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Iowa Interstate Rail Ride for Flood Relief ~ October 18th, 2008

by Elizabeth Guenzler

In August 2008, Iowa Interstate Railroad announced a weekend's worth of special events for the benefit of The Salvation Army's efforts to assist communities throughout its territory impacted by the flooding three months earlier. Their two Chinese steam engines, QJ 2-10-2s 6988 and 7081, would pull a double-headed freight train on Friday, offer afternoon rides west to Silvis and east to Walcott, as well as a dinner train on Saturday and on Sunday, a one-way excursion from Rock Island to Iowa City to ferry the steam engines back to their home in Newton, Iowa. Iowa Interstate, its parent company Railroad Development Corporation, the City of Rock Island and BNSF Railway were the sponsors.

Iowa Interstate Railroad History

The year is 1984. The just recently formed Heartland Rail Corporation, whose owners consist of Maytag, Pioneer Seed, CRANDIC, Pella Rolscreen and others, selected Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS), a separately owned company, as its operator. Heartland, with the help of a loan from the State of Iowa and other resources, purchased 553 miles of the former Rock Island Railroad from Council Bluffs to Bureau for $31 million on October 10, 1984. Trackage rights to Chicago were finalized with CSXT and METRA and the railroad was able to move its first train on April 29, 1985. The train was historically significant as it represented restoration of through-service from Council Bluffs to Chicago for the first time since the Rock Island's liquidation in 1980. These beginning years found Heartland and the Iowa Interstate experiencing difficult times, including serious discussions of bankruptcy proceedings. In 1991, the Iowa Interstate was purchased by Heartland to combine the operating entity with the owner of the track structure. Pittsburgh-based Railroad Development Corporation (RDC) invested additional capital in the railroad and also obtained an option to purchase the enterprise. Heartland's shareholders had changed over the years; several owners sold out and Archer Daniels Midland became an investor in 1995, ultimately acquiring a controlling interest. In January 2004, RDC exercised its option to purchase the company and emerged as the sole owner of the railroad. In February 2006, IAIS completed a transaction to lease 32 miles of track from CSXT between Utica and Henry, Illinois. This track was in dire need of maintenance, prompting IAIS to complete a rehab project to bring the speed up to 25 mph by that fall. The purchase of the CBGR railroad property from OMNITRAX in Council Bluffs was also completed in 2006. This added 93 acres of rail yards and 6 miles of main line. Parts of the property are in use for carload activities; the rest will be used for future expansion and industry. Finally, on December 31, 2006, IAIS closed on the Lincoln and Southern Railroad acquisition for track between Henry and Peoria, Illinois. Completing three transactions in one year was not a small task to accomplish but all went well without major problems. A two-storey brick building at 800 Webster Street in Iowa City was built in 1988 to provide management of operations from a trackside location. However, its small size required that some administrative personnel be housed in other locations. In November 2004, IAIS consolidated its offices to a new facility in Cedar Rapids that is proximate to several major customers.

The route map of the Iowa Interstate Railroad.

QJ 2-10-2 6988 and 7081

Henry Posner III, a railway entrepreneur with interests in railroads on four continents, announced on April 21st, 2006, that his company, Railroad Development Corporation, had purchased a pair of Class QJ 2-10-2 locomotives built in 1985 from the Ji-Tong Railway in China, where they were among the last steam locomotives on earth to operate in heavy-duty main line service. No. 7081 hauled the last regularly-scheduled main line steam passenger train in the world. Upon arrival at the Port of Houston, since they had not yet been reassembled or inspected by the Federal Railroad Administration, the two engines, along with tenders, were loaded onto flatcars for the trip north to Rock Island where over the course of the next five weeks, they were reassembled and prepared for the move to the railroad's yard in Iowa City for finishing work and FRA testing. Once in Iowa City, a team of steam specialists began working to both get the two steaming again and to deal with the regulatory issues surrounding their FRA certification. The first signs of life came on August 24th, 2006 when it was reported that both steam engines had been loaded with coal. Over the next two weeks, both units would be brought back to life, steaming around the Iowa City area on short test runs. As sort of a final check, each performed a test run leading the westbound BICB from Iowa City out to Yocum Connection, just past Homestead. Once past this step, they would each move as light power to Rock Island, where they'd be stored in preparation for the upcoming excursion runs.

