Through the years, I have written quite a bit about the Interurban that was responsible for the forming of Woodlake, but thinking back, I wonder how many know that Denison had a rail system even before the Interurban.
When I was still working at The Denison Herald, Kenneth Ransom, a good friend of my parents, stopped by the office occasionally to pass along a tip for a good story. Sometimes it was a news item and sometimes it was a feature story idea straight from Denison's past.
One particular day in 1988, he mentioned the electric street cars that once had a route in Denison before the interurban came along.
Kenneth even remembered the two routes. One, the Hull Street car, went up Main Street, south on Mirick Avenue, then east on Hull Street to near the old City Hospital that later became Madonna Hospital and now has been demolished. The other, the Sears Street car, went up Main Street to Chandler Avenue, then north to Sears Street and west to Maurice Avenue, then north to between Morton and Bond streets.
He said the Sears Street car took the “out of the way” route for two reasons. One was the old oil mill so that employees could ride the street car to and from work. The second reason was so that folks could ride to Bush Swimming Pool, where Ransom was a lifeguard.
Bush Pool was located in the 1600 block of Johnson, today a tranquil neighborhood in which no sign of the pool still exists. The pool opened in 1917 and closed on Labor Day in 1939.
The week after Kenneth had talked about the street cars, I came across an article about Jessie W. Kidd, who was celebrating his 75th birthday in 1947 during Denison's Diamond Jubilee.
Mr. Kidd recalled that in 1939, he retired as the oldest employee of a traction company in the state in length of service with a total of 54 years.
He said he started when he was 13 and his first job was changing teams for drivers of the “dinkey cars” that were pulled by a pair of Spanish mules. According to the article, the dinkey ran west on Main Street to Mirick Avenue, then south to Monterey Street, then diagonally to the Waterloo Lake waterworks where there was a baseball park that often hosted the Gate City League games.
The cars carried 18 or 20 people and even more then some rode on the roof if the car was crowded. Mr. Kidd said moving along was no problem for the mules as long as the ground was level. But when the dinkey was loaded, the men and boys often had to jump off and push the car over a hill. The driver, he said, stood on a platform in front, clutching the reins with one hand and operating the hand brake with the other.
The railway was expanded to skirt the north part of town and return down Houston Avenue to Main Street after it was taken over by the Lake & Investment Company that also owned the “dummy line,” a miniature railroad with tiny steam engines tugging trains to the Exposition Hall just southwest of Denison.
The line began at the Post Office and went south on Scullin Avenue to pass by the waterworks and out to the Exposition Hall.
Electric street cars replaced the dummy line and mule cars sometime in the late 1890s. The first trolley was about as primitive as the mule-drawn version. The motorman stood on an open extension in the front at first, but a few years later that extension was enclosed for the drivers.
Mr. Kidd said the electric cars were anything but comfortable or fast. But they were the main transportation for Denisonians between the day of the horse and buggy and the automobile. Actuall,y it was the automobile that spelled doom for the trolley cars and they stopped operating here in the mid 1930s.
The first interurban line built in Denison was put into operation between Denison and Sherman in 1901 and by 1908, it was making scheduled runs all the way to Dallas. That means of travel also came to an end on Dec. 31, 1948, when several Denisonians crowded aboard an interurban for a nostalgic ride on the last car leaving here at midnight when the service ended.
The dinkey that was pulled by Spanish mules is not to be confused with the dinkey that was utilized by the Katy Railroad in the locomotive shops here. One of these little engines, No. 787, was in service for half a century, first as an iron steed on the main line and then for many years as a shop switch engine at Denison, then in Parsons, Kansas.
Engine No. 787 served as a roustabout in the old shops for many years before it was taken to Waco, then to Parsons' shops where it was no longer called “the dinkey,” but rechristened “the goat.”
An undated but yellowed newspaper clipping in my files tells of the dinkey being dismantled at Parsons after a long service life for the Katy. For several years, according to the article, it rocked over the main line of the Katy with short freight trains for 50 years.
It was rated as a 20 percent engine with a weight of 90,000 pounds and was the last of four such locomotives to be taken out of service by the Katy and sold to a scrap dealer who dismantled them at Parsons.
But wait, there was another dinkey. When I was writing about the dinkey a few years ago, I was stopped on a grocery shopping trip by a lady who asked me if I had heard of the dinkey that passed near the Bloomfield Academy across the Red River in Oklahoma. That made three dinkeys.
She said she grew up around Hendrix, Oklahoma, and was familiar with Bloomfield. In fact, she passed the academy on her way to school every day. She said a small train called “the dinkey” that included the engine, the mail car and segregated passenger seating all in one unit went through that area every day en route to Muskogee, then came back in the afternoon just in time for her to ride home from school as a passenger.
I know that all these little “dinkeys” are confusing. I have written about them before, but have trouble distinguishing which one is which. I would love to see any pictures or other information about them that readers might want to share with me.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.