Frisco Highline Trail History


At a Glance

Name: Frisco Highline Trail
Length: 37.6 Miles
Trail activities: Bike, Inline Skating, Wheelchair Accessible, Mountain Biking, Walking, Cross Country Skiing
Counties: Greene, Polk
Surfaces: Asphalt, Gravel
State: Missouri

A Brief History

The Frisco Highline Trail is named after the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway’s former corridor between Kanas City and Springfield. This particular route was its secondary line between those two points, and at one time the railroad owned as many as three! Also known as the “Frisco,” the company was primarily located in the southern Midwest between St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, and Dallas/Fort Worth. However, it also stretched into North Texas and even reached the Northern Panhandle of Florida. The road suffered several bankruptcies throughout its corporate existence, but during its final years was rather profitable until acquired by the Burlington Northern. The so-called High Line was abandoned in stages between the late 1970s and early 1990s.

By the early 20th century, the St. Louis-San Francisco had acquired all three of its lines between Kansas City and Springfield. The first was built by subsidiaries of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf (KCSF&G), which linked the two cities via Greenfield, Missouri, and Fort Scott, Kansas, during the early 1880s. It later changed its name to the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis (KCFS&M) in 1888 before being leased by the Frisco in 1901. The second was known as the Kansas City, Clinton & Springfield (KCC&S), and also by its nickname, the “Leaky Roof,” because the line’s run-down freight cars were prone to leak. The KCC&S was chartered in 1884 to move coal as well as to provide an additional connection between Kansas City and Springfield. Its construction was funded largely through the KCFS&G. Running via Clinton, its line was opened by late 1885; however, it was always the inferior of the three lines partly because the route did not actually connect either city but instead used trackage rights to so.

For legal reasons, the Frisco did not formally acquire the KCC&S until 1924, after which time it began abandoning sections of the railroad. The company’s third line connecting the two cities was pieced together via several railroads. The section now comprising today’s trail between Bolivar and Springfield was constructed by Frisco subsidiary Springfield & Northern and opened in 1884. The rest was built by a handful of subsidiaries, which later became known as the Kansas City, Osceola & Southern Railway (KCO&S). The KCO&S was incorporated on April 22, 1891, as the reorganization of the Kansas City & Southern (KC&S), itself having taken over the defunct Kansas City, Memphis & Mobile Railroad (incorporated August 23, 1871). The latter was able to complete some grading between Clinton and Kanas City but fell into bankruptcy before further work could be completed. Under the KC&S, the line was finished from Kansas City to Osceola by 1889 before it was reorganized as the KCO&S. Pushing rails to Bolivar by 1898, the rail interchanged there with the Springfield & Northern. Soon after, the Frisco acquired the KCO&S on June 1, 1900, and the route became known as its “High Line,” since it ran through the upper foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

The Frisco carried an interesting history wrought with financial trouble and dashed hopes of reaching the West Coast. Its beginnings trace back to a branch built by the Pacific Railroad (PR) between then-Franklin (now known as Pacific) and Rolla, Missouri, completed in 1860. While the PR, incorporated in 1849 by the Missouri State Legislature, went on to become part of the later Missouri Pacific, its Franklin-Rolla line (known officially as the South-West Branch), was taken over by the state and resold to private interests. The property then went through a number of name changes before Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) acquired it in 1870. The A&P subsequently fell into bankruptcy during 1875, and its Missouri lines were reorganized as the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway (SL&SF) on September 7, 1876. During the 1880s, the SL&SF had lines extending into Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. It set its sights on reaching California, but larger carriers, such as the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific, worked hard to keep out new competition and the former eventually acquired the SL&SF.

Following the financial Panic of 1893, the Santa Fe fell into bankruptcy, and its SL&SF subsidiary was spun-off in June of 1896 as the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad. Despite never coming close to San Francisco, the railroad continued to grow, extending into Oklahoma and Texas. A few years later, it leased the aforementioned KCFS&M, which gave it access to Kansas City and eventually opened to Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama. It again entered bankruptcy during 1913 and emerged on June 19, 1916, as the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway. During July 1925, it purchased the Muscle Shoals, Birmingham & Pensacola, running between Kimbrough, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida. To reach its new acquisition, the Frisco built an extension between Aberdeen, Mississippi, and Kimbrough, opening June 27, 1928.

Unfortunately, another bankruptcy brought on by the Great Depression afflicted the company on May 16, 1933, from which it did not emerge until January 1, 1947. Soon after this, the railroad gained an additional port along the Gulf Coast at Mobile, Alabama, when it took control of the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern during 1948. By 1950, the Frisco was operating a respectable system of 5,100 miles, and after World War II, blossomed into a profitable railroad. It once featured a nice collection of named passenger trains, such as the beautiful streamliner “Texas Special,” operating in conjunction with the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (The Katy) between St. Louis and San Antonio/Fort Worth. Other notable streamliners included the “Kansas City-Florida Special,” “Sunnyland,” and “Firefly” (its first-ever streamliner launched in 1939 between Kansas City and Oklahoma City). However, it was also the largest railroad to end all money-losing passenger operations when it was successful in eliminating the “Southland” on December 8, 1967.

From then on, the company was freight-only and maintained its profitability throughout the 1970s until it was taken over by the Burlington Northern on June 8, 1981. Just before this, however, a large section of the High Line was abandoned between East Lynne and Bolivar in 1978, when the Truman Dam was built; the dam flooded parts of the right-of-way between Osceola and Blairstown. Because the line’s remaining traffic did not warrant the construction of a bypass, the Frisco let it go. Above East Lynne, the branch continued seeing use until the mid-1980s when BN abandoned most of the trackage back to Kansas City. Today, a short segment near Belton remains is used for an excursion operation known as Belton, Grandview & Kansas City Railroad (BG&KC). The line to Bolivar remained intact until 1991 when much of the remainder was also abandoned.

Besides the BG&KC, other railroad attractions in Missouri include the Branson Scenic Railway in Branson; Chicago & Alton Railroad Depot in Independence; the Kansas City Northern Railroad in Kansas, which offers scale-train rides; the Magic City Line Mini Train in Moberly, also offering scale-train rides; Museum of Transportation in St. Louis; Patee House Museum in St. Joseph; Railroad Historical Museum in Springfield; St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad in Jackson; the miniature Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Steam Railway in Glencoe; and the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline.

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