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NRHS Special Train Chicago to Cedar Rapids 6/17/2012

by Chris Guenzler

The first event of the 2012 National Railway Historical Society convention was the inbound convention train from Chicago to Cedar Rapids. Dave Smetko drove me down to Hanover Park.

I took Metra 2700 into Chicago Union Station, went to McDonald's for hot cakes and sausage then finished the Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad story before going to our first NRHS safety briefing meeting of the convention at Union Station. We would have one of these first thing every morning.

Chicago and North Western Railroad/Union Pacific History

The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (G&CU) was chartered on January 16, 1836, to connect Chicago with the lead mines at Galena, Illinois. However, it was not until March 1848 that construction actually started. Still, it was the first railroad built to Chicago. By 1850, the G&CU was completed as far as the Fox River at Elgin. Over the next three years, the G&CU built to Freeport, Illinois, 120 miles northwest of Chicago. In 1854, the railroad started building a more direct line to the Mississippi River, starting at West Chicago and heading west to Fulton, across the river from Clinton. Upon completion, the railroad reached the Mississippi River near Clinton, Iowa, but never reaching Galena. Meanwhile, the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad Company was building from Clinton to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Reportedly, this G&CU route was the first western railroad to operate by telegraph in 1856.

In July, 1862, the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad, building between Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs, was leased to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company. The G&CU was also operating the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad between Clinton and Cedar Rapids under lease. The Cedar Rapids and Missouri Railroad, built as result of the Iowa Land Bill of 1856 that gave land grants for railroads, was to be the first railroad to reach Council Bluffs, making it a key supply route for the then-building Union Pacific transcontinental line.

The Chicago and North Western Railway was chartered on June 7, 1859. It had purchased the assets of the bankrupt Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad on June 2nd. On February 15, 1865, it officially merged with the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. During the late 1800s, the railroad grew by adding branches and acquiring more local railroads, until it operated more than 5,000 miles of track by 1900. The railroad size peaked with more than 12,000 miles of track in seven states, making it one of the longest railroads in the US. Much of this increase in size came about due to mergers with other railroads, such as the Chicago Great Western Railway and the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway.

However, major abandonments and line sales, as well as a 1972 sale of the company to its employees, led to major changes. By 1995, track sales and abandonment had reduced the railroad back to its earlier 5,000-mile size. The majority of the abandoned and sold lines were lightly trafficked branches in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Additionally, major line sales, such as the one that created the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, helped to reduce the railroad to a mainline core with several regional feeders and branches. The final major change came about in April 1995, when the Chicago and North Western was merged into the Union Pacific Railroad.

C&NW Passenger Service

The creation of the Chicago and North Western, with its through line between Chicago and Omaha, soon became an important link between Chicago and the west. For example, beginning in 1889, C&NW combined with Union Pacific and Southern Pacific to operate Chicago to west coast passenger service. Many of these trains were well known streamliners and domeliners, including the Overland Limited, City of Los Angeles, City of San Francisco, City of Denver and the Challenger. However, during October 1955, UP announced that the five Chicago-West Coast trains would operate via Milwaukee Road between Omaha and Chicago, citing delays caused by deteriorating track conditions on the C&NW. With the loss of these through trains, the passenger service on the C&NW route changed greatly. The October 20, 1955 timetable showed a reduced number of trains, all operated solely by the C&NW. Trains 3 and 4, the Omahan, were daytime trains with coaches, cafe lounge and a parlor car. Trains 7 and 8 ran at night with coaches and Pullmans as the Corn King. A mail and express train with a few coaches operated as trains 5 and 6. The Kate Shelley 400 operated Chicago-Boone as Trains 1 and 2. These trains carried coaches, dining and lounge cars and a parlor car.

Beginning mid-August 1956, the route ended at Cedar Rapids. Further cuts in passenger service soon followed. In 1957, the Corn King was combined with trains 5 and 6 into the Fast Mail while the Kate Shelley 400 operated only to Clinton. Additionally, the Omaha trains only operated to Council Bluffs with bus service on into Omaha. Trains 9 and 10 were discontinued in 1959. By 1960, trains 1 and 2, and 3 and 4 operated Chicago-Clinton, and by 1961, only the Kate Shelley 400 remained, operating daily except Sunday. Sunday service was provided by an evening train 11 and 12. In 1963, the railroad officially dropped the name of the Kate Shelley. The Kate Shelley service ended with the formation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

I went outside to wait for our train to arrive.

The empty Track 19 platform.

A Hiawatha train arrived at Chicago Union Station, boarded its passengres and departed again to Milwaukee.

Our train arrived.

Two more views of our train.

The Train's Consist

Union Pacific SD70ACe 1995 in Chicago and North Western heritage paint scheme, Amtrak P42DC 40, NSRX coach 202 "Wenonah" PPCX 800261, NSRX coach 203 " Nokomis" PPCX 800898, NSRX coach 7616 "Lake Pepin" PPCX 800799, NRHX 142 "Franklin Inn" PPCX 800957, "Braddock Inn" PPCX 800854, New York Central tavern lounge 38 PPCX 800655, High Iron dome 60 "Scenic View" (former Santa Fe 551), NSRX "Super Dome" 53 PPCX 800862 and NRSX Skytop Lounge Observation 186 "Cedar Rapids PPCX 800040.

We boarded our passengers and I was assigned "Scenic View" full-length dome car where I was a car host and helped out in general. We had a tour group of 21 passengers board from Cedar Rapids.

Our very happy tour group. The C&NW locomotive's cab signal device, required on all C&NW trains, was not working and repairs were being made. I then walked the train.

