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NRHS Cedar Rapids to Rock Island Steam Westbound Trip 6/19/2012

by Chris Guenzler

I was up at 5:00 AM and after showering and shaving, I walked over to Casey's for more donuts and orange juice. I put the corrections in yesterday's story and posted it before I walked over to the Clarion Hotel and boarded the bus. We had the safety meeting on the bus and then loaded 13 other passengers before we were driven out to our waiting train at Dow-Smith Yard, where I put my stuff in the rear seat of the "Sky View".

The Milwaukee Road History/Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway History

The Third Division mainly consists of the former Sixth Subdivision of the Milwaukee Road's Iowa Division. In 1981, Crandic picked up the former Milwaukee Road's track between Cedar Rapids and Homestead. The line originally extended between Cedar Rapids and Ottumwa and was built in 1884. From Ottumwa, the line was extended to Kansas City in 1887 in response to the CB&Q building into the Twin Cities. However, this hilly line could never compete with other Kansas City to Chicago lines and in 1903, this line was downgraded when the Kansas City Cutoff was built between Muscatine and Rutledge (just north of Ottumwa). The former Milwaukee Road route was connected to the original Crandic route by a new line from the wye at ADM westward to what is today Smith-Dows Yard. In many ways, this new track is today the heart of the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City, for this is where much of the ADM traffic is handled and interchanged with Union Pacific and Iowa Interstate. With dozens of tracks in several yards, there is almost never a time that a Crandic switcher cannot be found working in this area.

Rock Island Railroad History

The rail route of the Iowa Interstate has a significant history, some of which is included in school textbooks. The line was built from east to west during a period of significant change. It included a Supreme Court case, early land grant law, a Civil War, a historic train robbery and the Transcontinental railroad. The east end of the route started as the Chicago and Rock Island, chartered by the Illinois legislature to build from Chicago to the Mississippi River at Rock Island. Construction started in October 1852, and the line reached Joliet later that month and was completed with trains running in late February 1854. In 1853, the Mississippi & Missouri was incorporated to build from the Mississippi River at Davenport across Iowa to the Missouri River. Construction initially took place quickly, with track reaching Wilton, and the branch to Muscatine, by November 20, 1855. The railroad reached Iowa City on December 31, 1855, the last day to qualify for a $50,000 bonus.

While the M&M was building west, a bridge was built across the Mississippi River, a bridge that would establish the rights of railroads to bridge over rivers nationwide, thanks to Abraham Lincoln and a Supreme Court case. Eventually, the track between Chicago and Iowa City would all be double track to support the numerous passenger and freight trains on the route. In spite of a 774,000 acre land grant awarded by act of Congress on May 15, 1856, the Civil War slowed construction west of Iowa City, and by 1865, the railroad had extended only to Kellogg, about 75 miles west. Trying to speed up the construction, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad Company bought the stock of the Mississippi & Missouri in October 1865 and merged the companies during the summer of 1866 to create the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Rail Road Company.

Construction did speed up with the line reaching Des Moines by 1867, but the railroad did not reach Council Bluffs until May 11, 1869, a day after the Transcontinental was completed in Utah. The line became part of the core Rock Island system over time, providing a connection to the Union Pacific mainline at Omaha as well as providing the shortest connection to the Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado parts of the Rock system. Between World War II and 1953, a large portion of the line between Atlantic and Council Bluffs was realigned as the Atlantic Cutoff. The track between Bureau and Peoria was completed on November 9, 1854 as part of the Illinois railroad boom of the 1850s. The railroad was built by the Peoria and Bureau Valley and then immediately leased back to the Chicago & Rock Island for operation. CSX acquired this line in 1980 to serve the Goodrich chemical plant just north of Henry. The rest of the line to Peoria was saved by the Lincoln & Southern Railroad, owned by BF Goodrich, presumably to provide competitive pressure to keep CSX's prices in line.

Iowa Interstate Railroad History

On March 31, 1980, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad totally ceased train operations. Trustees for the railroad quickly sold off rail lines and equipment and scrapped what could not be sold. On the route between Chicago and Omaha, Metra purchased the segment from Joliet through Blue Island to downtown Chicago's La Salle Street Station to protect its commuter service. Farther west, the International Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Chicago Pacific Corporation, a diversified holding company for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, ended up high bidder for the section of track from Joliet to Bureau. The Chessie System, now CSX, entered into a long-term lease with IMC to operate this section of track. The lease on what became known as CSX's New Rock Subdivision runs through 2030.

