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True Tales of the Rails

By Jim L. Rueber

After working on the railroad for 41 years, Jim Rueber has a few stories to tell. Jim hired on with the Great Western on June 26, 1956, and retired from the Union Pacific on December 1, 1997. Jim fondly recalls his life on the CGW; "I have always said that I would work one year for nothing if they could have brought the CGW back." He continued, "I knew just about everybody all over the CGW and it was more like one big family. After the merger I was nothing but a number." Today, Jim often writes stories about his life on the CGW, stories he calls "Tales of the Rails." - Jerry Huddleston

Big Hogs | Milton Smith | Benny Nelson | Blizzard of '59 | Pension | Pay Attention | Brave Engineer | Oops | Westgate | D.O.P. | That Gang on Nights | CGW Oelwein Shops | Inspection Trip | Vic Nordman | Road Trip | Stogies

Updated February 1, 2000

Big Hogs

The Chicago Great Western Railroad took delivery of 36 Texas type 2-10-4 locomotives in 1930. To help pay for these hugh engines a lot of employees lost their jobs. The shop force at Oelwein, Iowa was reduced. The Terminals at East Stockton, Illinois and Conception, Missouri were closed. These bigger engines resulted in fewer trains so the trainmen and enginemen took a hit. Even the operators at the various coal chutes were reduced to just one man.

Frank Anderson was a CGW engineer working out of Des Moines, Iowa and he told me that shortly after these Texas engines showed up on the property he was setting up in the cab of one of them waiting to take a train out of Des Moines one day when Superintendent Charlie Foster comes walking over and hollers up to Frank, "How do you like these new engines, Frank?" Frank says "I don't." Foster says "Whats the matter with them?" Frank says "They pull too many cars." Foster says "That's what we bought them for." Frank Says, "I'll tell you something, my father was a contractor in the construction business and I would hear him sometimes at night downstairs talking with mother, that the men were wanting more money and he guess that he was going to have to raise their wages. But you know after he gave them a raise he didn't make them use a bigger hammer or a bigger saw." Foster says "You're impossible" and walked away.

Milton Smith

Milton Smith was in engine service on the Chicago Great Western between Oelwein, Iowa and Stockton, Illinois. He lived in Oelwein by himself having been divorced many years ago. He always drove a Studebaker car and he was still driving one long after the Studebaker factory had gone out of business. He wore bib overalls every day of the week and said he saw nothing wrong with that as Oelwein was a farming community and most farmers wore bib overalls all the time. He was telling me one time about when he first went to work for the CGW they sent him to Graf, Iowa to be the fireman on the helper engine stationed there to assist westbound trains up over Farley hill. He said that one day they had just tied up and the engineer had gone home and Milton went in the depot to talk with the operator for a few minutes. He said he happened to look out the window of the depot and the helper engine was gone and there was just a little trace of smoke coming from around the curve east of Graf. Milton took off running as fast as his short legs would go and he caught up with the helper engine, climbed up into the cab and not even thinking about any trains coming, he backed the engine into Graf and with some help from the operator, they managed to get the engine through the damaged east switch and back in on the engine tie-up track. While Milton put a short piece of log chain in front of one of the drivers so if the brakes leaked off again, the engine could not get away, the operator got on the wire and found the sectionmen working over by Kidder and had them come back to Graf and repair the damaged bridle rod on the east switch. Nobody reported this incident and Milton was able to continue working for the CGW for many more years but he never forgot to put a chain around one of the driving wheels whenever he had to park an engine.

Another note about the helper engine at Graf. Chet Cole grew up in Kent,
Illinois and went to work for the CGW at East Stockton in 1910 when they were building a big terminal there. He later worked as a telegraph operator at Graf and he told me that when the firebox on the helper engine would need caulking, they would send out a machinist from the East Stockton roundhouse. The guy would ride out to Graf on one of the passenger trains and he would be nipping on a bottle of booze and by the time he got to Graf, he could hardly stand up. The helper crew had dumped the fire on the engine before they went home but it was still pretty hot inside the fire box. The machinist would tear apart a wooden grain door and throw some of the boards inside the fire box to crawl around on while he was doing the cauling. Chet said that it was so hot inside the fire box that by the time the guy finished, he was sober.

Benny Nelson

Ben T. Nelson was born in 1911 and started his railroad career with the Chicago Great Western RR at St Joseph, Missouri as a lineman maintaining telephone and telegraph lines. He told me that one time they had a very bad ice storm in the St Joe area and he could not get out on his motor car to repair a break in the dispatchers wire so they ordered up a light engine to take him out to the location of the break so that he could make repairs and the dispatcher could get the trains moving again.

Benny came to Oelwein in 1943 and began working in the Mechanical Department of the CGW and was promoted to Superintendent of Motive Power on September 1st, 1958 when Ted Olson retired.

