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Railroad Toolbox

Lester Raynesford's toolbox

A Kansas Pacific Railroad engineer kept his spare clothing and tools in this box.

Engineers were folk heroes during the era of steam locomotives. People admired their adventurous lives and control over mammoth trains. Poets, songwriters, and novelists all commemorated their exploits.

Lester Raynesford worked as an engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad in the first half of the 20th century. For a time, he drove the “Salt Run” freight train which hauled salt from mines in the Ellsworth area. This box—containing spare clothing and tools—accompanied Raynesford on his runs. The sheet metal container was made by John  Brazelton of Trenton, Missouri, who is listed on the label as a “Manufacturer of Enginemen’s Perfection Clothes Box.” The box was kept in a locker at the roundhouse between runs.

Born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1875, Raynesford came to Kansas with his parents at the age of five. He learned about the operation of steam engines as a custom thresherman in south central Kansas. Raynesford’s long career with the Union Pacific (UP) began at the Ellis, Kansas, shops in 1898. He worked as a UP engineer for over 40 years, from 1903 until 1945.

Working on the Railroad

Just before Raynesford began working for the UP, Kansas was ranked second among the U.S. states in total railroad track mileage. Nearly 9,000 miles of track meant that only the tiniest hamlets were without service. Nearly everyone depended on the railroads in some way.

The Kansas Pacific railroad helped open northern Kansas for settlement. It began in 1855 as the Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western with a charter to build from the Missouri River to Denver. In 1863 it was reorganized as the Union Pacific, Eastern Branch. The railroad received 6 million acres through government land grants and became deeply involved in attracting settlers for these lands.

Side view of toolboxThe UP system reached from Kansas City in the east to Portland, Oregon, in the west. But like many railroads, the Union Pacific collapsed during the mid-1890s. It eventually rebounded and enjoyed great prosperity until after World War II.

Raynesford worked for the UP during its 20th century heyday. He ran freight trains from Salina to Junction City for many years, and finished his career on the “City of Salina” passenger train between those two cities.

Throughout most of the steam era, engineers were assigned locomotives which they alone drove. As a result, engineers developed a personal pride and affection for their machines. Raynesford operated Locomotive No. 2260 on the “Salt Run” hauling salt from mines. As engineer, he would have driven the locomotive from its cab, keeping his left hand on the throttle lever and his eyes on the track. Within easy reach from his perch were the reverse gear lever, air brake valve, injector valve, and whistle cord. He also was responsible for keeping a close watch on the steam and air gauges, and checking the water level of the boiler.

Lester Raynesford retired from the UP in 1945 and died in 1954. His toolbox is on display in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History. Besides the toolbox, the museum also received from Raynesford’s son his tools, a lunch pail, a flashlight (always carried in the toolbox), UP engineer’s pin, and several certificates of examination.

Entry: Railroad Toolbox

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2002

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.