Newton Digital Collections

History resources digitized by the Newton Public Library

Luther Arthur Interview


Luther Arthur Interview


Newton, Kansas - History
Santa Fe Railroad - History
The Great Depression - History
Edna St. Vincent Millay - Poet/Playwright


Mr. Arthur discusses his experiences working in various roles such as brakeman and conductor for the Santa Fe Railroad. He talks about the hardships of railroading and leaves us with a quote (not verbatim) from Edna St. Vincent Millay, "There isn't a train I wouldn't take no matter where I'm going."


Newton Public Library, Newton Kansas


Newton Public Library, Newton Kansas


Newton Public Library, Newton Kansas




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Newton Public Library, Newton Kansas, “Luther Arthur Interview,” Newton Digital Collections, accessed July 23, 2024,

Mona G. Arthur


Luther Arthur


narrated by his wife Mona G. Arthur
I was born April 11, 1S90 in Collinsville, Texas. Later lived in Muskogie, Oklahoma. At the age of 6, moved to Macon City, Missouri. Attended school, first 5 months then moved to La Plata, Missouri early January, 1896. We loaded our belongings into a big box car— Horses, cattle, furniture, etc. arrived at Roswell, New Mexico,
January 1, 1907; where we lived on an irrigated farm. This farm under Hondo Reservoir, which was the only one ever built by this government that failed to hold water. The failure was due to enormous crack about 30 feet below surface; causing the water to seep away.
Due to a family situation, I was forced to leave home, and seek my livelihood.
I went to Silver city, New Mexico, in search of work. In August, 1907, a financial panic occurred, nationwide, that closed all mines in that area abolishing all opportunity to work. I went to Carrizozo, New Mexico, and obtained work in United States Public Health and Marine Hospital service, o-health resort for tubercular patients off the high seas. In May, 1908, it was possible for me to rejoin my family and renew my life with them.
We moved to Kinsley, Kansas, before harvest in 1909, with the help of my mother's sister in Dallas, Texas. We existed in Kinsley and I worked a short time in the mines at Joplin, Missouri in 1910 and 1911.
In 1912, I had no success at finding work. Went to Dodge City, after talking to a brakeman on the Santa Fe. He suggested, that I try to find work in Santa Fe shops, which I did. I was hired to work on the rip track, 12 hours, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at $ 1.75 per day. I worked on this job December 12-December 24. I was poorly clad and it was very cold weather. I was sitting at the stove, red hot, thawing my feet out. The yardmaster came in and said, "Why are you working there?" They are badly in need of brakemen on the railroad. He asked me if I could read, and handed me a pamphlet to test me to see if I could read. He looked me over. Then asked, "Can you write?"
He gave me a piece of paper, which I wrote on, to his surprise. He let out an oath, not stated here, and took a railroad nip, and told me to go back to Kinsley and get references, which I did, after Christmas. I returned to Dodge City and was interviewed by the trainmaster, who employed me as a student to go back to Kinsley and work with a crew out of there, which worked from Kinsley to Hutchinson. They went one way each day, a local crew. The conductor on that job sent me to Great Bend, to work with a crew that ran daily to Great Bend, to Sand Creek, just west, out of Newton. I made a round trip

