Members of the Midland Railway Historical Assn., which began operating an excursion train in Baldwin, works to preserve Kansas railroad heritage.
It has been about 30 years since railroad mail cars were a key part of the Postal Service.
But this weekend, historic Midland Railway locomotives will be pulling an antique, rolling post office. And railroad buffs along for the ride will be able to have their letters posted with a special commemorative cancellation mark that pays tribute to the days when letters and packages were ferried town-to-town and sorted en route to the accompanying sounds of clickety-clack and locomotive warning whistles.
``Before (automobiles) were common and before there were interstate highways, people traveled by rail,'' said Ernie Griffin, a conductor and director of operations for Midland Railway. ``And up until 1968, most mail was delivered by rail.''
When the postal service stopped using railroad post offices, known as RPOs, that also effectively finished off regular passenger rail service between most American towns, Griffin said.
Members of the Midland Railway Historical Assn., which began operating an excursion train on an abandoned Santa Fe Railway line here in August 1987, works to preserve Kansas railroad heritage.
One of the historical railway's biggest events of the year, Railfans Weekend, happens Saturday and Sunday.
This year the Midland train will be traveling farther and faster than in previous years thanks to a $350,000 federal transportation grant that allowed extension and improvements of the line from Nowhere to the all-but-forgotten pioneer town site of Norwood, where the association hopes to build a replica of the village that once existed, Griffin said.
For now, there is nothing there but a Midland siding and a picnic park for passengers.
Griffin, like other members of the Midland train and maintenance crews, is a volunteer. His real job is that of deputy sheriff in Jackson County, Mo.
About 60 Midland volunteers help keep the railroad running, he said. Most of the rolling stock, which includes everything from old Pullman passenger coaches to cabooses and tank cars, was purchased by association members for the railroad's use.
This weekend the excursion train will make four scheduled 12-mile runs each day. The train will depart the depot at 1515 W. High St. at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.
The excursions retrace the route of the state's first railroad south of the Kansas River, the long-defunct Lawrence, Leavenworth & Galveston Railroad, which once extended as far south as Cherryvale, but never made it to Galveston before going out of business.
The line ultimately ended up belonging to the Santa Fe Railway, which abandoned it in 1984.
The Midland Railway weekend trips to Norwood are the first to carry rail passengers to the site since 1936, Griffin said.
Weekend festivities also include an appearance by former Harvey House Girls in period costumes. Fred Harvey operated a chain of railroad restaurants during the heyday of passenger rail service.
Souvenirs, refreshments and tickets for the weekend will be available at the depot. Fares are $8 for adults and $4 for children. All-day passes are $20. For more information call Midland Railway at (800) 651-0388.
-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.