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Railroaders' Nostalgia > The Topeka we remember

Date: 09/21/22 11:01
The Topeka we remember
Author: santafe199

The ‘we’ I’m referring to in my title are all but gone. Once upon a time there was a large roll-call roster of railfan photographers who would call on Topeka when landmark shots like this were still easily obtained. In 1987 access to the right-of-way at the Topeka UP depot was still relatively free. The old depot platform was still in place. The background buildings and service tracks were still active. And multiple daily trains under 3 miles long ran through Topeka. A fan could visit for a few hours and be guaranteed lots of action. To borrow the classic French term, it was almost de rigueur to camp out anywhere around the UP depot to watch & photograph traffic through town in the 50s, 60s, 70s & 80s... even into the 90s.

That’s all gone now. Access to our old shooting spots has been severely cut back. The old UP depot is now the refurbished “Great Overland Station” and is available for public gatherings. But close iron fencing has been erected between it and the adjacent tracks and the depot platform has been removed. The background buildings have all been razed, leaving nothing but an ugly vacant lot. With the conversion to directional running, a lot of the North Platte-bound traffic now runs NW out of Kansas City following the Leavenworth - Atchison - Hiawatha - Marysville patchwork of the former MP main line (KC to Hiawatha) and the rehabilitated UP branch (Hiawatha to Marysville). That leaves the traditional eastbound traffic, plus the traffic to & from the old Rock Island GSR just west of the old depot. Traffic to & from the KP (Topeka - Denver main) has dwindled to a trickle. The recent trend toward looong monster trains, some approaching 3 miles in length is now in regular practice. As is the practice of doubling up coal trains, making 13,000+ foot long trains weighing somewhere in the vicinity of 18,000+ tons. All in all, the frequency of trains through Topeka has dropped significantly.

And that “roll-call” of active railfan photographers I mentioned has dropped to near-zero. The father & son Gibsons are both now passed. Dick Humphreys, Ray Hilner & Howard Killam have been gone for many years now. Cliff Corn, Jim Watson & Tom Chenowith have recently departed. And all but one* (that I can think of) of the Gibsons' contemporaries have long since passed. And 3 of my 5 KS Gang brothers are gone. One of them now lives in Great Bend and the other lives up in Montana. There are virtually no shooters left...

All of which sums up the reason I like Jim Watson’s photo below. Even if it is on a crummy day, it evokes so many fun memories of the Topeka we all knew. And that naturally evokes fond memories of the huge circle of railfans who used to dwell in Topeka. The way it used to be...

1. UP 5021, lettered “Missouri Pacific” leads a coal empty past the north Topeka, KS depot at Kansas Avenue on May 18, 1987.
Original Kodachrome slide by the late James W. Watson.

Thanks for looking back!
Lance Garrels

*Hang in there, Ken... ;^)

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 09/21/22 13:39 by santafe199.

Date: 09/21/22 11:09
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: jgilmore

Lots of nice interesting elements to look at here, besides the good backstory...


Date: 09/23/22 14:08
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: Notch7

It's a great photo and story posting Lance.  It doesn't look like a crummy day at all.  It looks like a fun day.

Date: 09/24/22 09:02
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: kenN

Thanks, Lance.  I'll do my best to keep the tradition alive.  Lots of yellow boxes to scan yet.
Ken Nagel
Grand Rapids MI

Date: 09/24/22 13:50
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: ironmtn

A wistful and wonderful post - thank you. I've looked at it and read it thoughtfully a couple of times, and it touched that spot of memory each time. It's amazing -- or maybe not, really -- how you can look back at an image, even one that is just good, but not "top of the heap", and remember the day. The places you went. The trains you saw and shot (and the ones you missed). And yes, perhaps most of all, the friends you were with. The day, the trains, the lineups, the mistakes, all made it the day that it was.

But the friends who shared in the unique persuasion of railfan photography, and the time and conversations you had with them, they most of all made it what you remember. And treasure.

I'm lucky. Most of mine are still with me. And I have a trip laid on for next week with one of them. I will be sure to have the memories recorder fully tuned in.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/24/22 13:51 by ironmtn.

Date: 09/24/22 17:31
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: edbac333

Crummy?  That's beautiful!

Date: 09/25/22 10:28
Re: The Topeka we remember

Question:  The UP D/F car has been renumbered into a company service car. It must be a MofW storage car.

Ed Burns

Date: 09/29/22 15:02
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: 3rdswitch

Unfortunatley, a lot of places fit this category, especially junctions that you used to be able to drive right up to and park next to the tower operator with nothing said but a freindly hello.

Date: 09/30/22 11:16
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: PHall

> Question:  The UP D/F car has been renumbered
> into a company service car. It must be a MofW
> storage car.
> Ed Burns

Yes, it has been renumbered into a company service number.

Date: 09/30/22 11:26
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: texchief1

That is a nice shot, Lance!

RC Lundgren

Date: 10/09/22 07:03
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: monaddave

santafe199 Wrote:
>> And 3 of my 5 KS Gang brothers are gone. One of them now lives in Great Bend and the other lives up in Montana.
 There are virtually no shooters left...  >>

Hey, I still shoot, maybe not as often and I certainly haven't been through Topeka in a few years. But my first few times at the UP Topeka depot  (1972-73) was with none other than Dick Humpherys and Tony Fey. We'd ride up from Emporia to attend the local NRHS chapter meetings. Back then, either the first or the fourth Friday night of the month. Anyway, Tony was still going to Emporia State and I was going to College of Emporia. I think we did it three or four times, arriving in time to hang out at the tracks for an hour before the NRHS meeting and then going back down after for another few hours after dark. Few photos were taken on those trips and we talked trains most of the time. 
Dave... in Montana

Date: 10/09/22 09:37
Re: The Topeka we remember
Author: santafe199

monaddave Wrote: > ... first few times at the UP Topeka depot  (1972-73) was with none other than Dick Humpherys and Tony Fey ...

And you YA-HOOS never invited me along???

Wait a sec...... Oh yeah, I guess I was still a senior in HS during 1972-73!

Kindly disregard my first sentence... ;^)


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