On February 4, 2006, a lease went into effect that gave IAIS control of everything west of Utica and down to Henry, restricting CSXT to Joliet-Utica. For a while, the Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern ran trains between the Quad Cities and Iowa City. Farther west, the Chicago and North Western operated between Dexter and Des Moines and on to Newton. On the very west end of the line between Atlantic and Council Bluffs, the Iowa Railroad Company, created on November 10, 1981, operated trains. On June 1, 1982, IARR entered a two year lease for the whole line segment (with some exceptions) from Council Bluffs to Bureau.

With a great deal of concern about the line's future, Heartland Rail Corporation was created by a number of shippers and area companies (Maytag Corp., Pella Rolscreen, Iowa Electric Light and Power, Pioneer Hi-bred, the Alter Group, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway and several grain elevators) in 1983 and they acquired the track and structures between Bureau and Council Bluffs for $31 million. Heartland assigned freight operations to the Iowa Interstate Railroad, formed on May 17, 1984, by Dr. Paul Banner, Harry S. Meislahn (President), and Paul M. Victor, to conduct operations. All three of IAIS' founders had worked in the railroad industry. For example, both Meislahn and Banner were formerly with the Rock Island.

The first Iowa Interstate train operated on November 4, 1984. In 1985, the railroad negotiated trackage rights with Metra and CSX to reach Blue Island, the railroad's eastern terminus. In 1987, the IAIS expanded even more with the long-term lease of the Lincoln & Southern Railroad's (owned by B.F. Goodrich) trackage between Henry and Peoria and an agreement with CSX to move trains between Henry and the IAIS' main line. Even with the company's growth, the railroad's future was uncertain. As the railroad described it: "rising costs, particularly financing costs, quickly led to mounting red ink, negative working capital and a lack of cash." Vendors and creditors daily hounded the Company for payment. Creativity was the word of the day, and Illinois Central veteran Bill Duggan, as IAIS' VP-Engineering, held the railroad together on a shoestring budget."

In 1991, things changed when Heartland, the IAIS, and Railroad Development Corporation (RDC - an external investment concern headed by Henry Posner III and Robert A. Pietrandrea) reached an agreement to settle many of the financial issues. Heartland acquired all of the railroad's stock and RDC restructured IAIS' finances and provided long-term management to IAIS. RDC then acquired a 19.9% ownership interest in the IAIS with option rights to purchase the remaining interest. RDC's exercise of this option would automatically trigger an option to purchase the railroad lines and property of Heartland at fair market value. At this point, IAIS no longer existed as an independent entity separate from Heartland. With these changes, Fred Yocum was appointed President of the IAIS, a position he held until April 17, 1998. Additionally, in 1995, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) took a majority equity interest in Heartland with the purchase of $5.5 million of new Heartland stock and buyout of other existing shares. In July 2001, RDC served notice it was exercising its purchase option rights to the IAIS and the properties associated with it. Determining the value of the railroad took some time, but on January 1, 2004, RDC acquired full ownership. Since that time, the railroad has carried out extensive capital programs to make up for past deficiencies, and has brought the track up to 286,000 pound standards.

In 2006 and 2007, the IAIS purchased the properties of the Lincoln & Southern (trackage from Henry to Peoria), Iowa Transfer (a dormant terminal switching company in Des Moines), and CBGR (Council Bluffs yard). The IAIS further purchased land in Silvis to reinstall a portion of a yard facility that had been removed by the Rock Island. Recently, the Company has won the gold Harriman award for safety and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association's "Jake" safety award. Besides track improvements, the railroad has acquired new locomotives. In 2008, 12 new GE AC 4400 horsepower, six axle locomotives were also purchased by the IAIS. In the same year, the IAIS moved over 75,000 carloads of traffic (2.2 billion gross ton miles) on its system. Today, the Iowa Interstate mainline consists of three subdivisions. The First Subdivision stretches between Blue Island to the yards in Iowa City. In these 221 miles, the Iowa Interstate runs on trackage rights over Metra trackage for the first 25 miles between Blue Island and Joliet, and then over CSX territory for the next 75 miles into Bureau. The Third Subdivision operates between Iowa City and Newton, Iowa, with the Fourth Subdivision covering the track on west to Council Bluffs. The Second Subdivision breaks off of the mainline at Bureau and heads south to Peoria. Several other branch lines also exist, primarily on the west end of the railroad.

