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The incentive for building the Fort Smith and Western Railway was the presence of vast bituminous coal fields in the Ouachita Mountains of the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory. To connect the coal lands around McCurtain with the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Gulf, the Fort Smith and Western (FS&W) was incorporated in 1899 by Henry Clay Frick and the Andrew J. Mellon interests, who owned the coal leases. Soon the railroad was extended westward to tap the rich prairie lands around Guthrie, the major town in Oklahoma Territory, which was reached in 1903.

Locomotive No. 1, first locomotive owned by Fort Smith and Western, 1901

Traffic turned out to be disappointing, however, and the FS&W decided to extend westward by buying the St.Louis, El Reno and Western Railway (SLER&W), which had a forty-two-mile line from Guthrie to El Reno, on the north-south main line of the Rock Island. The hoped-for bridge traffic did not materialize, and local traffic was non-existent, so income remained insufficient, and plans for further expansion had to be shelved.

One of the construction trains on Mountain Fork Bridge. Fort Smith and Western Railroad

The FS&W went bankrupt in 1915, but the receiver managed to negotiate running rights over the Missouri, Kansas and Texas line from Fallis into Oklahoma City. For a time, freight traffic indeed grew. Reorganization in 1921 did not really change the picture, but to cut losses the SLER&W was abandoned in 1924. Unfortunately, the FS&W itself entered a new receivership in 1931.

The economic plight of Oklahoma worsened in the 1930s during the Great Depression, and the only solution for the FS&W turned out to be complete abandonment. In 1939 the company was dissolved and the line dismantled. Only the twenty-one-mile portion between Coal Creek and McCurtain was purchased by the Kansas City Southern and operated by them as the Fort Smith and Van Buren Railway.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Keith L. Bryant, Jr., "Railroad Redundant; The Fort Smith & Western Railway," Railroad History 174 (Spring 1996). Preston George and Sylvan R. Wood, The Railroads of Oklahoma, Bulletin No. 60, The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc. (Boston, Mass.: The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc., 1943). Donovan L. Hofsommer, ed., Railroads in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977).

Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr.

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