Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Depot served M-K-T Rail Line

Sent to The Frederick Leader and The Frederick Press, June 7, 2011
Frederick's Katy depot was in a neglected state prior to its removal in 1973.

Katy Depot was Frederick's second train station 
      Most of us recognize that the 1901 Frisco Depot, now located at the Pioneer Townsite Museum, is a Frederick treasure. In the 1980s the depot was moved from its original site on West Grand Avenue, placed at its present location at the Pioneer Townsite, restored, and saved for future generations.
Many people are not aware, though, that Frederick once had two depots. The Katy depot, which was located at 300 South Ninth Street, was built in 1907 to serve the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railroad.
Part of the depot was moved away after damage in the 1973 tornado.
Like the older Frisco depot, the Katy Depot was of wood construction but built in a more distinctive style.
It stood on South 9th, across the street from the old Ford dealership, in gradual decline until the summer of 1973 when it received extensive damage in the June 1973 tornado that swept through Frederick.
Most of the depot was torn down soon afterward but the most distinctive part of the structure was moved to a location near Altus where it was converted into a home.
In January 1969, Frederick Leader reporter Richard Break wrote about the Katy Depot which, at that time, was still a functioning but fading business location. The article was reprinted in the Tillman County History, Vol. II (1978)
Following is Break’s January 12, 1969 article:

"The local Katy railroad depot, once the proud and stately center of a booming railroad industry, will celebrate its sixty-first birthday this month in quiet obscurity.
"More than half a century since its construction, its paint blistered and pealed by the scorching southern Oklahoma sun, the wooden structure still stands in the 300 block of South Ninth Street.
A 1970s print by Frederick artist Larry Greer depicted the Katy depot.
“Construction of the rustic old station began in December of 1907 and was completed nearly a month later in January, 1908.
“The depot was constructed by the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railroad – long since vanished from existence – as an exact replica of the company’s Wichita Falls station.
“Throughout its long history as a Tillman County landmark, the building, like many others, has played an important part in the rich history of the area.
“Gone now are the busy days, when as many as eight station employees scurried back and forth conducting the business of the booming passenger and freight operations.
“The clatter and bustle of the busy waiting room have long since faded away, but the novel old potbelly stove and hard, straight-backed benches still remain as mute testimony of the station’s history.
“A visit to the station today will find the main portion of the building just as it stood 50 years ago. A small black and white sign still hangs over the ticket window – closed since April 1954, when the line’s last passenger train stopped at the station.
“Proclaiming the existence of a past prosperity for the railroad in this county seat town is the fact that during the height of rail activity, as many as six passenger trains made their way to the depot daily.
“Flourishing during the period from 1920 through the late 1940s, the local railroad industry, like its big brothers on the national scene, began its decline as automobile and air travel increased.
“H.L. Hollister, for whom the town of Hollister was named, was the first Wichita Falls and Northwestern line agent. Other early-day agents were C.A. Davis and E.P. Mitchfield.
“Serving as station agent during most of the past 61 years was Ray H. Birkhead, who retired last September after serving as local agent for 40 years.
“In the beginning, two passenger trains came into the city each day and Frederick was the end of the line. A year later, the line was extended north through Tipton and Altus towards Wellington, Texas. Then the railroad built the line through Mangum to Elk City, which was to be the terminus.
“Before that work was finished, the road extended on toward Woodward, and in 1912, another extension, this time to Forgan – was made.
“In 1912, the company sold to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (M-K-T) lines. There were three daily passenger trains, two regular freights, and three or four extra freights coming in as needed.
“Birkhead took over the local agent’s job in May of 1928, after serving as agent at Tipton and cashier-telegrapher at both Frederick and Hollister.
“When Birkhead assumed his duties as agent there were five other employees, including a cashier-telegrapher, car clerk, yard clerk, warehouse foreman, and trucker. Additional clerks were soon needed and added to the staff, bulging the number to eight employees.
“Once the primary mode of both personal travel and transportation of all types of commodities, trains to Frederick at one time were swarmed by harvest workers, their families, and belongings, who converged on the area during cotton harvest.
“During the peak of local activity, November 1924, Birkhead recalls that some $16,000 worth of tickets were sold during a single month.
“In continuous use since its erection, the depot was once the focal point for a number of extra trains labeled “football specials” as city residents followed the Frederick Bearcats to athletic contests at Hollis, Grandfield, and Mangum. Many of these trains were composed of as many as 16 cars.
“The only break in operation of the station came for a period during World War I when the Katy and Frisco companies pooled facilities, using the local Frisco depot for the center of activity.
‘Today, the once busy depot is manned only by the agent, Eugene Dowdy of Grandfield, who handles the single freight load with ease.”

NOTE: Acclaimed photographer David Plowden visited the Frederick Katy Depot in 1968 on the day that R.H. Birkhead retired after 40 years as station agent. The photographer made a portrait photo of Birkhead which is published in Plowden’s latest book, Requiem for Steam: the Railroad Photographs of David Plowden (Norton, 2010). Plowden wrote that on Birkhead's last day with the company he was asked to unceremoniously lock up and leave the key in the mail slot when he left. Birkhead died in 1971 in Florida at age 79.

Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s board of directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at tillmanokhistory@gmail.com.

Photo of the depot move taken by the late Joe Miller, The Frederick Press

Katy depot pen-and-ink print by the late Larry Greer used at this site with permission.

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