Sunday, February 12, 2017

Building the Pittsburg Shops

Original, faded condition
The Kansas City Southern Railroad picked Pittsburg, Kansas as the home for their large maintenance facility, known in railroad parlance as "The Shops". One of the buildings that was central to the operation was this one, where the line's steam locomotives would be overhauled and repaired. The faint notation at the bottom of the photo indicates that the workers building this place were taking their break on March 22, 1907. These men's hard work would last well over a century: Although it had been abandoned a number of years before, it was not until the summer of 2010 that this and the other associated buildings were torn down.

When Arthur Stillwell founded the KCS in 1887, he had plotted the line's route from Kansas City to Port Arthur, Texas, he pretty much drew a straight line on the map. That line did not go through Pittsburg, although it wasn't that far away. Pittsburg already had three railroads passing through the town, but it also had an economically aggressive town leadership, headed by founding father Franklin Playter, who offered Stillwell a deal: shift the line so that it passed through the town, and the town government would help with the additional needed right-of-way. Playter then upped the ante, and asked Stillwell to appoint the town as a division point, and build its shops there, with the town helping to subsidize that as well. Stillwell agreed to this as well. When the tracks finally arrived in Pittsburg in 1893, the line was then know as the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad, and for years after, the sprawling facility was known simply as the P&G Shops.

Fifty years later, the Shops had grown to cover over 100 acres, with the rail yard covering another two hundred, and were a huge economic engine for the city and region for years.

The website Pittsburg Memories has extensive maps and photo documentation of the shops, including interior views of the building in our photo once it had been completed. This map shows our building on the upper right. The view of our photo is looking at the upper left corner of the building as it's shown on the map. A corresponding aerial photo can be seen here.

Times change, however, and with the advent of interstate highways and the robust trucking industry, the freight that supported railroads became less local and more point-to-point. Eventually, KCS decided that it was just not economical to maintain two large shops operations, and so most of the repair activity from Pittsburg was relocated to the KCS shops in Shreveport LA. The buildings then sat idle for a number of years, becoming a magnet for vandals. In June, 2010, the three-month process of demolishing this once-bustling economic center began.

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