Wichita transplant recalls 18 years of working at Union Station

Carmon McCulley worked for the Wichita Union Terminal Railway, which ran Union Station, from 1949 to 1967.
Carmon McCulley worked for the Wichita Union Terminal Railway, which ran Union Station, from 1949 to 1967. The Wichita Eagle

Carmon McCulley spent 18 years working at Wichita’s Union Station.

From 1949 to 1967, McCulley said, he worked in a variety of jobs at the passenger train depot, including in the ticket office, as a dispatcher, as an assistant night agent and unloading mail and cash from railway Post Office cars.

“I’ve probably unloaded millions of dollars,” said McCulley, 91.

The cash, he said, was on trains coming from Kansas City, sent by the Federal Reserve to banks in Wichita.

McCulley apologizes that his memory isn’t as sharp as he’d like. But as Occidental Management prepares to begin a $54 million renovation and expansion project on the property, he wants to contribute what he can to the station’s century-old history.

“The younger generation won’t know what went on out there,” he said.

McCulley said he went to work at Union Station in September 1949, nearly three years after serving in the U.S. Army in World War II.

Born and raised near Nashville, Tenn., McCulley said, he moved to the Springfield, Mo., area after completing his Army enlistment and tour in the Pacific.

“I heard Wichita was booming at the time,” he said.

So he and his first wife, Doris, moved to Wichita, where he went to work for a company that manufactured oil drilling equipment. He was laid off from that job, called back to work and then laid off again.

That’s when he went to work for the Wichita Union Terminal Railway, the company that operated Union Station and was owned by the Santa Fe, Frisco and Rock Island railroads.

“When I went to work there, about 48 people were working there … about every 24 hours,” he said. “Twenty-two or 24 trains went through there daily.”

His first job there was to unload baggage and mail cars, and it wasn’t on a set schedule. He would “bid” to work a shift there when he started. That meant he could be loading and unloading baggage and mail cars at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m., in all sorts of weather.

“Cold or hot, it didn’t make a difference,” McCulley said. “If you had to be out, you had to be out.”

As a rule, trains weren’t to stay at the station longer than 10 minutes. When a train didn’t depart on time, or when one was late to arrive, the station manager or assistant had to type a report on the delay.

“They tried to keep the trains on schedule as much as they could,” McCulley said.

McCulley said that when he returned from a two-week vacation in September 1967, he learned that he and several others had lost their jobs as the railroads serving Union Station had pulled most of their passenger trains from there.

“I was 26 years old when I went to work there, and I was 44 years old when I had to find a different job,” said McCulley, who went to work at the Coleman Co., from which he retired in 1988.

McCulley said he enjoyed working at Union Station.

“It was a good-paying job,” he said.

“We had traveling privileges. My family and I made two or three trips (to California, St. Louis and Dallas). My wife and (seven) children traveled more than I did, because I had to work.”

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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