This old steam crane has a storied history: It was used during the train crash in 1938 near Arkalon when the river bridge was washed out. L&T photo/Jessica Crawford
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Leader & Times
The Rock Island Depot will soon be experiencing some upgrades. Not only has the Liberal City Commission discussed steps toward parking lot expansions, the Depot Heritage Board is planning a historical monument to Liberal’s history with the railroad.
Tony Martinez of the Depot Heritage Board has been trying for some time to bring a caboose to the grounds, not only for aesthetics, but to pay homage to the growth of Liberal via the railroad.
“The Depot Heritage Board is trying to get a caboose for the Depot,” Martinez said. “The big deal was we had limited funds in our account because that is when they restored the Depot, we just had a small amount and the board only met once a month. The first meeting I came back to, they said they were going to put me in charge of getting the caboose for Liberal because I worked for the railroad and had connections.
“I talked to a friend that was a supervisor in Kansas City and he thought it was a great idea,” he explained. “He said he would find us one and we wouldn’t have to spend our money on it. The railroad is going to donate the caboose and when we are ready for it, we will be able to put it out there at the Depot in this park – which is an idea they came up with.”
Liberal’s City Commission is planning to expand the parking lot at the Depot. However, nearly two weeks ago, it tabled any decisions regarding the parking lot in order to allow for the caboose – and possibly other equipment that would be on display in the area.
“I work in the engineering department,” Martinez said. “So, I am going to get with Joe Sealey and the city manager to see what will be left out there after they do their parking lot. My boss said we can go in there and build a track just like a railroad track to put it on and it will look nice.”
Martinez was approached approximately 10 years ago regarding the steam crane currently housed at the Coronado Museum. He said it was offered to the Depot Heritage Board and displaying it would offer some insight into Liberal’s railroad history.
“About 10 years ago, the Coronado Museum found out I worked for the railroad when I was out there looking at that old steam crane,” he said. “The lady that was working there said she would like to donate the steam crane back to the railroad at the restored depot. She wanted it back at the railroad yard where it belonged because it was back behind Coronado Museum and no one really knew it was back there.
“I told her that I thought it was a great idea, but the Depot Heritage Board was limited on funds,” he added. “It would have cost about $16,000 to move it – that is what a local house mover said it would have cost.”
Martinez said Ruffino’s owner Jack Carlile had the idea to save some money by coming up with another option for the move.
“Jack Carlile came up with an idea that when the windmill people get here, they can move the crane – we could use their trucks to move it,” he said. “When they get to town this month, we will just talk to them about it.”
The current plan, Martinez said, is to move the crane first. Later, he said, a caboose will be added to the display.
“We think we will probably get the crane over to the depot before we get the caboose,” he said. “We can have fundraisers and get money built up. Then we can work with these guys and get the crane moved right away. Then we can build the track to get the caboose later.”
Martinez not only explained the role the crane played in a 1938 flood, he spoke of his family’s involvement in Liberal’s railroad history, as well.
“In 1938, a train went down in a flood and washed the Cimarron bridge out,” he said. “So, the train came through and went down in the quick sand. Well, that crane and another just like it pulled cars out of the quick sand from that derailment.
“My great-grandpa, both my grandfathers on my mom and dad’s side, and several uncles, they all worked that derailment in 1938 at Arkalon,” he continued. “This is part of Liberal’s heritage – this is part of my family’s heritage, too.
“I feel like it is part of my heritage, and now my brother, Carlos, and I are fourth generation railroaders,” he added. “I have the same job my grandfather held and my dad held. I have 30 years now, my dad retired in 1997 and my grandpa retired in 1974.”
As a section foreman for Union Pacific, Martinez has been very actively involved in the planning process of the display – a process that he said continues to evolve.
“Now we are thinking this might be a little bigger,” he said. “They are wanting to streetscape it, put a little park there – a place where the community can have the Farmer’s Market – something for Liberal. We want a sign that kind of tells the history of that crane. A lot of people didn’t even know it was still there, much less what it’s history was. So, the Depot Heritage Board is going to paint it, restore it, put lights in it, get a caboose. It will be something to attract people, kind of like a little museum.”
Martinez, as well as the city commission, believes the project will be an asset to the community. It will be, he said, a unique way of telling an important story in Liberal’s history.
“We are going to turn it into something nice,” he said. “It is a part of Liberal’s history – if it weren’t for the railroad, Liberal wouldn’t be here.”