The Wichita Northwestern Railroad was first chartered in late 1912 as the Anthony and Northern Railroad, with intent to build between Iuka and Anthony, in Kansas. The railroad was conceived by Otto P. Byers, who saw an opportunity to provide rail service to various mills in the area, and hence become a railroad owner himself.
Construction out of Iuka reached Pratt in 1913, 6 miles to the south, and with it, a connection with the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway (predecessor of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway). Seeking their own rail access, communities to the north and west submitted construction bonds to the A&N, which promptly redirected their efforts to build a rail line north/west out of Iuka to serve those areas, eventually reaching as far west as Kinsley, and as far north as Larned, by 1916. At that time, 80 miles of track had been laid, including three additional connections with the AT&SF, each at Kinsley, Larned, and Belpre.
The following year saw a further 20 miles of additional track laid northwest out of Larned with intent to reach the Union Pacific line at Hays, some 60 miles distant. Construction stopped cold at Vaughn however, what with World War I in full swing, and rumors of ill-dealings around the community bonds used to build the line (which were fruitless) beginning to take hold. Indeed, to recoup some costs, the A&N seized an opportunity to sell about 40 miles of rail steel in support of the war effort.
In 1919, with WWI ended, the A&N decided that Wichita was their next destination, and the name of the railroad was changed to the Wichita Northwestern Railroad that year, in order to inspire further community interest/funding. Wichita was found to be a long shot, however, with the AT&SF already connecting Pratt with Wichita. With such competition, the extension to Wichita never materialized, leaving the new name of the railroad a misnomer. It's nickname, the "Wheat Belt Route", still stood, however.
Over the next decade, the WNW struggled against profitability, despite good grain/feed production in the region. Suffering a deep blow during the dust bowl of the 1930s, followed by a losing battle against trucking into the 1940s, the WNW, which had been in receivership since 1922, was no longer financially viable, and was ordered to discontinue operation in 1941. Abandonment of the WNW soon followed later that year.