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Winter of '49 - Photo Album
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Using rotary plows and dynamite, CB&Q railroad crews worked day and night to clear tracks of snow and ice between Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.
The author's father was a brakeman on this line.

For more details, read History below.
Railroad photos and history
CB&Q Rotary Plow
Railroad photos and history
Rotary Snow Plow
Railroad photos and history
Conductor and Plow
Railroad photos and history
Stopped Rotary Plow
Railroad photos and history
Snow Plume from Plow
Railroad photos and history
Steam Powered Plow
Railroad photos and history
View from Behind Plow
Railroad photos and history
Plowing
Through
Snow
Railroad photos and history
Shoveling Out Plow
Railroad photos and history
Snow Banks 25' High
Winter of '49 - Following a blizzard in the winter of 1949, a small town's newspaper sent one of its writers to interview the railroaders being heralded as "heroic men" for clearing the way for trains to deliver food and mail to the many rural communities in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

Here is a summary of what she found: Since the winter's first snow, Trainmaster Cliff Kailey has been bucking up against snowbanks from wedge and rotary plows with up to 10 crews (20 men) of men under his direction. When the storm first hit in November, the trainmaster and crew boarded a wedge and pushed open snowdrifts into Denver, just ahead of mainline trains. Railroaders found the snow averaged a depth of 8 feet deep and in some cuts, the snow was as high as 25 feet.

To appreciate the time and effort, the branch line to St. Francis, Kansas required 10 crews, several steam engines and a plow, five days and nights to open. The chief dispatcher for the McCook, Nebraska division kept carloads of coal moving to service these specialty crews. A dining car with a cook and a waiter from Denver, served free meals to the crews as they came off their 8-hour shifts in the sub-zero weather. A sleeper car was provided so they could sleep while the next crew continued the battle against the snow and ice.

When the exhausted Trainmaster and his crew arrived in McCook, they were met with the message: "St. Francis line blocked again." The men rested up and returned to re-open the St. Francis branch line, determined to beat this blizzard. But there had been a thaw and re-freeze, resulting in heavy ice on the tracks. The snowplow derailed. Trainmaster Kailey decided a new tactic was in order -- dynamite.

"As far as I know, we were the first to use this explosive to open ice-rimmed railroad lines," the trainmaster said. "We got a man from Norton, Kansas to handle the sticks. On most of the cuts, it took about 5 sticks of dynamite to blow the snow out."

When asked how loud the explosion was, Trainmaster Kailey replied, "There was just a cracking sound as the snow just went up and down."

Post-hole diggers were used to make the holes in which the sticks of dynamite were packed. Two WWII veterans were involved with the using explosives; Robert Hassler and the trainmaster's son, Bob Kailey. Mr. Hassler had served with a railroad battalion overseas while Mr. Kailey was a captain with the Army Engineers of General Patton's army.

To appreciate what it took to clear a set of tracks, imagine the rotary plow's fanwheel blowing a cloud of snow 40 feet in all directions. In the cab above the whirling plow sat the trainmaster and two road foremen, directing operations. An open window let in snow from the plow, which would land on those inside. On one occasion, the trainmaster's glasses froze to his nose. In addition, an engineer and 2 firemen were kept busy stoking coal to maintain the steam that furnished both motive power and heat.

In the end, it took 31 days to completely open the Republican City - Oberlin branch line. A wedge plow was used to buck off the snowdrifts until stopped by ice-coated rails. At this point, a bulldozer tractor would scrape the ice which then enabled the rotary plows to move along the tracks.

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