now, the only thing left in this scene is the crossing gate.

1. AT&SF Middle Division passenger depot Winfield, KS at W 9th Avenue circa 1957. Motorcar train #26, the “Little Ranger” sits waiting for the arrival of and connection with train #6.
(From the Joe Watts collection)

Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/17 00:01 by santafe199.

Date: 02/07/17 23:53
Re: Motorcar to Matfield!
Author: santafe199

My reply: Author: santafe199 Date: 06/06/16:
On September 21, 1958 several members … of the Topeka chapter of the NRHS took an excursion down to Winfield & back. They rode Santa Fe train #5, the "Ranger" from Topeka down to Emporia where they transferred to motorcar train #25, the "Little Ranger". … At Winfield they boarded #26 for the ride back up through the Flint Hills arriving at Emporia ahead of the very same #6 they shot at Winfield, which they boarded for the return to Topeka. Thanks for posting such a cool piece of Kansas & Santa Fe railroad history! Lance

I'll bet that was an enjoyable trip. I was born and raised in Winfield, leaving for California in 1960. When I was a kid I made a couple trips on the Little Ranger to Matfield Green … to visit a cousin who lived there. His dad was a Santa Fe signal maintainer and that was his territory. In about 1949, my dad took me and a friend to the Chicago Railroad Fair on the train. We rode #6 up & #5 back, as we were riding passes. On the return, we got off at Emporia and took the Little Ranger over the shortcut to Winfield. The conductor was Fritz Peters, who was probably the oldest conductor on the Middle Division. He was a really nice old fellow and he took my friend & me up to the cab after we passed Augusta and headed down the Douglass District. The engineer, Mr. Perry, was also pretty senior. After all, this train was a ‘home every night’ job, so it attracted the crews with seniority. I noticed that Mr. Perry had a concrete block riding on the dead-man's pedal, and he got up and asked if we would like to run the train. My friend and I both nearly wet our pants from excitement hauling back on the throttle, blowing the horn etc. I shall never forget that trip. At that time, the Santa Fe had 12 trains a day stopping at Winfield. Now, there are none. Joe

Thanks for your interesting PM. I love hearing anything about Matfield Green & the Kansas Flint Hills. I grew up in Manhattan, which is only about 75 minutes from Matfield. … Dave Franz first took me into the hills in late summer of 1977, and I've been hooked ever since. I hired on as a brakeman for the Santa Fe in 1978 and for 9 years I rode trains through the Flint Hills; including through your home town numerous times to & from Ark City. I loved working for the Santa Fe, but the early 1980 reaganomics completely bankrupted me. I eventually reached the end of the rope in 1987 and was forced to cash in my 9 years of seniority for a paltry $10,000. I got extremely lucky … in Montana working for MRL for 23 years. But the Flint Hills were never very far from my heart… I (retired in 2010 and) came back home to Kansas. I was excited to get back into the hills and do some shooting, even though my beloved Santa Fe had merged out of existence. I still shoot regularly, and I make down to the mainline probably a couple dozen times a year. In particular, I try to visit Matfield at least 5-6 times a year... It was nice to hear from a fellow Kansan! Lance

Great to hear from a real railroader. My grandfather was a telegraph operator and my dad was a clerk. I had two uncles who were section foremen on the Middle Division, one was a signal maintainer, another was an operator, and a cousin was a clerk. I wanted to hire on as a fireman out in Arizona but my mother convinced me I should go to college instead. I went to Ark City junior college and ended up graduating from Wichita State in 1960 with a BS degree in aeronautical engineering. I worked for NASA for 34 years, starting at their aeronautics research facility at Edwards AFB, CA. So, I ended up an engineer in the desert, but not quite what I had in mind originally. With 20/20 hindsight, I know I wouldn't have lasted 5 years, even if I had gotten hired on (the RR) … Regards, Joe

Re: Exiting a derailing train? From: jdw3460 To: santafe199 07/06/16 05:48
( http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,4067685,4067715#msg-4067715 )
PM response to my reply in that thread: Back in the 1950's, a ‘senior’ engineer friend of mine was telling me about the job he was on at the time, train #14/#13 (between) Winfield (and) Newton, a ‘doodlebug’ local. As you probably know, the engineer's position in a doodlebug is basically a death seat. Nothing between you and whatever you hit but a windshield. He said almost every day, as he passed through the area around Derby, south of Wichita, there were tractor-trailer loads of stone and gravel moving across grade crossings to the Kansas Turnpike construction. … He said he always wondered, ‘Is that guy going to make it or not?’ This guy had personally bailed twice in his career so he knew both the advantages and disadvantages of bailing. It was purely a personal snap judgment to survive. Rules didn't matter. … :-)

It's funny how little nudges here & there become a lifetime thing. I never thought I would be a career RR'er. I sorta back-doored my way into it in 1978, but I wouldn't change anything. I was very lucky to combine vocation with avocation with a minimum of friction. And I feel like I got retired just in time: right as the BS factor was beginning to skyrocket...