The other CGW officials always seemed to be trying to give Benny a bad time if something went wrong with any of the CGW equipment. One of the Baldwin
switchers was involved in an accident in the Twin Cities and the cab of the locomotive was demolished. Since the Baldwin Locomotive Works had been out of business for some time there was no way to order a new cab. Everybody figured they would just have to put the old switcher away on the dead track at Oelwein and use it for parts to keep the other Baldwins running. Well Benny Nelson was not about to give up easily so he got on the phone and made made a few phone calls and found some small road down south that had one of these old Baldwins that they had taken out of service and they agreed to sell the cab off it to the CGW for $500 and they would take it off the engine and load it on a flat car and ship it to Oelwein. Well the big day arrived when the flat car with the locomotive cab showed up at Oelwein and all the officials gathered officials gathered around to see what Nelson had bought for $500. Well it didn't look too good. The windows were all broken out and the whole works was rusted and looked like it should have gone to the scrap pile instead. After they all got done laughing at what Benny had bought Benny had his men unload the cab and then they went to work on it. Sandbasting got rid of all the rust and then they went to work on painting it inside and out and then new windows were installed and the cab was placed in position on the old switcher. Well this made the rest of the engine look not so good so Benny had them paint the rest of the engine including a coat of black paint for the trucks. When they were finished with the engine Benny had them start it up and back it out of the shop and then he got on the phone and called the other officials to come down to the shop and take a look at his $500 locomotive cab.

Another time one of the "F" units was cornered in a side collision and the corner post that the side panels and the end panel are fastened to was so badly damaged that it could not be repaired. Benny called up EMD to get a price on a new corner post and the price he was quoted about knocked him out of his chair. Benny hung up and went out into the shop and there was one of the old time blacksmiths, Charlie Peterson, who had over 50 years service with the CGW. Benny asked him if he could make a corner post for that damaged "F" unit they had setting there in the shop. Charlie said, "I think I can." Benny said he went back out into the shop later that afternoon and they were just finishing up the job of installing the new corner post. It didn't look quite exactly like the one that EMD made but it sure did the job and Benny figured it cost the CGW about $43 for material and labor. After the CGW/CNW merger on July 1st, 1968 the CNW sent Benny Nelson to work in the CNW locomotive shop at Marshalltown, Iowa. After just a few weeks at Marshalltown, Benny became sick and he died on August 13th, 1968. Some of us wondered if it wasn't from a broken heart as things were not the same at Marshalltown as they had been there in Oelwein.

Blizzard of '59

I was on the Telegraphers Extra Board of the Chicago Great Western RY in
1959 and was told to report to the agency at McIntire, Iowa on March 5th, 1959 to relieve Art Lagervall for one weeks vacation. This was a night job working 6 nights monday through saturday from 845pm until 545am and then you had to come back at 8am on the weekdays to copy the 8am line up for the sectionmen. You put in for a 2 hour call on monday even though the sectionmen copied their own line on monday. You also got overtime for working saturday night. I drove up to McIntire on monday evening without any trouble and went on duty at 845pm but it wasn't too long before it started to snow and boy did it ever come down and then the wind picked up. Around midnight the train from Rochester, No 125 arrived. The crew lined up the pickup for No 41 and then ate supper in their caboose as there was no cafe in McIntire. Then they went back out into the storm and tried to do some more switching. They had an empty box car jump off the track but the crew acted like this was something that happened once in awhile as they didn't bother to call for any help or start making out any accident reports. They went over to the caboose. got a big chain and hooked it to that derailed box car and started dragging it down through the yard and it wasn't long before it jumped back on the track and they continued to do their switching. No 42 from Oelwein showed up and made a set out and then went on up to Elkton to meet No 41. No 41 showed up a couple of hours later and made a small set out for the Rochester branch and then No 126 headed back home to Rochester. I stayed up until the dispatcher put out the 8am line which I copied for the sectionmen and then I tried to get a little sleep on my army cot there in the depot. It was still snowing and blowing outside and the sectiomen were coming in the depot all the time to get warm so I didn't get much sleep. Later that afternoon the storm let up a little and 6 "F" units with a Russell plow came out of Oelwein to make a Hayfield Turn to get the Hormel meat. An operator by the name of Bahnson who lived in Riceville and was working at Hayfield showed up at the depot in McIntire and said he couldn't make it to Hayfield on the highway so we got in touch with the snowplow extra on the radio and had them stop at the depot and pick him up. That night the crew from Rochester came down pushing a plow ahead of them so that they could get through. The rest of the week was spent digging out and things were not back to normal until the end of the week. The depot was located on the east side of McIntire and there was a long driveway from the street over to the depot. The town had a 1939 Ford truck with a V plow mounted on the front and I saw this old guy driving it around town clearing the streets. When he got that done he started in on the drive up to the depot. There were some big drifts and he would back up and hit them as hard as he could with that old Ford truck. He was racing the motor on that old truck and I thought to myself that somebody that abuses machinery like that should not be allowed to operate it. Well it wasn't long before he blew a rod in the motor of the old Ford and somebody had to come with a John Deere tractor and pull it back to the garage there in town. Well I had parked my car up by the depot and the drive was still blocked as he did not get all the way through it before he blew the motor. The sectionmen offered to help me drive my car down the track to the first road crossing but I didn't really like that idea so turned them down on that. On sunday after I had slept a little I took one of the sectionmens shovels and I started digging myself out. I shoveled snow about all day until I got an opening down to where the snowplow guy had stopped. I got my car started and drove it down to the street and parked it along the street just in case we got more snow or the wind came up during the night. I stayed in the depot that night and then copied the lineup at 8am for the sectionmen and then I headed back home to Oelwein. It had been a really bad blizzard and there was a lot of one way traffic where the highway dept rotary plow had cut through some really hugh drifts.


