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Revive the Union Electric trolley line!

A division of the
Western Railroaders'
Hall of Fame and Museum

Revive the Union Electric trolley line!

You can help get the Union Electric operating again

The Mid-Western Railroaders' Hall of Fame and Museum is planning to revive a trolley line in southeast Kansas. Some equipment has already been acquired and two more have been earmarked for acquisition.
Originally called the Union Traction Company, the Union Electric Railway Company operated between Parsons, Cherryvale, and Coffeyville Kansas, and Nowata Oklahoma. Most of the right of way is still intact and discernable. Four structures, that we're aware of, still exist in good condition: the former Cherryvale depot as a coffee shop, a rural waiting shelter, the Coffeyville depot building stores/offices (much as it was), and a power sub-station near Nowata.

Photos of the Union Electric

Courtesy of the Paso Del Norte Streetcar Preservation Society.

Here is the interior of one of the trolleys to be acquired. This ex-Los Angeles Railway unit will need a lot of tender loving care to return it to operation. Photo by James G. Hogben.

All it will take is some elbow grease to get this humming right along. You can help. Photo by James G. Hogben.

A Short History of The Union Electric

The Union Electric Railway Company was built to link the developing oil-field cities of Coffeyville, Independence, and Cherryvale with Parsons, Kansas. This was accomplished by D. H. Siggins who was persuaded to leave Warren, Pennsylvania to take over efforts to finance and build the line.

John Sough operated the first trolley into Cherryvale, Kansas at 9:30 am Sunday morning, February 27, 1910. It was an unscheduled test run to check condition of the tracks without being bothered by a crowd. The news soon spread through out the area. It was estimated that a crowd of 500 was on hand to watch the second trolley arrive in Cherryvale. The trolleys ran on two hour intervals, and every trolley ran with a full load. It was said that elders and children alike could hardly contain their excitement as they waited to watch the trolleys go by.

Considerable negotiations and time were required to construct the line between Cherryvale and Parsons, Kansas, which remained the northeast terminal of the line. The first trolley car made the Cherryvale to Parsons run on Saturday, December 21, 1912, just in time for Christmas! The line reached its final length of 82 miles in 1914 when the tracks reached Nowata, Oklahoma, its southern terminus.

By 1927, revenues declined to the point where the company was forced into federal bankruptcy. John F. Layng, Sr. rebuilt the lines financial structure and brought it out of bankruptcy in 1937 with a new name The Union Electric. It developed freight and express service, and the line saw great demand for its service during WWII. "A long drawn out battle between Union Electric bondholders and stockholders, plus a hassle with the city of Independence over construction of a costly beltline for freight service around the east side of the city, culminated in a 1947 company decision to cease all electric operations, and to replace passenger interurbans with busses."

The first bus substituted for a trolley on the Coffeyville to Parsons run Friday, June 4, 1947. The last regularly scheduled trolley ran between those cities on Sunday night, June 15, 1947. June 17, 1947 saw the last regularly scheduled passenger trolley run between Nowata and Coffeyville.

The final passenger trip was made over the whole line by a "flag and bunting-bedecked" trolley car on Saturday, July 10, 1947; with freight service abandoned a few weeks later.

Thanks to all who contributed material to make this article possible. Special thanks to John Chambers, area historian; Jessie Lickteig, librarian, Cherryvale, KS library; and Wayne Hallowell, director of Mid-Western Railroaders' Hall Of Fame & Museum for gathering this information.

May the efforts and contributions of many see trolleys gliding down these rails again.

A reader responds...

Saw your message on Trolley Cars.Com. My brother and I grew up in Tulsa and I worked at KGGF in Coffeyville before and after WW2. I observed the Union Electric in operation during this period and followed the sale of cars 71-76 to the Sand Springs Railway in Tulsa. When the SS Ry purchased the cars they refurbished them in their shops and operated them between Tulsa and Sand Springs (7 Miles) until they went out of the passenger business in early 1955.

The Union Electric Cars and 2 other double truck Birney Cars that they had were sold to an amusement park operator (Red Cox). Cox layed about 2000 feet of track and hooked the cars together an pulled them back and forth with a Heisler Steam Locomotive. After about a year he decided he would cut the tops off at the window line to make "Open" Cars. This was obviously not sucessful and shortly after he burned the cars and scrapped all of the metal. We recently toured the amusement park location (now defunct) in the hope that some remnant could be found. Nothing was found. No trace of even the park. There is always the possibility that some part survived however our source was an employee of the amusement park and insists that nothing was saved.

I have a number of memories of driving beside the Union Electric Track between Nowata and Coffeyville. I remember leaving Coffeyville one night at 10:30 and an interurban came up behind me going faster than the 50 MPH that I was driving. I let it pass and it was quite a site with all of the swaying around it was doing on the rough track.

--Hubert H Judkins

Donations of time and funds are needed

You can help by contacting

Wayne Hallowell
Mid-Western Railroaders' Hall of Fame and Museum
Leatherock Hotel
420 N. Depot
Cherryvale, KS 67335
Ph: 316 336-3350
FAX: 626 442-1383


The Western Railroaders' Hall Of Fame & Museum and Mid-Western Railroaders' Hall Of Fame & Museum provide a way to honor railroaders across the mid- and western part of North America. The purpose is to educate through words and museum experiences about contributions railroaders have made. The emphasis is on those who have helped build and operate railroads in the mid- and western United States, western Canada, and Mexico using interpretive displays of memorabilia and equipment. You can nominate a railroader. Tell us why he/she should be included in the hall of fame.

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Mr. James G. Hogben

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