I live in the country surrounded by crop fields and cattle pastures. But on a warm, calm, late-spring evening, from my back porch I hear a distant rumble. It grows louder to its final crescendo, the tune of a faint whistle. The train is passing through.
It is just a little over 3.5 miles as the crow flies to the railroad in New Haven, Mo., but it would take traversing the Missouri River to get to it. Still the sounds of the railroad echo through my area. It is a sound that vibrates through many small towns across our country, and many like the west-central Missouri town of Buckner pay homage to the rich railroad history.
Missouri railroads date back to 1849. The city of Buckner was established in 1875 as a railroad depot town. On the edge of town still sits the depot with a seal proudly stating “Train Town USA” by rail company Union Pacific.
The town just east of Kansas City, Mo., in Jackson County is where in 1873 the Wyandotte, Kansas City & Northwestern Railway built the main line that ran through town. By 1894, it was purchased by Missouri Pacific Railroad, and in 1982, Missouri Pacific and Union Pacific merged.
Trains still run through Buckner, although they do not stop at the depot. Today, Missouri features a rail network consisting of about 4,800 miles of track served by five railroad companies. However, during its peak in the 1920s, the state had more than 8,100 miles of track.
Still. the state ranks 10th in number of railroad miles in the U.S. According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, 25 freight railroads operate in the state, carrying the fourth-largest amount of freight tonnage in the nation.
Kansas City and St. Louis are ranked as the second- and third-largest rail transportation centers in the nation, respectively. Overall, the state’s rail system moves more than 21 million truckloads per year. These trains carry anything from agriculture commodities to construction material to cars and trucks.
Unfortunately, over the years, Missouri, like many other states, have seen a decrease in reliance on the rails for moving passengers. The state still has the Amtrak Missouri River Runner inter-city passenger service between St. Louis and Kansas City, along with access points to two national Amtrak routes and another regional service between St. Louis and Chicago. While the rails may not carry people, there is still a lot of memories in those steel tracks.
For towns like Buckner, where people can still hear the rumble of the train and the whistle blowing, it is the truest essence of living in small-town America. For the rest of us on farms across the state, those iconic sounds are worth grabbing a cup of coffee, heading to the porch to listen and reminisce.