Autumn perfect for the trail, its lessons in history

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Not long ago we stopped along Union Street, where the Välkommen

Trail intersects, and looked both ways, as we do at nearly all the

Trail intersections, and it struck home that there is always something

pleasing about this walkway even if we’re not actually on it, striding

along or cruising on a bike. From most intersections the Trail moves

north and south in a kind of serpentine meandering, over lush grassy

slopes or along lines of high cedars, and among leafy little plots and

garden shrines that people have cultivated along the way.

And then there are the signs, more than two dozen special histori-
cal markers along the course, each a special commemoration in the

rich history of the Smoky Valley.

During this stretch of weather-to-be-outdoors, we applaud the

Trail, a crown jewel among Lindsborg public works projects. This

2.5-mile, $1.5 million bicycle and pedestrian trail was incubated on

Dec.28, 2000, when the City filed a request for a National Interim

Trail Use permit with the federal Surface Transportation Board, the

chief regulatory agency for railroads. The Trail was to be built on

the abandoned rail beds of the Missouri Pacific and Union Pacific

Railroads. Then followed a long stretch of wagering and haggling

with the railroads, and planning sessions among City officials and

local interests.

Construction of the Trail began in early March, 2006, with the

opening ceremony on July 29, a muggy Saturday morning. Even

with landscaping not quite finished, the project was thrilling, the

spread of its solid concrete, its trail heads, its lighting, its shaded

benches and rest stops. Here was government at work, helping a

community to be more livable, to polish its appeal. With each year

the Trail matures, acquiring patina, the reassuring comfort of func-
tion and familiarity.

LONG BEFORE the City officially opened the Trail, the Smoky

Valley Historical Association had adopted a project to erect 2 x

3-feet historical markers along its winding stretches with signs

placed at significant sites. Each sign is sponsored by a local busi-
ness or individual donors. The first two, unveiled in late May 2007,

mark the sites of the former Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific

Railroad depots.

“Without the railroads,” said the venerable Corky Malm,

“Lindsborg would not be here today. 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 Trail is a diary, an education in the area’s history along the

rail beds. The desire to build it led to a Historical Association 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 have been involved, gathering at the sites to

help dig the holes for the sign posts and prepare a brief program for

installation ceremonies.

A couple of years ago, on May 12, a crew of about a half-dozen

wily, history-hardened veterans showed up at the Union Street

site to install a marker commemorating the Methodist Church in

Lindsborg. The sign gleamed with the likeness of a tomte from

its creator, the late Norman Malm, also 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.)

Among the installation crew for this sign were Peterson and

Swisher, armed with a portable auger, men who had been part of the

installation of every sign along the Trail. They were there to make

short work of this one, their 25th, digging two 30-inch deep holes

for each leg of the sign’s heavy iron frame.

Short work became long work. The men had struck a solid layer

of chunk rock, once used to cushion the ties and rails in the days

when the railroads brought commerce to the Smoky Valley. They

had struck history, in hard form. It came loose reluctantly, a rock at

“It’s all my fault,” chuckled Bill Carlson, a regular with this vol-
unteer crew. He had worked for the railroads in Lindsborg decades

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ago (“78 cents an hour…”). Carlson was on his knees and elbows,

reaching with gloved hands into one of the holes, removing rock and

dirt a handful at a time. At one point, as the men were about to break

through the layer of rocks, Peterson looked up at the sign, pointed

at reference to Nels Peterson (the fi rst pastor) and said “That’s my

dad’s uncle.” More history, in the fl esh.

Corky Malm, Norman’s brother, surveyed the scene. “Normally,

we’d come in and be done in 20 minutes,” he said. “This hard dig-
ging, it fi ts … kind of like Norman … to be hard-headed, like this.”

IN JUNE, 2010, the Historical Association published an updated

edition of the illustrated booklet that documents its Trail signage

project. The free publication contains photographs and small nar-
ratives for 23 of the Trail’s signs and the community history that

the project celebrates. The original booklet, published in June 2007,

listed 17 signs. When the Association fi rst discussed a marker proj-
ect for the Trail, the goal was ten signs.

A year later, in May 2011, installation of a Trail sign with the title

“Lindsborg’s Boxcar Children” carried a candid and 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.

A special signifi cance came with this sign; 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 Pacifi c 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 Pacifi c 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)

No better time than autumn to enjoy them.

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– JOHN MARSHALL

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