Union Traction Company 1904-1937
Union Electric Railway 1937-1947

199-2005 Wayne Hallowell. Web Site created, compiled and maintained by Wayne Hallowell, Director of the Leatherock Hotel Bed & Breakfast

Cherryvale Trolley History
James G. Hogben

In the early years of 1900, Southeast  Kansas was in the midst of the largest industrial revolution that had ever occurred in the world. Oil and gas discoveries and development had investors and industrialists flocking into the area to reap their share of the windfall. Montgomery County's population totaled 46,277 or fourth place among all Kansas counties, just behind Wyandotte (Kansas City), Shawnee (Topeka), and Sedgwick (Wichita). From a bird's-eye view, Cherryvale railroads looked like crooked spider lees, spewing iron lees in all directions. Cherryvale would find one more set of lees in early 1910 when the Union Traction Company completed the interurban trolley line into Cherryvale.

 On January 25, 1904, the Union Traction Company of Kansas was organized and a state charter obtained shortly thereafter to erect a rail link to the developing oil-field cities of Coffeyville, Independence, and Cherryvale. Brothers D. H. and Charles Siggins were persuaded to leave Warren, Pennsylvania to take over all efforts to finance and build the line. The 88-mile long two-state, three-county interurban system for several decades would be the staple of short-run transportation for local residents as the entire system finally developed through the Southeast Kansas cities of Parsons, south through Dennis, Mortimer, Cherryvale, Independence,  Blake, Jefferson, Dearing, and Coffeyville into the Oklahoma cities of  South Coffeyville, Howden, Lenapah, Delaware, and  terminating in Nowata. Most of the right-of-way is still intact and discernable today.  

One of two original interurbans that ran on the first Union
Traction line from Coffeyville to Independence, 1907.
Names of both cities were printed on trolley side panels. Additional city names were added to the interurban
side panels as the line expanded to the north and south.

On July 4, 1907, the Union Traction Company made its first run between Independence and Coffeyville. Offices were set-up in the old post office building on Myrtle Avenue in Independence and 8th and Walnut in Coffeyville. The power plant at Independence was one of the finest establishments of its kind in the United States. It consisted of two four-cycle 550 D Horse Power Westinghouse gas engines which supplied power over the entire system. Substations were located in Cherryvale, Coffeyville, and Jefferson.

Junction of the interurbans and the City Car Lines at 8th and Walnut Streets in Coffeyville. Postcard dated 1909.

Myrtle Street looking west in Independence, Montgomery County, Kansas. Postcard dated 1910.

Each interurban car had a seating capacity of 48 people. Local residents and businessmen were extremely pleased with this new form of transportation. The only "fly in the ointment" was on the sides of the cars which read Coffeyville-Independence. Independence felt it should be receiving first recognition. Local newspaper printed articles on "How to Ride a Street Car," asking women not to ride during business closing times.

When the second Interurban traveled into Cherryvale on Sunday, February 27 in 1910, it was considered one of the great technological marvels of the time.  The Union Traction Company interurbans (renamed Union Electric Railways in 1937) served Cherryvale for 37 years.

John Sough operated the first trolley into Cherryvale at 9:30am 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. From this date until 1947, the Union interurban trolleys served Cherryvale later running over the 88-miles of unbroken railway from its northeast terminus in Parsons, Kansas, to its southern terminus in Nowata, Oklahoma. The trolleys ran on two hour intervals, and most trolleys ran with a full load. It was said that elders and children alike could hardly contain their daily excitement as they waited to watch or board the trolleys. One trolley would spend each night at the small brick Union Traction office and ticket depot at Fourth and South Depot streets.

Considerable negotiations and time were required to construct the line between Cherryvale and Parsons. The first interurban trolley made the Cherryvale to Parsons run on Saturday, December 21, 1912, just in time for final Christmas shopping! The line reached its final length of 88 miles in 1914 when the tracks reached Nowata, Oklahoma, its southern terminus. The operating schedule called for 13 trips a day between Parsons and Coffeyville with 17 runs between Coffeyville and Nowata. Travel time was approximately four hours which was considerably slower than making the trip by train. But one couldn't beat the fare at one-cent-a-mile.