The following article appeared in the Freeport Daily Journal of Freeport, Illinois on Tuesday January 24, 1899:

Railroad men say that on the occasion that Augustus H. Preston, the veteran engineer on the Chicago North Western road, retired a few weeks ago, he was offered by the company his choice of $5,000 in cash or a pension of $100 a month. He chose the pension. His acquainrtances say that in this he acted wisely, as he is not exactly what might be called economical, and the $5,000 might not last very long. He holds the record of being the oldest engineer on the road, as well as the longest in the service. He also holds the world's record for length of miles traversed by any engineer, his run during the forty six years, making a total of 2,500,000 miles.

Pay Attention

One sunny summer morning in the 1960's Chicago Great Western westbound freight No 91 enroute from Chicago to Oelwein was waiting at Golden, which was the end of double track at the west edge of Stockton, Illinois for eastbound freight No 192 and just as the 6 "F" units dragging a heavy tonnage train came into view they heard the rear end crew on No 192 tell the headend on the radio that they had lost their air. The head brakeman started walking back and the conductor, Arnold Schmidt, started walking towards the headend. They met in about the middle of the train and discovered that they had pulled the drawbar out of the wrong end of a car. Since walkie talkie radios were not used on the CGW the brakeman and conductor had to walk to the headend and tell the engineer what was wrong and then conductor Schmidt walked over to No 91's motors and climbed up into the cab and told them that they had a drawbar out of the wrong end of a car and that they would pull their head end up the eastbound main and for the crew on No 91 to tell them when the rear car cleared the Stock track switch. They would then cut off No 91's motors and run down to the bad order car and chain it up and take it up the eastbound and duck in on the Stock track with it and while they were putting blocks under the wheels and taking the chain off, No 192's headend would back down the hill to make the joint and then No 91 could bring their motors out the east switch of the Stock track and come back down the eastbound main and get back on their own train on the westbound main while No 192 was pumping up the air. Just as conductor Schmidt started to climb back down out of the cab of No 91's lead motor, head brakeman on No 91, Vince O"Brien, says "Run that by me one more time!"

Brave Engineer

Harold E. "Mac" McMurray was a Chicago Great Western engineer working
between Des Moines, Iowa and Oelwein, Iowa. Mac hired out as a fireman on November 22nd, 1945 and was promoted to engineer on August 12th, 1953, He was captured by the Japanese during World War II and survived the Bataan Death March on March 10th, 1942. After surviving that ordeal there was nothing on the railroad that would scare him. Mac was one of those guys that just went out and done his job and never once did I hear him complain about his engines being a pile of junk, or that his windshield was dirty or the engineer's seat didn't feel comfortable. He always made good time getting over the road and could handle whatever kind of train the yard put together. One summer morning in the 1960's Mac and his crew were called at Oelwein to handle a southbound freight with 6 "F" units to Des Moines. The yard crew at Oelwein had spent most of the night putting this train together and when they finished with it the headend was directly across from our dispatchers office. Now the tonnage rating between Oelwein and Des Moines as listed in the employee timetable for 6 "F" units was 8,520 tons. Well Oelwein yard had been building up tonnage and since the trainmaster didn't want to leave any tonnnage behind he instructed the yardmaster to exceed the tonnage rating so they could clean out all of the south tonnage. I do not remember just what they finally ended up with for tonnage on the train but I do remember the train was about two miles long as it stretched from one end of Oelwein yard to the other. We all knew this was going to be a tough job for engineer McMurry so the other two dispatchers and myself were watching from the upstairs windows of the dispatchers office as Mac tried to start the train after making the required air test. He was able to get part of the headend of the train moving just a little before he had to back off on the throttle and then back them up to bunch up the slack. He made another attempt to get them started and after some of the slack came out on the headend end it looked like those 6 "F" units were jumping up and down on the rail as they tugged for all they were worth to try to get the train started. Mac had to shut down again and the yardmaster watching from the tower then told Mac he had better back the train out to Jeff which was the north end of Oelwein yard and see if he could get them started out there. We watched Mac back the train up until we could not see it anymore and then we waited for quite awhile until we finally saw a headlight coming down through the yard. Mac had got the train moving and he was not going very fast but he just kept going and finally the caboose showed up and the conductor and rear brakeman jumped on. That night when I went to work I checked the train sheet to see if Mac and the big train had made it to Des Moines and they did. When the day dispatcher came on duty the next morning I asked him how well the big train had done and he told me that after the train left Oelwein they went right to Des Moines without any problems.

