Recalling Katy's uphill climb

Katy railroad train at Boonville, Missouri

When most people think of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, they envision trains stretched across the farmlands and prairies of the southwest.  While that image held true for most of the Katy system, the mainline across Missouri painted a different picture.


Immediately after crossing the Missouri River on longest bridge on the MKT, southbound trains were forced to tackle the steepest grade of the system.  The mile-long 1.6% incline of Boonville Hill was an operational challenge requiring the use of helper engines in the days of steam. The arrival of stronger diesel locomotives after World War II eventually did away with the need for that extra assistance.


In June of 1982, photographer and railfan Dale Hearn caught GP40 #213 charging up the hill with train #101 (above); it’s about to duck under the Old U.S. 40 overpass. These days, the grade provides a good workout for hikers and bikers on the Katy Trail.


Boonville aside, the Katy faced several uphill battles- in a figurative sense.  From financial problems; to managerial missteps; to natural disasters, the railroad was in a constant state of struggle.  Still, for generations of rural Missourians, the spindly steel rails provided a valuable link to the outside world.  This story of survival is highlighted in Show-Me The Katy, an upcoming book featuring the trains, places, and people of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.


So far, more than 1,500 images have been submitted by dozens of photographers interested in preserving the memory of the MKT. We’re still looking for high-resolution images of the Katy’s Missouri lines between the years of 1870 and 1989.  At this point, we have a need for additional images from Windsor, Sedalia, and Rocheport.  We’re also searching for material representing the branch lines to El Dorado Springs, Bryson-Paola, Moberly, and Columbia.


If you’re interested in contributing images for consideration, please feel free to contact Mike Landis at