In 1938 the Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City Railroad filed an application for abandonment with the Interstate Commerce Commission. The Q.O.&K.C., known as the “O.K.” for short, ran for 250 miles between Quincy, Illinois to Kansas City, Missouri.
Two boxes of materials uncovered this week add a unique chapter to CB&Q Record Group 8. They contain papers that appear to have been compiled by Q.O.&K.C. executives and/or lawyers in preparation for their application for abandonment. Among the correspondence and financial reports, there are echoes of a human population vehemently against the railroad’s demise.
Newspaper clippings from small towns in northern Missouri such as Milan, Kirksville, Lewistown, and Plattsburg, whose industries were dependent on the line, are filled with impassioned pleas for the company to continue operations. Citizens and merchants as well as railroad employees held public meetings to oppose the abandonment and eventually formed an organized campaign comprised of 500 representatives from the various towns along the route.
According to these newspaper accounts, the company had been running at a loss for decades. Four years of crop failures exacerbated its poor financial state. The anti-abandonment proponents accused the O.K.’s parent line, the Burlington, of sending shipments over its main line at the expense of the smaller company, and moreover, that they had purchased the company to prevent acquisition by a competing line.
This may have been true to some extent, but there was another reason revenue on the road was declining: trucks and the growing trend toward interstate highways. The Q.O.&K.C. was not the only railroad filing for abandonment in Missouri. Taxes collected on rail freight was being undermined by more trucks on more new roads.
The Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the abandonment in July 1939 and crews began to dismantle the line, hauling away rails, ties, telegraph poles, and wire. What lines weren’t torn up for salvage provided opportunities for contraptions such as the Pneumatic Tired Railway Highway Unit. The times were certainly changing.