Engineer Harold McMurry died this past week on tuesday May 18th, 1999. A very brave engineer and a very brave man.


The following incident was told to me by retired CGW conductor Rex C. Beach. In the early 1960's the CGW RY had a tie gang working between Elma, Iowa and Alta Vista, Iowa installing new ties. The operating practice at that time was to annul train No 43 on tuesdays out of St Paul and then have the St Paul crew that had operated on train No 43 on monday make a Hayfield turn on tuesday to handle the Hormel Meat back to Oelwein in time to connect with train No 90 for Chicago. Rex said that this one particular tuesday his crew was called early at Oelwein for No 92 and they were to handle about 15 cars of ballast up to Alta Vista and dump it where the tie gang had been installing the new ties. When they arrived at the spot where they were to start dumping ballast they were met by the Roadmaster and sectionmen from New Hampton. Now the CGW used two kinds of ballast, slag, which was about 2 inches in diameter and came from the steel mills around Gary Indiana and the other ballast was called chatt, which was a fine rock suitable for yards and around stations where smooth footing was necessary. Well on this day they had all chatt ballast and when the sectionmen opened the doors on the first car none of the ballast would fall out as the cars had been setting out in the rain for a couple of days and the ballast was caked in the cars. The roadmaster then had them open the doors on the next two cars of ballast and it was the same thing, nothing would fall out. It was then decided that they would uncouple the head car and pull up a little ways and then back up and make a hard joint to see if they could knock some of the ballast loose in the cars. When they came back hard against the train the ballast in the second and third cars came out of the cars all at once and when the dust settled they discovered that the rear trucks of the second car were derailed and the lead trucks of the third car were also derailed and both cars were shoved out in a "V" away from the track. Well Roadmaster Andy Shubert just about had a heartattack, as he could see his job going up in smoke as he was in charge of the ballast unloading and now it looked like they would have to get the wrecker from Oelwein to rerail these hopper cars and one of the officials in Oelwein would have to call Hormel and tell them the CGW main line was blocked and to give all the meat to the MILW as No 92 was derailed and would not be able to get to Hayfield in time to handle the meat to Oelwein and make connections. Eddie McDonnell was the conductor that day on No 92 and Eddie had learned railroading from some of the old timers who had worked back in the link and pin days. Eddie looked the situation over and found that all the cars were still coupled together so he told roadmaster Shubert to have his men get busy and shovel some of that ballast out of the way and then he told Rex to go over and bust the air on the 13 loads of ballast that were behind the derailed cars and he said they would then use them for an anchor and make a pull on the derailed cars and see if they couldn't get them back in line with the track. Soon the sectionmen had enough of the ballast moved out of the way and then Eddie gave the engineer a go ahead easy sign and the 3 "F" units dug in and slowly started to move and then pretty soon the two derailed hopper cars started moving and the trucks came back over next to the rail. The sectionmen got some blocking and put that down in front of the wheels and then conductor McDonnell gave the engineer a go ahead easy sign again and the two derailed cars came right back up on the rail. After a quick check to see that the journal brasses were still in place on all the cars they took off for Hayfield and after setting out the ballast cars at Elma they arrived in Hayfield just in time to connect with the First Austin Turn and take the meat back to Oelwein. Roadmaster Shubert called the Division Engineer in Oelwein and told him that the ballast was caked in the cars and that the crew set them out at Elma so they could dry out and they would then try to dump them at a later date. Conductor McDonnell had saved the day and nobody ever heard about it back at headquarters in Oelwein. Rex said one other time when he was braking for Conductor McDonnell and they were making a Bremer Turn over on the Bremer Branch an empty box car just ahead of the caboose had a wheel drop between the rails when the rails spread. After looking the situation over conductor McDonnell told Rex to go back to the caboose and get the big chain out of the tool box. When he got back to the derailed car with the chain, Eddie said they would string it out in front of the derailed wheel a little ways and they lay it over the top of the rail. After they got this done he gave the engineer the go ahead and the empty box car came right back up on the rail. Things like this were learned from the old timers who had to help themselves when they had trouble out on the road and there were no telephones or radios back then to call for help.


