Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway

By: Donovan L. Hofsommer

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: August 1, 1995

During the early twentieth century citizens of Wichita Falls sponsored the construction of several short-line railroads extending from the city like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The most important of these was the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway Company, headed by Joseph A. Kemp and Frank Kell. The WF&NW had no transcontinental or trunk line aspirations; rather, it was initially chartered to link Wichita Falls with Englewood, Kansas. When placed in service, the WF&NW would, its promoters predicted, foster the commercial development of Wichita Falls and operate at a profit. On September 26, 1906, the promoters chartered the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway Company of Texas, to construct the seventeen-mile stretch from Wichita Falls to the Red River. A few days later they chartered the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway Company under the laws of the Oklahoma Territory. This longer part of the line, and actually the parent road, would be extended, not to Kansas as originally planned, but to Frederick, Altus, Elk City, and Forgan, Oklahoma, with a branch westward from Altus to Wellington, in the Texas Panhandle. Both the WF&NW and the WF&NW of Texas were to be headquartered in Wichita Falls. The capital for the WF&NW of Texas was $20,000. Members of the first board of directors included William C. Fordyce, Jay H. Smith, and L. S. Mitchell, all of St. Louis, Missouri, and Kemp, Kell, Robert E. Huff, and Wiley Blair, all of Wichita Falls. Construction began shortly after the charters were acquired. Service to Wellington began on November 10, 1910, and to Forgan on November 1, 1912. The Wichita Falls Route, as the entire collection was called, comprised 359.3 miles of track. As Kemp and Kell had forecast, the route opened up a new territory, facilitated townsite development, and served as a conduit for merchandise moving outbound from Wichita Falls and for inbound products of agriculture from the road's service area. As its volume of business increased, the Wichita Falls Route became attractive to the much larger Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway Company, which saw the territory northwest of Wichita Falls as a logical extension of its domain. Consequently, in 1911 the Katy acquired the capital stock of the WF&NW, the WF&NW of Texas, and their constituent lines. On May 1, 1914, the WF&NW of Texas and the Wichita Falls and Wellington Railway Company of Texas were leased to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company of Texas. However, the WF&NW continued to be operated separately until April 1, 1923, when it was consolidated with the Missouri, Kansas and Texas to form the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company. In 1969 the WF&NW of Texas was also merged. The Wichita Falls Route served as transportation handmaiden for the fabulous Burkburnett oil boom but otherwise prospered when its service area prospered and suffered when times were difficult. Changed transportation conditions, competition from automobiles and busses, and Katy's financial anemia finally resulted in the abandonment in 1958 of the Wellington Branch. The eastern few miles survived as the newly formed Hollis and Eastern, an independent short-line railroad. In 1973 everything north of Altus was abandoned. The rest, from Wichita Falls to Altus, seventy-seven miles continued to be operated by the Katy and its successor until January 14, 1991, when the Wichita, Jackson and Tillman Railroad Company took over the line.

Donovan L. Hofsommer, Katy Northwest: The Story of a Branch Line Railroad (Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1976). Donovan L. Hofsommer, "Townsite Development on the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway," Great Plains Journal 16 (Spring 1977), 107–22.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donovan L. Hofsommer, “Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wichita-falls-and-northwestern-railway.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995