Saturday, April 27, 2013


By Kristine Schmucker

You are on your way across town, sitting at the stop light at 5th and Main, and you notice the railroad crossing lights start to flash, the arms come down and you hear the sound of a train whistle. If you have spent any time trying to get from one end of Newton to the other on Main Street, you are familiar with this situation.  You have been "trained!"  Trains are a fact of life in Newton, Kansas.  They are the reason for a town at this location, and throughout Harvey County history, a major employer.

Despite the importance of the railroad to the town and county, when you are stopped by a train at the west 1st Street, Main, and/or Broadway crossing, it can get frustrating.  The train crossings and what to do about them is not a new problem. 

Newton, Main Street Crossing, ca. 1910
Clark Hotel in the background
Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives
In May 1904, Newton city councilmen, members of the Commercial Club, and officials from the Santa Fe Railroad recognized "the importance of having one place at which a sure and safe crossing of the Santa Fe right-of-way at any and all times could be depended upon."

The dangers of the crossing situation in Newton were well known.  Santa Fe officials regarded the crossings at Broadway and Main in Newton "as the most dangerous on their line between Chicago and San Francisco."

In 1904, the city leaders and railroad officials discussed the idea of "a subway under the Santa Fe tracks between the alley back of the Santa Fe offices and some point back of Nicholson's coal office, and the directing of all Main street traffic into this tunnel."  The majority of the businessmen involved in the discussions "were strongly opposed to any solution of the problem that carried with it the closing of the Main street crossing."

Discussions continued and a committee was formed consisting of D.W. Wilcox, C.M. Glover and John C. Nicholson.  They were to work with H.U. Mudge, general manager of the Santa Fe Railroad, to find a solution to this "old question."

Evening Kansan Republican,  3 June 1904
But, a subway was never constructed.

Newton, Main Street Crossing, 1950
Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives

The train crossings at Broadway, Main, and West First continue to block traffic regularly, 
as they have since the early 1900s.

Newton, Main Street Crossing, 1988
Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives

Thanks to Linda Koppes, who discovered the June 3, 1904 clipping.
Evening Kansan Republican, 24 May 1904.
Evening Kansan Republican,  3 June 1904.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Hot Rods to Roll at Jayhawk Tonight" - Racing in Harvey County

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
"Theron Kinzie of Hutchinson, whose No. 101 turned a complete flip-flop as he was negotiating the east turn at the start of the race . . . It was feared at first that Kinzie was pinned under the car, but he crawled out and was unhurt."
(Evening Kansan Republican,  Friday, September 17, 1948, p. 6)
Kinzie accident at Jayhawk Amusement Park, Newton, 16 Sept. 1948 
Photo courtesy
During the summer of 1948, hot rod racing became a popular sport in Harvey County. Each Thursday night, spectators could watch thrilling races at the Jayhawk Amusement Park located at southwest 14th and Elm in Newton, Ks.
Earlier in 1948, three Newton men had an idea for a race track.  The July 28, 1948 Evening Kansan Republican noted; "Starting from scratch early this year, Earl Mills, Lum Spangler and Bill Spradlin have made the local track one of the best in the state." 
Aerial photo of Jayhawk Amusement Park, SW 14th, Newton, 1949
Looking East
Photo Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives
Racers from across the Midwest would race on the 1/3 mile dirt track at the Jayhawk Amusement Park, in Newton on Thursday nights, and then race at the Hutchinson track and the two Wichita tracks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Ad in Evening Kansan Republican, 9 September 1948, p.12.

On Thursday, July 29, 1948 the Jayhawk held memorial races for a popular hot-rod driver, Dorrell D. Wilkinson, who was killed at the Cejay Track in Wichita on July 25, 1948.  A percent of the gate was given to Wilkinson's widow.  Nearly 30 cars from four states came to race.  Local racers included Jim Roper of Halstead, Shorty Jones and Charlie Ludkie, Wichita, and Bob Thorne, Dallas, TX.
The Evening Kansan Republican  reported the next day:
"Shorty Jones, driving car 312, literally hogged the show as he won the time trials, the consolation, the trophy dash and the 'A' feature."
Despite several close calls,
 "the luck of the Newton track held as spills and crashes left drivers almost miraculously unhurt. . . . The most exciting crash of the evening came in the 'A' on the north side of the track when Will Forrest, Wichita, in 355 Jr., was literally pushed through the air by two or three cars tangled up.  A cloud of dust veiled most of the tie up, but cars and men jammed together in a bad one ending up in the pit with no one hurt."
(Evening Kansan Republican, Friday, July 30, 1948, p. 3.)

