Sampson of the Cimarron

Contributed by Matt Willett

  The Cimarron River crossing near Arkalon, Kansas, had been an operational
headache ever since it was built by the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska in
1888.  Between Kismet and Hayne, the line snaked back and forth for twelve
miles as it descended then climbed out of the Cimarron River Valley.  The
railroad crossed the river with a series of trestles and fills.  Over the
years, the river would occasionally carve out new channels in the sandy
valley bottom soil, requiring a new trestle to be built.
  Sixty years ago, on 9/5/1938, a flash flood collapsed one of the trestles
just as RI 5036 started to lead a train across the river.  With the main
channel blocked by the many cars, the river cut a new channel seen here in
the second photo.  To begin the repairs, planks were nailed to the hanging
rails and ties.

Two photos: Turtle's Studio Postcards - Matt Willett collection.

In a close-up of the second photo, we can see that most of the wreckage has been removed on the far side of the accident site and a pile driver is constructing a replacement trestle. Behind the pile driver is a flatcar loaded with wooden pilings, then comes a steam engine and tender, then five more flat cars with more timbers. Construction of a switchback has begun on the near side of the accident site.

This allows the rail-cranes shown in the next photo to retrieve the damaged 5036 from the watery deep.

The next photo shows the 5036 at Topeka on 10/4/1938 on its way to the Silvis shops for repair.

These two photos were taken by Ray Hilner and come to you courtesy of the Art Bauman collection.

Shortly after the railroad built through the area in 1888, a townsite sprang up. Arkalon was named for Arkalon Tenny, the father of the first postmaster of the town. A newspaper called the "Arkalon News" was produced there from April 1888 until December 1892. A large stockyard was erected for shipping the area's cattle to market. In 1891, a one room school house was opened for the area's children. While the nearby river held promise for the early settlers, they soon found that the sandy soil did not work well for farming and the frequent floods were more than most of the settlers could stand. By the 1920s most of the early settlers had left, leaving only the railroad and stockyards behind. The wreck depicted here proved to be the final straw for the railroad. Shortly after the wreck occurred, the Rock Island's COO John D. Farrington and MoW chief William H. Hillis arrived on the scene to determine a solution to the problems of the Cimarron crossing. It was quickly decided that a major line relocation project would be the only permanent solution to the constant headaches. Construction began on a pair of long fills of earth and rock. By March of 1939, nearly three million cubic yards of material had been put in place. With the grading complete, the concrete piers were poured. Soon, five steel deck truss spans were swung into place, completing the "Samson of the Cimarron". Opened for operation on 7/8/1939, the line relocation removed 113 feet of elevation, 353 degrees of curvature, and over 3.5 miles of length between Kismet and Hayne. Bottom photo taken by Benedict V. Safourek on 2/21/80 shows 4308 and 4301 leading 39 cars over the Sampson of the Cimarron bridge.