Westgate, Iowa was the first station north of Oelwein on the Minnesota Division of the Chicago Great Western RR. In the early days there was a Lumber Yard, an Elevator, a Stock Yards and a Bulk Oil Plant. Westgate also done a lot of LCL (Less than a Car Load) freight business and their biggest customer was Martin "Moose" Swartz. Moose was my dad's cousin and he ran a Hardware Store in Westgate. We now refer to it as the first Wal-Mart store as he sold just about anything and everything. There were just little paths for people to get around all the merchandise piled up everywhere in the store. When Moose needed to expand he would just build on another little room and so the store was made up of all these different rooms and when you are just a 10 year old boy it was easy to get lost in that place. After a customer found what they were looking for, that was just half the battle as they then had to find Moose somewhere in the store to find out how much the item cost as nothing was marked. Moose had the price of everything in his head. My dad liked to tell about the time two IRS agents showed up one day and told Moose they were going to do an inventory of his store. They worked there for three days before they went and found Moose and told him that they were going to accept his figures on his tax form and then they left town and were never seen there again. The CGW sometimes had trouble collecting from Moose for all the LCL freight and C.O.D.'S that came in and sometimes his freight would lay out in the freight room for several weeks before he got around to coming down to the depot to pick it up and by then the demurage had started to accumulate.

Joe Leiser was the long time depot agent at Westgate. I don't think he ever owned a car as he rode a bicycle down to the depot everyday and around town to do his errands sitting up real straight on that bicycle. My father-in-law grew up in Westgate and he said that Joe had a punching bag mounted out in the freight room of the depot and he would work out on that punching bag everyday. He said that if Joe Louis, the famous prize fighter, would have showed up at Westgate, Joe Leiser would not have been afraid to climb in the ring with him. Joe liked to hunt and run a trap line in the winter time and this one winter back in the 1930's Joe was able to trap several skunks. One day when the northbound passenger train stopped at Westgate, Joe tried to put a bundle of skunk pelts on the Express car consigned to a fur buyer in the Twin Cities. The Express Messenger said "You're not putting those things on this car!" and then he put his hand on the butt of the Colt 45 revolver that he had in a holster on his belt. Old Joe quick like steps back into the freight room and comes back out with a rifle. After a few more words were spoken the skunk pelts were loaded on the Express car and the train pulled out of town.


Daniel Otis Porter was born in Alabama on Feb 6th, 1892 and after growing up on the farm decided that railroading would be a better life for him. Dan became a boomer telegraph operator and train dispatcher working for several different railroads over the years. Dan showed up in Chicago in 1946 and at age 54 none of the bigger roads in Chicago were willing to take him on. He went over to the Chicago office of the Chicago Great Western and someone there took the time to get the chief dispatcher at Stockton, Illinois on the phone and let Dan talk to him. The Chief told Dan he needed a dispatcher and for him to come out for an interview. Dan had the chief send him a wire pass to the depot at St Charles and he caught the night train and rode it out to Stockton. The chief hired Dan and he went to work on Nov 11th, 1946 and worked there until the office was closed and he then moved to Oelwein, Iowa May 1st, 1949. Since Dan didn't have much senority he could only hold 3rd trick by the time I hired out in 1956. Starting out I had to work a 3rd trick operators job someplace most of the time and whenever I had a chance I would listen on the dispatchers telephone to learn more about railroading. It was always a fun night when Dan was working as he was a little different than most of the other dispatchers in the way he went about his work. Dan was not one of those hem haw dispatchers that couldn't make up their mind when the situation changed. Dan always seemed to be in control of his territory and he knew right now what he was going to do when the situation called for a change. I would guess that in working for a lot of different railroads there was not much that Dan had not seen before. This one winter night he was working and I was listening in on the phone and I heard Lenus Luke, the headbrakeman on No 42, hollering on the dispatchers phone, " Dispatcher Dispatcher". Old Dan came on the phone and said, "What do you want?" Brakeman Luke says, " You better get ahold of that No 41 and tell them to stop and back up to Des Moines as this north switch at Cumming is frozen and we can't get them lined into the siding." Dan didn't hesitate a bit but came right back with, "What are you talking about, you got six big motors, back up and head in there yourself." Brakeman Luke had not thought about doing that. He never said another word, just hung up the phone and went back out and told his engineer that the dispatcher said for them to back up and head in on the siding. When they got back to the south switch they found it was not frozen up so he lined it for the siding and they pulled their train in the clear just before No 41 showed up and then waved them on down the main line and soon as they cleared the south switch then No 42 backed out of the siding and went on into Des Moines. I thought that was pretty good dispatching. No 41 who was already late, didn't get anymore delay and No 42 really didn't get too much pulling in and backing out of the siding.

Dan retired about a year after that and passed away March 25th, 1965.

That Gang on Nights

The following comes from W. L. "Bill" Heitter.

The General Yardmaster showed up at half past eight;
He was crabby, as usual, because he was late.
As he was handed the dope, you could hear his roar----$#"&
Something had happened the night before.

A car of eggs tipped over on Six;
The bottom fell out of a car of bricks;
Sixty-Six left about three hours late;
There is a drawbar down about the middle of Eight.

A car of gas was leaking on the east end of Two;
"Order an Extra for Ten, call a crew;
The Mill and Elevator want a switch right away;
They claim you promised them yesterday."

