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NRHS 2014 Convention Arkansas & Missouri Railroad - Springdale to Fort Smith Round-trip 6/12/2014

by Chris Guenzler

This morning I got up and went to the final McDonalds in Springdale, then gassed up the rental car. I then drove to the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad station and parked the rental car.

History of the route of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad and the St Louis and San Francisco Railway Company

The St. Louis and San Francisco Railway Co. (StL&SF), better known as the Frisco, was organized in 1876 in Missouri. The Frisco's first line into Arkansas came south from Monett, Missouri. As was typical at the time, the construction involved a number of paper companies coming together to build and initially operate the railroad. The first of these companies was the St. Louis, Arkansas, and Texas Railway Company of Missouri, incorporated June 4, 1880. By summer 1881, the company owned and operated 32 miles of track from Monett to the Missouri-Arkansas \state line. The second company involved was incorporated on July 17, 1880. This company, the St. Louis, Arkansas, and Texas Railway Company of Arkansas, built approximately 37 miles of track from the Missouri-Arkansas state line to near Fayetteville.

The line between Monett, Missouri, and Benton County in Arkansas, was under construction during late 1880 and early 1881. The line reached the newly founded town of Rogers, named in honor of the Frisco's general manager, Charles Warrington Rogers, on May 10, 1881. Less than a month later, on June 8, 1881, a passenger train with Charles Rogers aboard entered the northern limits of Fayetteville for the first time.

In September 1880, the Frisco created a third railroad subsidiary, the Missouri, Arkansas and Southern Railway of Arkansas. The new subsidiary was authorized "to build in a southerly direction" - likely from Fayetteville (Washington County) - "to some point on the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railway, not east of Clarksville, with total mileage of about 55 miles." Within a year, the railroad had 63 miles of track under construction between Fayetteville and Fort Smith.

On June 28, 1881, these three railroads were merged to create the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway Company. By the end of 1881, the Frisco had built south along the West Fork of the White River to its first major obstacle, the mountains near Winslow. A temporary track was built over the hilltop at Winslow while work began on a 1,400-foot-long tunnel, Arkansas' first railroad tunnel. South of the tunnel, the terrain of the route proved just as difficult, with three high trestle bridges built to cross deep hollows in the next 2.5 miles, the tallest of which was 117 feet.

On January 21, 1882, the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway Company was sold to the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway Company (which became the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad Company on June 30, 1896). Later, the Fort Smith and Van Buren Bridge Co., capitalized by the Frisco and incorporated in March, 1885, began construction of a bridge over the Arkansas River at Van Buren, finishing it in 1885 and allowing the railway line to continue southwest to Paris, Texas. It was sold to the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad Company on July 17, 1907.

In 1883, construction continued on south from Fort Smith, through Indian Territory, and on to Paris, Texas (169 miles). The line from Fort Smith to the state line was built by the Ft. Smith and Southern Railway Company. From the state line to Paris, the line was built by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway Company and the Paris and Great Northern Railroad Company. The Monett to Paris line was completed on July 1, 1887, connecting with the Texas and Pacific to Dallas and Fort Worth.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, a variety of spurs, branches, and short lines were built off this mainline. The first was a short line run east slightly more than twenty miles from Seligman, Missouri, to the young resort town of Eureka Springs (AR), where the Frisco was instrumental in building the Crescent Hotel. Another spur ran west to Bentonville and eventually continued into the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Just south of Fayetteville, a short line was built southeast up the White River valley to St. Paul and Pettigrew. This line was designed to get at the hardwoods of the Ozark Mountains to supply the railway company with oak ties as well as feed the booming lumber industry. Another connecting railroad, the Kansas City and Memphis Railroad, ran from Fayetteville to Cave Springs to the northwest. It became known locally as the "Fruit Basket Line" because of all the apple and peach orchards from which it hauled produce. Another line out of Fayetteville, the Ozark and Cherokee Central, ran west through Farmington, Prairie Grove, and Lincoln to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. For those interested in all of the details, check out the books Shortline Railroads of Arkansas by Clifton E. Hull and Railroads of Northwest Arkansas by Robert G. Winn. Also, check out The North Arkansas Line by James R. Fair, Jr., for information on the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad.

