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Tell It Like It Was - All Aboard for Augusta

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Adapted from the original email-letter from Paul Ovaitt and Dave Klaas - Original date 3/17/21

Fueled and watered in Matson. Next stop: Augusta.

Hello gentle readers. Let’s talk about steam locomotives. Maybe you already know about the fireman and the engineer. Possibly, kinda sorta, you can picture the firebox, the boiler, smoke box, blast pipe, super heater header, element pipes, the dome, regulator valve, safety valve….and we haven’t even arrived at the pistons on both sides of the locomotive which moved the wheels. And of course, you know all about the tender.

If you actually do, you’re way past me. But my friend, the internet, knows most everything, and if you need help too, take a look at this youtube video:

Now those who know all this, are aware that a steam train heading to Augusta in the late 1800s and early 1900s was burning coal and using a whole lot of water. But do you know where the trains took on these essential supplies to put in the tender? If you said St. Louis, I’d say well begun, but alas, early steam locomotives couldn’t go all that far on one fill up. (In fact, the wood burning trains, up to 1850, could only travel 10-12 miles. And they weren’t much faster than a horse, but a horse could not match the pace of a train all day long, and certainly could not haul thousands of tons of weight.)

By the time Augusta was served by M.K.& E. (Missouri, Kansas & Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of the MKT) a train could manage about 60 miles before stocking up. Do you care to guess where the fuel stop after STL was? I only know the answer because Donald Struckhoff, of Hackmann Road, once did a 3 person interview for Tell It Like It Was. See it here:

He told us about a rivalry between Defiance and Matson which ties in with the origin of the name, “Defiance.” I’ll cover that story someday when I write about Defiance. First, let me reveal that Matson was the next water/fuel station. I’ve included a photo which my iPhone lifted from Katy Power by Joe G. Collias. Unfortunately, the coal chute isn’t visible.

But in Cracker Barrel Country, Volume III, section 8.15, J. Schieirmeier relays to us a history of Matson written in 1941, by a student at Francis Howell High School. The young lady, Edith E. Knoernschild, says about Matson, “the railroad had a big coal chute and watering tank at the station, then in 1904 the railroad built a large lake for ample water supply. The tank still stands, and the engines frequently stop there for water, but the coal chute is gone…”

And, I’m excited to say that Dave Klaas and I saw that lake, the Katy Reservoir, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, and I have included a photo. And if you think this is fake news, enter Katy Reservoir in your smart phone map app. (I hope you don’t think GPS is fake too.) Very graciously, Chris Koenig showed us the lake, which was dug with draft horses and slip scrapers. The lake is spring fed, nine acres in area, and approximately 40 feet at its deepest. Chris also offered us some Matson family history and revealed some tantalizing info on Daniel Boone. Needless-to-say, I’ll be writing about that someday. For that matter, I want to do a Koenig interview too!

Quoting Edith again, “possibly, before 1850, Abraham Matson, a St. Louisian, acquired a large farm that would later be a part of Matson, Missouri. He was the father of Richard and Harvey Matson.” It was Richard who conveyed to the railroad 20 acres. Up goes a water tank, a coal chute, and up springs a town called Matson. A grain elevator and even two general stores weren’t far behind. Matson was becoming an enterprising spot.

For an interesting civil war/Matson family story, check out this blog by writer, Bob Brail, of Defiance. CLICK HERE TO READ THE BLOG

I would like to say a little more about the tender. It was the car immediately behind the engine. (See the photo of a fireman filling a tender somewhere in New York State.) Most were rectangular and held coal and water. Roughly 2/3 of the volume was water. But what kept fuel and water separate and yet easily available? I learned that the most common design involved a U-shaped, metal water tank underneath the coal, but that U-shape sloped downward to the cab, allowing the coal to slide down toward the fireman when he shoveled more coal into the firebox. To get the water up to the boiler, some sort of pump was involved. Some locomotives transferred energy from the pistons back to the tender, hence pressurizing the tank.

I suppose you’re burning to know where the next fuel stop was. Based on information from Donald Struckhoff, I guessed the next filling station was in McKittrick. So, I texted my friend, Joey Los, who owns and operates Joey’s Birdhouse, a B&B in McKittrick. She assured me water and coal were available there, and there are remnants of the coal distribution still existing. When asked if they had a reservoir, she said no, because the Loutre River is right there.

The next fuel stop was Mokane, and Donald Struckhoff tells me their reservoir is still there. We could continue to Columbia, but I’m turning this train around. (Mokane had a turntable to do such a thing, I hear.) I’m not sure why they had a turntable, but it was somehow related to the fact that it was the halfway point between STL and Sedalia, another important hub. Also, trains unloaded goods and passengers bound for Fulton. Incidentally, Mokane was the third name of that town, and it stands for Mo, Kan and Eastern.

There was much rejoicing in Augusta when news came from St. Charles in 1892 that the Missouri, Kansas and Eastern would soon service Augusta. In her book, Augusta’s “Harmony”, Anita Mallinckrodt says, “the railroad was joyously welcomed. Augustans had, after all, lobbied for a railroad for nearly a half-century, and the town had been without adequate transportation connections since the course of the Missouri River changed in the 1870s.” Just look at this turn-of-the-last century photo of the Augusta station that I snapped from a cool postcard, which you too can own when you buy one at Lisa Carmon’s antique shop. Have you ever seen so many dressed up people by the Katy trail?

The first trains to Augusta were for freight, then excursion-passenger were made on special occasions, but soon passenger cars were standard. Much of the freight was grain, which was hand loaded, sack by sack, until grain elevators were constructed along the track. I still enjoy seeing the old cooperative elevator in Nona which was built in 1919.

Now you’ve patiently listened to my ramblings, and by way of thanking you, I’ve included a recording of my version of the Last Steam Engine Train, written by John Fahey, and released in 1964. All sounds are coming from my 2017 American made Fender Stratocaster running through a few pedals and a Fishman Loudbox Performer. Enjoy.

(Press the Play Button Below)

And as always, I welcome comments, good or bad. Just be gentle. And again, I’ll remind you that Tell It Like It Was, will resume live interviews at Harmonie Verein after 19 is beaten down. And, we’ll have a cash bar, of course.

Stay healthy and curious.

- Paul and Dave

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The reason for a Mokane turntable: The article references the fact that Mokane is the half-way point between St. Louis and Sedalia. It is also about one hundred miles from each, and as such was a crew change point. It was necessary to change crews at about one hundred miles because running a steam locomotive is a labor-intensive job, especially for the fireman who is shoveling coal. Also, steam locomotives need a lot of maintenance, so when the crews changed, they also changed the locomotive on the train. Mokane was equipped to supply that maintenance, and each locomotive had a specific crew assigned to it. As such, the locomotive and crew went back and forth between the same two points, in…

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