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A Visit to Fort Madison, Iowa ~ Labour Day Weekend 2006

by Elizabeth Guenzler

Based in Fort Madison, trips were made to Mount Pleasant and Keokuk, as well as a day trip to Chicago for a Cubs vs. Pirates baseball game. Tuesday, September 5th was spent in and around Fort Madison itself.

Santa Fe 4-8-4 2913 on display at Riverview Park. It was donated to the City of Fort Madison by the Santa Fe in 1959 and in April 1960, the engine was dedicated during the 72nd anniversary of the railway's first through train to Chicago and Kansas City.

The plaque beside the steam engine.

BNSF 5304 East passing Santa Fe 4-8-4 2913, which had to wait for clearance to cross the Mississippi River.

I made my way along the shore of the Mississippi River in Riverview Park down to the swing bridge which was opening to let a tug-pulled barge through, thereby temporarily closing it to vehicle and railway traffic. The bridge is privately owned by BNSF Railway and is the river crossing for the Southern Transcon, BNSF's Chicago to Southern California main line. About 100 trains a day, including Amtrak's Southwest Chief, cross the bridge. Per Coast Guard regulations and the BNSF Fort Madison River Bridge operations manual, river traffic has the right-of-way over train and vehicle traffic on the bridge. The length of time for an opening varies due to weather, river current, size and number of boats, and occasional mechanical problems. A typical opening for a tow with 15 barges will take 15 to 20 minutes. The bridge logs over 2,000 openings per year, an average of more than five per day.

This bridge, unique for its two lanes of vehiclular traffic on the top and double-track rails on the second level, had its beginnings with local businessmen who secured a government charter for a bridge in the late 1850's. They held onto the charter for a little over thirty years years and offered it to the Santa Fe with the stipulation that they cross at Fort Madison. Santa Fe took Fort Madison's offer and started to bridge the Mississippi in 1887. On April 27th, 1888, the first train crossed the original structure into Nauvoo, Illinois. The current 3,140 foot long bridge was built to replace the 1887 structure and was completed in 1927. With a 525 foot swing span, it is the largest double-decker swing span bridge in the world. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Library of Congress Historic American Engineering Record.

BNSF 5304 East that had to wait for the bridge to be closed, is now almost in Illinois.

The former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy station at Fort Madison, built in 1898. It is on the Burlington, Iowa to St. Louis, Missouri line.

The road view of the former Santa Fe station built in 1910. It is home to the North Lee County Historical Society and has a museum inside, unfortunately not open on this day.

Trackside view of the former Santa Fe station in Fort Madison.

Santa Fe caboose 999235 (nee Santa Fe 2194) built in 1942, on display at the museum.

A Baltimore and Ohio position light signal on display.

The former Santa Fe building that housed the Railway Express Agency.

Southbound BNSF coal train on the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (now BNSF) tracks.

BNSF C44-9W 5304 leading an eastbound freight through Fort Madison. The angle is deliberate since I wanted to show both sets of tracks (Burlington north/south) in foreground.

A late-running Southwest Chief (Amtrak Train 4) proceeding through Fort Madison.

The Southwest Chief on the Santa Fe swing bridge.

One of the freight trains that was held up for the bridge opening, BNSF 7639 East, making its way through Fort Madison.

BNSF 7639 East has nearly finished its crossing of the bridge.

A BNSF stack train and a BNSF coal train await their turn to cross the Mississippi River.

BNSF C44-9W 4433 and BNSF C44-9W 4976 lead another eastbound freight.

The Catfish floating casino and the rear of the Old Fort.

The historic Victorian Kingsley Inn which features themed and named rooms for famous Iowans. Some rooms have a river (and railway) facing view. Our room was the Sheaffer, named for Walter A. Sheaffer, a Fort Madison jeweller who secured his first patent for a Self-Filler Pen in 1908, changing the writing industry forever. The world-renowned Sheaffer Pen Company was founded here in 1913 and is a large part of Fort Madison history.

The Lost Duck Brewing Company sign and the camera above, which I used to watch trains from for several years. One could take 'control' of the camera and move it so as to have a west, east or central view. Many trains were seen here and I used to watch it for a few hours at a time when stuffing envelopes with information circulars that were sent to British Columbia municipalities when I worked at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

That evening, I returned "trackside" but for more scenery and late summer warmth. This is the entrance to Riverview Park.

Old Fort Madison, a period-accurate replica of the original fort stands along the Mississippi River in Riverview Park, taking one back to the time when Iowa was unchartered territory. Fort Madison was a government factory, or trading post, established under Article 9 of the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis as part of the payment to the Sac and Fox Nation for lands ceded to the United States in that treaty. In the spring of 1808 it was ordered moved north from St. Louis, Missouri, to the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers to counter British influence among the upper Mississippi nations following the Chesapeake Affair, which occurred off the east coast in summer of 1807. The outpost carried on a very lucrative trade with the Sac, Fox, Ioway and Des Moines River Dakota; becoming the third highest grossing government factory in the whole system between 1808 and 1811.

Kinglsey Inn, Alpha's Restaurant and other business on Highway 61.

The clock in Riverview Park.

An eastbound freight crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois with the fountain of Riverview Park in the foreground.

The fountain at Riverview Park on a warm late summer's evening.

The Catfish River bend floating casino docked at Fort Madison which used to berth here from April to October and spent the rest of the year in Burlington, Iowa.

Three BNSF locomotives lead an eastbound freight this evening.

Westbound Amtrak Train 3 (Southwest Chief) passing through Fort Madison.

The Southwest Chief heading into the setting sun.

Finally, a westbound BNSF freight train, this time an autorack.

A final picture of the evening as the autorack train is seen from the footbridge over the tracks.

It had been a fun day of trains at Fort Madison. See my next Railfanning Travelogue for the visit to Keokuk this day A Visit to Keokuk, Iowa.