After the Frisco's improved mainline was built to the west across Oklahoma during the late 1890s and 1900s, the line between Monett and Fort Smith, and on south to Paris, Texas, took on the role of a secondary line mostly serving local businesses. By 1926, six passenger trains headed west out of Springfield (MO) on daily basis, but only two turned south at Monett to cover this route, although the Fort Smith route was still part of Table 1 in the Official Guide. By 1934, Table 1 was the route through Tulsa, with the Fort Smith route now on Table 1a. In 1949, the Fort Smith route had fallen to Table 5. During this time, there were also two major series of station closures over the route. The first seemed to have happened around 1927, with the second immediately after World War II, centered around 1947. Regular steam service ended on the Monett to Fort Smith line during fall 1950. The last of the steam on this route included a fleet of 2-8-0s. Replacing them were new GP7s and FP7s, which operated well into the 1960s. For many, the line was a throwback route to explore as older equipment and practices tended to hang on longer here. This seemed to continue after the Frisco merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad on November 21, 1980. Because of the line's slow loss of business, the line was determined to be a candidate for a lease-purchase agreement, with it being turned over to the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad in 1986.

As you travel over the railroad, you can see a few foundations and other remnants of the old Frisco. Most notably, look for the Fayetteville, Van Buren, and Fort Smith (AR) passenger depots. The station at Bentonville also still exists. Additionally, a number of old foundations and abandoned right-of-ways can be seen from the train that help recall earlier days.

Frisco Passenger Trains

Passenger service was never heavy on this line, although several trains a day did operate daily over the line during the early years. For example, in the January 1910 Official Guide, the line from St. Louis to Fort Smith was Table 1 for the Frisco Lines passenger train listing (odd number trains ran west, even number trains ran east toward St. Louis). While seven trains in each direction were listed as running between St. Louis and Monett, only four were listed between Monett and Fort Smith, with three operating south of Fort Smith. These Monett-Fort Smith trains included 3/4 - St. Louis to Fort Worth trains, 5/6 - St. Louis to Dallas trains with through sleepers (electric-lighted) to San Antonio and Galveston, and 11/12 - long distance locals to Paris with sleepers set off at Seligman for Eureka Springs. The fourth set of trains were 720/721 - all stops locals between Fort Smith and Monett, northbound in the morning and southbound in the evening. At the same time, there were three pairs of trains operating between Rogers and Bentonville. Trains 772 and 776 (eastbound) and 775 and 777 (westbound) ran between Grove and Rodgers, while trains 771 and 774 operated only between Rogers and Bentonville. Speed wasn't an issue with these trains as it took 25 minutes or more to make the 5 mile run between Rogers and Bentonville.

In 1926, trains 5/6 - now known as The Texas Limited - still operated over the line with Galveston sleepers. However, trains 3/4 - The Ozark Limited - now ran to Fort Worth via Tulsa, and connecting trains 703/704 served the route between Monett and Fort Smith. Locals 707/708 also served the line, southbound midday and northbound in the afternoon, normally meeting at Winslow. There were still six trains daily between Rogers and Bentonville, with new numbers but similar schedules.

By the start of World War II, the mainline saw only one train northbound and southbound each day. The trains, 9-709 and 710-10, connected at Monett with the mainline Meteor. Southbound, train 709 generally left Monett before sunrise and arrived in Fort Smith about 8:30am. Northbound, train 710 generally left Fort Smith about 7:00pm and arrived at Monett shortly before midnight. Trains 709 and 710 featured all air-conditioned passenger cars, including a 12 section, 1 drawing room St. Louis-Fort Smith sleeper. Food was provided by a "snack car providing meal service" as the dining car operated on the mainline train only.