Trip Preparation

I found out about this trip through Trains Newswire and Trainorders. What an incredible opporunity this was! It was not long before flight, hotel and rental car arrangements were made. On October 17th, I flew from Victoria to Seattle, met Bob and we flew to Chicago where we met Chris Guenzler whose flight arrived five minutes after ours and drive to Rock Island. Everything went according to plan and we met in the lobby of the hotel on a very foggy Saturday morning and drove to the yard in Iowa City.

Iowa Interstate SD38-2 156 (ex. LLPX 2801, exx. GATX 1237, nee Reserve Mining 1237) on the point of a local freight.

Iowa Interstate SD38-2 153 (ex. LLPX 2809, exx. GATX 1245, nee Reserve Mining 1245) as second unit.

We decided to go to Atalissa and wait for the train. It was not long until an incredible sight (and sound) came out of the fog. Two 2-10-2 steam engines in full steam, pulling a 68-car freight train in an attempt to set the 21st Century steam-hauled tonnage record. Then just like that, the train disappeared back into the fog.

We re-located to the Town of Wilton and the Highway 6 bridge.

Pacing shots in the fog between Wilton and Walcott.

We managed to get ahead of the train and caught it at a grade crossing.

Iowa Interstate's QJ 2-10-2 6988 and 7081 arriving at Walcott, where they were serviced and watered.

Railfans were out in full force to capture this historic event.

My first good look at QJ 2-10-2 6988.

QJ 2-10-2 7081.

The cab of QJ 2-10-2 6988.

The firebox of 6988, the first and only time I had seen the fire from outside a steam engine.

QJ 2-10-2 6988 steaming during the servicing stop.

Watering the steam engines from a local fire hydrant.

Details of QJ 2-10-2 7081.

One of the crew on the coal heap.

As we departed, we found this clock outside the Walcott Bank building and saw a train on the siding.

Iowa Interstate GP38-2 719 (ex. Union Pacific 1967 1997, exx. EMDX 835 1987, exxx. Conrail 8035, nee Penn Central 8035 1972).

IAIS GP38-2 718 (ex. LLPX 2330 2004, exx. UP 455 2002 exxx. UP 1955 1997, exxxx. EMDX 820 1987, exxxxx. CR 8020, nee Penn Central 8020 1972).

Brand new IAIS ES44AC 505.

The freight train at Walcott siding. We continued on to Davenport.

The double-headed freight train approaching us at Central Park Avenue.

QJ 2-10-2 6988 and 7081 steaming through Davenport on the way to Rock Island.

The train on the approach to Government Street Bridge which connects Davenport, Iowa to Rock Island, Illinois.

A surprise blowdown was done here.

Crossing the Government Bridge. We hurried back to the car and drove on the lower level of this bridge, spanning the Mississippi River, while the steam train crossed above, which was quite the experience!

The steam train triumphantly arrived in Rock Island and did achieve its goal of setting the 21st Century Steam Tonnage Record as the 68 cars weighed 6,252 tons.

The steam engines then cut off the freight train and were transferred to the two sets passenger cars for the afternoon excursions (noon, 14:00 and 16:00 hours to Silvis and 13:00 and 15:00 to Walcott). One set, led by 7081, would travel to Walcott and back and the other set, led by 6988, would travel to Silvis. Chris, Bob and I would ride to Walcott, and Bob and I to Silvis. After buying T-shirts for the event and having lunch, the obligatory photographs of the consist were taken, which were all former Montreal commuter coaches.

Railroad Development Corporation (RRDX) 109-seat coach 816 (ex. Agence métropolitaine de transport 816, exx. Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal 816, nee Canadian Pacific 816).

RRDX 109-seat coach 810 (ex. Agence métropolitaine de transport 810, exx. Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal 810, nee Canadian Pacific 810).

RRDX 109-seat coach 820 (ex. Agence métropolitaine de transport 820, exx. Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal 820, nee Canadian Pacific 820).

RRDX 109-seat coach 816 (ex. Agence métropolitaine de transport 837, exx. Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal 837, nee Canadian Pacific 837).

RRDX 109-seat coach 819 (ex. Agence métropolitaine de transport 819, exx. Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal 819, nee Canadian Pacific 819).

Iowa Interstate GP38-2 716 (ex. LLPX 2238 2004, exx. Union Pacific 452 2001, exxx. Union Pacific 1954 1997, exxxx.EMDX 817 1987, exxxxx. Conrail 8017, nee Penn Central 8017 1972), the rear motive power for the trips to Walcott.

