Experience History....Your Way

Bus tours of historic Kansas City

OR Historic first person re-enactments

OR Arm chair tour and presentations

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Kansas City's 8th Street Tunnel

When Robert Gillham, D.M. Edgerton and Millson McCormick punched Kansas City's 8th Street Tunnel through the city's West bluffs there were already a few ways up and out of the West Bottoms via street cars.  One was a route twisting around the bluff to City Market and then south into Downtown.  It was powered by horses and mules.  Two others were cable cars on 12th Street and on 9th street.  Both were very steep routes.  12th Street was at a 20% grade and 9th Street was at an 18% grade.  That 9th Street incline was wide open and scary. 

The 8th street tunnel was built in 1888 and went through the West Bluffs at an 8.8% grade, a much gentler slope.  It opened with cable cars in April of 1888 and was switched to electric cars in the summer of 1892.  It surfaced at the top of the bluff at 8th and Washington Street.  It was part of a straight shot that stretched from downtown, west through the tunnel, down to the Union Train depot, across the West Bottoms and over to Kansas City Kansas.  Kansas City had 314 miles of streetcars at its peak.  In 1904 the tunnel was redug at an even gentler slope going from 8.8% to 5.5%.  And it was extended east two blocks to 8th and Broadway.

The original tunnel is 810 ft long, 28 ft wide and 21 feet tall.  It cost $500,000.00 to dig and equip.  It took 250,000 lbs. of dynamite to tunnel through the bluffs.  It opened in 1888 and served KC until 1956.  The powerhouse for moving the cable, the cars and the people was located at the bottom of the tunnel on 8th street. 

By the end of the 1880s cable cars were in 50 American cities.   Their use peaked in 1889 to be replaced by electricity.  The 8th Street tunnel switched to electricity in 1892.  Why electricity?  It was much more efficient.  With cables, 60% of the energy was used to merely move the cable.  The tunnel’s cable was 1.5 inches in diameter and weighed 37,000 lbs.  25% was used to move the cars and only 15% of the energy was used to move the people.  Just as cable cars had replaced horse and mule drawn street cars, electricity replaced cable cars.

At the beginning of the tunnel use, only one car was allowed in the tunnel at a time.  The fear was that a car would lose traction on the 8.8% grade and its brakes would fail and an accident would result.  That is why, in 1904, the new 5.5% grade tunnel was dug.  Today, you can still walk in the old tunnel actually walking on top of the new tunnel’s roof.  You can see the brick work, the original old wiring, old light bulbs, the concrete supports that supported the double tracks and safety recesses for workers to duck into when a street car passed.

The tunnel operated from 1888 to 1956…………68 years.  It was temporarily closed in 1923 because the elevated tracks, at the west end, were deemed unstable and dangerous.  BUT too many people and businesses complained about the closure, so the elevated tracks were repaired and it reopened in 1928.  A grand re-opening celebration was held at the Hotel Muehlebach in KC's downtown.

The tunnel closed for good in 1956.  April 29.  It fell victim to the automobile.  1888-1956, nearly 70 years.  But what a closing day it was.

Free rides from noon-6:00.
3078 people rode free that day.
So many people rode that although the cars had 51 seats, many cars that day carried 100 passengers at a time.
The cars were supposed to run every 15 minutes but that was increased to every 6 minutes once the crowd arrived.
The last car through the tunnel had two dignitaries among its riders;  Elizabeth Walker was the little girl who in 1892, pushed the button that electrified the Streetcar line, and
JH Kerby, a 90 year old retired banker from Clay Center KS rode the last car also.  As a young 22 year old, he had driven his horse and wagon out of the tunnel with the 1st load of excavated dirt.  1st and last load.  He quit that $4.00 a day job because he felt it was too dangerous.

A few human interest stories go with the tunnel;

Yes, mushrooms were raised in it as a commercial venture.  The two mushroom stories are;
1. They were grown from 1923-28 while the elevated tracks at the west end were repaired.
2. They were grown in the abandoned part of the original tunnel.  But that story ends with the mushrooms being discontinued because of the smell of fertilizer.  Probably manure brought up from the stockyards.

2.       In 1960 the tunnel was designated as a fallout shelter.  Capacity was set at 640 people.  It could hold more but the ventilation was too poor.

3.       During the summers the street car operators would slow down so the riders could cool off.

4.       The tunnel was depicted in the Sept. 1888 Harper’s Weekly Magazine, as was the scary 9th street incline and Kansas City’s first Skyscraper, The 10 story NY Life Building, at 9th and Baltimore.

5.       A few accidents occurred in the tunnel when motorist tried to use it as a roadway.  Good luck driving on that elevated trestle when you get to the West end.

6.       And on April 5, 1899 an attorney named George Fearona was struck and killed by an electric streetcar while he was walking in the tunnel.  He was found by the operator of a different street car.

So it opened in 1888. Closed in 1956.  It was redug at a lesser grade in 1904.  It was switched from cable cars to electric street cars in 1892.  And it was 810 feet long, 28 feet wide and 21 feet high.  And its still under our Kansas City feet.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Please follow this link to a nice 10 minute tour of the 1857 Grinter House located in Kansas City Kansas at K-32 and 78th Street.  Just highlight the link.  Right click on it and then click on 'GO TO https:......'  Thank you.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Que it up!