In 1946, the trains had been renumbered as 5 and 6 and named the Twin Meteor, but their schedules remained similar, with a slightly earlier departure southbound from Monett. The trains featured a St. Louis to Paris sleeping car (12 section-1 drawing room) and a Monett-Paris coach-snack car. However, the St. Louis to Paris sleeper service was discontinued on March 16, 1947.

By 1956, the train was back to being known as the Meteor and numbered 9-709 and 704-10. While the southbound's schedule basically remained unchanged, the northbound train out of Fort Smith now departed at 6:15pm. The sleeper had again been shortened to a St. Louis-Fort Smith run, now using a 10 section-3 double bedroom car. The coach-buffet car also now operated only between Monett and Fort Smith.

In 1958, the last passenger train headed south out of Fort Smith on February 1. This left a simple Monett to Fort Smith passenger turn operating on the most scenic part of the line. Operating as trains 9-709 and 910-10 and still known as the Meteor, although locals knew them as the Meteorite. The schedules between Monett and Fort Smith remained much the same - an early morning run southbound and an evening run northbound. The train still handled a 10 section-3 double bedroom sleeping car, but no buffet car is mentioned.

By the October 1959 public timetable, the sleeping car had been changed to a 14 roomette-4 double bedroom car, but the schedule had only minor changes. On June 29, 1963, St. Louis to Ft. Smith sleeper service ended. Improved roads led to further reductions in the demand for passenger service. The last Frisco passenger train left Fort Smith for Monett on September 18, 1965.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Information

The Arkansas & Missouri may be one of the most documented shortline railroads in the country. Articles on it, and its large fleet of Alco locomotives, have been published in many magazines such as Trains, Railfan & Railroad, and Pacific Rail News. Finding information on the railroad is little challenge for the serious railfan.

The A&M was founded in 1985 by an investor group, headed up by Tony Hannold (operator of several shortline railroads on the east coast), which signed a lease-purchase agreement with Burlington Northern for this line. At the time, northwest Arkansas was considered to be a poor part of the country and BN was centering their investment efforts on their mainlines. However, since the creation of the line, this region has become one of the most dynamic business centers in the United States. Companies such as Tyson Foods, Walmart, and J.B. Hunt are headquartered along the line.

At the time of the purchase, the principal items hauled consisted of timber products, canned goods, chicken feed, sand and gravel. Today, the traffic mix has somewhat changed with more than 150 shippers using the railroad. Probably the most visible shipments are the significant inbound quantities of grain and grain products as feed for industry giants Tyson Foods, George's, Cargill, OK Feeds, and Willowbrook Foods. The A&M also moves large volumes of frozen poultry for Frez-N-Stor, Zero Mountain, OK Foods Industries, and Arkansas Refrigerated, as well as canned vegetables for Allen Canning. The railroad also delivers the ingredients for Newly Weds Foods (batters, breadings, and seasoning systems), Pepper Source (tangy, spicy sauces), and Pappas Foods (juices and syrups), as well as materials for Glad (manufactures storage bags and plastic wrappings), Smurfit-Stone Container, and Georgia-Pacific (cups and containers).

The A&M also operates regular shipments of sand for major concrete producers Arkhola Sand and Gravel, Mid-Continent Concrete, Beaver Lake Concrete, Tune Concrete, Kay Concrete, and Barry County Ready Mix, among others. Cement is handled for Ash Grove Cement, and timber is moved for National Home Centers, Ridout Lumber, Meeks Lumber, and Midwest Walnut. Scrap steel is moved for Davis Iron and Metal, Rogers Iron and Metal, and Roll Off Services; pellets go to St. Gobain Proppants; and plastic materials to Van Buren Pipe.

The railroad interchanges with BNSF at Monett, Union Pacific at Van Buren, and Kansas City Southern at Fort Smith. Additionally, the A&M handles direct barge-rail shipments at the Arkansas River ports of Van Buren and Fort Smith. The Arkansas & Missouri has also created an affiliate, Ozark Transmodal, Inc., to handle transload freight movements.