Jayhawk Amusement Park Track, Newton, Ks, 1949
Photo Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives
Throughout the summer of 1948, the crowds flocked to the Jayhawk to watch the races.
Jayhawk Amusement Park, Newton, 1948
Photo courtesy
Local Halstead man, Jim Roper, was a frequent driver.  He is best known as the winner of the first NASCAR stock car race held in 1949.
The Jayhawk Amusement Park was in operation for about a decade starting in the summer  of 1948.
Do you have a story or photos of the Jayhawk Amusement Park?  We would love to hear from you!
Share in the comments section of this blog or on our Facebook page, if you cannot get to the museum in person. 

To learn more about racing in Kansas join us on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 7:00 at the museum for "Kansas Takes the Checkered Flag in American Racing"  presented by Sara Jane Richter. This free program is a Kansas Humanities Council Program.

  • Special thanks to Joe Smiley.
  • Evening Kansan Republican, Friday, July 30, 1948, p. 3.
  • Evening Kansan Republican, Friday, September 17, 1948, p. 6
  •  Evening Kansan Republican, Thursday, 9 September 1948, p. 12.
  • - Excellent photographs of racing at the Jayhawk, Newton, and Cejay's, Wichita.
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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tools from Our Collection: The Link and Pin Coupler

By Kristine Schmucker, Curator

Today, the object is a curiosity;  two pieces of heavy iron on a museum shelf, the use all but forgotten except by railroad enthusiasts.  Couplers, in one form or another, have been in continuous use since the invention of travel by rail.  The purpose is basic, couplers hold the cars together. They must be made of strong material to hold the cars together as the train travels over hills, around curves and over rough track.  The very first couplers were quite simple and known as the "link-and-pin" (Lincoln pin).  An iron loop was fitted into an opening at the end of each car's drawbar.  The loop was anchored in place by an iron pin dropped through a socket in the top of the drawbar.  The pin passed through the link and through another socket in the bottom of the drawbar.

Link & Pin Coupler
HCHM Railroad Collection

Prior to 1887, workers manually connected two railroad cars together using the link and pin coupler.
An illustration depicting an early railroad worker performing
the dangerous task of connecting rolling stock with link & pin couplers.
Historically, the Brakeman held the most dangerous job on the train. They had to walk atop moving cars and manually apply the brakes.  The brakeman was also in charge of coupling the cars.  He stood between the cars while holding the link in position to slide into the receiver of the car being coupled as it was pushed by an engine. The brakeman held the link in one hand an a second pin in the other while the next car is pushed into position. At exactly the right moment, he must let go of the link and insert the second pin into the pocket of the oncoming car. Early cars had no means of cushioning the impact so if the brakeman's timing was off, he could loose fingers, a hand, or even be crushed completely between the two cars. Links were kept short to reduce slack.

Demonstrating Link & Pin Coupling
Photo: Hurley, p.7
This system resulted in many severe injuries including loss of limbs and even death.  In one reference to the link and pin coupler, it was noted that when transient brakemen and switchmen came to ask for work;
"the yardmaster asked them to hold up their hands in lieu of references.  If the applicants had several fingers missing, the yardmaster knew they were 'old timers' and would be able to go on the job as experienced workers."****

In 1887, many began to use the automatic general coupler. The manual link and pin coupler became illegal in the United States on mainline railroads with the passage of the Railway Safety Appliance Act in 1893.
AT&SF Engine 1863, ca. 1900
Conductor - R.H. Chandler;
Brakemen - A.W. Watson & G.W. McMurray;
Fireman - P.K. Richardson a & Hill.
Photo Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives

Patent diagram of the Janney Coupler that replaced the link-and-pin coupler.