Last night I had supper with Alan Uhl and Pat Dalton (pictured in red) at Zarda's BBQ restaurant in Lenexa, Kansas.
They are the two gentlemen who, in 1982, started The Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle, The Kansas State Championship.
That last part "The Kansas State Championship" is unique.  You might be tempted to wonder what's so unique about being a state bbq championship.  Afterall, a quick look at The Kansas City Barbeque Society event calendar lists 19 states with 'STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS' in the month of October alone.
So what's the big deal about Lenexa being The Kansas State BBQ Championship?  The big deal is that it was the first.  I don't mean the first in Kansas.  I mean the first.  As in FIRST IN AMERICA.  That first state championship was held on June 29-30, 1984 and 48 teams competed.
Kansas Governor John Carlin issued and signed the proclamation declaring Lenexa the state championship.  He signed it on April 27, 1984.  Here is the key phrase "...and designate this barbeque battle as the official barbeque contest of the State of Kansas, and its grand champion to be the Kansas State Champion Barbeque Chef."
Today, in 2016, nearly 200 teams compete at Lenexa.  And it is hard to win there.  No team has ever gone back to back.  Hoelting Brothers BBQ went 1st, 2nd, 1st in 1991-93.  Almost the trifecta.
To solidify the State Championship prestige of winning, Lenexa awards a championship banner.  The banner is just like the ones that hang in high school gymnasiums all across America proclaiming State Championships in Volleyball, Basketball, Football, Track etc.
QUE IT UP, Lenexa!  You started something great, others recognized it and all enjoy competing for it.  Thank you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

READ ALL ABOUT IT!! North Carolina Beats Kansas University in 1957 NCAA Finals--TRIPLE OT!!!

I just finished reading, "The Best Game Ever" (How Frank McGuire's '57 Tar Heels beat Wilt and Revolutionized College Basketball).  It was a wonderful read and I recommend it.  BUT then.... I'm a sucker for sport books with understated titles.  Looking around my office I see;

  • The Greatest Game Ever Played ('86 Mets/Astros)
  • The Perfect Game ('85 Villanova/Georgetown)
  • The Greatest Year in Sports (1941)
  • The Last Great Game ('92 Duke/Kentucky)
  • The Horse God Built (Secretariat)
  • When It Was Just a Game ('67 Packers/Chiefs)
  • Game Six ('75 Reds/Red Sox)
  • The Last Nine Innings (2001 Diamondbacks/Yankees)
  • One Pitch Away ('86 League Championships/World Series)
  • The Best Game Ever ('58 Colts/Giants)
  • The Worst Call Ever (umpires, refs and officials)
In my mind these are all 1st Round Draft Choices.

HistoryKC.com loves that the just completed '57 Tar Heels/Wilt book weaves in Kansas City, Dean Smith, Wilt, Phog, Municipal Auditorium, Iowa State, Max Falkenstein, The Big Seven Holiday Tournament, Gene Elstun, Roy Williams and Allen Fieldhouse.

God Bless Kansas City: The Capital of College Basketball

Monday, February 29, 2016

Stephen Curry and Nate Archibald

Last Saturday, while an NBA televised game was on in the background, I played in a "Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament" fundraiser.  It was for my grandson's baseball team.  (FUNDRAISING TIP: Invite grandparents to your fundraising event.  They will donate any potential winnings back to the cause.  For instance, the grandmother I live with won money in our granddaughter's softball team's Super Bowl Pot.  Her, our?, winnings will buy a shin guard.  Last Saturday, a young woman on my left, did not give me a chance to win/donate any money.  As I went all-in, she found an ace on the river.  Hey, it's for the children!)

Our "Texas Hold'em Tourney" slowed to a "Just Hold'em Tourney" when, in the NBA game, The Golden State Warriors went into overtime versus The Oklahoma City Thunder.  None of us won, or lost,  a poker hand for the next 17 minutes while we watched the OT.  Of course, Stephen Curry won the game on a 32 foot (for him) layup.  It was his 12th three of the game and his 288th for the season. The season record for 3s was 286.  Set by Curry last year.  And he still has one-third of the season left to play.  He's having a great year, and it caused me to remember Hall of Famer Nate 'Tiny' Archibald, who played for the Kansas City Kings.

During the 1972-73 season, Tiny unbelievably led the league in both scoring average, 34.0 ppg, and average assists, 11.4 apg.  Unbelievable.

In 2016 we are watching something special in Curry.  Forty plus years ago Kansas City watched something special in Archibald.

Steph and Tiny; the defenses of the NBA can't, and couldn't Hold'em.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Lights in Lenexa Kansas Park

My wife Marci and I saw Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park last night.  It is all lit up with its finest Christmas lights all around the park.  It was, and is, beautiful.  A true treasure for Lenexa KS residents and all the visitors who stop-in this time of year.

The lights reminded me of an article I wrote in the 80s thanking those who first donated money and lights to decorate the park.  It is good to see that the tradition continues and has grown to the wonderful display that covers 15 acres of the 53 acre park.  Very nice.  Thank you.

That 80s article is attached so that we can all remember, and perhaps thank once again, those who started it.  Merry Christmas.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 World Series; Royals vs. Giants

Attached is a great history article on how the Kansas City Royals got their name.  Just highlight the link, right click and select the go to link in the drop-down panel.  Go Royals!!!