Editors note: this story was first published in The Gardner News on Wednesday, April 21, 1982. Photos and information courtesy of Gardner Historical Museum/ Tressa Stone.
Special to The Gardner News
On Wednesday afternoon Jim Vohs, Santa Fe Freight Agent for over 25 years, took a look around the Gardner Depot and locked the doors for the last time. He not only closed the depot but has seen the passing of an era.
Although there is still as much rail traffic as always, automation and centralized accounting had made small depots like Gardner’s obsolete. The closing of the local station is one step toward economizing by the railroad company.
Vohs will be transferred to the Olathe Office. That office will handle freight requirements form this area in the future. However, rail cars will still stop at Gardner for grain and freight if full carloads are to be shipped.
Most Gardnerites have hardly been aware of the depot’s existence and look upon the trains as something to watch for at the crossings. However, there was a time not so long ago when the trains and depot were an integral part of the community.
From 1871, when the first depot was built, until a few years ago, the community relied on the trains for mail, freight and transportation. Most communications came through the depot office via telegraph, during that era. When Vohs was hired by the railroad, freight agents were required to know Morse code.
A housewife planning a shopping excursion to the big city, business men, even children visiting a relative road the trains.
The trains brought drummers with their wares and other visitors to small Kansas towns such as Gardner.
Although a 25-cent ticket would take a passenger to Olathe, he had to be quick if he wanted to board a train in Gardner.
“The trains only stopped a few minutes and we had to hurry,” Vohs said. “The engineers were always in a hurry trying to keep their schedule.”
However, with the advent of the automobile, fewer and fewer people road the trains. The last passenger train stopped in Gardner in 1971.
“Most people think that airplanes killed the passenger trains, but it was really the automobile that did it in,” Vohs remarked.
Between 1870 and 1950, the trains carried the United States mail. In the early days Hannibal McCulloght pushed the main bags in a two-wheeled cart to and from the depot. The Cordell horse drays later took over the task. In 1950, the Highway Postal Service began carrying the mail instead of the trains. During the hey day of railway express, the trains carried any type of cargo. “We never backed away from anything,” Vohs said. “We received everything from fine china to dogs.”
He fondly recalled the spring months when baby chicks were shipped to Gardner.
“The whole office was alive with the chirping and cheeping of those chicks until the folks could pick them up, Vohs laughed.
He added that crates of the yellow chicks would be stacked all around the office. Live animals were not an unusual cargo. Registered bulls were among some of the items shipped railway express.
In 1970, the Gardner Depot stopped handling railway express. Much of that business has been taken over by United Parcel. However, United Parcel does not generally ship live animals.
Farmers from miles around use to bring cream to the depot and ship it to Kansas Cit by rail. Now refrigerated trucks transport most milk, Vohs added that some companies stopped buying cream and many of the farmers have since quit keeping milk cows.
No one recalls exactly when the present depot was built. It has been at least since Vohs went to work in Gardner in 1956.
The first depot was built on the south side of the tracks just east of Center Street, according to the history of Gardner written by local historian, Virginia Johnson. Later a depot was built on the north side of the tracks, along with Summit House, also called the Railroad Hotel. The depot was moved to the south side of the present depot. The Hotel was moved to Park Street in 1910 and later became Scoville Apartments.
Sometime around 1916, that depot was replaced by a larger depot. This depot had two waiting rooms, one for ladies and on for gentlemen, each with a separate ticket window. A shelter house was added about this time. However, in 1941, the waiting rooms and shelter were removed because Gardner became a “Whistle Stop.”
Much of the historical information came from Virginia Johnson’s book, “Gardner, where the Trails Divide.”