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Rails to Our Future Explores Area's History

By Sue Weissinger, Curator of the NMLM on 03/22/2013 An old photo of the Forgan Depot—Courtesy of Jones and Plummer Trail Museum An old photo of the Forgan Depot—Courtesy of Jones and Plummer Trail Museum Goodwell, Okla.—The "Rails to Our Future" exhibit at the No Man's Land Museum opens Tuesday, April 2, 2013, and the public is encouraged to take advantage of all events surrounding the exhibit.

Using artifacts, aerial photographs, photographs of depots and grain elevators, maps, and railroad sounds, the exhibit will elaborate on the four railroads and the history of the towns that were built near the tracks. Several special, free events are planned around the weekend of April 6-7. On Saturday, April 6, the Museum will open at 10 a.m. for visitors to view the exhibit and there will be a book signing for two books: Cattle, Wheat, and Oil: Oklahoma Panhandle Railroads by Sue Weissinger and Images of America: Texas County by Harold Kachel, V. Pauline Hodges and Kathal Bales through 4 p.m. To reserve a seat for the reception and a Harvey House Blue Plate Special meal on Sunday in the Oklahoma Panhandle State University Student Union Building Ballroom, telephone Jill Olson at 580.349.1302 or email her at jillolson@opsu.edu. Visitors may pick up their reserved "railroad tickets" beginning the day the Exhibit opens on April 2 through Sunday, April 7. On Sunday, the Museum opens at 1 p.m. and the reserved tickets will also be available that day. A groundbreaking ceremony on the Museum grounds will be held to announce the upcoming Museum addition at 4:30. The reception at OPSU begins at 5:30 followed by the Blue Plate Special meal. All events are free and the public is invited.

The "Rails to Our Future" exhibit is being developed by the Museum around the four railroads built in the Oklahoma Panhandle beginning in 1901. Transportation to major ports or cities guarantees that a town thrives. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, this was especially true. Without a way to move their products, towns and businesses were tenuous. The cattlemen were the economic backbone of the area. They depended on the cattle trails and cattle drives to deliver cattle to the consumer. During this era, few towns survived in the Oklahoma Panhandle, and the population was sparse. As the railroads approached the Kansas southern border, the cattle drives shifted further west and became shorter. The cattlemen began to depend on the railroad to deliver cattle to the stockyards in Chicago, Illinois and Kansas City, Kansas. In 1888, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P) reached the border of No Man's Land as the Oklahoma Panhandle was then known. The town of Liberal, Kansas grew at the end of the line. By 1901, when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad laid tracks across the Oklahoma Panhandle, only a few towns existed in the area: Beaver City, Tyrone, Optima, Hardesty, and Kenton.

The railroad age forever changed the Oklahoma Panhandle, bringing in new towns, forcing others to move, and causing some to die. The Homestead Act enabled farmers to own land free after improving on it, and the railroad allowed the shipping of their products to distant markets. Farmers poured into the area to take advantage of the opportunity. With new towns and farmers came the grain elevators. The cattlemen also benefitted from faster times to market, ending the age of cattle drives.

Four railroads, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P), the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railroad (KATY), the Beaver, Meade, and Englewood Railroad (BM&E), and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF), built into the Oklahoma Panhandle. The AT&SF was the first to remove some of their track in 1942. The KATY and the BM&E no longer exist. The towns that were built along their tracks are in perilous times. A few, such as Floris and Mocane have disappeared.

Again, everyone is invited to explore the exhibit and join friends and neighbors to all of the activities surrounding it.


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