From its very beginning, the Union Traction Company, as well as its successor, the Union Electric Railway, was a fiscal marvel in contradiction. Except for the two years during World War II, the receipts of operation was never sufficient to cover the expenses. Miraculously, by shear determination and cutting costs at very corner, the line operated until April 4, 1948, long after a majority of the nation's interurbans had ceased operations. At one time there was a plan to extend the line from Nowata to Tulsa or Bartlesville as an effort to increase revenues but it was dropped due to the inability  to finance construction costs.

In 1924, the last Siggins brother died and the company came under new management. The original heavy two-man operation passenger cars were replaced by ultra-light streetcars. Even  by continual cost cutting operations, in 1927 revenues declined to the point where the company was forced into federal bankruptcy. The closing of the Edgar Zinc Company's Cherryvale smelter in 1932 darkened the revenue picture even more for the Union Traction coffiers. Sometime during the depression years, John F. Layng, Sr. set about rebuilding the lines crumbling financial structure and brought it out of bankruptcy in 1937 with a new name, The Union Electric Railway. In 1938, L. L. Francis took over as president of the company. The Parsons-to-Nowata interurban system held the distinction of pushing farthest into the the 20-century of any Kansas between-city passenger trolley service. It survived World War I, the "roaring 20's", the years of the great depression, and went into World War II with antiquated equipment, senior citizens at the controls, and a continued demand for its service. It developed an express and freight service which helped keep the company alive when automobiles, trucks, and modern highways were snuffing out the lives of other interurban systems.

After the war, the power plant at Independence was for all practical purposes inoperable due to lack of maintenance. A long drawn out battle between Union Electric bondholders and stockholders, plus ongoing hassles with the city councils of Independence and Coffeyville over construction of a costly beltline for freight service around the cities and to cease operations over the rickety streetcar tracks, culminated in a 1947 company decision to cease all electric operations, and to replace passenger interurbans with busses and limit track service to hauling freight under diesel power.  The first bus substituted for a trolley car run on Friday, June 4, 1947 on the Coffeyville to Parsons and on Sunday night, June 15, the last regularly scheduled passenger interurban operated between those two cities. The last scheduled passenger run between Nowata and Coffeyville was made June 17. A final passenger trip was made over the whole line by a "flag and bunting-bedecked" interurban car on Saturday, July 19, 1947. The gallant old interurban was Nowata's trolley #75 nicknamed the "Gallopin' Goose." For the first--and last--time in its history, Number 75 was making the full run to the end of the line at Parsons, Kansas.

With the advent of private automobiles and the speed of other technologies, the interurban no longer had a practical purpose. Freight service continued for several months as the operations of the system were abandoned. Most of the rolling stock was sold to the Sand Springs Railway in Oklahoma. Thus ended one of the most colorful eras of public transportation in Southeast Kansas. Within a short time the tracks were removed and the bridges torn down. The roadbed quickly overgrew with grasses and weeds. Thus ended a worn-out but much used and much loved trolley empire.

Other Trolley Web Sites:

Local Library Books:
Allison Chandler, Trolley Through the Countryside, Sage Books, 1963; pages 193-228 with photos
Available at  Independence Library, Kansas and Coffeyville Library, Kansas.

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1910 Union Electric Passenger & Express Depot, 110 South Depot Street, Cherryvale. This brick building served as the trolley line office and ticket/express package center until the Union Electric's demise in 1947. It then became a renown steakhouse for years. Vacate between 1998 and 2001, the brick building was painted blue and the front windows boarded up for a another restaurant which never opened. In 2003 to the present, it is being reused as the company headquarters for the Moe Company.

The original trolley tracks can be detected curving south from Main Street onto South Depot Street and then turning west south of the old brick depot. They are recognizable buried under the existing asphalt paving applied over the turn-of-the century brick Depot Street and the gravel driveway behind the depot. The rail siding in the left foreground once belonged to the Santa Fe Railway. Photo above taken March 2003.

