About Liberty Street

The Long Story of a Short Railroad

Archives of What's Next - 2010 2011

March 6, 2009

For a long time I had been focusing on modeling in HOn3 a ficticious but plausable mountain railroad in Colorado during the mid to late 1890s which I called the Lake Fork and Animas. It had as its premise the very real plan to connect Lake City with Silverton via either Engineer Pass or Cinnamon Pass, both at over 12,600 ft, and presupposed that the plan was actually carried out. I had wanted to capture the grandure of the scenery with the diminutive machinery that conquered it and always fell short.

I had done the basement sized layout once and, while satisfying in terms of space, it just did not fit my current life style (I am kind of a sedentary gypsy). Mostly, I just didn't have or didn't want to devote the real estate neccessary to pull it off credibly and found myself trying to get the look and feel of vast distances and mighty terrain into tiny boxes. I was mulling over the possibility of a diorama type approach even then and made a few stabs at it with unsatisfactory results. The subject just didn't lend itself to such a treatment (at least in my mind) at the same time alowing for a lot of modelling or operation.

I was in a modelling funk about the time my brother and I started poking around the West Bottoms, here in Kansas City trying to capture what remained of the old urban/industrial heart of the city. We launched an amature urban archaeological project chronicled in the Kansas City Perspective web pages to make some sense of what we found and I discovered my modelling salvation. Here there was railroad action in spades, in tight quarters, surrounded by impossing nineteenth century structures and at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century it was at its zenith.

The Concept
Liberty Street is essentially an operating diorama based on a day in the life of one street in the city over one hundred years ago. The time frame is between 1893 and 1905. The location is Kansas City, Missouri in the area known as the "West Bottoms". At the time Kansas City was the terminus of a number of important railroads and a source of revenue for many more.

In the 1890s rails branched out from here in all directions. The Santa Fe to the Southwest, the Kansas City Fort Scott and Gulf (and then KC Pittsburg and Gulf and later still the KCSouthern) due South, the Chicago and Alton, Missouri Pacific, Hannibal and St. Joseph, which built the first bridge across the Missouri River at Kansas City (later incorporated into the larger CB&Q now the BNSF and still here). The Union Pacific accessed its subsidiary Kansas Pacific through Kansas City and still maintains a prominent place here. The Frisco, Rock Island, Chicago Kansas and Western, the Wabash, the Missouri Kansas and Texas, and the list goes on.

This was the period of migratory rail cars and road names from the Atlantic to the Pacific could be found along the side tracks, yards and industries throughout the city. That seemed to be a perfect answer for my modelling malaise. It was more good fortune that Roundhouse had started coming out with their line of early era freight cars. I started collecting these even before I knew for sure what I was going to do with them. I was just sort of drawn to the appearance of these cars with there simple lines and, sometimes, ornate lettering.

The Plan
I was not interested in a full blown layout, I had been down that road and was ready for something simple that would travel easily, that wouldn't involve a lot of complicated benchwork and electronics. I have always been a fan of the English modellers and the small, one station layouts they build, with fiddle yards to handle the outer world. It seemed to me to be a good method for concentrating on details and I really enjoy tinkering and not so much all the work that goes into building a basement sized empire. So, a shelf layout, short and no more than 24" deep settled in my head as the way to go.

I considered the Wabash Freight Depot as one possibility. I even built a model of the control tower that sat at the Eastern end of the Wabash yard. After a study of the panoramic map of Kansas City ca.1895 from the American Memory site, and the Sanborn maps as seen below, I began to gravitate toward Liberty street for the sole reason that the Ryley Wilson building still stands as it was in 1895 and the logo on its wall is clearly visible on that panoramic map.

Having settled on the location I started to work in earnest on the project that would occupy my idle hours for the next five years and promises to do so on into the future. I chose an old hollow core door as the layout base. They are hollow and light and quite strong; the whole thing doesn't weigh more than twenty pounds (OK...maybe more...but it is light) with the track and buildings installed. But that is another story.

