Railways have long held a unique allure, filled with the promise of adventure, exploration, and a
connection to history. The M-K-T (Katy) Railroad is among the countless railroads that helped
shape America. The Katy, as it was affectionately called, had a great impact on Texas and the
Southwest as it was the first train to arrive in Texas from the north. Join us, Red River Railroad
Museum, as we delve into the fascinating history of this railway line.
The celebration that wasn’t
The story of the Katy Railroad began in Kansas in the late 19th century. Congress had passed
acts promising land grants to the first railroad to reach the Kansas border via the Neosho Valley.
The Katy portion of the former UP Southern Branch, which had begun building from Fort Riley
just north of Junction City, Kansas, was in a heated competition for the prize. On June 6, 1870,
Katy workers laid the first rails across the Kansas border, winning the race. Congress’ promised
land grants were never made, as the courts overturned the grants because the land was
in Indian Territory and was the property of the Indian tribes.
Nevertheless, the Katy was determined to lay track through Indian Territory and arrive at the
Red River on the Texas border. A temperamental and table pounding Irish John Scullin pushed
the men building the road! The grueling work of laying track through Indian Territory was
finished in December 1872. A huge celebration was planned for Christmas Day. The plan was
for railroad dignitaries and state officials to board on the Indian Territory side of Red River and
arrive at the terminus in Denison, Texas. The day before Christmas Eve, a young 19 year-old
engineer named Pat Tobin decided it would be prudent to test the strength of the newly built
bridge, and loaded down a work train with track, rails and anyone who wanted to make the
ride. He drove the train across the bridge, and when he arrived on the Texas side, in his words,
“I tied the whistle down”. He blew the steam whistle all the way into Denison, and everyone
within hearing distance knew that the first train had arrived in Texas from the north. Everyone
rushed to the terminus and an impromptu celebration commenced. The revelers partied into
the wee hours.
The next day the railroad officials and state dignitaries boarded the official first passenger train
to arrive in Denison. Again, with Pat Tobin at the wheel, the train crossed the river and blew
the whistle as the train arrived in Denison. The passengers, expecting a big welcome from the
locals, were disappointed as only a small group greeted them. Was the arrival not important to
the group that called Denison home? No! They simply had celebrated too long the night
before and were in no condition to come out for the historic arrival!
M-K-T (Katy) railroad had a great influence on Texas and the Southwest. On March 10, 1873,
the Houston and Texas Central Railroad established a junction with the Katy Railroad in
Denison, which was the first North-South rail connection in the United States. The train
connected remote communities, boosted local economies, and facilitated the transport of
goods across the nation. Farms could ship their produce efficiently, and goods could reach
markets quicker, fostering an environment ripe for trade and commerce. In late 1873 the first
successful rail shipment of ice-refrigerated dressed beef was made from Denison to New York
by the Texas & Atlantic Refrigeration Company.
Moreover, the railroad brought about significant social change. It facilitated the movement of
people, encouraging cultural exchange and promoting unity across diverse communities. The
train stations themselves became bustling hubs of activity, fostering growth in the towns they
Decline and Revival
Like many railways, the Katy faced decline with the advent of more advanced modes of
transport. Rail travel was no longer the fastest or most convenient option, and passenger
However, recognizing the historic significance of their beloved Katy Railroad, the community of
Denison, Texas rallied to preserve its legacy. This effort resulted in the establishment of the Red
River Railroad Museum, a place dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of this
remarkable railway line.
Exploring History at the Red River Railroad Museum
Today, the Red River Railroad Museum stands as a testament to the golden age of rail travel
and the unique history of the M-K-T railroad. The museum houses a comprehensive collection
of artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia, each piece telling a part of this captivating story.
Museum hours are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm.
Conclusion: The Journey Continues
The Katy Railroad may no longer be a functioning railway line, but its legacy endures. The
golden age of rail travel may be in the past, but thanks to the Red River Railroad Museum, the
history, impact, and spirit of this remarkable railway continue to inspire and educate. We invite
you to join us on this journey of exploration, to understand and appreciate the fascinating
history of the M-K-T (Katy) Railroad. For information about visiting the museum, contact us