A bit of Atchison Railroad history saved

Like many cities and towns of its size, Atchison, Kansas was once home to s street railway system. Based from their carbarn, located just east of the northeast corner of 10th and Main Streets, the electric power street cars plied the streets of Atchison for many years in the first half of the 20th century. Power for the cars came from a generating station located just across the street, on the southeast corner of 10th and Main.
Half a block long and about 60 feet wide, the carbarn was used to perform repairs on the street cars as well as store them when they weren’t running. Once the street railroad stopped operating, the cars were scrapped, the track was removed from the streets and even the power station itself was eventually torn down. Only the carbarn, converted to other uses, remained to recall what once was.
Alas, all things must come to an end. The end for the carbarn came in early August, 2017 when it was unceremoniously smashed with an excavator and the resultant rubble carted off to the Atchison County Landfill. The carbarn and an adjacent building were demolished to make way for a new Taco Bell (odd considering that the building built just a few years ago for the last attempt at having a Taco Bell in Atchison sits empty and for sale just a few blocks away).
As the destruction progressed, I made a point of driving by the site when I could to see if any signs of the building’s history came to light. Initially it seemed as though all of the rail had long ago been removed from the building as once the walls were down, only a smooth concrete floor remained. That changed on the afternoon of August 2nd, when the concrete floor was torn up and at the end of the day the remains of the original brick floor and track could be seen.
First thing the next morning, I drove into Atchison and stopped by the site to inquire if they would have any interest in parting with the rail. The foreman said that I could have as much as I wanted, as long as I got it out of there that day. I went home, grabbed a trailer and some tools and headed back to Atchison. As my trailer is 16’ long and I was moving the rail by myself, the first step was to cut it into manageable lengths. For this task, I utilized a circular saw equipped with metal cut of blades. (An oxygen/acetylene torch is usually more useful in cutting rail; however the bits of concrete, dirt and rust encasing the rails would have made any attempt to cut them with a cutting torch an exercise in futility.)
Before getting started with the rail, I took a quick look around the site to see what I could discern about the carbarn’s layout. It appeared as though there were four tracks into the building and at least the easternmost two had concrete pits, about 30’ feet long and 5 feet deep under them in the center of the building (the pits allowed workers access underneath the cars to work on them). The rail was also fairly interesting, it started out as roughly 60LB rail as it came in off the street and immediately stepped down to 45LB in the building. After the pits the rail on the eastern two tracks stepped down in size again to about 30LB. (Rail is measured in how many pounds it weighs per yard, the heavier the rail is the larger it is.)
After a few hours of work, I was able to salvage around 100 feet of rail and a bunch of bricks, which are now the last remnants of Atchison street railroad. So, now that I have a trailer full of “history”, the question becomes what to do with it!

The remains of the Atchison street railroad’s carbarn at 10th and Main in Atchison, Kansas on August 3, 2017.






A section of rail still in place at the entrance to the carbarn from 10th Street. Notice how the rail is reduced in size upon entering the building. August 3, 2017.


The remains of the concrete service pit on the easternmost track in the carbarn can be seen in this view looking towards 10th Street. Notice that the rail is still in place on the edges of the pit, and how it is reduced in size again at the end of the pit. The empty field seen across the street was once the location of the power station that provided electricity to power the street railroad’s cars. August 3, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *