History of the W&PS Railroad
Martin Warren, a Kentuckian traveling west on the Missouri prairie, chose a hill along an Osage trail to build his blacksmith shop in 1833. As settlers gathered at Warren’s place to swap stories and news, it became known as “Warren’s Burg”. Three years later, it was the seat of Johnson County. In 1855, it incorporated as Warrensburg.
By then, the growing community had a sturdy two-story courthouse on Main Street. There, in 1870, a young lawyer representing a farmer whose favorite hound ‘Old Drum’ was shot by a neighbor eloquently deemed the dog “man’s best friend.” That label earned George Graham Vest’s client a $50 jury award and became one of our most enduring sayings. That same year the rush was on to move Warrensburg from “Old Town” to the new railroad a half mile east.
The Civil War had delayed the railroad’s arrival until 1864, but once the rails reached town steam trains–Warrensburg’s first dramatic vehicle of change–instantly replaced coaches and horse-drawn teams.
J. H. Christopher owned the prosperous Pertle Springs resort, which promoted the water from its mineral spring as a cure-all. But in 1889, a crisis confronted Christopher. The Dunkards, a religious denomination, informed him it was sending 20,000 members to Pertle Springs for its national convention. “Hauptproblem,” the German-speaking Dunkards might have said had they considered that only one narrow, dusty road connected the resort to the train station downtown. Christopher hastily bought equipment from a defunct Wichita railway. Eight months later–the two-mile Warrensburg and Pertle Springs Railroad was ready. Despite its picturesque name, the line was a single-track streetcar route with a few open passenger cars and a tiny steam engine called a “dummy.”
Nearly 80 dummy lines ran in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most were short lines that connected suburbs to a central city. For example, a six-mile line linked Independence and Kansas City.
Accounts vary, but the term “dummy” apparently derived from the silencing equipment on the steam engines so as not to alarm horses. Regardless of the term’s etymology, Warrensburg’s little train was called ‘The Dummy’.
Christopher built cabins and the three-story Minnewawa Hotel overlooking Pertle’s lakes for its hundreds of visitors. The 3000 seat Tabernacle auditorium played host to numerous meetings and conventions. Nearly all guests arrived on The Dummy. On its busiest days, it made 30 trips between downtown Warrensburg and Pertle. One-way tickets cost a dime. Getting back cost a nickel.
The Missouri Pacific did more than deliver passengers to The Dummy–it hauled thousands of Warrensburg mules the Army bought for World War I. The Jones Bros.’ mule business thrived at their still-standing brick barn on College Avenue. The tough, long-eared animals also provided Warrensburg Teachers College its mascot.
The decade of prosperity after The Great War led to more lasting changes in every facet of society, including transportation.
Though American passenger railroads remained important until after World War II, the 1920s marked the rise of the automobile–the next great vehicle of change. Two-lane ribbons of concrete began to criss-cross the nation. For the first time, Warrensburg residents could drive to Kansas City. The rapidly growing middle class drove their affordably priced cars farther and farther on family vacations. Pertle Springs withered and closed. Christopher’s waterworks became a public utility. During the Great Depression, part of the resort became a federal Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Still-existing stone chimneys are reminders of the men who built what became Knob Noster State Park.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC camps and the other public works programs meant to lift the economy out of the Depression included national highways and parks. The new, far-flung attractions and the ability to drive to them doomed most regional resorts, including Pertle Springs.
In the 1950s, the open road beckoned more strongly than ever. Construction of the U.S. Interstate highway system began in 1956 in St. Charles. Now with 47,000 miles of pavement, it’s the world’s longest road network. In the last 50 years, the United States has spent $400 billion on federal highways–accommodating cars and airplanes was the focus of U.S. transportation policy.
In Warrensburg, Central Missouri State College bought Pertle Springs in 1959 for $40,000. Except for the spring house, nothing remained of the resort.
But what of The Dummy?
After operating the little train for 35 years, Christopher sold the railway to a former Pertle Springs manager. A newspaper reported that the manager bought the track and equipment for a company in Kansas City. A line that took months to build was dismantled in weeks. All that remains are stretches of The Dummy’s roadbed at Pertle and near the University of Central Missouri campus.