A Pocket-Sized Piece of History From the Katy Trail

Posted 03/16/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in America's Trails

Photo © Gloria Ballard

For the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Rails to Trails magazine, we had asked our readers, "What is your favorite part about rail-trail history?" One of the most memorable responses came from Gloria Ballard of Nashville, Tenn., who wrote about making a surprising connection between family history and rail history while researching a rail-trail excursion in Missouri. We thought we'd share her story! 

From Gloria: 
For our 30th anniversary, my husband and I took a 200-mile bike trip along Missouri's Katy Trail State Park. This experience was new for us. We have been casual riders for years, but the idea of a long trip on bicycles, with nothing but the bare necessities for a five-day ride, was daunting.

We started training in February for the trip in May. We planned, we mapped and we rode hard to get in shape. We also began reading up on the history of the MKT and its St. Louis-to-Galveston train, the Katy Flyer. In the process, we discovered a point where rail history and family history intersect.

My grandparents, who died in the 1960s, left a treasure trove of things for their descendents to discover. I was rambling through a box of old junk one day and found a dusty, rusted two-inch pocketknife. On one side is an illustration of a woman wearing turn-of-the-20th-century traveling clothes; her arm is raised as if she is anticipating the arrival of a train, and a red shield above her head reads "MKT." On the other side of the knife are the words, "The Katy Flyer." 

I can only speculate about my grandparents' Katy experience. They lived for a short time in Rolla, Mo., which is to the south of the MKT line. It's likely they rode The Katy Flyer and picked up this knife as a souvenir. I suppose we'll never know, but we took it as a good omen, and the little knife was one of the few unnecessary items we packed into our panniers for the ride. We considered it our good-luck charm, and it worked! We had a great ride, fine weather, no mishaps--a perfect trip, connected to the trail's history in the most meaningful way.  

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