1912 Union Electric Substation, Private farmland east of downtown Cherryvale.

1912 Union Electric Passenger Shelter, Morgan Town Road (4300 Road) between Cherryvale and Independence. 

Web Visitors respond...

Where is the Bride?
I have had fun looking at your site of the Union Electric Railway. It reminds me of my Coffeyville, Dearing, and  Independence links.

My parents, William Rutherford and Thelma Beam were married in Dearing on December 16, 1923. Mom tells the story of exuberant wedding guests grabbing her and putting her on the interurban headed south for Coffeyville. They held Dad and were going to put him on the interurban headed north to Independence. I never heard or don't remember the end of that story on how Mon and Dad got back together on their wedding night. After their marriage, they moved to Independence where Dad worked for the Portland Cement Company located in the Citizens First National Bank building. By 1944, the date of many of the interurbans photos on your site, my parents and brothers were living in Kansas City, MO where I was born in 1938. We went 2 or 3 time a year back to visit in Independence, Dearing, and Coffeyville.

Thanks for letting me share, and thanks for the interesting history of the Union Electric.  --Merilyn Rutherford Smalley

Dad's Union Electric Memories.
My dad, Vernon Richardson, was born in 1928 during the hey day of the Union Electric Railway. He grew up in the Sycamore Valley, west and south of Sycamore, Kansas, and saw a lot of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Occasional forays into the City of Independence brought contact with the Union Electric, its city street cars and the interurbans. As a boy, he watched with fascination as the street car attendants kicked open a plate in the street and greased the mechanisms that threw the switches in the track.

Southwest of Independence, near the town of Jefferson, lived Dad's aunt and uncle, Gale and Stella Petty. The Union Electric right-of-way ran across the edge of their farm about a quarter of a mile from their house. There was a small platform built next to the track where cans of milk and cream, baskets of fruit and vegetables, and cartons of eggs were left to be picked up by the conductor on the UE and taken to the markets in Independence. Receipts for the goods were left in a box on the platform, which were collected by the Pettys and taken to town to be exchanged for cash at the Union Electric Depot on Myrtle Street. Dairy products went to either Clemmons Creamery on East Chestnut, behind what is now the Medicine Shoppe, or to the Glencliff Creamery on 6th Street, where Ashcraft Tire Company is presently located.  Produce was picked up by the many markets in town, such as Karby's on North Pennsylvania Avenue, near what is now the International Mall. Karby's was an open air market. The ringing of the street car bells and the smell of ozone mixed with the fragrant odor of ripe fruit and fresh vegetables Dad still remembered today.

By the late 1940s, the Union Electric trolleys were gone, as was Dad. He left for a stint in the US Navy. --Donald R. Richardson

Mr. and Mrs. Lee Wilson, 1936

Riding the Interurban
The Union Traction Company was my transportation from Cherryvale, Kansas, to Business College in Independence, and then to work following graduation in the early 1930s. I lived on East Main Street, in the middle of a long block, which was really two or three blocks in length. The Conductor at that time, John Rush, a Cherryvale resident, would graciously pick me up in the middle of the block, in front of my house. If I happened to be a little slow getting out to the tracks, or he was a little early, he would "toot" for me and slow up. It was really a wonderful consideration. But once in a while there was a substitute and if I were at the tracks he would stop, otherwise I would be left.

Leonal "Lee" Wilson was the agent for the Union Traction Company in Cherryvale, Kansas, when we were married in August 1934. When Lee and I were dating and before he had a car, he would come out to see me on the Interurban and take the last car back and help the conductor put the car "to bed" for the night.

When we were married, his boss, Mr. Francis, secured passes on the railroad for us as wedding presents so we were able to go to the 1934 Chicago World's Fair for our honeymoon. After we turned, we went to housekeeping just across the alley from the home where I grew up and I continued to ride the streetcar, with a pass, of course.

