We see people on foot or cycle along Lindsborg's Välkommen Trail, the
city's open-air asylum from the virus witch Corona. It may help to remember
what inspired this roomy, four-mile hiking and biking boulevard – and how all
those signs popped up along the way.
On a warm, windless day in May 2012, roughly a half-dozen history-
hardened veterans gathered near the Trail's Union Street intersection to erect
another historical marker. This one, the Trail's 25th, would commemorate the
Methodist Church in Lindsborg.
The men were part of the Smoky Valley Historical Association, old friends,
and at the time they held a special energy that gives life to great projects. Even
before the Trail opened in 2006, the Association had begun plans to erect 2 x 3-
feet historical markers at special places. More than two dozen would be put up
along the original 2½-mile circuit (A 1½-mile extension was opened last year.).
Each sign was sponsored by a local business or individual donors. The first two,
unveiled in late May 2007, mark the sites of the former Union Pacific and
Missouri Pacific Railroad depots.
As more signs went up, they came to comprise a diary along the old rail
beds, an education in local history.
“Without the railroads, Lindsborg would not be here today,” the late Corky
Malm had said. "We hope the signs welcome people to a historical trail of the
people, businesses and industries that have made Lindsborg what it is today.”
The original Trail, a $1.5 million project, was incubated on Dec.28, 2000,
when the City applied for a permit with the federal Surface Transportation
Board, the chief regulatory agency for railroads. The Trail was to be built on
abandoned rail beds of the Missouri Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. Then
followed a long stretch of wagering and haggling with the railroads, and
countless planning sessions among City officials and local interests.
Construction began in early March, 2006, with the opening ceremony on a
muggy Saturday morning, July 29. Even then, with landscaping not quite
finished, the project was thrilling, its spread of solid concrete, its trail heads, its
lighting, the shaded benches and rest stops. The Trail's bridge over the Smoky
Hill River has become iconic, a tourist Mecca and photographer's magnet.
The City's desire to build the Trail inspired the Association to form a Trail
Committee led by Malm with members including John Riggs, Ken Branch, Don
Howe and board members Margaret Nelson, Bill Carlson and Chet Peterson.
Bertil Malm, Ken Swisher, Einar Johnson and others were involved, gathering at
the sites to erect the signs and prepare programs for installation ceremonies.
On that day in May 2012, the sign for Trinity United Methodist Church
gleamed with the likeness of a tomte from its creator, the artist Norman Malm.
Malm had died in August 2011 and was a church member. (The Methodist
Episcopal Church, organized here in 1879, worshiped in the Swedish Methodist
Church until 1887, when members built a church at 224 S. Main.)
Installing these signs could be a chore. Peterson and Swisher were armed
with a portable auger; They were there to make short work of the project,
digging a 30-inch deep hole for each leg of the sign’s heavy iron frame.
Short work became long work. The men had struck a layer of chunk rock
once used to cushion the ties and rails from days when railroads brought
commerce to the Smoky Valley. They had struck history, in hard form. It came
loose reluctantly, a rock at a time.
“It’s all my fault,” chuckled Bill Carlson, a regular with the volunteers. He
had worked for the railroads in Lindsborg decades before (“78 cents an hour…”).
He was on his knees, reaching down with gloved hands to remove, a handful at a
time, the rock and dirt he might have packed so many decades earlier.
The Historical Association has published at least two booklets to document
its Trail signage projects. The first, in June 2007, listed 17 signs. Another, in
2010, had photos and narratives for 23 signs and the history they told. When the
Association first discussed a marker project for the Trail, the goal was ten signs.
In May 2011, a new Trail sign was titled “Lindsborg’s Boxcar Children” and
carried a candid, unswerving message about the impact of railroads in the
community. That sign was erected at the location of a “railroad boxcar,” which
served as home for Martin and Frieda Opat and their family for nearly a decade,
from 1930 to 1939.
The railroads brought life to the early, emerging towns and cities of the
Plains, and to Lindsborg, where Martin Opat came to work for the railroad and
to raise a family – one that would ultimately include nine children, all boys, all
grateful that the railroads had provided work and, in their case, shelter. They
would become prominent, productive members of the community.
The Trail’s historical markers are an affectionate, anecdotal chronicling of
more than a century in Lindsborg and the Smoky Valley. They are the living
enterprise of men and women who want us to know how we have lived and died,
prospered, perished, or simply existed by nature’s quirky authority.
The Historical Association signs and sponsors (in parentheses) are:
– A Brief History of Early Lindsborg (Lindsborg Community Foundation)
– Terrible Swedes (Lindsborg Quarterback Club)
– Bethany College (Wallace Chevrolet of McPherson)
– Birger Sandzén (Peoples Bank and Trust of McPherson)
– Messiah Chorus (First Bank of McPherson and Assaria)
– Bethany Lutheran Church (Doris Johnson Stump)
– Railways to Highways (Mid-Kansas Co-op)
– The Power Plant (Dauer Welding and Machine)
– Missouri Pacific Depot (Hemslöjd, Inc.)
– Site of Many Uses (Curtis and Jill Enterprises, LLC, dba Anderson Body Shop)
– Home and Studio of Anton Pearson (Corky and Deloris Malm)
– Hagstrom Manufacturing Company (Lindsborg Concrete Products)
– Crossing the Smoky (Midway Motors of McPherson)
– The Swedish Pavilion (Dr. Duane and Nancy Fredrickson)
– Smoky Valley Roller Mill (Lindsborg State Bank)
– Crescent Flour Mill (Scott’s Hometown Foods)
– Kansas Pacific Depot (Farmers State Bank)
– Red Barn Studio and Museum (Lindsborg Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary service clubs)
– Messiah Lutheran Church (members of Messiah Lutheran Church)
– Hobo Camp on the Smoky (members of the Trail Sign Committee)
– Art in Lindsborg (Ron and Loren Dauer dba Town and Country Repair)
– Evangelical Covenant Church (members of Evangelical Covenant Church)
– Lindsborg Public Schools (USD 400, Smoky Valley School District)
– Lindsborg’s Boxcar Children (E-M Sand and Gravel and the family of Edward Opat)
– Trinity United Methodist Church (Norman Malm Memorial)