By the early 1880's, the Rock Island stretched across Illinois, Iowa and Northwest Missouri from Chicago to the Missouri River at Council Bluffs and St. Joseph. It's primary aim was to be a bridge route carrying finished goods from the east to the developing areas of the far west and to return raw materials and other comodities. Intense competition and rate reduction legislation caused the Rock Island to seek additional amounts of cargo and traffic. It first attempted to set up a traffic agreement with a road west of the Missouri and then attempted to buy a line. Neither attempt was successful. The next logical step was to build its own line into the new developing territory west of the Missouri. This included Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and beyond to Texas, New Mexico and the Indian Territory, soon to be Oklahoma. Marcus A. Low, a lawyer for the Rock Island in Missouri, made the proposal to build the new road and he was given authority from the Rock Island Board of Directors to go full speed on the project.A new company, the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway was formed in 1885 to contruct the new line. Low became its president. The Rock Island advanced the company more than 25 million dollars to begin construction in exchange for nearly all the stock of the new company. By this arrangement the Rock Island owned, for all practical purposes, this new road.
Preliminary surveys began December 8, 1885 and grading work began about six months later under the direction of H. A. Parker, a leading construction engineer. Track laying commenced in October of 1886 and by March 31, 1888, over 1000 miles of track were in operation. Sixty-six locomotives fifty passenger cars and 3854 freight cars were on the property and in use.
Typical of the times, the road bent to accomodate certain cities and individuals like M. D. HERINGTON, FOUNDER OF Herington, Kansas who approached Mr. Low and offered to guarantee the CK&N bonds in two counties and to buy the right of way through his township if the line would be routed through his town. Herington went on to become an important Rock Island junction and terminal point. Similarly, Dodge City was left off the mainline due to political hassles, but a branch line was built to serve that city.
Additional track laid in 1888 brought the total mileage of owned and leased tracks to 1840 miles as follows:
#1: CK&N 488 poses for a portrait at the Brooks Locomotive Works. Photo courtesy of Alco Historic Photos, collection of Bill Graham.
#2: Brooks built CK&N 0-6-0 499 is ready to be delivered to the Rock Island so that it may take up it's switching chores in Kansas. Photo courtesy of ALCO Historic Photos. Collection of Bill Graham.
#3: Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska 469 has a short smoke box, which was "normal" up thru the mid 1870's. Photo courtesy of Alco Historic Photos, collection of Bill Graham.
#4: CK&N 500 leaves no doubt as to who controlled the company. Later the Rock Island Route would become the Rock Island System! Courtesy of Alco Historic Photos, collection of Bill Graham.
THE CHICAGO, KANSAS AND NEBRASKA LOCOMOTIVES, showing wheel arrangement, classification, year built, builder, driver diameter, cylinder size, weight on drivers, weight on leading truck, weight of tender and water capacity.
CHICAGO, KANSAS AND NEBRASKA RAILWAY. 1886 - 1891, shows Kansas and parts of adjacent states. Lines described in the text are drawn except western Colorado lines were cut off. -----------------------------------------------------------------
Article contributed by John Matrow, Rock Island Technical Society Newsletter Editor and Director, Feb. 1994.