In 1869 a group of far sighted Omaha citizens recognized the possibilities of a railroad through this promising
agricultural territory. The original plans were to run the road from Omaha to Niobrara at the junction of the Niobrara
and Missouri Rivers, passing through the fertile bench lands of the Missouri in Douglas, Washington and Burt counties
and then crossing over and following the Logan to its source and beyond. This would provide it with two river terminals,
which were in that day considered very important. This railroad was called the Omaha and Northwestern. By 1871
the road was completed to Herman. Lack of finds arrested its development at this point. In 1876 its promoters succeeded
in attracting new capital and with this managed to extend it to Tekamah. In 1879 the company was reorgpnized and
renamed as the Omaha & Northern Nebraska Railway. This time the rails were extended to Oakland which it reached
December 30, 1879. Here progress was halted only for a short time. Before 1881 the railroad was extended on through
Lyons and to Bancroft.
About the time that the Omaha and Northern Nebraska finished laying its rails, a survey was made for a new railroad.
A young engineer with more imagination than capital staked out a line for a right of way for a road which was to
run from Decatur to Salina, Kansas. The course of this line through Burt county from Decatur followed Elm Creek
up to near the source of its South fork in what is now Silver Creek township. From there it crossed over the ridge
and followed down through to where it met the valley of the Elkhorn. Along its planned route lay the postoffices
of Clark's and Alder Grove in Burt county and Advance, Nero and Belle Creek in Washington county.
Decatur was bubbling over with enthusiasm. Bonds were voted to assist the project. Decatur boasted of having the
only rock bottom to be found along the Missouri for many miles and because of this, expected a railroad bridge
to connect the proposed line with the Sioux City and Pacific line at Onawa. However, the young promoter failed
to sufficiently attract eastern capital in his project and consequently it fell through from lack of funds. The
next real attempt to build a railroad through Decatur was sponsored by a man by the name of Reynolds and was commenced
in the latter part of the nineteenth century and dragged along until 1903. Reynolds had the backing of the Great
Northern and was assisted in his survey by Wakefield, the man who had built the line from Sioux City to Norfolk
and who later had charge of the Sioux City-Ashland project. Reynolds enlisted the aid of Decatur and Tekamah real
estate men and succeeded in obtaining a right of way from South Sioux City across the reservation to Decatur. To
assist this project Decatur again voted bonds. Tekamah was asked to vote bonds to help, but the proposition was
voted down largely because of the opposition of Jim Latta and the Hopewells. These men and the Andersons of Decatur
had a scheme of their own. They were backing a man by the name of Stoddard who intended to buy up a right of way
and sell it to the Missouri Pacific. But this plan of the opposition fell through when the Missouri Pacific and
the M. & O. entered into a traffic agreement. Reynolds and his group had interested Jim Hill and the Great
Northern in their plans. When Tekamah voted against the bonds, the promoters in reprisal changed the route so as
to pass east of Tekamah, and laid out two townsites, one about three miles north and the other two miles south
The railroad seemed a certainty. But just as the deal between its promoters and Great Northern was about to be
concluded, Reynolds demanded a position for himself as General Manager. Jim Hill refused to accede to his demands
and the whole deal was held up. Reynolds later sold his rights to an eastern group but they failed to use these
rights within the time allowed. Once again Decatur had listened in vain for the train whistles.
The Great Northern, after the failure of the Sioux City-Omaha proposition, entered into an agreement with the Burlington
who then (in 1904 and 1905) built the line from Ashland to Sioux City. This railroad line entered the Logan Valley
north of Lyons and followed it through the West side of Burt county. This was a great boon to Oakland and Lyons.
There were several other attempts to promote a railroad to Decatur, the last being in 1910 to 1912 when a young
promoter by the name of A. King got Decatur to vote bonds again. He went so far as to throw up a grade just outside
of Tekamnh and also a short distance out of Decatur. His line was opposed by residents of Tekamah who lived along
Fourteenth Street thru which it was to pass. It is believed by some that this plan was merely a promotion scheme
and that the work on the grades near the towns was just bait to catch suckers. At any rate, the result was the
same as that obtained in previous attempts, and at the present time Decatur mothers do not have to caution their
children against playing on the railroad tracks.
The development of the county has been greatly assisted by the railroads. Even today, with our great network of
highways and our fleets of trucks and automobiles, the railroads are indispensable and provide a vital service
in the disposal of our agricultural products.