"A Circus train will arrive about four,
They want an engine---maybe more.
Someone ran through the junction switch.
I think it was the engine for number Six."

"The house is not switched and nothing is set,
And the agent is as mad as he can get.
"Someone shoved through track number Nine,
Tipped over a flat and a car of lime."

The General Yardmaster was in a terrible rage,
And said awful things for a man his age.
Just then the old phone rang and the roundhouse said,
"Your night crew forgot to put coal in the shed."

As he left that night he was heard to say,
"Oh, if I only, only had my way,
And wasn't afraid they would grab my rights,
I would certainly can that gang on nights.

CGW Oelwein Shops

100 YEARS AGO. MY HOW TIME FLIES............................

The following is courtesy of the Oelwein Public Library, Oelwein, Iowa.

(From the files of the Oelwein Register Newspaper dated September 20th, 1899)

BIG CELEBRATION. Chicago Great Western Shops opening September 28th, 1899. Governor Shaw and other speakers will be the orators on the 28th. Excursion rates on all railroads, and all roads lead to Oelwein. Special trains from Des Moines and other cities. This celebration of the opening of the Chicago Great Western Shops will take place Thursday the 28th. There will be excursion and special trains from cities fifty to a hundred miles distance and excursion rates are given on all roads. The Commercial Clubs of Des Moines, Marshalltown, Cedar Falls and Dubuque on special trains and thousands of people of the surrounding territory will visit the shop city on one of the dates either to take in the mammoth C.G.W. shops and their opening celebration on the 28th or to witness the events in the great field meet on the following day. It is expected that the addresses will be delivered in the coach department of the main shop and this will provide an audience room for all the people who may be present. Fine music, eloquent speakers, including Governor Shaw, the sporting events and the open hearted hospitality of the shop city people will make these two days chock full of interest and pleasure. An excursion rate of $1.50 has been made from Des Moines and similar rates to other points. The streets, business houses and residences will be decorate, the Shop City Band will provide entertaining music, some of the commercial clubs will bring bands with them, and as the thousands upon thousands pour in on the excursion trains from different directions this will be a lively town. The opening of the C.G.W. shops will be royally celebrated the 28th.

(From the files of the Oelwein Register Newspaper of September 27th, 1899)


It has now been nearly six months since work began in the shops of the Chicago Great Western Railway at this place. A few men were employed at first, but the number was increased till at present five hundred men are employed. This army of workmen, with a payroll aggregating over a half million per year constitute the leading factor in the prosperity of the "Shop City" of northern Iowa. The growth of Oelwein from a hamlet to a city of 4,000 population has been due principally to the location of the central shops of the C.G.W. Railway at this point. During the day the shops will be opened for inspection and everyone will have an opportunity of looking through one of the most extensive railway plants in the world. The buildings are very extensive, the main shop being 94 x 702 feet and two stories in height. The latest and most improved machinary is employed. It will be a fine opportunity to inspect these mamoth shops. It will be a great day in Oelwein's history.


The Chicago Great Western shops formally thrown open to the public.

Last thursday was ushered in with dashes of rain, and finally it settled into a cold, cloudy day with the wind blowing at a forty rate. The celebration had not been sufficiently advertized, and in consequence the attendance was not as large as was anticipated. However, several thousands of people came in on the trains, or by private conveyances, and were well repaid by having an opportunity to inspect the finest equipped railway shops in the west. The Chicago Great Western had appointed a number of the employees who courteously acted as ushers for the people as they looked through the various shops. The coach shop had been set apart for an audience room and a platform had been errected, also an arch over the speaker's desk, and flags and bunting in great profusion were used for decoration purposes. The procession formed and marched to the shops and assembled in the coach room. At 3 o'clock ex-mayor Peek, president of the day, called the vast assembly to order and made a neat introductory address. Rev. S. Conybears then delivered an appropriate invocation. General Solicitor D. W. Lawler of the C.G.W. Ry., representing President Stickney, then delivered an eloquent address that was well received. He spoke in complimentary terms of Oelwein and its people, and prophosied a great future for the city. The trainmen are the highest type of citizens. There may be larger shops, but there are none better equipped. President Stickney has been the benefactor of the city, and will doubtless materially assist in its development. Colonel Lyon, of Dubuque, then delivered a scholarly address, in which he told the story of the Chicago Great Western Railway, of its accommodating officials, and of President Stickney. Governor Shaw was then introduced and delivered an address replete with practical suggestions. It was an effort that met the approbation of the assembly and brought forth frequent cheers. Between the addresses the "Shop City Band" rendered some catchy selections in a high class manner that brought forth frequent applause. Later in the afternoon there were running contests by the Sumner and Oelwein Fire Departments. The street and business houses were neatly decorated with flags and bunting, and two electric arches spanned Charles street and Jefferson at the intersection with Charles street. A band concert and a Fireman's Ball in the evening entertained the guests and city people till a late hour.

