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NRHS Iowa Northern Railway Cedar Falls to Manly 6/24/2012

by Chris Guenzler

My world this morning was awakened to a major thunderstorm complete with thunder and bright lightning but arose and prepared myself for my day. I went online but had to do so twice because of two power outages during the storm. I used my umbrella to get ice before Nathan drove me over to the Clarion Hotel and I said my goodbye to him, thanking him for coming to the NRHS convention. I then boarded the crew bus to Cedar Falls.

Iowa Northern Railway History

The Iowa Northern route between Cedar Rapids and Manly has an interesting history, common of many granger railroads. The oldest part of the line was built in the late 1860's by the Cedar Rapids and Saint Paul Railway Company, incorporated on October 2, 1865. It was incorporated "for the purpose of constructing, owning and operating a railroad and branches extending northwesterly from Cedar Rapids in the County of Linn in the State of Iowa, up the Cedar Valley in said State". However, the line was only built from Cedar Rapids to Vinton, Iowa (24 miles) via Linn Junction, Palo, Shellsburg and Greasers.

A second railroad was chartered on October 7, 1867 "to construct and operate a railroad extending from Cedar Rapids to Burlington, via Iowa City, via Wapello, to connect with a road from Burlington via Keokuk and St. Louis." This railroad, the Cedar Rapids and Burlington Railroad Company, never built any track. Both lines were consolidated into the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway Company on June 30, 1868.

The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway Company was created to "consolidate the Cedar Rapids & Burlington Railroad Company and the Cedar Rapids and St. Paul Railway into one organization; to acquire all the franchises, property and rights of both of said Companies; to locate, construct, maintain and operate a railway with double and single track and with all necessary branches, fences, bridges, warehouses, elevators, steamboats, lands and such other appendages as may be deemed necessary for the convenient use and profitable management of the same, from the City of Burlington, via Wapello, West Branch, Cedar Rapids, Vinton and Waterloo, to and into the State of Minnesota."

Construction started from Burlington, Iowa in early 1869, and the line reached Columbus Junction (41 miles of track) by the end of 1870, and Cedar Rapids (98 miles) in late 1871. Additionally, the railroad extended the line from Vinton to Waterloo by Christmas of the same year. In 1872, the line was further extended on to Plymouth Junction.

However, all construction stopped by September 1873 due to the financial panic and the company defaulted on its bonds during November 1873. On May 19, 1875, the company fell into receivership and was sold to the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway Company in June 1876. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway Company of Iowa was incorporated in June 1868 "to carry into effect a plan heretofore adopted for the reorganization of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway Company." The railroad finished the line from Plymouth Junction to Manly, Iowa (5 miles) by July 5, 1877.

On July 15, 1885, the railroad became controlled by Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company through majority stock purchase. On June 1, 1902, the railroad was leased to Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company for 999 years. Finally, on June 15, 1903, the BCR&N was sold to Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company. As the Rock Island system matured, this route became a key component of the system, hosting numerous freights, especially during the harvest season. The route may be most famous for being part of the route of the Zephyr Rocket, a passenger train jointly operated by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and Rock Island between St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. Because of this, much of the line was double tracked and signalized.

Although the last Zephyr Rocket operated on April 8, 1967, the line remained under ABS control until the end of the railroad. For example, the CRIP Illinois Division Employee Timetable #9 (August 21, 1977) indicated that ABS signals were in effect from milepost 97.6 (Cedar Rapids) to milepost 225.1 (Manly). The line remained in Rock Island ownership until bankruptcy in 1980. On August 7, 1981, Iowa Northern service between Cedar Rapids and Vinton and from Shell Rock to Nora Springs started, owned by on-line shippers.

By mid-1982, the operations had been connected and expanded to the present size. In July 1984, Iowa Northern Railway purchased its line from the bankrupt Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad estate for $5.4 million. Iowa Northern Railway was incorporated in 1984 and was one of the first short-line railroads in the state of Iowa. The line was sold in 1994 to the Iron Road Railway Company, which was headquartered in Livonia, Michigan. In July 1994, IANR abandoned a 14-mile branch from Vinton to Dysart, Iowa.

Iowa Northern Railway

The Iowa Northern Railway operates 163 miles in Iowa between Cedar Rapids in eastern Iowa and Manly in north central Iowa. The railroad connects with the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway in Cedar Rapids; with the Canadian National Railway in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo; with the Canadian Pacific Railway subsidiary Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad in Nora Springs; and with the Union Pacific Railroad in Manly, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. The railroad is headquartered in the old Paramount Theatre Building at 305 Second Street in Cedar Rapids. Iowa Northern also has Customer Service and General Offices located in Greene and its Bryant Yard Shops are located in Waterloo.

After the short line was established in 1984, the railroad handled 12,000 revenue cars and the average track speed was less than 10 mph. By 2006, traffic had surged to 40,000 revenue cars and the average track speed was now 30 mph. Currently, traffic handled by the IANR includes grain, ethanol and other biofuels related commodities, chemicals, food products and machinery. Today, nearly 200 million bushels of grain, corn and soybeans are loaded each year at approximately 20 online elevators. Currently, most grain and corn traffic loaded along the IANR is destined to Cedar Rapids for processing into sweeteners, alcohol, and corn starch at plants operated by ADM and Cargill.

