Tri-State Traction, a book by Edward A. Conrad, compiles the history of the Joplin & Pittsburgh Railway, along with the Southwest Missouri Railroad and the Northeast Oklahoma Railroad. In the 1890s and the early 20th century, this web of trolley lines connected the communities and mining camps of southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma. I've always been interested in this field, Conrad said. I grew up in Milwaukee, and have childhood memories of riding the street cars in the 1940s. I've had a lifelong ambition about some of these lines that hadn't been covered. I heard about these rail lines, and found that they hadn't been written about in the last 40 years.
Conrad did extensive research on all three lines. He said that he obtained a great deal of information from Randy Roberts, curator of Special Collections at Axe Library, Pittsburgh State University, and also from area newspapers. He also came to the area and drove over some of the old railroad right of ways. He discovered fascinating things about all three lines, including the J&P, which provided electric rail passenger and freight service in southeast Kansas from 1890 to 1954.
Conrad said that the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Company received a charter on Feb. 8, 1890, to build two miles of track running north and south on Broadway. The first cars began running on Oct. 20 of that year. The cars were stored in a newly built car barn and light repair shop on the southwest corner of 20th and Broadway.
The second electric railway in Pittsburgh was the Forest Park Line, organized on Jan. 25, 1891, with track going along Fourth Street east and west of Broadway. The Forest Park Line was built to minimal standards, with a single line of trolley poles running down the middle of the street about a foot from the south side of the cars, Conrad said. Passengers were told not to put their heads out the windows on the pole side, but people did keep looking out to see what made the trolley go. There were several injuries and at least two fatalities. He said that, at its peak in 1910, the J&P employed about 375 people, most of them living in Pittsburgh, and was the only means of transit for riders and shippers of freight in an area bounded by Girard, Mulberry, Joplin, Mo., Columbus and West Mineral.
Gradually, the train line dwindled. By June 1934, the J&P was a freight-only short line extending from Pittsburgh southeast to the Chitwood district of Joplin, north and east to Mulberry, and southwest to Cherokee. And, on Jan. 27, 1954, the train made its final trip into Pittsburgh. In March, it was sold to a metal recycling business in Chicago and the S.A. Rose Iron and Metal Company, Pittsburgh. Some trolley brackets were sold to local farmers, who used them as fence posts. There are a few traces left of the old rail lines. An old J&P car barn at the end of West Fourth has been converted into a house. A J&P Buda handcar is among the exhibits at the Heart of the Heartlands Railroad Museum at Carona. And a J&P locomotive is on display at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. As far as I know, that's the only remaining J&P locomotive, Conrad said.
1. Before the Interurbans,
2. Southwest Missouri Railroad-The Rogers Line,
3. Joplin & Pittsburgh Railway-The Heim Line,
4. Northeast Oklahoma Railroad-The Fishhook Line,
6. Rolling Stock,
7. Remnants From a Bygone Era,
Heartland Rails Publishing, softcover, 240 pages., standard portrait book 8 x 10 in., maps and Black-and-White photographs.