Inspection Trip

The following story comes from Don Wigfield, CGW telegraph operator:

Gerry E. Traynor had a seniority date of Nov 19, 1936 as a switchman for the CGW RR at Chicago Transfer. He was later promoted to Trainmaster and was stationed at Clarion, Iowa in the 1950's and early 1960's. One day in 1963 Gerry received word from headquarters in Oelwein that he was to be at Oelwein on wednesday to high-rail over his territory from Oelwein to Council Bluffs with Superintendent Harry Peterson. Gerry got up early on wednesday morning and drove over to Oelwein and at 810am they started out on the inspection trip. The first station they stopped at was Readlyn, Iowa. They went in the depot and found nobody around. Agent Duane Tobey was up town in the pool hall where he stopped every morning after picking up the mail at the post office. The inspection party took off down the line and the next stop was at Waverly. Doug Farren had been the agent at Waverly for a long time and he also had a very busy station so he just shook hands with everyone and then turned back to his work. The high rail car took off again and about 3 miles east of Clarksville they see two men walking along the tracks. When they got a little closer they saw that it was a couple of hunters, Arnold Barrer, Supt of Car Service for the CGW from Oelwein and his partner was the Agent from Allison, Junior Pandil. They both offered the Superintendent and the Trainmaster some of the pheasants they had already bagged but their offer was turned down and they were both told to get back to work where they belonged. They continued on down the line without bothering to stop at the depot at Allison as they already knew where the agent was. When they got within radio range of Clarion they called operator Wigfield at the Clarion Tower and asked him to get them a line up and that they would be into Clarion in about 25 minutes. Don tried to contact the Clarion agent, Bill Schultz, to tip him off that the officials would be there in about 25 minutes, but nobody answered the phone at the depot so Don then got on the dispatcher's phone and copied a line up for the high rail car. Don had no more than finished the line up when he saw the high rail car stopping at the depot and the officials go inside. Soon they came back out and drove on over to the tower and Superintendent Peterson came up into the tower and called the Chief Dispatcher in Oelwein and after talking with him a few minutes he picked up the line up and they took off towards Council Bluffs. Don tried to get the agent at Eagle Grove on the message phone to tip him off but got no answer at the depot. Then Bill Schultz comes up into the tower mad as hell and wants to know why Don didn't let him know about the high rail car coming that day. He said that came into the depot and then out into the freight room where they caught him building a boat. They were not too happy. When the high rail car stopped at Eagle Grove there was nobody in the office so the two officials went into the freight room and there was Percy Gunderson, the agent, picking the feathers off about a half dozen chickens he had bought from some farmer. Feathers all over the place. This did not go over very well with the inspection party. The next stop was at Vincent and finding no agent in the office, they peaked into the freight room and saw the agent in there with his girl friend so they quietly closed the door and got back in the high rail car and Superintendent Peterson told Gerry, " No more stops until we get to Council Bluffs, I just want to get this trip over with as quickly as possible."

Vic Nordman

Vic Nordman, retired CGW RY agent at Meservey, Iowa passed away a few days ago at age 87. I stopped to visit with Vic one day and he told me about the time when he was the agent there in Meservey and one day a Hi-rail car comes through and stops at the depot and Jimmie Dodd, CGW Supt from Oelwein and Gerry Traynor, CGW Trainmaster from Clarion, get out of the car and come into the depot. They looked around and were satisfied that everything was in order, but just as they were getting back in the Hi-rail car, Jimmie Dodd told Vic that when he came back through Meservey again that old mail cart standing beside the depot had better be gone. Vis said this was an old home-made two wheel wooden cart with two wooden handles that was used years ago by the man that transported the mail between the depot and post office. Vic told him OK and the Hi-rail car took off down the track and Vic went back inside the depot saying to himself, those guys won't be back this way again for another three months, so he didn't bother doing anything with that old cart parked by the depot. Well later that afternoon here comes the Rail car back through Meservey and they stop and Dodd jumps out and comes in the depot and yells at Vic, "I thought I told you to get rid of that damn cart." Vic said "OK I will" and he went outside and grabbed the old cart by both handles and when he lifted on it the handles broke off in his hands as the cart was frozen solid in the ground. Mr. Dodd and Mr. Traynor didn't say another word, just climbed back in the Hi-rail car and took off down the track.

Road Trip

As a CGW Train Dispatcher and Night Chief Dispatcher I was required to make trips over the road to get a better understanding of the territory. One trips stands out above all the others that I made over the years.

