Three years after Sedalia residents Dale and Liz Yelton came up with the original idea, the Trail’s End landmark is finally starting to take shape.
It’s been a year of fundraising for the Trail’s End Committee and Friends of Trail’s End, which has gained about $500,000 for the project, including cash donations and in-kind donations of services, products and labor from local residents and businesses.
The idea for the Trail’s End landmark started when Dale and Liz Yelton took a trip to Steamboat Springs, Colo., and learned about a similar project going on there.
“The guys at the Rotary (Club) wanted something for the 90th anniversary, like a statue. When we went to Steamboat Springs, the work they were doing there, I thought surely we could do that here (in Sedalia),” Dale said. “We started getting a team together. Evelyn Hicks, our treasurer, was our first member. The second person to join an idea like that is a brave one.”
Because of Sedalia’s history of being a cattle and railroad town, the idea was started to create a Trail’s End landmark. Once a committee had been formed, bids were requested for a sculpture of a cattleman on a horse and one steer. The plan was to obtain the land at the corner of highways 50 and 65, but the group couldn’t get the site donated. The idea then came to try to get land at the corner of 16th Street and U.S. Highway 65. At that point, Dale said the idea grew. With a larger area of land in mind, more pieces started to be added to the project.
“There’s two elements, there’s the great history with trains and the history with the trail ride. So that’s a no-brainer,” said committee member Doug Kiburz. “…So we had the statues and we said ‘what are we going to do for the train? Do you just put a cattle car?’ There wasn’t going to be a steam engine because they’re so hard to find, well we came up with a steam locomotive and then it went from there — well you can’t have a steam engine without steam. You can’t have steam without water, you can’t have water without a water tank, you can’t have a water tank without a windmill. And so it just kind of evolved from a little statue and maybe a train car.”
Kiburz noted the project involves pieces from all over the country: a steam locomotive from New Jersey, a tender from Kansas, a cattle car from Oklahoma, a drover’s caboose from the Frisco Railroad Historical Museum in Springfield, the Aermotor windmill head from Chicago, the wooden windmill tower from Nebraska, and the bronze sculptures that are being created by J. Michael Wilson and Adonis Foundry in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Missouri State Fair originally wasn’t sold on having the landmark on its property, but after some persuading from community letters, a presentation by Sen. Mike Parson and support from Fair Director Mark Wolfe, the board decided to give the land to the Trail’s End project. Obtaining the lease in March 2013 jump started the fundraising campaign, which included amounts as large as $100,000 from Bob and Barbara Hayden to get naming rights to the plaza (in addition to two other separate $20,000 donations), to donations as small as $100, which gains the donor an inscribed brick on the pathway around the plaza.
“We’ve had people that didn’t donate large amounts of money, but they donated items in-kind,” Dale said. “Some small businesses donated a few thousand dollars each.
“We also had lots of people give $100 for a brick, some gave $1,000. Every single one made a difference when it needed to be made. It’s been a long journey but a lot of good people have stepped up to make it happen.”
A work in progress
Now that the fundraising process is mostly finished, construction work has begun. The committee hosted its groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday with a large crowd of supporters. Dirt and excavation work has been started, and the plaza wall surrounding the site should be started in the next few weeks.
While people may have noticed the construction equipment on the site recently, much more work has been completed behind closed doors. The train cars are all from the late 1800s and early 1900s, which meant they all needed restoration work. Currently work is being done on the stock car and steam locomotive in a warehouse owned by Ron Ditzfeld, of Ditzfeld Transfer, who has helped transport all of the large items and will also transport the bronze sculptures when they are finished this summer.
The drover’s car/caboose has been completed, and took about eight to nine months to finish. It was one of the first pieces obtained by Kiburz, who has done most of the work making phone calls around the country and taking trips to view possible pieces. The caboose had a rough ride to Sedalia though. The truck driver took the 14-foot, six-inch caboose under a 13-foot, nine-inch bridge, ripping off its top. Dale said the driver and construction manager Gary McMullin “cleaned up the highway and brought it home in pieces.”
The other train cars have had a smoother transport, but have needed just as much work. Train cars in the 1800s were made of wood and the 110-year-old stock car was mostly rotten, so committee members and volunteers have been working since January to rebuild it.
“We’re making good progress,” said Russell Cardwell, a retired carpenter who has been taking the lead on the wood work. “Once it’s all done people will see what it is, the intense amount of work that was put into it to celebrate Sedalia as a cattle connection for the country. It’s a very important part of not just Sedalia but also Missouri. Sedalia was part of the recovery of the South, and Missouri and Sedalia played an important part.”
The project has garnered attention from several state offices, including the Department of Natural Resources, Tourism, Economic Development, Agriculture and Missouri State Parks.
“Jefferson City has taken notice. Trail’s End representatives recently met with members of the departments of economic development, tourism, natural resources, agriculture and Missouri parks,” Kiburz said during his remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony. “One of the department heads said he was not surprised about Sedalia becoming a national historic landmark. He said ‘Sedalians have a way of getting things done.’
“The state, and soon the nation, will see us bringing in the herd and will hear that train a-coming.”
The committee is also hopeful that it will garner national attention, with the possible designation as a national historic landmark.
“When completed, we have been told, from Sen. (Matt) Blunt’s office, and later confirmed with Rep. Vicky Hartzler… this qualifies as a national landmark because of the historical connection,” said Ed Watkins, who was hired to help with fundraising efforts. “When it’s completed that is actually done in Congress. They put something in the congressional record, make a proposal. This would be the state of Missouri’s 39th national landmark, the first in Sedalia or Pettis County. It’s very exciting from that standpoint.”
In addition to the sculptures and historic pieces, there will be several kiosks with information about the landmark, including a local phone number patrons can call to hear information from local historians about the history of the pieces as well as Sedalia, much like a headphone tour at a museum.
“What’s important about this is the education part of this project,” Watkins said. “We see some of the biggest beneficiaries will be the young people in Sedalia who have no clue. This isn’t something they would necessarily know about because it hasn’t been lifted up like it will be at this time.
“As you get tourists, we know this will be a tourist destination, there’s no doubt about that, when you include the fair, all the events, all the art things here, it’s estimated that 1 million people come to Sedalia for all sorts of things… And so we feel this fits so well into the kind of city Sedalia is. It’s a manufacturing city, it’s a tourist destination city… And then for people to come here, see it, have a phone number, dial it up while they’re actually looking at it, they can hear what happened and why it’s happened. Why these pieces are here.”
There will eventually be a parking lot and sidewalks leading up to the site, and landscaping will be done by local landscaping companies. Details have been worked out to include historic plants like natural prairie grass in the landscape.
An exact opening date has not yet been set, but the committee has a goal of completing the project by the end of the year. Kiburz said they have an internal goal of finishing by Oct. 1, just in time for the Queen of the Prairies Festival and for Fireball Run to make its way to Sedalia, an Internet-based competition show that announced on Monday it would be making a stop in Sedalia.
For more information about the Trail’s End project, go to thetrailsend.org.