My ticket for the 13:00 hour train.

The passengers making their way to the boarding area for the 13:00 train.

Davenport, Iowa is one of the few cities where the tracks run down the street (called street running), here along Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street.

Chris and I enjoying new mileage on the way to Walcott.

Iowa corn fields on a sunny and warm October afternoon.

Crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois.

Davenport Police Department building and clock tower as seen from the train. We reached MP 191 and then reversed direction back to Rock Island.

The dam with the Centennial Bridge (arches) in rear leaving Davenport and crossing the Mississippi River into Rock Island.

Leaving Davenport as the excursion train crosses the Government Bridge.

An unobstructed view of the Mississippi River aboard the Rail Ride for Flood Relief train.

My ticket for the 16:00 hour excursion to Silvis.

QJ 2-10-2 7081 between trips.

The train to Walcott returning to Rock Island.

Myself with QJ 2-10-2 7081.

The Silvis train at Rock Island before the last afternoon trip.

The rear of the Silvis train.

QJ 2-10-2 7081 being readied for the train to Silvis.

The drivers of QJ 2-10-2 7081.

The Chinese builder's plate on 2-10-2 7081.

On display here was Iowa Interstate's brand-new ES44AC 502.

The builder's plate on ES44AC 502. After that, it was time to board the train to Silvis and upon our return, Chris was waiting with three very new and rare T-shirts made especially for this morning's accomplishment.

The T-shirt commemorating the record for 21st Century steam-powered freight. The special three-car dinner train was then spotted and late afternoon pictures were taken.

My ticket for the Dinner Train of this set of excursions to benefit the Flood Relief.

Iowa Interstate dining car "Abraham Lincoln" (ex. KCS 40 "Kansas City", exx. Amtrak 8096, nee Union Pacific 4812).

Iowa Interstate business car "Hawkeye" (ex. KCS 1887 "Arthur E. Stilwell", exx. Midsouth "Prospector", exxx. Ontario Northland "Moosonee", exxxx. St. Louis-San Francisco 3, exxxxx. St. Louis San Francisco 4, exxxxxx. St. Louis-San Francisco "Oklahoma", exxxxxxx. St. Louis-San Francisco 6, exxxxxxxx. St. Louis-San Francisco 1924, nee St. Louis-San Francisco buffet-coach 1702).

The platform of Iowa Interstate "Hawkeye" with the Iowa Interstate drumhead.

BNSF bi-level coach "Powder River" BNSF 45 (ex. BNA 41 1996, exx. Transisco Tours "San Francisco" 1992, nee Southern Pacific 3707). PPCX 800537.

The dinner train waiting for the passengers to board.

A sunset picture of our train before we boarded. The consist of this sold-out Dinner Train was QJ 2-10-2 7081, BNSF "Powder River", IAIS "Abraham Lincoln" and IAIS "Hawkeye".

The menu for tonight's dinner. This was a most unique meal which featured food from each of the countries in which the Railroad Development Corporation operated at that time. Of course, the United States was included, but I would never have thought that I would be eating Peruvian or Guatemalan food! It was unexpectedly delicious. Wines from various countries were offered with each course, but as none of us drink wine, water and lemonade were offered as alternatives.

Serviettes with the Iowa Interstate logo embossed in gold were at everyone's place and I kept a set for posterity and history, which are still in perfect condition.

Views of the "Powder River" which is where Chris, Bob and I were seated.

The chefs from Peru, Guatemala, Pittsburgh and Cedar Rapids, who had prepared tonight's feast, were presented to much applause. Then Jerry Prosser and Henry Posner III spoke, thanking everyone for supporting them, to the tune of $50,000. After dinner, I walked through the train, wanting to see the business car.

Part of the dining area of the business car "Hawkeye".

A painting in the lounge area of "Hawkeye".

Decorative figurines on the wall.

A gauge and clock on the wall.

Myself enjoying the lounge of this opulent business car.

We returned to Rock Island and photographed the lit bridge between Rock Island and Davenport before driving back to the hotel.

What a fantastic and rare day this had been! To this day, this is one of those one-time events that I am so glad I was able to fully participate in and have souvenirs to commemorate the occasion. There was also another ride to finish the weekend, but that is the subject of the next travelogue.