Three months later while unloading barrels of oil, Lee's fingertips were caught between a barrel and the loading dock and he nearly lost them. A good Cherryvale doctor, Dr. Beeler, provided excellent care so that he only lost a part of the tip of one finger. During the time his fingers were healing (on his right hand, of course!), I helped with billing the freight cars that came through our little town. As I remember, that was a very lucrative business. The office, or station, was at 110 South Depot Street, and it was just on the south side of this building where one car was normally "parked" for the night.

The Interurban was a blessing to our community for transportation to nearby towns when automobiles were not as plentiful as they are now. -- Mrs. Lee Wilson

The Gallopin' Goose once ran regularly between Nowata and South Coffeyville in Oklahoma. The old trolley galloped along the rails with a lurching, yet rhythm tic clack, clackety-clack. Each mile was unique and delightful, there was even an element of danger! At the limestone quarry, the trolley crossed a narrow shelf of rock, a water filled pit immediately on the east, straight down. The base of a railroad-bed was top of window height on the west. Riding over this short portion of the line was exciting, and when sitting at the window on the rock crusher side, nothing could be seen under the car but water. There wee passengers who felt no excitement, but gritted their teeth until the water filled pit was past. They always sat on the other side of the car because "The sun will be in eyes" or "The scenery is prettier on this die." My mother was one of them!

It was a gallant old trolley, Number 75. The springs sagged and the maroon velvet upholstery was worn, but the white linen head covers were laundered and replaced daily. The ads for Lucky Strike, Doan's Pills and Towntalk Bread marched around the car above the windows. The ever present Do Not Talk To The Motorman sign at the front of the car never stopped anyone from talking to the motorman. The interurban had a smell peculiarity its own, a mixture, I suppose, of coal smoke, floor sweep and wet wool coats. It was not unpleasant.

The interurban stopped any place a passenger waited, and I remember the farm ladies with their cans of cream, egg cases, perhaps a chicken tucked under one arm and the inevitable shopping bag and black purse tightly clutched in the other, standing patiently beside the tacks. Several hours later, on their return trip, their shopping bags bulged with groceries and the change from the sale of her produce would be safely zippered in the inside pocket of the black purse. It was company policy to carry anything free that the passenger could carry to the tracks. Common items carried on board were sacks of chicken food, coils of fence wire and, during the first three months of each year, thousands of baby chicks, whose cheep-cheep-cheep could easily be heard over the clackety-clack of the wheels.

The interurban chair had a unique feature, The backs could be flipped over so two seats faced each other and many a suitcase or box quickly became an impromptu table for cards or dominos. The potbellied stove was located about two-thirds back in the car near the restroom cubicle, and on bitters winter days the passenger kept it stoked with coal. The chimney belched black smoke outside, while the stove itself turned bright red. Two seats away ice would freeze in a cup. When the line iced up, the trolley shoe jumped off the wire and the car came to a halt. There was no solution to this problem and motorman and passengers were often stranded, perhaps miles from home. They either sat in the car until morning or walked home stumbling along the trolley tracks.

One day in July of 1947, our old Number 75 loaded up and began its northbound run...but not as usual. For the first--and last--time in its history, Old #75 was making the full run to the end of the line. In continuous service since 1925, our old "Goose" was chosen to make the swan song run. The trip began to the rousing sounds of Souza's music, but as the "Old Goose" neared the end of her final journey, the band became maudlin, playing "Auld Lang Syne." Grown men wept. --Jayne Kenned Sweger

Saw your message on Trolleycars.Com. My brother and I grew up in Tulsa and I worked at KGGF (radio station) 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 Railway 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 laid 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 successful 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  it was doing on the rough track. --Hubert H. Judkins

1999-2008 Leatherock Hotel Bed & Breakfast.  Web Site created, compiled and maintained by Wayne Hallowell, Director of the Leatherock Hotel Bed & Breakfast

The above information is part of the heritage of Cherryvale, Kansas and the legacy of the hisoric
Leatherock Hotel Bed & Breakfast
A Railroad Hotel bed & breakfast / Suites and Museum
420 North Depot Street         Cherryvale, KS 67335
Information and Reservations   620 336-3350
e-mail: wehallowell@terraworld.net

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