I didn't really have a plan drawn out for the layout. I used the Panoramic map and the Sanborn map below as a guide for construction. The area from St. Louis Avenue on the South (left) to Ninth Street on the North (center) is virtually finished now. Some necessary compromises had to be made. The buildings along the layout edge opposite Ryley Wilson and Abernathy Furniture, which would have blocked the view, had to be moved or eliminated. Where the Kemper Paxton Mercantile would be, I placed a small coal yard and team track. The Trumble Seed building was moved across St.Louis Ave. and is represented by the building opposite Rudy Patrick Seed forming the ''gate''.

There are still the tracks beyond Ninth Street and the Dold Packing Plant to be finished. Then Tenth Street and, of course, the Wabash Yard and Gooseneck, all areas I intend to model. Once I have exhausted Liberty Street's details I will simply set it aside and begin one of the other locations in it's place. Eventually they can all be connected to create one very long diorama. An ambitious plan. Maybe too ambitious. But, that is the plan.

More to come,

drop me a line at: libertystreetrr@gmail.com

March 12, 2009

Recently incited a thread on the Yahoo Early Rail group regarding rail/road crossings, signs, flagmen, etc.. that resulted in this discovery.
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American Statute Law An Analytical and Compared Digest By Frederic Jesup Stimson
I am still researching the exact type of signal that would have been required in Kansas City, Mo. but clearly there needs to be something at St.Louis Ave. and Ninth St.

March 19, 2009

The question about crossing signals, etc... led to a new little project. I decided that at least Liberty Street needed a flagman or two to protect the delicate and valuable Jordan wagons crossing the tracks. The Flagman project is one of those little scrap box one evening things that keep the imagination alive. Not everyone's cup of tea but when you have a small space the little things go a long way.

October 15, 2009

Having exhausted the possibilities of Liberty Street and not wanting to go all godzilla on it I am pondering my next move. Current thinking is that I will go back to the Wabash yard and begin again where I originally intended to start.

I have the tower fairly well finished so maybe a bit of modelling on that will reignite my interest. The windows were never finished and the interior is rather bare (and since the windows are so large the interior is going to be an important element, even if it is just the most rudimentary representation).

Then there is the Wabash freighthouse and the long attached, single story warehouse/loading dock. plus, all the attendent yard structures and of course the elevated railway and it's bridge-work built right over the yard that promises to keep me busy for the winter.

(Click image to enlarge)

The highlighted area of the Sanborn map above is the greater part of the area of the Wabash yard that I intend to model. From the St.Louis Avenue tower just below the Bluff Bridge on the extreme left to include the Wabash freight terminal on the extreme right. There will necessarily be some compression compromises here to both width and depth. Something closer to the same site as depicted on the Panoramic Map

But, Wait!!! There's more!

December 15, 2009

In the two months that have passed since I saw an ''end'' to Liberty Street, I have found that nothing is ever really complete. There were some details that were nagging at me that I thought I would address before setting Liberty Street aside. And, what about details discovered in the mean time, like the debris and packing trash, etc visible in those Shorpy pictures of Duluth. The point of ''Liberty Street'' after all was to concentrate on such things that I would not have time for on a larger layout.

So... Included in the list that might keep Liberty Street alive and well for a bit longer: Ninth Street has never actually been finished; I had discovered the elevated was not quite correct; and Bliss Refining, Co needed at least one more floor to give it the correct proportions, and all those little details to give the street a lived in look.

Bliss Refining

The 1895 panoramic map showed that the Bliss Refinery adjacent to Abernathy Furniture was a taller building that Abernathy. The original structures were built with this difference in mind but when Abernathy grew a floor, Bliss did not and that always bugged me a little. So...the framers and brick layers were called in and Bliss gained a level. A water tower and an iron clad passageway on the third level were added as indicated on the Sanborn map.

Anyway, here is the result of all this remodelling.

(Click image to enlarge)

Ninth Street Elevated

The Ninth Street elevated was originally built using Central Valley bridge tie strips and was satisfactory as it was but all the photos of the real thing as it was showed that there were no ties at all. The girders appeared to be the rails, as it were, and the only thing seperating the trains from the street below was this open iron web between the longitudinal sections.

View of the elevated line early in it's life as a "Steam Dummy" line. At some point around the TOC by at least 1895 it was converted to overhead electric and that is how I have modelled it.

On top is the original bridge deck and below is the more appropriate deckless bridge.