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Colorado, Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad

The CK&O railroad existed for a brief time period in western Kansas history.  The train tracks ran between Garden City and Winona, KS through scenic canyons and flatlands on the buffalo grass prairie.  At one time this line was also called the Scott City Northern.

The Keystone Church (now Keystone Gallery) received its nickname from the nearby community of Keystone in Logan County. The church had parishioners from the town of Keystone, plus the surrounding area. Since most services were being held in people's homes, a permanent place of worship was built.

The CK&O railroad line was built through the town of Keystone in 1911. The town was located due north of present day Lake Scott State Park and due west and a little south of present day Keystone Gallery.

The earliest record found in the Logan County History book indicates that Josephine of the Riddle-Drain Family, was born at Keystone in 1906. “They lived in a sod house while a stone house was built in 1895 at Keystone.” (LC)

C.K.&O. train at Keystone

C.K.&O. train at Keystone, circa 1914 (courtesy Fick Fossil Museum).

One observer wrote of the town of Keystone: 

“Logansport, Young observed, was ‘quite a village, composed mostly of natives,’ while Elkader’s big depot Frank Walker ‘mistook for a roundhouse.’  The motor hand car sailed through Keystone, where only a ‘large delegations. . . of chickens and hogs’ put in an appearance.

Two miles south of Keystone the travelers stopped to fish, but with scant luck, catching ‘only carp and sunfish.’  However, Mrs. Lang had brought along ‘grub enough to feed a German regiment.” (RS)

CK&O Time Table, 1915 (RS)
No. 1 Mls. Station Mls. No. 2
PM Noon
1:30 0 Winona* arrive 50.76 12:45
7.43 Disney 43.33
2:13 11.80 Russell Springs* 38.96 12:02
12.84 Harwi 37.92
10:10 Bowie 30.66
2:54 23.49 Logansport* 27.36 12:12
27.07 Elkader 23.69
29.92 Ben Allen 20.84
3:24 31.76 Keystone* 19.00 10:52
39.30 Christy 11.46
43.15 Kelson (Prospect) 7.61
4:30 50.76 Scott City* leave 0 9:45
PM daily exc. Sunday *Telephone at station AM

Railroad Particulars

“In July of 1911, tracks started being laid and by December 21st, 1917 the steel tracks were junked.  Steel was in short supply and needed for the World War effort”.  (SCH)

“It was a standard gauge track of 70 lbs. steel.  They owned 3 locomotives, 3 passenger cars, 2 baggage cars, 12 freight cars.  The right-of-way was never fenced.”  (RS) During the CK&O’s active years, the train provided many different services including transportation, freight, day-trip excursions and mail to outlying small towns.  Few towns remain that were on the fifty-mile route.

Russell Springs, Kansas

One town which did survive, but with a significant decrease in population from its heyday years, is Russell Springs (Off-site link). The old courthouse is now The Butterfield Trail Museum.  Annual events include a Spring Trail Ride and Fall Old Settler’s Day and Rodeo.

The courthouse and museum sit as a reminder of the early pioneers, plus the fierce voting battle for the courthouse seat which Oakley eventually won.  Hard feelings persist to this day over the courthouse fight and the ending county vote that moved the courthouse to a more populated city instead of keeping it in the county’s center.

Train crossing bridgeRussell Springs had all the conveniences a traveler could ask for including cafes, shops and a hotel during the CK&O’s time period.

“Could Railroad Survive?"

There are those who believe Russell Springs would still be the Logan county seat had not the Scott City-Winona railroad been pulled up for scrap iron when the federal government operated all lines during World War I.

Others say ‘not so’. The line was completed in 1911 when the tin lizzie had already made strong incursions into the High Plains, and even the flying machine was making frequent if hazardous appearances at the county fairs.

It was inevitable, they contend, that the line quickly disappear.” (RS)

The town of Keystone was much smaller than Russell Springs, but did have a post office and a telephone. Bessie E. Eversole was postmaster from April 26, 1912 to May 17, 1917. The Eversole family lived on many different parcels of land in Logan County.

Train Stories

The CK&O drew passengers from all over the area for picnics, day excursions, and gatherings on Beaver Creek, which was spring-fed with craggy cliffs and landscapes.

Group in front of train
Photo courtesy of El Quartelejo Museum.
These trips through mostly open range were ever so popular where the engineer would open a gate and the conductor would close it when the train was through.

