The Greenfield & Northern Railroad


The Frisco Aurora Branch

In the 1880's, America was experiencing a railroad boom not seen before or since. Every town desired a railroad or two, as the iron rails were to be its connection with the rest of the country, and commercial prosperity. Ft. Scott, Kansas was fast becoming a regional rail center. One trunk line was radiating southeast from that town, called the Kansas City, Ft.Scott & Gulf. It was surveying a line to connect with the Springfield & Western Missouri RR at Ash Grove. In 1880 a subsiderary of the KCFtS&G, called the Ft. Scott, Southeastern & Memphis had built along this survey to Golden City Missouri, in Barton County. Immediatly east, citizens of Dade County voted $250,000 in bonds to finance the construction of this railroad. Citizens of Greenfield, Dade County's seat had reason for excitement as the survey indicated the railroad would run through the southwest corner of town.

As the railroad commenced building east in 1881, it followed a depression of Turnback Creek and missed Greenfield by three miles to the south. In these days, no railroad meant no outside connection and no growth. Whole towns were known to move their townsite next to the tracks so prosperity could be insured. People in Greenfield expected to do the same thing. Two Greenfield lawyers and real estate dealers, L.W. Shafer and John A. Ready bought 40 acres of land around the tracks and laid out the town of South Greenfield. Centerpiece of this new town was to be a "Public Square" upon which a courthouse was to be erected. It was a logical assumption that the seat of county government would be moved to South Greenfield to a connection with the railroad, thus the outside world. Seeing this, many buisnesses started forming in the new town, such as a livery stable and general store. The town grew in a few years to a population of about 600.

Greenfield was not about to die so easily. T.A. Miller, who is described as a man of action and great buisness sagacity decided to build a branch railroad from Greenfield to South Greenfield. He funded this through public subscription. Buisnessmen in Greenfield took to the idea and started construction of the Greenfield and Northern Railroad. Although the line went south, it was expected to build north to Stockton, the county seat of Cedar County and on to some point on the Missouri river, thus the word northern. In 1891 the G&N was built to connect with the railroad at South Greenfield. The railroad at South Greenfield had been renamed the Kansas City Ft. Scott & Memphis by then. The G&N was not a large railroad, as the rolling stock consisted of "one little wheezy, jerky engine, one box car, and one combination express-baggage-passenger coach". Also one hand-car with tools were provided for the section foreman and one section hand. The line was extended south into Lawrence County through Miller and into the Lawrence County seat at Mt. Vernon by the end of 1891. The road reached it's southern terminus at Aurora in 1892. Here the line connected with the St. Louis & San Francisco RR (the Frisco) and the White River subdivision of the Missouri Pacific, after it was built. With the coming of the G&N, Greenfield was assured to keep the county seat and the boom in South Greenfield subsided.

In 1900, the KCFtS&M was merged into the Frisco system. The G&N was merged around this tme also. It was known as the Aurora Branch thereafter. It remained as a feeder for both mains. Traffic came in at South Greenfield from points in Kansas, such as Ft. Scott and Wichita. Traffic also came from Springfield and Kansas City, in Missouri. Traffic came in Aurora from points in Oklahoma, such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City and points in Arkansas like Harrison and Cotter. The branch remained a feeder for the main system and provided local service. Express was recived at all stations along the branch. In these days before UPS and FedEx, packages were frequently shipped via passenger trains in express cars and left at the depot for pick-up. Mail was also shipped this way. These passenger trains connected with through trains at both junctions. You could travel south into Texas or connect with trains to just about anywhere in Kansas City or St. Louis. Each town had several customers that loaded and recived cars. For instance, South Greenfield had a flour mill, limestone quarry, farm store, automobile dealer, and lumber yard. Although these might not have been as big as what was in larger towns, they all contributed to railroad buisness. Farmers would also use these depots for shipping their products. South Greenfield was noted for shipping poultry, produce, and grain from off the branch. In 1915, the South Greenfield depot burned down and was rebuilt larger.

The branch remained as a through route until 1934 when the 11.77 miles between Miller and South Greenfield was abandoned. The Branch to Miller was operated until 1950 when it was cut back 8.23 miles to Mt. Vernon. This lasted several years after the Frisco merged into the Burlington Northern in 1980. A short stub of the branch remains in Aurora to service a fertilizer dealer. The branch into Greenfield still remains. Two customers remain on the two mile spur. A dynamite plant which is located off-line transloads cars of ammonium nitrate into trucks for shipment to the plant. The largest customer is Pennington Enterprises. This is the largest processor of Kentucky 31 fescue grass seed. The grass seed plant will recieve two or three boxcars of fescue seed in 50lb bags to be processed. The largest reciver of cars is Pennington's bird seed subsiderary, PenPak II. This is the largest manufacturer of birdseed. It will recive up to twenty cars of oil sunflowers, millet, wheat, and milo for processing into birdseed. There is a siding off of the main spur to dump these covered hoppers. PenPak uses a trackmobile to switch these hoppers. This can be frequently seen operating at any time of the day.

The Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad switches the Greenfield spur on Monday, Wednsday, and Friday. This is one of the last four-man crews on any railroad. The size of the crew is for grad crossing protection during switching in Lamar, MO, which is west down the main. There are many street crossings there that need to be flagged. Power on the line is usually a pair GP38-2's, but GP15-1's are occasionally seen. This branch still is important to the economy of Greenfield and Dade County even with the many changes that have taken place throughout the years.

The author would like to thank Mr. Karl Brand of Missouri City, Texas and the Dade County Historical Society's 1991 Sesquicentennial publication for providing needed information for this article. I can be reached at
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