The Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway was among several short-line railroads which in the first half of the 20th century extended like the spokes of a wheel from the hub city of Wichita Falls, Texas. Its principal owners were the entrepreneurs Joseph A. Kemp and his brother-in-law, Frank Kell.
The Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway Company was chartered with the intent of linking Wichita Falls with Englewood in Clark County in south central Kansas along the Oklahoma border. In 1906, the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway Company of Texas was chartered to build the 17-mile stretch of track from Wichita Falls, located along the Wichita River, north to the Red River, the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma. About the same time, the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway Company was chartered in the still Oklahoma Territory. This portion of the track never reached Kansas but instead several Oklahoma communities, Frederick in Tillman County and Altus in Jackson County, both in the southwestern portion of the state, to Elk City in Beckham County in western Oklahoma, and Forgan in Beaver County in the Oklahoma Panhandle. There was also a branch from Altus to Wellington in Collingsworth County, Texas.
Acquisition by Missouri-Kansas-Texas
Both the WF&NW and the WF&NW of Texas, technically separate companies, were based in Wichita Falls. The capital for the WF&NW of Texas was $20,000; its first board of directors included William C. Fordyce, L. S. Mitchell, and Jay H. Smith, all of St. Louis, Missouri, and Robert E. Huff, Wiley Blair, and Kemp and Kell, all from Wichita Falls. Service to Wellington began in 1910. Two years later the route reached Forgan. The entire route extended just under 360 miles and as expected by its founders facilitated business in the general service area. As commerce grew, the Wichita Falls and Northwestern was sought by the much larger Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, known as the Katy. In 1911, the Katy acquired the capital stock and constituent lines of both the WF&NW and the WF&NW of Texas.
In 1914, the WF&NW of Texas and the Wichita Falls and Wellington Railway Company of Texas were leased to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company of Texas. However, the WF&NW continued to be operated as a separate entity until 1923, when it was acquired by the Katy. The separate WF&NW of Texas was merged in 1968. The Wichita Falls route serviced the petroleum boom that began in 1918 in Burkburnett in northern Wichita County, Texas. In 1958, the Wellington link was abandoned because of the decline in the Katy's financial condition, a situation caused mainly by changes in transportation, with the rising popularity of automobiles as well as the use of busses as a substitute for train travel and the use of trucks for hauling freight for long distances. Part of the Wellington line to the east survived for a time thereafter as an independent short-line known as the Hollis and Eastern Railroad.
In 1973, all track between Forgan and Altus was abandoned. The seventy-seven remaining miles from Wichita Falls to Altus was operated by the Katy and its successor until January 14, 1991, when the Wichita, Tillman and Jackson Railway, named for the three counties through which it passes, absorbed the remaining line.
- "Brian Hart, "Joseph Alexander Kemp"". Texas State Historical Association online. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
- "J. W. Williams, "Kell, Frank"". The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "Donovan L. Hofsommer, "The Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway"". tshaonline.org. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
- The Texas State Historical Association bases its article on the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway on Hofsommer's Katy Northwest: The Story of a Branch Line Railroad (Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishers, 1976) and Townsite Development on the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway, Great Plains Journal 16 (April 1977), pp. 107-122.
- Interstate Commerce Commission, 34 Val. Rep. 293 (1930): Valuation Docket No. 759, The Wichita Falls & Northwestern Railway Company; Valuation Docket No. 814, The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company of Texas and its Leased Lines