In 2000, the railroad leased 3.2 miles of track (locally known as "the Bottoms") from Union Pacific at Van Buren to reach a sand barge dock, and provides haulage services for Union Pacific between Van Buren and the Fort Smith Railroad in Fort Smith.

On March 16, 2001, the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad actually purchased the Monett to Ft. Smith line. In June 2002, Tony Hannold was replaced as chairman of the railroad by Reilly McCarren, former president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation. McCarren also soon became the majority stockholder of the railroad. During the next three years, the new ownership essentially rebuilt the railroad, adding welded rail where lighter jointed rail existed south of Springdale.

During the past decade, the railroad has continued to modernize with a new office, passenger station, and locomotive and car shop. The Alco fleet continued to expand until the availability of quality locomotives, and the increase in freight, required larger and more modern locomotives. In 2013, EMD delivered three SD70ACes locomotives to the A&M. The locomotives were the three demonstrators that have been seen across the country, numbers 1201-1203. EMD 1201 was particularly famous as it was the EMD demonstrator painted in Caterpillar colors that was unveiled at Caterpillar's exhibit at MINExpo in 2012.

A&M Freight Trains

The A&M is essentially a 24-hours a day, seven days a week freight operator. Local trains operate out of both the Springdale and Fort Smith terminals, serving more than 150 freight customers. Customers are centered at the two major terminals and freight is interchanged at Monett with BNSF, at Van Buren with Union Pacific, and with Kansas City Southern in Fort Smith. The A&M also handles UP freight being moved from Van Buren to the Fort Smith Railroad's yard in Fort Smith.

When the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad started up, the pattern was to have a daytime run down to Fort Smith and back, with a run to the BN at Monett at night. These two trains used the same basic consist of C-420 Alco locomotives. Servicing was done between the runs and by swapping a few of the locomotives on a daily basis since the trains generally only took three or four locomotives. Local trains at Springdale used the extra C-420 locomotives not needed on the Turns, while local trains at Fort Smith used the fleet of T-6 locomotives.

Over the years, this pattern has changed greatly. First, a few years ago the routing of the Turns were reversed, with the Monett Turn becoming the daytime train and the Fort Smith Turn leaving about 10pm and returning to Springdale soon after daylight. A second major change was the number of locomotives required to haul the trains. Seeing as many as seven C-420s on a single Fort Smith Turn is an impressive sunrise scene on today's Arkansas & Missouri. In the Fort Smith area, a single T-6 is no longer powerful enough for most trains, and it is not uncommon to see several C420 or other locomotives assigned to these locals. Locals in the Springdale area also use the newest of Alco power to handle the freight volumes.

In Springdale, North Yard is the center of train activity. Freights are built and torn down here, and locals pick up their cars and return them here. Locals generally work the Rogers area, Springdale, and Fayetteville, meaning that several locals are on the road daily. In Fort Smith, there are generally two locals operating with one handling local business and the other handling UP interchange movements and the larger customers. These locals are based in the former Frisco Yard just north of downtown.

An additional change on the railroad is the presence of Union Pacific shuttle grain trains. On January 14, 2006, the first UP shuttle on the A&M delivered 73 cars of corn for poultry feed mills on the railroad. The new connection at Van Buren was designed to make this move more efficient. Before the use of these shuttle trains, approximately 50 percent of the grain arrived by truck; the shuttle trains have grabbed much of this market. Recently, similar grain trains have arrived via BNSF.

The line handles 286,000 pound railcars and has vertical clearances sufficient for double-stack intermodal cars. The movement of high-wide specials across the railroad is not an uncommon event.

A&M Passenger Trains

Passenger service began on the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad during the late 1980s and went full time during the early 1990s after a private operator tested the market and operated passenger trains for a year. Over the years, the route and equipment have changed a bit, but they have always focused on the scenery and history of the region.

