It has been over a half century since the words “All Aboard” has been heard in Claremore concerning the Missouri Pacific Railroad. That is when the east side of town saw the last passenger train pull out of the depot.
On March 28, 1960 Claremore residents paid a somewhat muted tribute to the passing of a mode in transportation which played a key role in the development of the community. While Missouri Pacific continues to run several freight trains daily here, this date was the final stop for passengers.
Not much more than an Indian village when the rails were installed, the community grew to become a thriving county seat for Rogers County. There has never been any doubt Claremore’s beginning and growth were due to the Missouri Pacific and the Frisco Railroad criss-crossing each other here.
While the Frisco, running parallel with U.S. Highway 66 through town, would continue to schedule passenger service to Tulsa for a few more years, Missouri Pacific officials made the decision to end their service.
More than 65 persons purchased tickets to make the “last ride” to Inola. Several of the passengers were mothers carrying their babies.
Another estimated 1,800 residents and the Claremore High School band turned out to bid farewell to what one speaker called the “great iron horse coaches which had carried many early day builders and residents to Claremore and Rogers County.”
Although the day held a holiday festivity atmosphere, for many it was a sad day knowing it was the end of special memories. On the sideline watching that Monday afternoon was Walter Burgess. He could remember watching the first passenger train arrive in Claremore in 1889.
During the following years he was able to watch as countless passengers alight from the coaches to visit the former land of the Cherokee and Osage tribes, bath in the popular health giving mineral waters, or pay homage to their beloved Will Rogers.
Many in the crowd that day were veterans from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Once again several of them stood on the same platform where they and their buddies had boarded trains to leave for military training camp.
Many of them had returned the same way.
Although the band played uplifting music as the nose of the south bound train came in view of the station, many of the older ones present had heavy hearts that day. Unlike the younger ones present, they realized they were watching the passing of a service which played a key element in building not only Claremore, but the state and the nation.
Earlier in the month the Interstate Commerce Commission granted Mo-Pac permission to suspend the passenger service. This came after the railroad officials proved it had been losing money. More and more the former passengers were now using their automobiles for transportation. Airline passenger service, once reserved mainly for the rich, was also becoming for popular.
Engineer O.E. Holloway of Van Buren, Arkansas, a 38-year employee with Mo-Pac, was in the cab for that final run. His wife was at the Claremore station to meet him. She had arrived the day before so she could join him on that last trip.
The fireman, the brakeman, and the conductor were also from Arkansas.
On the train’s arrival Mayor James Hammett and W.K. Oaks, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, joined Holloway in the cab to make a few remarks for the occasion. Oaks said he remembered when the depot’s schedule included six passenger trains daily with three running each way. Most of them included dining and sleeping cars.
Early Claremore pioneer Dr. Orange W. Starr, age 70, made the trip over from his current home in Spavinaw. He said he was 12 days old in 1890 when his parents rode the train from Fort Gibson to Inola for the first time. The family moved to Claremore in 1907.
The special trip to Inola that day took less than 30 minutes. It would have been less time except for the train stopping north of Inola for switching purposes. The passengers didn’t mind. The final stop for them would be arriving soon enough.
A fire engine siren greeted both train and passengers as they arrived at the Inola depot. Like Claremore, the Inola residents also turned out in full force for their final farewell.
Another tradition also came to an end with the passing of that train service. It was also the end of the line for 17 employees of the U.S. Post Office that day in 1960. All had made their “second” home in Claremore. Their job had been to sort the mail as the train traveled station to station.
Because Frisco offered service between Kansas City and Tulsa it was able to continue the passenger trains for a few years later. It too ended due to money woes.
The two depots, one on each end of the downtown section, are long gone. Except for a concrete loading dock on the west end, there is no evidence they existed. The Missouri Pacific depot was located near where City Hall now stands. A parking lot is now the site of the old Frisco station.
Claremore still has the numerous freight trains rolling through night and day. The popular and romantic passenger train has faded into Claremore history, however, never to return as it once was. For anyone who rode one, however, the memory will never fade away.