Despite improvements in couplers, working with rail cars continued to be a dangerous job as this remembrance from Santa Fe Railroad Conductor, Raymond Oursler, illustrates. 
Conductor Oursler was on the Newton - Dodge route on February 3, 1965; everything was proceeding normally.  Conductor Oursler communicated to the station at Wright, Ks, via radio, about the work that would need to be completed at the stop.  The station then passed on the information to the brakemen.  At the stop, Oursler
"walked from the caboose to where the railcars were, placed himself behind the railcars to operate the coupling device.  Unbeknownst to him, someone had changed the order of work. As Oursler had a hold of the rear car in a string, another string of cars slammed into the string of cars Oursler now had a hold of.  The force threw him down between the rails and the [rail]cars were now rolling over the top of him.  The force threw glasses, pencils, papers from pockets.  Oursler was now in a fight for his life . . . as railcar after railcar pass overhead he looked ahead at what was coming and realized that some of the equipment hanging down was to low for him to avoid.  So, grabbing a hold of some of the equipment he was drug along until the cars stopped.  Crawling out, he thanked God to be alive and fully intact." **
Oursler was very lucky.  The main injuries he sustained were bruising on his back.  He was off of work for ten days, after which he resumed his regular route until his retirement on November 26, 1977.  Oursler worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, and later Amtrak, for 38 years. 
  • **"Raymond Oursler's Railroad Career" as recorded by Terry W. Oursler; handwritten document, HCHM Archives.
  • Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives Railroad Collection.
  • **** Botkin, B.A. and Alvin F. Harlow.  A Treasury of Railroad Folklore: the Stories, Tall Tales, Traditions, Ballads and Songs of the American Railroad Man.  New York:  Bonanza Books, 1953; p. 313.
  • Hurley, L.M. "Mike", Newton, Kansas #1 Santa Fe Rail Hub; 1871-1971. Newton, KS: Mennonite Press, 1985.
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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Story Behind the Object

By Kristine Schmucker, Curator

Sometimes the story of how an artifact gets to the museum is almost as interesting as the actual history of the artfact.
Recently, we got a call from the EtCetera Shop in Newton.  They had just received a donation of what appeared to be an old waitress uniform.  Would we be interested in looking at it?
Neatly packed in a large Ziplock bag was a heavily starched, blue striped dress with a two pieced white apron  and a collar.  The only other clue was a typed name on each piece, "Brenda J. Odle."
Research revealed that it was actually a nurses uniform from the 1960s.  Clothes worn by nurses underwent a significant change in the last half of the 20th century.  In the 1880s, as nursing was gaining progress in becoming a respectable occupation for women, the uniforms they wore were designed to protect against illness and to protect virtue.  Nurses wore uniforms that covered the entire body.  Uniforms also helped identify the woman as a nurse.

Bethel Deaconess Hospital Training School
1916 graduates
Clara Schmidt & Martha Wiebe

Change in uniforms came during and following the Second  World War.  By this time, nursing was a career that was respectable.  Skirts and sleeves were shortened to aid in movement during care.  As function and comfort of the wearer became more important the traditional starched aprons disappeared.  By the 1970s scrubs were seen in many hospitals.  Today, most nurses wear the loose fitting garments.  The uniform donated to the museum represents the time of transition from a formal nurses' uniform to the more comfortable scrubs.

An obituary for Brenda Jean Odle Laughlin told the rest of the story.
Brenda was born May 18, 1940 in Junction City, Kansas, to Wayne F. & Louise Blaker Odle.  In High School, Brenda enjoyed singing and was in several vocal groups at school and church.  In 1961, she graduated from Stormont-Vail School of Nursing, Topeka, Kansas.  That same year, on October 8, she married William "Bud" Laughlin. 

After graduation she worked as a registered nurse in various places, including Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton, Kansas.  Possibly she wore this uniform during her time at Bethel Deaconess prior to her marriage.
Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing
Students and Teachers
ca. 1957
Brenda and Bud moved to Hesston, Kansas and she was very active in the community, serving of the Board of Directors for the Hesston Resource Center and a volunteer with  Hesston EMS. She worked at Hesston Corp until her retirement in 2003.
The couple had three daughters.
Brenda died on January 16, 2012 at her Hesston home and is buried at the Hesston Cemetery, Hesston, Kansas.

Newton Kansan, 18 January 2012.
Wiebe, Katie Funk, Our Lamps Were Lit: an Informal History of the Bethel Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing, Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton, Ks, 1978.
For more information on the Stormont-Vail School of Nursing in Topeka, Ks
Today, the school is part of Baker University.