Recently, I’ve become somewhat fascinated with a part of the history of Wichita and surrounding area that involves a long-abandoned rail line, the Arkansas Valley Interurban. The Ark Valley Interurban, or AVI, was built just before WWI, and ran until WWII. In it’s short life, it saw the explosive growth of the automobile as a favored mode of transportation, as well as great improvement in roads that those automobiles traveled upon. And as you might surmise, that was, in large part, the reason for its eventual demise as a passenger, and later on, a freight carrier.
The AVI line began where the Drury Broadview is now in downtown Wichita, and ran northward through Valley Center, up to Newton, and over to Hutchinson. Plans were made to expand the service south and farther to the north and west, but never really materialized.
Few remnants of the AVI are visible today. The Broadview has an arch over a door with “AVI” inscribed in the limestone. There are a few abandoned bridges left in rural areas, and one of the parts of the main building at Botanica is a depot for AVI. Additionally, a few streets just to the north and east of the intersection of McLean Blvd. and 13th Street N are at a peculiar angle, which was made necessary because of the angle of the rails of the AVI line running in that area. Other than that, not much is left except for some memorabilia and a few books.
I myself was a child toward the end of the era of what might be called “interurban” transportation. I recall vividly the “doodlebug” that made regular trips to Harper, where I grew up, and then on to Anthony and other places before going back to Wichita. Carrying little of anything…freight or passengers…the railroads were forced by the Interstate Commerce Commission to continue running these routes until into the 1960’s. One could purchase a passenger ticket on the doodlebug and ride, for example, from Harper to Anthony, or from Anthony to Wichita. Tickets were inexpensive. My regret now is that I didn’t take advantage of that, just for the experience of having done it. We had no need for it; we had good vehicles. But the experience would have been one of the best of my childhood days.
I do recall being with a farmer friend of mine who had a few dairy cows on his farm. I was going with him to run some errands. He had a five-gallon cream can full of raw cream from his dairy that he wanted to go to a dairy in Wichita. We stopped at the Harper depot and he dropped off the can, signed a paper or two, and we were off to another errand. What I didn’t realize then was that the doodlebug would leave Harper soon and take that can to the dairy in Wichita.
We all have things that we wished we either had or hadn’t done earlier in life. My hope for you is that you have few of these, and those that you do have are those which haven’t had a huge impact on your life. We cannot live in the past. We cannot let the past rule our present. We must look ahead and live life as God intended, and as the people of God that we are.