Concordia lifestyles transition with railroad
Editor's note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series reflecting on the meaning of the Trail of Memories.
"In 1955, the train was still operating. School-aged children, especially those living in homes along 6th Street and 7th Street, enjoyed seeing the train traveling to and from Concordia. From their homes, the children waved cheerfully at the train conductor and his personnel. The engineer often blew the shrill whistle in reply. Alvin Bosselman would stand at the intersection and wave his lantern, signaling the drivers to stop -- train coming through."
At least, that's how resident Mel Bockelman recalled the days of the railroad in Concordia.
Sifting through earlier editions of The Concordian, he and Alleen Fuchs spoke about the lifestyle that once dominated the town with as much energy as the start-up of a steam locomotive. The railroad line had been in operation between Sedalia and Lexington since the Lexington and St. Louis Railroad acquired the land May 26, 1870, through condemnation proceedings. The railroad later became property of Missouri Pacific Railroad Company.
Train service provided shipment of cargo and increased commerce for merchants and farmers exporting grain and livestock. Passenger service was discontinued in the 1940s.
Over the newspapers, Bockelman and Fuchs considered its significance. Both lifelong residents of the area, their own histories are intertwined with the engine that supported commerce until as recently as 1982.
Now, with the railroad gone, the lifestyle it brought as it pierced Main Street and stretched across the county has gone with it. In its place are visual reminders of that time -- a Missouri Pacific Railroad caboose and the Trail of Memories -- remnants that perhaps aren't central to residents' daily lives, but become part of their landscape. Children still cross the Trail of Memories as they did more than 60 years ago, and homeowners look onto it from their living room windows and enjoy the greenbelt it's now become.
"During the noon hour, school children would crawl across the freight cars ... running home for dinner," Bockelman noted. "The students didn't have time to wait for the train to clear the tracks at Main Street."
The parked cars proved to be a small diversion for wiry children, but tall weeds were also a challenge. According to Bockelman, resident Gene Tebbenkamp and his sons cut a path across the rails so those from each side of the track could play. It became known as "Doc's Path."
Fuchs opened up a page from the June 3, 1992, issue of The Concordian. The newspaper was carefully taped along seams that framed a century-old picture of men cutting blocks of ice from the old mill pond that once sat west of Bismark Street. They leaned against thick saws that stood as tall as their shoulders. The mill pond was operated by the Concordia Mill and Elevator Company, which cut and stored large chunks of ice for use in meat markets, restaurants and by private residents with ice boxes. Beneath the photo, she pointed to an article written by Nora Hartwig, who'd written down her memories of the area.
"I wonder how many times the arrival of a train made the housewives along the track wish the train had stayed away a while. Many a laundry got black-spotted by the coal soot that belched from the train's smokestack. That coal soot always seemed to find the best white shirt or the nice linen tablecloth. The modern housewife is not bothered with this, but in the early years ... the clothesline was the only place to (dry) laundry."
But along with the soot and along with the progress in transportation came other side effects. It's estimated four fatal accidents occurred in the more than 100 years of the railway service, including an incident at the crossing of Bismark and Sixth streets. A resident Hartwig referred to as "Mr. Greer" had apparently been racing an eastbound passenger train set to stop in Concordia. Greer's car was hit on the driver's side as he apparently attempted to cross the track. The impact pushed the car nearly all the way to the depot, according to Hartwig.
Those who grew up with the developing railroad seem to recall it with fondness. Fuchs, originally from Ernestville, attended school in Concordia in the 1930s and 1940s. Now she lives along the Trail of Memories, often admiring the trees dedicated to the memory of Concordia's past.
"I see a lot of people walking on it (the trail)," she said. "I'm very happy to see the way it's come about."