Iowa Northern trains, crews and locomotives can be found just about anywhere at any time along the railroad. However, IANR crews are primarily based out of Greene and Waterloo. Crews out of Greene handle the Waterloo to Manly segment using one set of locomotives, normally two to three units. Generally, there are three crews working three shifts daily (7am, 3pm and 11pm), taking a company vehicle out to the train wherever it happens to be when their tour of duty begins. For service south of Waterloo, a crew called most evenings at Bryant Yard to make a run to Cedar Rapids, arriving there sometime between midnight and 2am. This crew often gets relieved at Cedar Rapids between 3 and 5am and comes back north to Bryant Yard. If time permits, they also operate a transfer to the Union Pacific Linden Yard at Waterloo prior to a late-morning tie up.

Four to five locomotives are used on this normally long and heavy tonnage train. When the Fairbank ethanol plant was opened, train service to Oelwein was expanded from a once-per-week routine to every day. A crew is called to work at 11am at Bryant Yard for the run to Fairbank and operates to Oelwein as needed, usually on Tuesday and Thursday, although Saturday service has been known to happen. Several yard crews are also assigned to the yard and transload complex at Manly. The crew normally operates during daylight hours Monday through Saturday.

Besides the freight trains, the Iowa Northern also operates passenger trains. In 2006, the Iowa Northern purchased six former C&NW/Metra Chicago bi-level commuter cars and a former Amtrak F40PHR locomotive for their Hawkeye Express train. The Hawkeye Express is a train designed to haul people to University of Iowa football games in Iowa City. The train operates on the Iowa Interstate, but some special trips are made on the Iowa Northern. Today, the Iowa Northern Railway is under Sabin Family ownership and management.

The Train's Consist

Iowa Northern F40PH 451, 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, NRSX Skytop Lounge Observation 186 "Cedar Rapids" PPCX 800040 and Iowa Northern F40PH 678.

The Trip

The bus arrived at Cedar Falls and the first order of the day was to take pictures of the station.

The Rock Island Cedar Falls station, built in 1871 and currently a bank.

The view of the station from one end of the photo line. Dave Smetko pulled up and I put my dirty clothes bag in his trunk then I went to the far west end of the photo line to set up for the train's arrival.

Photo runby 1 after which everyone boarded and departed Cedar Falls at 9:00 AM bound for Manly.

There was a jazz festival here this weekend.

The train ran along the Cedar River northwest out of Cedar Falls.

Out into the Iowa forests we ran and would pass many of the Rock Island block signals that used to be used on this line. The train crossed the bridge over the Beaver Creek and then the West Fork of the Cedar River.

The Iowa TV News was on board with us this morning. We ran through the former Waverly Junction.

What else is along our route in Iowa but you guessed it, corn fields. Miles upon miles of them.

There are also soybean fields in this rural environment.

The train curved into Shellrock.


An old Rock Island block signal.

An Iowa Northern train in the siding at Butler.

The ethanol plant at Butler.

Crossing the Shell Rock River.

The train crossed the Mill River.

Curving into Clarksville.

The Clarksville station sign.

More corn fields north of Clarksville. The train crossed Flood Creek before we ran through Greene.

Taking a curve on the way to Greene.

The newer station building in Greene, used as Iowa Northern Railway offices.

An Iowa corn operation.

Greg Molloy, President of the National Railway Historical Society, enjoying his trip.

An old Rock Island block signal before we arrived in Marble Rock.

Marble Rock.

Looking down a road.

One of our youngest NRHS members chasing the train today.

Crossing the Shell Rock River.

The train curved towards the Rockford station.

The Rock Island Rockford station built in 1872, home of the Rockford Historical Society Museum, with Illinois Central caboose 9528 built by the railroad in 1968 and lettered Rock Island.

Views north of Rockford.

More soybean fields.

The approach signal for the Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad crossing.

The train then came to a green signal for the Iowa, Chicago and Eastern crossing.

The crossing is really the crossing with the Canadian Pacific.

The ICE interchange tracks. The train ran through Nora Springs and passed the Stoffer storage track.

Later we passed this bridge.

The Wilkinson Pioneer Park covered bridge south of Rock Falls built in 1998 to replace the original 1969 bridge which was burned down by arson in 1996.

The Iowa, Chicago and Eastern/Canadian Pacific Railway crossing at Plymouth. The Canadian Pacific uses the Iowa Northern as a shortcut from here to the ICE crossing at Nora Springs. We then passed the 7,555 foot long Reindl storage track prior to reaching our destination of Manly where we arrived for lunch but I had some pictures to take first.

Our train reached Manly. Now let us go and see the railroad display at the Manly Junction Railroad Museum.

Iowa Northern GP20 2000 "Arthur C. Sabin", ex. Southern Pacific 4101 nee Southern Pacific 7233 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1962.

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific caboose 17054 built by International Car in 1964.

One last view of our train before I went to get lunch. Two ladies in a golf cart gave me a ride to near the front of the food line where I was given a roast beef sandwich and sat out in the Iowa sun on a beautiful early afternoon. After lunch I went through the Manly Railroad Museum then socialized with friends until it was time for our photo runby of the train returning to the boarding area and set up on the west side of the tracks.

Another picture of the display train.

The photo runby, after which everyone reboarded the train and headed back to Cedar Falls as I relaxed and visited with friends but still had a few pictures to take.

The Rock Island station in Rockford.

Illinois Central caboose 199528.

Later, Chicago and North Western caboose 11086 built by International Car in 1965, on display at Greene.

The Iowa Northern office building in Greene. I relaxed the way back to Cedar Falls and upon arrival, Randy Jackson offered me a ride back to Cedar Rapids and he returned me to the Motel 6 where I uploaded the story and then relaxed.

That is what we occurred at the 2012 NRHS convention on this date.