Milwaukee Road 53 "Super Dome", ex. NCDOT 400301 "Mount Mitchell" 1996, exx. Union Pacific for Operation Life Saver and excursion use 1995, exxx. Chicago and North Western 421 "Powder River" 1985, exxxx. Rail Travel Associates 53 1983 (rebuilt), retired 1982 to Great Western Tours, exxxxx. VIA 2701 1978, exxxxxx. Canadian National 2701 1974, exxxxxxx. Canadian National 2401 "Athabasca", nee MILW 53. It was built by Pullman Standard in 1952, is one of ten such dome cars, and the heaviest passenger car ever built, weighing in at 104 tons.

Milwaukee Road Skytop Observation 186 "Cedar Rapids" designed by famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens and built by the Milwaukee Road in 1948 in its own Milwaukee Shops for service on the Twin Cities Hiawathas. It is one of only four Skytop observation parlor lounges ever built and the only one that can still ride the rails today. It was acquired by the Friends of the 261 in 1998 and returned to service.

Friends of 261 coach 203 "Nokomis", ex. Algoma Central Railway 443, exx. Central of Georgia 672, nee Central of Georgia 542 built by American Car & Foundry in 1947. It was used on the Nancy Hanks II streamliners that operated between Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. In 1935 the Milwaukee Road named its streamlined passenger trains Hiawathas after Longfellow's poem. The "Nokomis" was named after Hiawatha's grandmother.

Friends of 261 coach "Lake Pepin" ex. Amtrak 7615 "Glen Falls" exx. Amtrak 7426, exxx. Penn Central 1596, nee Pennsylvania Railroad 60-seat coach/14-seat lounge 1596 built by the Budd Company in 1952. It was later converted into a straight coach and used on the Pennsylvania's Clocker service between New York and Philadelphia. Retired by Amtrak in 2003, it was then acquired by the Friends of the 261 and renamed "Lake Pepin".

NRHX coach 142 "Franklin Inn, ex. Maryland Area Rail Commuter 142, exx. Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority 112 "Pleasant Ridge", exxx. Penn Central 1537, nee Pennsylvania Railroad 21 roomette sleeper 8258 "Franklin Inn" built by the Budd Company in 1949. The MARC Heritage fleet cars were retired from service in 2001 and were stored at their facility in Brunswick, Maryland. In November 2008, MARC passed title to the National Railway Historical Society, Washington, D.C. Chapter and they took ownership of it in 2009.

Collis P. Huntington Chapter NRHS coach 8246 "Braddock Inn", ex. Maryland Area Rail Commuter 190, exx. New Jersey Transit 5411, exxx. Penn Central 1509, exxxx. Pennsylvania Railroad 8246 Peter Schoenberger" nee Pennsylvania Railroad 21-roomette sleeper 8246 "Braddock Inn" built by the Budd Company in 1949.

We continued to sit in Chicago waiting for the cab signal problem to be fixed.

Our Trip to Cedar Rapids 6/17/2012

We departed Chicago Union Station at 12:18 PM.

Leaving Chicago Union Station.

The former Sears Tower.

Our train was stopped by a red signal.

Tower A-2.

Tower A is where the former Milwaukee Road commuter lines took off to the northwest. It was at this point I helped distribute the lunches to our group then took apart the boxes and placed them in a trash bag.

Passing Milepost 14.

The old Chicago and North Western station at Lombard built in 1979. We slowed to let a Metra train clear the station.

A Metra commuter train heads for Chicago.

Two views on the Lombard Curve.

Taking the curve at Wheaton where my former friend Bob Alkire came from.

A curve at Wheaton.

"We Will Deliver" on the flanks Union Pacific SD40-2 3096 at West Chicago.

Dave Smetko at West Chicago.

The crossing of the former Elgin, Joliet and Eastern at West Chicago.

What a nice day for a ride.

The yard in Elburn where Metra stores its commuter trains overnight and during the weekend.

After we passed the Elburn Metra station, I was on new trackage.

On the way to De Kalb.

Coaling tower in De Kalb.

The De Kalb Chicago and North Western station built in 1891. The train ran through Malta then stopped to fix a cable hanging off the Amtrak unit before we made our way through Creston.

More of that exciting Illinois countryside.

Before Rochelle the train crossed over to Track 2.

The Rochelle Chicago and North Western station built in 1931.

The Rochelle Railroad Park was a busy place today.

Curving out of Rochelle, we ran by the Global Three Facility then through Flagg and Franklin Grove and on to Dixon before Nelson.

The coaling tower at Nelson built by Ross & White in 1947. It could service locomotives on all four tracks and served until 1956, when Chicago and North Western retired its last steam locomotives.

The Rock River.

The Rock River heads to the Mississippi River south of Rock Island. The train ran through Sterling.

I&M Rail Link SW1200 13, ex. Canadian Pacific 330, exx. SOO Line 330, exxx. Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern 109, exxxx. Milwaukee Road 619, nee Milwaukee Road 1642 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1954 in Sterling at the Northwestern Steel & Wire plant.

We ran through Galthen Morrison to Union Grove and Frog Pond.

Our train reached the Mississippi River floodplain.

Crossing a side channel of the Mississippi River before traversing the bridges over the Mississippi River.

The first channel of the Mississippi River.

The main channel of the Mississippi River.

We curved into Clinton, Iowa.

The tracks we rode during the Grand Excursion of 2004.

The Chicago and North Western station in Clinton.

The Archer Daniels Midland plant here.

Motive power at Clinton. We stopped for an engine crew change and departed for Cedar Rapids at 3:56 PM.

Click here for Part 2 of this story