Early History

Rock Island Railway at Volland, Kansas

Kansas’ most prominent ghost town, Volland, Kansas, had its roots in the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway, which platted the town located along Mill Creek in Washington Township of Wabaunsee County, Kansas. In addition to creating a depot, which provided passenger and freight service, the railroad also created a railhead, providing a shipping point for cattle being moved in and out of the Flint Hills pastures.

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A Rock Island Railway agent stands on the platform of the Volland, Kansas depot, holding the U.S. Mail bag for the arriving train. Photo courtesy Karen Durso.

The Rock Island depot also was the home of the Western Union telegraph station which first provided nationwide communication for the town. Telegraph lines ran along the railroad tracks, and when the telegraph office was established in 1887, it was staffed around the clock.

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Two telegraphers pose for this Otto Kratzer photograph inside the Western Union Office at the Volland, Kansas CRIP depot, circa 1905. Notice the two pistols hanging on the back wall and the handcuffs hanging at the far left of the photo. Photo courtesy Karen Durso.

The Western Union telegraphers at the Volland depot were members of the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, known as the ORT.

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Members of the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, Division 126 at Volland, Kansas pose for this Otto Kratzer photo, circa 1905. Photo courtesy Karen Durso.

Many of the railroad maintenance workers and the section gang members lived along the tracks at Volland in tiny houses and makeshift barracks buildings crafted from old boxcars.

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These Rock Island Railway workers lived in Spartan quarters along the railroad tracks at Volland, constructed from old boxcars. This view, made from a glass negative, dates from about 1905. Photo courtesy Karen Durso.

The depot was a popular spot for men to gather, waiting for trains to bring freight and cattle into Volland. The railroad’s presence was a strong one in Volland during the first half of the 20th century.

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A group of men pose for Otto Kratzer’s camera at the Rock Island depot at Volland, Kansas, circa 1905. Photo courtesy Karen Durso.

The Rock Island rail yards had spur lines for the unloading of passengers and cattle as well as a line for watering steam engines. For a number of years the Rock Island maintained two through lines, commonly known as “the double track”.

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In this view of the Rock Island railroad yards at Volland, the new water towers had been constructed on the south side of the track. The depot is visible in the distance. Photo courtesy Wabaunsee County Historical Society.

The most important feature in the Rock Island rail yards was the stockyards.  The wooden pens, built along the track, allowed tens of thousands of head of cattle to be transported in and out of Volland for feeding on the lush Flint Hills grass.

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The Rock Island stockyards were located on the west side of the Volland depot. There were cattle chutes located along a spur line, allowing cattle cars to load and unload stock. The stockyards were located just a few feet from the old Kratzer Bros. store. Photo courtesy Wabaunsee County Historical Society.   

After diesel-powered electrically driven locomotives became standard on the Rock Island line, it was not necessary for every passing train to stop to fill with water.  So, a pole was erected along the tracks to which outgoing mail bags were attached, allowing mail trains to snatch the bag as they passed.  The inbound mail bag was thrown from the train onto the railroad right-of-way.

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A bag containing outbound mail hangs from a pole located along the Rock Island track at Volland, Kansas. Notice that by the time this photo was taken, circa 1950, the Rock Island depot at Volland had been removed. Photo courtesy Wabaunsee County Historical Society.

For the first 75-years of life at Volland, the Rock Island Railway played a big role in the lives of people who lived in the Flint Hills town. Changes in the nation’s transportation system and in the cattle industry caused the railroad to become a much less significant factor in daily life at Volland, yet the heritage of the railroad in the small town is still unmistakable.

 

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