“It only had to maintain twenty miles per hour speed—so it would let people off or pick them up about anywhere along the line. On many Sundays they would run picnic trains to the scenic areas on Beaver Creek north of Scott City.” (RS)

An excerpt from Scott City News Chronicle-“Back in the teens the Scott City Northern, which ran through the Devil’s Backbone 10 miles north of Scott City, was a familiar sight to northern Scott County folk. Whichever vehicle got to the backbone first had the right-of-way, but trainmen used to have a lot of fun pretending they were going to run down a horse and buggy and often scared the b’gabers out of people. The train ran through what is now the State Park and carried picnic parties out to that favorite spot. The S.C.N. had to meet only about 20 miles per hour schedule, so could stop often, and did. Members of the train crew ran errands in town for farmers along the way who stopped the train to tell the train men what they wanted. The route was abandoned and the rails were taken up during the first World War, but the grade remains”.

“Halcyon Days"

On many Sundays the CKO ran picnic trains to the scenic areas of north Scott County along Beaver creek.

Actually the first picnic train, an overnight outing, was promoted in June, 1912, by Col. J. G. Felts, Winona, who acted as “‘cicerone, guide and philosopher’ for railroad crews, their family and friends. His son, Burris, then a hostler-fireman, attended.

Another notable excursion ran in August, 1914, when Yantis spread “food for 500” and also furnished free transportation, from Winona. Delegations from Oakley, Monument and Page and elsewhere joined Winonans at the union station. At Russell Springs and Keystone more picnickers piled on. Presumably others assembled at the Beaver from Scott County points.” (RS)

Charles Wood was sheriff of Logan County for several terms. One of his children relates this story. “I remember one incident during the laying of the CK&O railroad track, the workers went on a Saturday night drinking binge which erupted into a fight. Dad put them in jail and I helped carry their meals to them.” (LC)

The CK&O went by many different names. SCN (Scott City Northern), GCG&N (Garden City, Gulf & Northern), and CK&O (Colorado, Kansas & Oklahoma) lines. CK&O was the most prevalent. Not only did the conductor use a large hook to pick up mail hanging along the route, but took orders from countryside dwellers to pick up supplies from town. For the long distance traveler, the train provided meals.

The train also carried freight, but was underutilized and one more disadvantage in keeping the train dreams alive.


1911: Started laying tracks

1911, July 2: At 10:25 a.m., “An enthusiastic crowd was at the scene. Many had been with the crews all night encouraging them and even offering to help.  While the track-laying crew was racing for Winona, Fourth of July celebration enthusiast’s issued posters advertising an excursion from Scott City. ‘Ho for Winona,’ the handbill said. Round trip rate was to be 75 cents. Russell Springs planned no celebration

A dispatch from Garden City said Tennis’ crew set a record in track-laying the last day: ‘2 miles for a day that began at sunrise and ended at 11….’”. (NC)

1912, April 26: Keystone Post Office was established. One or more stores were opened in this settlement.

1914 to 1915: Frank and Fannie Lowe operated the Winona Hotel. “At that time, and during harvest, as high as 100 harvest hands would come up on the train and would have to be fed. (LC)

1915, September 16: The CK&O Railroad is having its coaches repainted and decorated so that they will outshine the sun, when their new coating is completed.” (NC)

1916: “Down in the Beaver valley, Keystone and Elkader railheads decided to pull stakes. First the siding at Keystone vanished. Then the depot, houses, and stores were transferred 2 miles northwest to Ben Allen, another tiny community. It was rumored land prices in the Bilby area were to be hiked near Keystone, thus prompting the move. True or not, Bilby later sued the line for lack of rail facilities.” (RS)

1917, May 17: Keystone Discontinued—the Post Office had already been moved to Ben Allen.

1917, Dec. 21: Sold for $316,000

“The railroad, initially known as the Garden City, Gulf & Northern, and later operated under the auspices of the Colorado, Kansas & Oklahoma (CK&O) Rail Road Company, went into receivership after six years and was abandoned—and an article in the News Chronicle on Feb. 5, 1919 reported as follows: ‘The jitney C.K. & O. railroad which Scott City petted and fondled through years of illness, caused by lack of financial nourishments, is this week leaving our loving care and watchfulness forever. One hundred cars are to be loaded with the rails from the track and shipped to Shanghai, China where they will be used in railway construction…’

The remains of ‘Old Betsy’, the locomotive, reposed on the prairie near the south entrance into the Scott State Park until the Second World War, when it was turned into scrap metal for the Allied cause.” (NC)

1918, Jan. 30: …Word was received this week by Ben L. Allen, proprietor of the C. K. & O Railroad, that the government had no jurisdiction over the line, and the company which owns it may tear it up if they desire. A wrecking crew is expected this week.” (NC)

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©2015 Keystone Gallery / Photos © Barbara Shelton unless otherwise noted

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