Kirkwood: A railroad town

Fighting Fires With
A Train Whistle

In the days before phone service (and modern fire departments), the sound of a train whistle could make the difference between life and death for fire victims.  When a resident saw that someone's house was on fire, he shot a pistol in the air.

Then someone would run to the train, where the train's crew blew the train whistle a number of times-- the last set of blasts signifying the ward number where the fire was.  This told volunteers where to go to man the bucket brigade in order to put out the fire.

No one likes waiting for a train to pass by.  When you drive all the way through Kirkwood on Kirkwood Rd. (that's Lindbergh Blvd. to non-Kirkwoodians), you cross two train tracks, so it's possible you might have to wait for two trains!  That's the price Kirkwood pays for being a railroad town.

Union Pacific Railroad
Joe Welsh & Kevin J. Holland.
Minneapolis, MN : MBI Pub. Company, 2009.
Created by an act of Congress in 1862 and surviving intact as one of only seven Class I railroads in North America today, the Union Pacific is rightly considered by many to be the quintessential U.S. railroad. Its history has featured key figures and events in the annals of railroading and affected all quarters of the American Midwest and Southwest. This illustrated history follows the Union Pacific from its formation and through such landmark events as the completion of the transcontinental railroad, right up to the railroadrsquo;s current role in the continentrsquo;s current transportation infrastructure. The book recaptures the drama of the railroadrsquo;s perilous formative years, its weathering of economic disasters like the Great Depression, its boom times in the mid-twentieth century, the subsequent decline of passenger services, and the UPrsquo;s role in the rail industryrsquo;s merger-mania from the 1970s through the 1990s. From engineering lore to a look at the UPrsquo;s crack passenger services, this account is illustrated throughout with historical images in color and black-and-white, as well as modern photographs and fascinating print ephemera.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;
Union Pacific Railroad : passenger trains of the city fleet photo archive
John Kelly.
Hudson, Wis. : Iconografix, 2009.
On February 12, 1934, Union Pacific premiered the M-10000, the first lightweight, streamlined passenger train, calling it ldquo;Tomorrowrsquo;s Train Today.rdquo; The tiny brown-and-yellow speedster offered hope and promise for Americarsquo;s future during the Great Depression. Later renamed City of Salina, the train was the beginning of Union Pacificrsquo;s City Fleet of streamliners including the City of Los Angeles, City of San Francisco, City of Portland, City of Denver and Challenger, departing from Chicago and serving all the West. Union Pacific system map, timetables, travel brochures, and advertising are featured.
Nothing like it in the world : the men who built the transcontinental railroad, 1863-1869
Stephen E. Ambrose.
New York : Simon & Schuster, c2000.
In this account of an unprecedented feat of engineering, vision, and courage, Stephen E. Ambrose offers a historical successor to his universally acclaimed Undaunted Courage, which recounted the explorations of the West by Lewis and Clark. Nothing Like It in the World is the story of the men who built the transcontinental railroad -- the investors who risked their businesses and money; the enlightened politicians who understood its importance; the engineers and surveyors who risked, and lost, their lives; and the Irish and Chinese immigrants, the defeated Confederate soldiers, and the other laborers who did the backbreaking and dangerous work on the tracks. The Union had won the Civil War and slavery had been abolished, but Abraham Lincoln, who was an early and constant champion of railroads, would not live to see the great achievement. In Ambrose's hands, this enterprise, with its huge expenditure of brainpower, muscle, and sweat, comes to life. The U.S. government pitted two companies -- the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads -- against each other in a race for funding, encouraging speed over caution. Locomo-tives, rails, and spikes were shipped from the East through Panama or around South America to the West or lugged across the country to the Plains. This was the last great building project to be done mostly by hand: excavating dirt, cutting through ridges, filling gorges, blasting tunnels through mountains. At its peak, the workforce -- primarily Chinese on the Central Pacific, Irish on the Union Pacific -- approached the size of Civil War armies, with as many as fifteen thousand workers on each line. The Union Pacific was led by Thomas "Doc" Durant, Oakes Ames, and Oliver Ames, with Grenville Dodge -- America's greatest railroad builder -- as chief engineer. The Central Pacific was led by California's "Big Four": Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. The surveyors, the men who picked the route, were latter-day Lewis and Clark types who led the way through the wilderness, living off buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope. In building a railroad, there is only one decisive spot -- the end of the track. Nothing like this great work had been seen in the world when the last spike, a golden one, was driven in at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869, as the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific tracks were joined. Ambrose writes with power and eloquence about the brave men -- the famous and the unheralded, ordinary men doing the extraordinary -- who accomplished the spectacular feat that made the continent into a nation.

Kirkwood was born beside the railroad tracks.  An organization of investors called the Kirkwood Association bought up over 200 acres of property along the proposed route of the Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific) in May 1853.  The land was then divided into town lots.  Both the organization and the town were named after the railroad engineer who surveyed the passage through the area, James Pugh Kirkwood.

Even Kirkwood's famous Turkey Day Game has a connection to the railroad. In 1952, the Frisco Railroad (now Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe) donated a train bell, which is still used. The game winner possesses it until the next time it loses a Turkey Day Game. It's rung at the start and end of the game and every time its possessor scores a touchdown.

Turkey Day Game

The present train station was built in 1893.  It lies at the center of town and is close to the hearts of all Kirkwoodians.  It appears on the city seal and Kirkwood addresses are based on it.  For example, 223 S. Kirkwood Rd. is two blocks south of the depot, while 132 E. Monroe is located one block east of it.  When the railroad announced in 1941 that it would make major architectural changes to the station (including removal of the Queen Anne tower), residents became upset.  Bowing to public pressure, the company made only minor changes to the building.

The heyday of the railroads has long past.  But as long as the trains run, Kirkwood will continue to be inseparably linked to the railroad.  And drivers will continue to be irritated waiting for the train (or trains).

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff