When Walter Lee Simms hired on with the Santa Fe railway in the late 1960s, the local depot agent was still one of the best-known (and highest paid) citizens of many a small Kansas town. Old-fashioned Morse Code telegraphy was (in many locations) still the only method for transmission of official railroad business and Western Union telegrams, and some of the names on the seniority roster had been there since World War I (and even before!).

In the wake of the Post Office decision to yank the mail from the rails in 1967 and Santa Fe President John S. Reed's subsequent "Eulogy to the Chiefs" the local branch line passenger train was officially an endangered species, but it was not dead yet. True, Walter states that during his time as an agent in the Kansas branch-line territory he only sold a ticket to one living passenger—a Hispanic gentleman who elected to ride into Wichita on a semi-regular basis to cash his Social Security checks—but note the caveat, "living". The rails were still frequently used for transport of human remains, and Walter remembers several calls to the local funeral homes to inform them that a new customer had just arrived. The Railway Express Agency (by then known as R E A Express) was still a going concern and the LCL (Less than Car Load...small shipments) freight business was still significant. The branch-line mixed local handled all of this.

The branch-line local, as Walter remembers it, was a string of freight cars with an old heavyweight coach-baggage combine bringing up the markers at the tail end. One day while he was a trainee in Ashland the senior station agent suggested that he hop the local and ride it out to Englewood and back, which he eagerly did. The train crew invited him to leave the passenger seating area and join them in the airy baggage compartment, where they rode in comfortable chairs with the sliding door open. There was another feature in that baggage compartment: A large galvanized ice chest, probably intended for the express shipment of perishables. With no perishables on the manifest that day, the train crew had put that ice chest to good use: It was well stocked with soda, fruit juices...and Everclear.

By the time the mixed local returned to Ashland Walter and his train crew were a mite sloshed. Fortunately for them, today's stringent drug and alcohol testing was still years in the future.

From the pages of the Official Guide, June 1968

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway herald

Mixed Local Trains 71 and 72

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
February, 1968

71 Train Number 72
MoWeFr Miles See Note
6 00A Dp 0.0 Wichita, KS (CT) Ar 2 40P
6 40A 9.7 Schulte, KS 2 10P
6 55A 15.9 Clonmel, KS 1 55P
7 30A 23.3 Viola, KS 1 40P
7 45A 28.1 Anness, KS 1 30P
8 00A 34.9 Norwich, KS 1 20P
8 45A 47.8 Rago, KS 12 45P
9 00A 52.3 Spivey, KS 12 25P
9 20A 59.0 Zenda, KS 12 05P
9 45A 66.7 Nashville, KS 11 45A
10 15A 74.0 Isabel, KS 11 30A
10 45A 81.5 Sawyer, KS 11 15A
11 15A 89.5 Coats, KS 10 55A
11 30A 96.1 Springvale, KS 10 40A
11 40A 99.0 Crofts, KS 10 30A
12 30P 105.4 Belvidere, KS 10 15A
1 15P 117.5 Wilmore, KS 9 20A
1 50P 126.0 Coldwater, KS 9 00A
2 30P 135.7 Protection, KS 8 25A
2 50P 145.5 Sitka, KS 8 10A
3 20P 151.8 Ashland, KS 7 45A
3 35P 159.8 Acres, KS 7 15A
4 00P Ar 167.1 Englewood, KS (CT) Dp 7 00A

Train 71 (Wichita-Englewood): 21 stops, 10:00, 16.7 MPHTrain 72 (Englewood-Wichita): 21 stops; 7:40; 21.8 MPH

NOTE regarding days of operation: The timetable as listed shows No. 72 as operating Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, other information shows that it operated on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. See comments below for additional information.

NOTE: After June 1968 this timetable bears the notation "Freight Service Only". However, other information indicates that passengers were still accommodated on request, at least into mid-1970.

Branch line trains which handled about one paying customer a month probably didn't draw a whole lot of scrutiny from the clerk in the passenger department whose job it was to proofread Santa Fe's pages in the Official Guide. There are a couple of "issues" with this timetable, which Mr. Simms has graciously helped me to clarify. First, the entry does not list this as a mixed train, although Walter clearly remembers that it was. The timetables after June of 1968 all show the notation, "Freight Service Only" for this train, but Walter is quite clear that passengers could be and were accommodated even into (at least) mid-1970, after the train had disappeared entirely from the Official Guide (After June 1969, I see no more mention of any branch line services at all in the Guide's AT&SF pages). In addition, the days of operation are incorrect; Santa Fe was not going to run (and maintain) two separate sets of equipment for this service and then hold them over two nights (plus Sundays) at each end. Walter has employee timetable pages from 1962 (here and here) which show that the train operated outbound from Wichita to Englewood on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but then returned to Wichita on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

There is one more change by the time of Walter's little adventure, occasioned by the fact that Englewood was a small village of less than 200 residents with no commercial lodging establishments. An elderly lady in the town took boarders in her home, which Santa Fe had used for many years to house train crews on their overnight layovers. However, advancing years had taken their toll and she had been compelled to shut down the boarding house shortly before the time of this story. With the loss of this establishment there was no place for the train crews to stay in Englewood, so Santa Fe adjusted the schedule so that the outbound train stopped for the night in Ashland where there was a motel. The next morning the train would complete its run to Englewood, then turn around there and head back all the way into Wichita. It was one of these early morning "turns" from Ashland to Englewood and back that Walter took his joyride on.