Colorful railroad lore wrote a chapter in Hardin

By Linda Emley

Submitted photo

This picture of the Hardin, Mo., Depot was taken on Oct 16, 1972 by William F. Rapp Jr. I recently purchased this picture and two other pictures of the Richmond and Norborne depots on the Internet.
They are 5 x 7 photos that were a part of Albert Gustafson’s railroad collection, which is located inside the Western American Railroad Museum. This museum is housed at the Harvey House in Barstow, Calif.
I know 1972 does not sound like that long ago, but we are lucky that Mr. Rapp took these pictures 40 years ago because these depots were soon demolished.
The Hardin Depot was torn down around the same time as the Richmond and Norborne depots. I am still collecting details about the Richmond depot and general info about all the railroads of Ray County, which I hope to write about later.
There is a book by Frank M. Ellington titled “Santa Fe Depots of the Plains,” 2nd Edition, that features pictures and architectural drawing of many Santa Fe Depots. It includes Hardin and Norborne, so I’m wondering if the pictures I purchased were used for that book.
The Hardin Depot was built in 1889 and was first used only by the Santa Fe Railway. It stood beside the railroad tracks between Main and Front streets. The Ray-Carroll storage elevator is now at this location. When they started using the same track for the Santa Fe and Wabash in 1907, a tower was added to the building.
This depot was built from oak and hickory wood with maple flooring. These facts were discovered when the depot was being torn down. None of the woods used were native lumber, so I’m guessing it might have been shipped to Hardin by railroad. Some of the guttering and downspouts were made of copper. The outdoor toilets were added in 1890 and the tool shed was built in 1904.
In the early 1940s, Riley Joy was the constable of Hardin and it was his job to pick up the mail from the train and take it to the post office. He used a two-wheel cart to transport what arrived at the depot each day. One story I was reading said people who were hired were paid around $1,000 a year for this service.
The train would not stop for all mail bags. Sometime they would pitch a bag off the train and then snag the out going mail as it hung on a hook waiting for them. The “handoff” did not always go as planned, and after the train rolled on by there could be pieces of mail scattered all over the railroad tracks.
One of my favorite old family stories is how one branch of my family moved here from Illinois. They rode the train to Hardin with all their earthly belongings, which included their farm animals. They got off, and herded their livestock to their new home in Ray County. I always loved hearing my grandmother tell this story about our ancestors. I’ve heard a similar version of this story from others, so I think this same adventure was shared by more than a few families from this area.
I went to Hardin for first through fourth grades in the early 1960s, so I’ve always felt like Hardin was my hometown, too. I remember that small town feeling that was a big part of my childhood from the fun days that I spent there when I got to spend the night with one of my classmates.
Since I was a country girl, I enjoyed the fun of being a “city girl”, even if it was for just one day. When we were out walking around, we were so careful if we had to cross the railroad tracks. Everyone in Hardin respected the tracks and watched out for trains passing through town. I remember the Hardin train depot, but I don’t remember ever seeing a train stop there because I was too young to remember the “Doodlebug”. I’ve heard tales about the Doodlebug but never got to experience it first hand.
For those like me who never got to ride the Doodlebug, it was a self-propelled railway car that was used for short hauls on train routes that were less traveled than other routes. They were very popular in the 1920s through the 1960s.
I thought the name Doodlebug was a nickname for a local train, but I found out that it was a type of train that was used in many locations. They say it was given this name because these trains would go “doodling through town.”
You could ride it from Hardin to Kansas City and it would stop at every town between here and there. I have one friend in Hardin that said she rode the Doodlebug from Hardin to Carrollton in 1952 to visit her friend that had moved there.
You did not need a depot for the Doodlebug, it would just stop at the railroad crossing and you would get off whereever your party was waiting to pick you up.
On August 13, 1959, there was a big train wreck in Hardin and many local people remember it. It was the end of the line for Engine number 791 that was built in 1938 because it was scrapped after the Hardin wreck. Watch for a future story about the memorable train wreck of 1959.
I searched the 1881 Ray County History book and only found one reference to a railroad in Hardin. John F. Cunningham was born in 1848 and moved to Missouri in 1854. He engaged in the railroad business for about 12 years as a station agent and telegraph operator at various locations.
He was the operator at the Hardin office for about a year and then opened up a drug and grocery store. Since this depot was built in 1889, John never worked in it, but the story in the Ray history book does tell us that Hardin had service before it was built. Once again, I’ve started a story and ended up with more questions than answers.
There are many people that collect railroad artifacts and information. We have a small collection of Railroad items at the Ray County Museum and are hoping to add more to it. We would love to have anyone with railroad stories to share them with us so we can add them to our files.
Thanks to a recent addition to our railroad collection, I found out who ruled the shipping business before UPS came along. The Railway Express Agency, also know as “REA,” was formed by the US government in 1917. It shipped small packages via the rail systems of America.
REA was created because the country needed a way to ship packages, money and goods during World War I. The agency went out of business in 1975 when it was determined that it was cheaper to ship packages via UPS on the highways of America. Who knows what is waiting around the next corner in the shipping industry. Will UPS survive or suffer the same fate as REA did?
I live near a railroad track and it’s always fun to watch the train go by and wonder where it has been and where it’s going next. I love to hear the sound of the whistle blowing.
There are not as many trains running on our tracks as in years past, but it is comforting to know they are still moving on down the line.
Our railroad system was very important when we were expanding across this vast land of ours. I hope that it will be around for many more years to come. I will continue to collect postcards of trains and depots as my small part of keeping the history of our railroads alive for future generations to enjoy.

You can reach Linda Emley at or by visiting Ray County Historical Museum during business hours.

2 Responses to Colorful railroad lore wrote a chapter in Hardin

  1. Larry Staeden

    December 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    I enjoyed reading your article about Harding Train Depot. I am a retired train dispatcher and have always enjoyed exploring the old train depots. Many of them have been saved but also many have not due to no funding in smaller towns etc. I began railroading in Oct 1969 and that was the erra
    of mergers and the begining of BN INC. Was sad to see many people being displaced and or laid off after a few of the mergers. I changed companies
    in 1981 and started with the Santa Fe so it worked ut that I did not have to go thru the Soo Milw Merger. But then years after that ended up going thru the BNSF Merger. Well hope your Museum get alot of nice articles. Take Good Care’
    Larry Staeden

  2. Pj Sisseck

    April 6, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    My grandmother’s double-first cousin, Ray A . Staubus, died 14 August 1959 as a result of the Hardin train wreck of 13 August 1959. His Missouri DC (59-030109) says it was a head-on collision.

    I would like more information on this accident. Thank you.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login