If your business is in Kansas City, Missouri, and you would like to market your goods in Japan or Singapore, what’s the closest port on the Pacific Ocean you should use: Seattle? Portland? San Francisco? Los Angeles?
In 1900, Arthur E. Stilwell had the answer: Topolobampo, Mexico. According to Stilwell, the little town on the Sea of Cortez was closer to Kansas City than any western seaboard port by about 400 miles. If you could connect Kansas City to Topolobampo, not quite as far south as the tip of the California Baja Peninsula, you would have the shortest way to get your goods to the Pacific Ocean. From there, you could have shipping access to the vast markets in the Orient.
All that was needed was a railroad connecting the two towns. Stilwell, who was a railroad developer and entrepreneur, was looking for investors to establish a railroad route that went across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. On May 1, 1900, he formed the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad to oversee its creation. When it was completed, the route would cover 1600 miles.
There were existing tracks in some portions of the route, like from Kansas City to Wichita, as well as parts from Wichita, across Oklahoma, to the Red River. Stilwell believed that if he could join those parts with new tracks laid between the Red River and Sweetwater, from Sweetwater to Fort Stockton and Alpine, and then connect to railroads going north of the Big Bend to the Texas border, he could get Mexico to build the tracks from the Topolobampo to the Texas/Mexico border.
In fact, he had already received a concession and subsidy in April, 1900, from President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico for the Ferrocarril Kansas City, Mexico y Oriente railroad to be built across Mexico. Again, there were existing segments of track that only needed to be connected.
The line between Sweetwater and San Angelo was completed in 1909, and then extended to Girvin in 1912. Added to the segments above the Red River, it gave the system 630 miles of the 1600 miles he needed. When sections were finished, local communities began using them and helped generate the revenue needed to continue. Unfortunately, the usage never produced enough revenue to cover the costs. Between 1914 and 1917, various parts of the KCM&O passed through a few owners, but the parent company did not show a profit until 1923, when an oil boom in the western counties of Texas brought a flood of train traffic. The profit was used to make the railroad attractive to another buyer and in 1928, the parent company was sold to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company.
The Santa Fe quickly sold the ownership in the Mexican segments, leased other segments, and then blended their tracks with other railways, including the Texas and New Orleans Railroad in 1930.
In the end, there was a lot of track laid, lots of branches added to the route, and lots of goods and people shipped around the Southwest, but Arthur Stilwell’s efforts never made it to Topolobampo.
If you want to see a graphic of the route, type Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway into your browser.
I was working on my novel when I discovered the KCM&O. My hero needed to get to the Palo Duro Canyon from the east, instead of coming west out of Amarillo, and I found that the KCM&O had a depot at the town of Arapahoe, about a hundred miles away in the Oklahoma Territory. That solved my problem.
Speaking of the novel, here’s an update.
In review, I submitted a new adult fiction novel manuscript to my publisher in mid-August. The editor finished reading it by the end of September and reported back with several severe comments about the story; basically, she didn’t like it and it was too long. I took out everything that wasn’t directly connected to the characters or the plot, which amounted to 30,000 words. I became disillusioned with everything left and retracted the submission in September. I tried again, took out another 5,000 words, was still not happy, so I put it in a drawer, expecting that I might return to it sometime in the future.
The future was about two days later. I couldn’t resist working on it, and ultimately rewrote it with a radical change—I changed it from a third-person-narrator to first-person-storyteller. It took me six weeks to make the rewrite, but I am encouraged at how much better it fit the story and the characters, and how much more fun it is to read. Beginning in November, I read the story out loud to myself, looking for flow, rhythm, and pace. That resulted in throwing out another 5,000 words, but the manuscript finally took on a polished form.
I resubmitted the manuscript to my publisher last week. It’s 40,000 words less than the first submission, while the story is simpler, more direct, and has a nice flow to it. I should hear before Christmas if it will be accepted.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.