07/07/16 11:30 In reply to ( http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,4069384,4069384#msg-4069384 )
Hey, thanks for the pictorial of the SFHMS trip to Abilene to ride behind 3415! I thought briefly about going this year, but declined. … The 3460 class engines used to go through Winfield every night on #27 & #28. The last one I ever saw was 3461, which pinch-hit for an E unit out of KC on #5, in about ‘53 or ‘54. Those flat-land engines could run like the very devil. Biggest drivers on any modern steam engine. They would slip on start-up for every greenhorn that ever tried one, but never for the old hands. Joe

Re: SFe conventioneers ride the SKOL! (pt 2) From: jdw3460 To: santafe199 07/15/16 03:47
Your (pictorial) of the SKOL on the old Santa Fe Southern Kansas Division really brought back some memories. I rode the old doodlebug from Winfield to Independence back in about 1945. All those little towns had more people back then and the doodlebug would pick up a few folks to come to Winfield to shop. Then it would take them all home on the evening run east. That depot next to Main Street in Winfield was where my dad worked for about 20 years. He was cashier in the freight office. Thanks for the memories. Joe

I'm happy I can provide that. I look at … Winfield and remember my own working days. But I also know that someone else's working days (& memories) go back way further than mine. So I get great satisfaction out of shooting something and hearing words like yours. If we didn't have memory, there would be no such thing as "railfanning". Lance

Re: Roundup ghosts at Matfield From: jdw3460 To: santafe199 02/03/17 04:48
In reply to ( http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,4217330,4217330#msg-4217330 )
My uncle, Wes Goodnight, was a Santa Fe signal maintainer on that district. He and his family lived just north of Matfield Green in a pair of old coaches, arranged in an "L" shape. If you were in a hurry to get from the kitchen to the bathroom, you did a 45 across the back yard. That would really be a picture today, but I'm sure they departed long ago. I used to ride the "Little Ranger" up there from Winfield to visit my cousin. Lots of cattle around then (late 40's). Your photos bring up memories for me every now and then. I appreciate the shots you make. Joe

This is exactly the kind of RR history that compels me to be a railfan. And it's especially rewarding to me to hear little snippets like this about the very rails I once worked over! I'm sure that RR car 'lodging' you described was long gone by 1977 when I was first introduced to that little valley by Dave Franz. Or he & I would have taken slides of it. A pity we both missed this piece of Matfield history! Was your Uncle Wes related to Charles Goodnight of "Skimmerhorn" fame in books by both James Michener (Centennial) & Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove)? That would be a very interesting tie-in to a thread-series I'm still trying to work up about the RR history of Chase County in general and Matfield Green in particular. Even if he's not related to Charlie Goodnight, I wonder if I could beg a favor from you? Could you dig into your personal memories and jot down anything you can remember from your Little Ranger trips between Winfield & Matfield Green. Anything at all! I believe I can take seemingly insignificant little snips here & there and craft them into interesting reading for TO members. I would love to hear anything you might come up with, but there's no hurry. Thanks Joe! And do keep in touch. Lance

Lance: Good to hear from you. I'm afraid the Goodnights of my family were only very distant relatives of Charlie. … I'm sure all the Goodnights descended from Hans Michael Gutkneckt, a German refugee from the Palatinate who arrived on our shores about 1750. … Their name was originally Goodknight in English, but the K was dropped along the way. I'm sure it was years before any of them could read or write. I have two Goodnight cousins (about my age) who still live in the Wichita area. For laughs, my mother's name was Vera Missouri Goodnight.

The ‘Little Ranger’ was one of my favorite doodlebugs. We had another one, trains #13 & #14 that ran east from Winfield for many years over the old Southern Kansas Division (later part of the Oklahoma Division). I rode it several times to Independence where I had another uncle who was a telegraph operator for the MoP. In later years (the 50's) it was run between Coffeyville, KS and Newton via Cherryvale, Independence, Moline, Winfield, and then on the Middle Division to Newton via Wichita. But the ‘Little Ranger’ was the best. The first time I rode #25/#26 was when I took it to Matfield Green to visit my cousin George Goodnight. I think I was about 11 at the time (1948). The conductor who ran on that train for many years was Fritz Peters, who had to be in his 70's. I think everyone on the Middle Division knew Fritz. I guess he had the most whiskers because that "Little Ranger" was a real cushy job, bankers hours and home every night for supper. Fritz looked like an old grouch but he was far from it. … He sat down and shot the bull with me on the trip and asked me all about school, etc. I learned a year or two later that he was indeed a very nice old guy.

2. AT&SF M-131, train #25, the “Little Ranger” at the depot in Matfield Green, KS circa 1950, maybe later.
(From the J. M. “Junior” Spellman collection)

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/17 00:28 by santafe199.

