Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company

The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company began its corporate existence in the days following the Civil War and was intended to funnel business from Kansas City and points north and east to a new rail route being cut across Indian Territory and through Texas. The Katy, touted in advertisements as the "Gateway to Texas," breached the Lone Star State's frontier near the site of present-day Denison, where the first regular train arrived on Christmas Day, 1872.

The Katy eventually expanded operations in Texas and reached Waco in the 1880s, establishing a depot in the 300 block of South Eighth Street (as indicated on the Waco History map). M-K-T came to recognize Waco’s importance as a central location upon the 268 miles of track, and in 1910, established a roundhouse in a rural area north of the city. As businesses opened to provide goods and services for workers for the rail company, a city grew up around the roundhouse which today is known as Bellmead.

One of the most infamous publicity stunts of all time, The Crash at Crush, took place about fifteen miles north of Waco, featuring two M-K-T locomotives intentionally set on a head-on collision course on September 15, 1896. Advertised for months in advance, the event drew more than forty thousand spectators to an event which ended tragically in three deaths and dozens of injuries. The Katy settled all claims with cash and lifetime passes. William George Crush—vice president of the railroad and disciple of P. T. Barnum—was "fired" the evening of the crash, but rehired the following day. Rumor even had it he got a bonus for all the attention he brought the railroad, which curiously saw a surge in business afterwards. He worked for the company for fifty-seven years until his retirement.

Despite the catastrophe of The Crash at Crush, the Katy prospered into the first half of the twentieth century. At one point in 1912, the M-K-T owned more than 1,600 miles of operated track in Texas. Passengers luxuriated aboard the Texas Special, the Bluebonnet, and the Katy Flyer. In 1931, even in the middle of the Great Depression, the company owned 82 locomotives and 1,000 cars and reported passenger earnings of $1.7 million and freight earnings of more than $8 million. Wheat rolled in from Missouri and Kansas, and oil flowed out of Texas.

But after the boom years of World War II, the railroad began a long slide into oblivion. New transportation options like air travel and freeway systems took their toll on the once-prosperous line. In 1964, the 99-year-old company that had brought Midwestern wheat south and sent "Texas tea" (oil) north had fallen onto hard times and dropped the passenger trade to concentrate its resources on freight. On January 26, 1924, dozens of people crowded aboard for one last historic jaunt of steel and steam.

Despite cost-cutting measures, mergers, and consolidations, the Katy's fortunes continued to decline. In 1967 it reported a net loss of more than $10 million. Even a $19 million government guaranteed loan in 1976 to repair deteriorating track ties could not stop the railroad’s declining fortunes. In 1988, the Interstate Commerce Commission gave Union Pacific and its subsidiary, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, permission to buy the Katy. On December 1, 1989, the two companies merged and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas was no more.

Images

Passenger Train (c. 1915)

Passenger Train (c. 1915)

New railroad routes brought new customers for Waco businesses, and billboards—such as one for Sanger Brothers on the left of this photograph—were a common sight for passengers entering Waco via the M-K-T.   | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: E. C. Blomeyer View File Details Page

Katy System (c. 1903)

Katy System (c. 1903)

In its early days, the M-K-T was often referred to as the K-T or the “Katy.” This map, believed to have been published circa 1903, displays the company’s extensive system of tracks extending from Galveston north to Nebraska. | Source: Image courtesy of The Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas Libraries | Creator: Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company View File Details Page

Crash at Crush (September 15, 1896)

Crash at Crush (September 15, 1896)

Recognizing that nothing draws a crowd like the promise of danger, two locomotives of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company were intentionally set on a head-on collision course in order to promote the railway's new two dollar round-trip tickets for state wide travel. The event drew more than 40,000 spectators. However, tragedy struck when both boilers exploded and flying metal missiles hurled towards the unprepared crowd. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Warden Engine Shop

Warden Engine Shop

The establishment of a roundhouse north of Waco in 1910 resulted in the development of the region which today is known as Bellmead. The engine shop pictured here held two 180-ton cranes which lifted locomotives up and into the appropriate bay for servicing. Up to eighteen trains could be serviced in this building at one time. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Bluebonnet

Bluebonnet

Passengers relax in luxury in the parlor lounge car of The Bluebonnet train Number 7. Lounge cars provided additional amenities for passengers, such as comfortable seating and attendants selling sandwiches, snacks, beverages, and—after prohibition ended—cocktails, wine, and beer. | Source: Image courtesy of The Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas Libraries View File Details Page

Proud Moment

Proud Moment

Proud M-K-T officials stand in front of the first engine in the newly constructed Warden Engine shop as the 180-ton crane lifts the engine overhead. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Employment Opportunities

Employment Opportunities

M-K-T offered a variety of career opportunities. Apprentices worked in the Bellmead erecting bay for four years before receiving a diploma as a machinist, while others apprenticed in areas such as the electrical department before receiving a degree. During the height of M-K-T’s success, the Bellmead shops employed up to three hundred people.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Changing Technology

Changing Technology

Major overhaul and repair of steam engines took place in the back shops, where a 180-ton crane lifted cars off of the ground and into the appropriate bay. When the more reliable diesel engines replaced steam locomotives, the need for the shops dwindled and they ultimately closed. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

M12 (January 12, 1947)

M12 (January 12, 1947)

The Katy Railroad rolled out its first diesel engines in 1947, and M12 was one of the first motorcars among them. The switch from steam to diesel cut costs and improved efficiency, decreasing the amount of time engines needed to spend in the shop for repairs.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Texas Special (c. 1948)

Texas Special (c. 1948)

Once advertised as the “Glamour Train of the Southwest,” the Texas Special was jointly operated by M-K-T and the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco). Both railway companies ran a fourteen-car, bright red streamliner which became known for its one-of-a-kind style and comfort. This postcard shows the Frisco Meteor on the left and the M-K-T Texas Special on the right. | Source: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Creator: Frisco Railroad View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Terri Jo Ryan, “Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company,” Waco History, accessed July 27, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/141.

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