Ever wonder where a railroad goes as you bounce across the tracks or sit looking through the crossing gates and listen to the warning bell as car after car rumble past? I do. However, more intriguing to me is where does this old overgrown roadbed lead? What was it used for? When was it used? Ever look at a building and think that it resembles an old train station or depot? Or look at an old warehouse that has the distinctively spaced doors for old boxcars, some maybe even bricked up with newer brick, and wonder what it was used for? I do. Have you driven down Railroad Avenue and never seen a railroad? I have.
High horsepower diesels, hammering over heavy steel welded ribbon rail with concrete ties pulling long trains of aluminum hopper cars are today’s railroading. To truly understand how we got to those diesels and hoppers we need to wind back the clock and rediscover the “fallen flags”. The railroads that no longer exist nevertheless they all played key roles in helping to expand and interconnect this great country.
To be an enthusiast of railroad history requires one to be historian, detective, cartographer, researcher, archeologist and more. Mostly though it takes curiosity. Where does this old roadbed go? What was its purpose? Modern technology makes it easier than the old ‘turn right and follow it’ method. Internet searches, earth mapping software, downloadable topographical maps and other interested people that post their findings make it an often times painless way to find out. Type into any search engine ‘old railroad crossing Route 66 3 miles west of Anywhere’ and I will bet you get an answer or at least enough to start with. The ordinary fan would be happy with knowing that it was the Prairie Grass and Southern and might even point it out the next time to his wife/girlfriend/kids/dog. The enthusiast would want to know more and then the next time would not only point it out, he would expound on it for the next twenty minutes, stopping only after he realized everyone was snoring.
Within a half hour drive of my house there are seven old right of ways, some which have hosted several different “fallen flags”. Along these roadbeds in the weeds are traces of a bygone era. Hand chiseled rock cuts, old trestles, a one time large cattle loading facility, stone retaining walls, and derelict buildings. The history is more than the old right of way; it is the purpose it served. There are literally thousands of these “fallen flags”, all a bit of the history of railroading in America and thusly, America itself.