Rock Island Passenger Trains

As did most major railroads, the Rock Island once operated an extensive passenger service. The primary Rock Island routes included Chicago-Los Angeles, Chicago-Denver, Memphis-Tucumcari, and Minneapolis-Dallas. The route west of Chicago to Davenport was the eastern core of both the Denver and Los Angeles routes. At Davenport, the Golden State route to California turned to the southeast. This route, operating in competition with the Santa Fe Chiefs, was jointly operated with the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1902 to 1968. It was advertised as a "low altitude" crossing of the Continental Divide.

Heading west through Iowa City was the route of the Rocky Mountain Rockets. This route through Omaha and on to Colorado Springs and Denver benefitted from its connection with Union Pacific. Two trains on this route carried Iowa names: the Des Moines Rocket and the Corn Belt Rocket. The Des Moines Rocket, 505 westbound and 506 eastbound, was inaugurated in September 1937 as a Chicago-to-Des Moines train. Its original run included a baggage-dinette, two chair cars, and a parlor-buffet-observation car. The train was always primarily a coach train, but by 1958, 505 had acquired a number of mail cars. Westbound 505 generally left Chicago with a dining car in the late afternoon with a Des Moines arrival shortly before midnight. Eastbound, 506 generally left Des Moines about 7:15am and arrived in Chicago just after lunch. By the Fall-Winter 1959-1960 public timetable, the Des Moines Rocket had been renumbered 5 and 6. The Fall-Winter 1960-1961 public timetable had 6 now an overnight train from Des Moines to Chicago with only chair cars and no Des Moines Rocket name. By late 1967, train 5 had merged with 9 and train 6 had merged with 8, forming the Quad City Rocket.

In 1947, after upgrading parts of the route, the Rock Island introduced the Corn Belt Rocket between Chicago and Omaha. During the late 1950s, train 9 operated sleeping cars from Chicago to Des Moines and Omaha as well as coaches. Train 10 was less glamorous, handling coaches as well as a Des Moines-Chicago parlor car and a Rock Island-Chicago dining car. During 1957, the Corn Belt Rocket departed Chicago at 10:00pm, passed through Iowa City at 2:43am and arrived at Omaha at 8:15am. Eastbound, the train left Omaha at 11:30am and arrived at Chicago at 8:30pm, passing through Iowa City at 4:02pm. By the Spring-Summer 1963 public timetable, train 9 no longer carried the Corn Belt Rocket name, and 10 lost the name in the Spring-Summer 1965 public timetable. However, their schedules remained very similar to what they had been for almost two decades.

During the early 1960s, train 9 was known to carry a number of westbound New York Central express cars. For example, the Camerail Club reported that on April 30, 1965, train 9 had three NYC express cars for Oakland, and one each for San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Ogden. This train also included three mail cars and two RPOs for Des Moines, an express car for Oakland, one for Sacramento and another for San Francisco. Passengers had the use of two coaches and the 8 Duplex Roomettes-6 Roomettes-4 Double Bedroom sleeper "Granger." The November 5, 1967 public timetable showed that train 9 had been cut back to a Chicago-Rock Island train but that train 10 was the last Omaha-Chicago passenger service on the route. By July 1970, train 10 was gone and train 5-9 was the evening Chicago-Rock Island Quad City Rocket. This pattern continued until Illinois withdrew its subsidy and the train made its final run on December 31, 1978.

The Train Consist

Iowa Northern F40PH 461 and 678, 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.

I walked to the ends of the train for pictures.

The train at the Smith-Dow Yard.

Iowa Northern F40PH 461, ex. Canadian-American Railroad 266, nee Amtrak 266 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1977.

IANR F40PH 678, ex. Ferromex 241, nee Amtrak 241 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1977.