On August 3rd, 1960 at Oelwein, Iowa I climbed up on CGW motor 154 that was handling passenger train No 6 from Kansas City to Minneapolis. I introduced myself to Engr Ross and Fireman Burkhalter and then I sat down in the middle seat of this old "F" unit and exactly at 1130 AM Engr Ross whistled off and we started moving away from the Oelwein depot and down through the yard and soon we were on the high iron at Jeff and on our way to the Twin Cities. I think we stopped at just about every station to load and unload mail and express. I did not see very many passengers getting on or off the train. Up around Dodge Center, Minnesota Engr Ross had the 154 in number 8 and at about 65 MPH the overspeed whistle sounded and he notched it down a little. We arrived at State Street Yard at St Paul at 408 PM right on the advertised and I was the only passenger to get off. I walked across the tracks to the yard office and introduced myself to the yardmaster and told him I wanted to catch a ride on southbound freight No 41. He told me I would not have to wait long as they were called for 430 PM. Soon the crew started showing up for No 41 and I found out I would be riding with Engr Andy Pitzel, fireman Gerry Fraser and Condr Harold Zimmer and two brakemen whose names I have forgotten. I walked over to the Ready track with the engine crew and found our six "F" units all ready to go with motor 109-C in the lead. We climbed up into the cab of the 109-C and I watched Engr Pitzel get ready for the trip to Oelwein. First he installed a small green plastic clip board onto the control stand and that is where he put his train orders and work messages. Then he reached into his grip and brought out a homemade armrest that he installed on the sill of the engrs side window. Next he removed the independent brake valve handle and got one out of his grip that had a longer wooden handle attached to it. I soon found out that with this longer handle he could stick his head out the window during switching moves and would not have to make the long reach for the brake handle. Next he turned on the sanders for about 30 seconds and then shut them off and then got down on the ground and walked around the power consist to see if there was a little pile of sand under each sand pipe. Finally everything was to his satisfaction and the headbrakeman lined us off the Ready Track and we came out and coupled onto our train. After an air test we headed for our first stop at Randolph, Minnesota where they set out a few cars and then picked up the south tonnage that had come in on the MN&S RY and a few from the Mankato/Red Wing branch. The tonnage rating out of Randolph southbound for six "F" units was 8195 tons but we were a little under that and a good thing I found out later. We left Randolph and it was dark by now as we headed for Nerstrand Hill. You have not lived if you have not rode high in the fireman's seat of the lead "F" unit in the dark going up Nerstrand. Those six "F" units would make transition and you could almost feel them dig in as they worked a heavy train up the hill. When we were about half way or so up the hill the head brakeman riding in the rear unit called to engr Pitzel on the radio and told him that he heard a loud bang and a flash of light come from one of the units towards the rear of the consist. Engr Pitzel picked a spot and stopped the train and told me to come with him while he inspected the units. We walked back through the units and he found the ground relay had tripped on the 107-B which was the next to last unit in the consist. He said a traction motor probably had a flashover and that kicked the ground relay. He reset the ground relay and then we got down on the ground and he took his flashlight and inspected all the traction motors on the unit. Finding nothing wrong we walked back up to the lead unit and I was wondering if we were going to have to back down the hill to get the train started. After we got back on the 109-C he told condr Zimmer what had happened and then he said I think I can get them started right here. As the brakes started to release he started working the throttle and soon condr Zimmer came on the radio and said the caboose was moving. After what seemed like a long time but really wasn't, our motors were going by the depot at Nerstand, not very fast but we were moving. Next stop was at Hayfield where they set out and picked up cars and then it was on to Elkton where we found No 42 in on the siding. Next stop was at McIntire, Iowa to make another set out and pick up. After leaving McIntire it was a straight shot to Oelwein. We arrived Oelwein about 230 AM just ahead of passenger train No 5. It had been a long day and I was dog tired but it sure had been a fun road trip on the old Great Western. The end.


The following is the courtesy of J. R. "Dick" Ashpole, retired CGW RR Employee from Clarion, Iowa.

About 1957 Dick Ashpole was assigned as Conductor for a CGW Work Train that was handling a wrecker working at Magill, Iowa (first station out of Council Bluffs) a blind siding (no depot or telegraph operator at this location) rerailing cars from a derailment that had happened the day before. With a movie camera in hand, conductor Ashpole was standing downtrack from the wrecker as it was pulling a car up out of the ditch and in position to rerail, taking movies of the action when he noticed Mr. E. T. Reidy, CGW Vice President and General Manager accompanied by Mr. B. N. Howery, CGW Asst. General Manager, come walking around from behind the wrecker. Both men had their heads down watching where they were walking along the right of way and neither one of them noticed conductor Ashpole until they were within about three or four feet from him. Mr. Reidy was the first to look up and with his proverbial import cigar in the corner of his mouth, he said "Now I know why we aren't getting things done around here. Put that camera away and get to work".

Conductor Ashpole, being a cigar smoker himself, said "Mr. Reidy, if I had one of those things in my mouth I could probably make as much fire and smoke as you do". Whereupon Mr. Reidy pulled out a cigar from his coat pocket, took off the wrapper, stuck it in conductor Ashpole's mouth and turned to Mr. Howery and said "Give him a light!" and then turning back to conductor Ashpole he said "Now get back to work." The end.

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