Today, the A&M operates a series of regular passenger trains throughout the year. Approximately 40,000 people a year ride these trains. The normal schedule includes a Springdale to Van Buren round-trip, with a Van Buren to Winslow round-trip during the layover. However, other trips are operated including short Santa trains and trains for special community events. Seating is available in restored commuter coaches, a parlor car, and even a dome car.

Our Trip to Fort Smith 6/12/2014 Our Train

Engines A&M C-420s 44 and 68, 104 Biloxi Blues open window coach, 105 Golden Age and 106 Mountain View Coaches, 8322 Dinner, 108 Silver Feather Dome and 107 Observation Car Explorer.

During our Safety Meeting for the trip, our motive power for our trip came by while we were in the station.

The motive power went by the A&M Springdale Station. We loaded the train starting at 7:35 AM and once I had all my passengers, I gave my passengers their Safety Briefing. We left Springdale on time and went down the railroad to the grade crossing at Shady Grove Road for a Photo Runby.

The inside of the A&M Dining Car.

My passengers in my Coach 105 this morning.

NRHS members chasing our train this morning. We arrived at Shady Grove Road and unloaded the train for the Photo Runby.

The back up move at Shady Grove Road.

The scene at Shady Grove Road.

Photo Runby at Shady Grove Road.

The return move as I led the way to the boarding location. Everyone got back on the train and it headed to West Forkto our next Photo Runby location.

There is an old open platform observation car outside of Fayetteville which is AT&SF Pullman 17 Elise Irrault.

The Missouri Pacific caboose 13066 outside of Fayetteville. We soon arrived at West Fork and unloaded for the Photo Runby.

The back up move at West Fork.

The A&M station sign in West Fork.

The Photo Line at West Fork.

A scene at West Fork.

The Photo Runby 1 at West Fork.

The back up move in West Fork.

Photo Runby 2 at West Fork.

The final back up move at West Fork. We all reboarded the train and headed to Mountainburg our next Photo Runby location.

The train climbed to Winslow Tunnel and went through it. The train crossed Trestles 1, 2 and 3 before dropping off the Boston Mountains down the grade to Stewart and on to Mountainburg where we all detrained for the next Photo Runbys.

Arkansas & Missouri Dome 108 Silver Feather.

Back up move 1 at Mountainburg.

Photo Runby 1 at Mountainburg.

Back up move 2.

Photo Runby 2 at Mountainburg.

Back up move 3. We reboarded the train and headed to Van Buren. We went by the Van Buren Station and got stopped at the UP crossing at Van Buren. After about ten minutes we started moving forward.

The train crossed the Union Pacific and headed to the bridge across the Arkansas River.

Our train crossed the Arkansas River into Fort Smith.

Engines of the Fort Smith Railroad. We pulled into Fort Smith and unloaded short of the old Frisco station. After my last passengers had gotten off of the train, I headed to the railroad diner called the Boomarang Diner.

The Boomarang Diner.

Inside of the Boomarang Diner.

The menu cover of the Boomarang Diner. I had a Foot Long Hot Dog, Tator Toots and a lemonade.

Two more views of the Boomarang Diner. Next I walked over to the Fort Smith Frisco station.

The Fort Smith Frisco station. I toured the station and on the second floor I found this.

I found the Frisco Special Office. Next I walked to the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Views of the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Engines of the Fort Smith Railroad.

Next I visited and toured Miss Laura's Brothel Museum.

Miss Laura's rates were $3 for one a women.

Bart Jennings in this former brothel.

The rooms the ladies used in the day.

This was the room the ladies ate their meals at this table.

I wondered what Mollie looked like in her day.

The window in front of the stairs. I left the building thinking how I would have done here back in the day.

One last view of the Fort Smith Railroad.

The train backed in for boarding back to Springdale. I worked on the story until my battery ran out. I walked the entire train socializing with the passengers. On the way back we got delayed by a A&M local. Once he cleared we returned to Springdale. My passengers detrained my car and this bought this NRHS 2014 Convention trip to a close. Next the A&M Shop tour.

Click here for the NRHS Shop Tour!