A local television crew was doing a story about our train, convention and trips.

The "Cedar Rapids" made it to Cedar Rapids for the first time in the car's history. I started the story and talked with several of our passengers then enjoyed a Coca-Cola as I waited for our departure time.

The Trip

Our train left Smith-Dow Yard at 8:04 AM bound for Rock Island, Illinois.

The train headed west through the yard.

An Iowa Interstate freight was waiting to depart sometime in the near future.

Running through the Smith-Dow Yard.

The tracks that we came into Cedar Rapids on Sunday.

Still running through the yard.

We had reached the end of the yard.

We have, and will be, seeing plenty of corn fields during the convention.

Trees are along our route down to the Yocum Connection.

Curving into Fairfax.

Taking the curves west of Fairfax.

Keith Schmidt, my good friend from Wisconsin, was out photographing our train today.

More corn fields.

Heading towards Walford.

Walford station sign.

The unknown caboose in Walford.

A couple of neat barns.

More fields along our route.

Our train took another curve.

Down at the end of the road.

Taking one of several curves.

Another barn along our route.

The East Amana Barn.

The train curved through East Amana.

East Amana.

The creek in Amana.

The former Milwaukee Road station in Amana, built in 1883.

The Amana Water Tower.

The creek west of Amana.

The Amana Plant is located to the north of the tracks which is the only major manufacturing plant in the Amana Colonies.

Amana Refrigeration station sign.

The west end of the Amana Refrigeration siding.

Crossing the Iowa River.

Bends in the Iowa River.

Crossing an overflow channel of the Iowa River.

We came to the wye switch at the Yocum Connection but went right to the Iowa Interstate mainline. This is where my new mileage briefly ended, but would resume as went west to where the new Iowa Interstate shops were being built.

Coming onto the Iowa Interstate mainline.

We passed an old Rock Island block signal.

The new Iowa Interstate shops came into view where Iowa Interstate ES44AC 513 was waiting for us to be put on the east end of our train to Rock Island.

We pulled down to clear the switch then waited there while our engine crew switched over to the Rock Island engine.

Iowa Interstate ES44AC 513 in Rock Island heritage paint scheme passed us on its way to the front of our train, which was really the rear. We left the shop area and pulled down to the east switch, but had to wait for a switch lock to be removed. We departed Yocum Connection at 9:46 AM for Rock Island running backwards on the way to Iowa City.

Bart Jennings, our Convention Chairman for the 2012 NRHS convention.

Approaching the Iowa River bridge.

The train went out onto the Iowa River bridge.

Iowa River.

The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railroad (Crandic) tracks run along the Iowa River.

The Iowa City Rock Island station built in 1898.

Iowa Interstate power in the Iowa City Yard. From here we headed to West Liberty for the first photo runby of the trip.

The Rock Island station in West Liberty built in 1897. We unloaded with instructions given over the PA system by the car attendant. Unfortunately locals and a few of our passengers did not listen and failed to stay in the photo lines. The eastbound shots were fantastic and the westbound shots very poor. Had people followed directions, the westbound photographs would have worked.

The westbound reverse move was at a slow speed which provided excellent pictures. Thank you Bart Jennings.

The eastbound photo runby at speed. Excellent! Then the problems began.

The eastbound photo runby of the back of the train. You judge it.

The westbound return move. You judge it. Everyone reboarded and we proceeded through Atalissa then on to the Cedar River bridge and I walked back through the train.

The train crossed the Cedar River.

Dave Smetko and Nathan, whom I visited with in their coach.

The Rock Island lives on both ends of our train. The train ran through Moscow, North Star, Wilton, Twin Star, Durant, Stockton and Walcott then to Davenport, passing the park where we would have lunch.

Heading for the Mississippi River and Illinois.

Crossing the Mississippi River.

The Rock Island Arsenal.

Iowa Interstate 2-10-2 QJ 6988 was waiting to be put on the point of our train in Rock Island. We pulled down into the Iowa Interstate Yard and stopped to couple the steam engine. Once the air test was completed, we re-crossed the Mississippi River and headed to the Lafayette Park for lunch and a photo runby after our meal today.

Click here for Part 2 of this story