Date: 02/07/17 23:56
Re: Motorcar to Matfield!
Author: santafe199

Train #26 would leave Winfield right behind #6, The Ranger and then out at WN Jct. it headed north on the Douglass District (dark territory then). It had a flag stop at Akron and stopped at Rock and Douglass before joining the main freight line from Wellington at Augusta (CTC). Augusta was a major stop and one of the reasons the train existed. Augusta and El Dorado had no other passenger service so the "Little Ranger" provided those folks a way to get to the main lines east, south, and west. I was always paying attention to where the train was going, etc. When we got to El Dorado, it had a new twist. He pulled up on a pass on the east side of town and then backed into town to the depot. Fritz had a ball blowing the air whistle on the rear end for street crossings. When they had made their station stop (for)passengers, mail, express & baggage they headed back east to the main line. The Flint Hills were beautiful. And in those days they were still hauling cattle up from Texas by rail to graze and fatten up before proceeding to their fate in Kansas City. Cassoday and Matfield Green were right in the middle of the hills, as you know. Fritz saw me off the train safely at Matfield Green and I spent a week playing around the area with cousin George. One of our projects that week was to dam up a little creek right next to the railroad tracks while watching the 2900 class 4-8-4's and ‘catwhisker’ FT's go rolling by with their California freight.

About a year later my dad took me and my friend Gerald Winchell to the Chicago Railroad Fair on the Ranger. … The trip home turned out to be the best of all. When the Ranger got to Emporia, Dad decided we should bail and ride the "Little Ranger" down to Winfield. So we hopped on with Fritz Peters. After we got on the Douglass District, our of harm's way, Fritz took Gerald and me up to the cab and introduced us to Mr. Perry, the hoghead. He was a very friendly guy (had a concrete block on the dead man's pedal) and he invited us each to take a turn running the train. So we each hauled back on the throttle and blew the horn a few times for grade crossings. I am still surprised that both of us didn't wet our pants. We were so excited. We sat on boxes up there for a while and yelled back and forth to Mr. Perry, discussing the operation of the train. Then Fritz escorted us back through the baggage compartment to our seats. Neither of us ever forgot that experience.

I had another interesting experience at Matfield Green. While my cousin and I were playing (can't remember if it was the same trip as above or a later one), a train roared by at a high speed. It had a 3700 4-8-4 on the point and the whole train was express refrigerator cars. And I mean, it was going like hell, enough for us to realize it was much faster than most. But there was something strange about that locomotive. It sounded kind of screwy. The exhaust "chuff" sound was almost square. To me it sounded like a machine gun. It impressed me in some way that I remembered it a long time. My Uncle Wes told us later that day that the train was a "grape special". The whole train was California table grapes headed for Chicago. About 50 years later I was reading an old Trains magazine (I think it was) that had a story about Santa Fe's experiment with poppet valves. It turns out that they had modified engine #3752 in the late 40's and outfitted it with a Franklin rotary cam poppet valve system.

3. AT&SF 4-8-4 #3752. Date & location are unknown.

There were comments from Santa Fe employees who said they could identify 3752 anywhere when they heard its "square" exhaust. Even later, I read a book someone loaned me that was written by the Franklin engineer who designed and tested the system for 3752. It was then that I realized that I had personally witnessed the sound of that engine at Matfield Green in 1948. The book related a final test they ran between Kansas City and La Junta on the mail train #7. That engine produced more horsepower at speed than anything else running at that time. The author was in the old Santa Fe magnetometer car behind the engine and indicated the train reached 106 MPH on a stretch west of Syracuse, KS. Shortly after that, the Santa Fe added a rule that trains without ATS could no longer be taken to speeds above 80, or something like that. I have a picture of 3752. … If you're interested let me know via e-mail … and I'll send it along. This is a load more than you asked for, but I hope you enjoy it. Joe

Wow! What an incredible story. There's no way I could do your testimony any justice by using only a few snippets of it. Instead, and with your permission I would like to use your dialogue (mostly) intact as a thread for "Railroader's Nostalgia". ... I have a rough B/W shot of #25 … at the depot in Matfield. … I think this image will go fantastic with the stuff you just gave me! … Let me know if this might be a possibility... Lance

No problem. You can use what I wrote to you any way you want

Thank you Mr Watts, for sharing your incredible RR-oriented, childhood memories! And as always, kudos to the TO gang for creating this website where we can share treasures like this!

Lance Garrels (santafe199)
Joe Watts (jdw3460)

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/17 00:19 by santafe199.

Date: 02/08/17 08:28
Re: Motorcar to Matfield!
Author: Cumbres

Very nice, love the story and comments and pics.  

Date: 02/08/17 12:10
Re: Motorcar to Matfield!
Author: LocoPilot750

A great post Lance, a home run.

Date: 02/13/17 07:38
Re: Motorcar to Matfield!
Author: Locoinsp

Great post! Thanks for sharing these great memories with all of us! More please!!!!!

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