with them, from Sand Creek to Great Bend. They had the yardmaster send me out with crews that went from Sand Creek to Dodge City and returned. All the conductors okayed me for brakeman, and had the yardmaster mark me up for pay trip.
I was on the board for my turn to make my first pay trip, which was January 18,1913.
Murphy's Cafe, known across the nation, as many "boomer" brakemen traveled the nationwide on the railroads of this country. Mother Van was the cashier for Murphy's cafe. I was broke. Quite a few of us on the board at the same time were broke. I worked in a lumberyard located where Dillon's south store is located now. I received 20$ an hour. Boots Anderson was the engine herder at the roundhouse at Newton. All passenger trains changed engines here in Newton.
Engineers were assigned to their own engine, and only worked on the, district that the engineer held seniority on.
Surplus passenger cars were stored south of the depot. They were hooked on to steam heat. I slept in the extra cars stored here;
also did my washing in basins that were in these cars. Stored my few belongings at Murphy's cafe. My first maiden trip from Sand Creek to Dodge City was January 18, 1913. Temperature was 0 degrees, 12 inches of snow, two 1800 class engines, and 60 cars. We got to the Interurban overpass and a flue broke in the second engine. We backed up and set that engine out. We proceeded with one engine.
Almost sixteen hours on the trip to Dodge City. On arrival at Dodge City, with eight hours rest, I was called on duty to go back to Sand creek. This made my first roundtrip. As soon as I was rested,
I was called the next night. Another trip to Dodge City. I worked four trips or four nights without hardly any sleep. Arriving back at Newton, went to bed at Murphy's bed cost 35 cents. Woke up, ate supper. Slept until noon the next day. Established a record for being sleepyhead at Murphy's. To this day I can sleep well in daytime if I've lost sleep for any reason.
During the year 1913, I made an average of six or seven trips, twelve or fourteen days pay per month, until the latter part of April.
In my spare time I still worked at the lumberyard, until this time.
I was called to make a trip to Kansas City to flag for Mr. Kohr on passenger trains. Mr. Marcum, the flagman, gave me an old uniform complete. When conductor Kohr looked me over to take me out the next morning; gave me a stern look over, and wanted to know why they sent me. Questioned me about what I knew. I told him I knew nothing but I would try to do anything he requested, as I was a student, first trip on passenger. Previously he had refused seven boomer brakemen, because of whiskey odor on them. I worked this run until August 5, 1914-
The trainmaster notified Mr. Kohr he was transferring me to Newton to get experience on freight duties. He asked me to bid on a new line from Dodge City to Elkhart, Kansas, Sunday layover at Elkhart. I moved my mother and little brother to Dodge City. I was unable to be home weekends, so mother wished to move to Elkhart, 1917.
The family remained in Elkhart until the flu epidemic of 1918. The
town had no hospital, one doctor, Dr. Tucker, and there were some deaths. So we moved to Dodge City where better medical facilities were available.
The main line on the Santa Fe from Newton to Dodge City averaged three or four sections of regular passenger trains each day. The Santa Fe had the fastest passenger schedules between Chicago and Los Angeles. There were no double track railroads at this time.
If was a difficult task to operate freight trains, with so many passenger trains on the line.
The passenger cars had wooden framework. They were dangerous. If any trouble occurred, So the government demanded the railroad companies to make them of steel.
Steam engines of various capacities were used until the diesels were perfected and put into use in 1950. There was much sentiment attached to the old steam engine, but scientific knowledge and progress put them out of use except as souvenirs. Steam power for passenger runs earlier than 1950. could make a run of 2,000 miles in four days. They were more expensive to operate than diesel power. They were hard on the tracks due to excessive weight.
I was promoted to conductor in May, 1919, with a class of eight other men. By 1927, one had died a natural death, and six others had been killed while on duty. Needless to say railroad is a dangerous occupation. I was the youngest of that of that class, and the only one living today.
After moving to Dodge City I worked on locals. Dodge City to Great Bend, also on the branch to Elkhart. I caught numerous trains on emergencies when the men were sick and various causes when they had to lay off. I got my job as a regular conductor in 1926. It was 1929 before I had a regular train as conductor.
I worked out of Sand Creek in Newton.
During the Depression and the Dirty 30's, I worked as brakeman. These were trying times; dust storms reduced visibility, too, many times, making it very dangerous, stressing circumstances.
It was almost impossible to be able to see signals, etc. The men took a ten per cent cut in wages, and in reduction of days we worked. We were allowed twenty days. This gave men who were cut off a chance to be employed. Trains were also reduced in number, due to slack business. This condition existed until 1939, and then business increased to some extent.
January 2, 1937, due to a Christmas rush) I was holding a regular run for a few trips. I was on a local between Larned and Newton, on duty at 4:30 on this day. We left, and headed for Great Bend. A regular freight train passed us at Larned.
It was a stock train, and "red ball" pick up, and did no switching.
The temperature was about 0 degrees. We stopped briefly at Pawnee Rock, and at Great Bend picked up eleven cars, already made up for us on arrival. We started to meet a regular passenger train west bound at Ellinwood, Kansas. The highway department had a cone of sand, four feet wide, and two feet high. The wind was very strong from the north. This train ahead of us was taking siding for the same train we were, and left the train on the main line to pick cars from Ellinwood before pulling the train in the clear.
High wind, dirt, dust, etc. we were in what is known as yard limits. Our engineer, unable to see until too late to set the air and get stopped before hitting the rear end of this train that was still on the main line. When we hit that train, I was sitting in my chair at my desk. The shock threw me, my chair, and the brakeman against the east end of the caboose} Killing the conductor in the train we hit. Ahead of the caboose was a drover's car, for men in charge of the cattle in cars ahead of the caboose.
One of the cattlemen was killed. Our engine was sitting on a culvert, a very difficult place to re-rail. This detained clearing the track two to four hours. I didn't realize I was injured.
But in 1942, I suffered with my back. Finally entered hospital in Newton for treatment also at Halstead Hospital. After having treatment at Osteopathic Hospital in Wichita was able to go back to work. In 1950, the injury seemed to reoccur. Had to have back surgery done. They laminated three vertebrae. I was off work for six months.
December 31, 1960, I was conductor on the Super Chief, Pullman section. Twenty miles west of Hutchinson, at town of Abbyville.
We were traveling ninety miles an hour. The truck derailed when the rocks begin to fly. I pulled the engineer to stop, rocks were flying, it was third car from the rear end that derailed.
At ninety miles an hour it re-railed itself at the west end of siding. This accident was a record breaker, to re-rail a track at ninety miles an hour. No one injured, but many were very frightened.
Some of the exciting and pleasant experiences were Staining autographs and pictures of movie stars such as Mary Pickford.
They had a private car with a private diner and everything was furnished. Many of our presidents traveled by train in special cars too.
Troop trains were also a challenging experience. Thousands were transported by train in World War II.
My health remained good, and I worked in all kinds of weather and took everything as it came. I retired in reasonably good health in 1963 at the age of 73.
In conclusion, I would say a career as a railroad man . is very dangerous and challenging, yet very enjoyable. I saw it evolve from the narrow gage type train to the "high iron". If I had my life to live over, I would choose railroading. "There isn't a train I wouldn't take no matter where I'm going."

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