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NRHS Cedar Rapids to Newton Steam Westbound Trip 6/20/2012

by Chris Guenzler

After a very short night of sleep due to our night photo session, I got up at 5:00 AM and prepared myself for the day. I posted yesterday's story on before walking over to Caseys for my donuts. There I met Randy Jackson and after I got ice for my cooler we walked over to the Clarion Hotel for a 6:00 AM safety and briefing meeting. We took the crew bus out to the Smith-Dow Yard and I boarded the Sky View and took my now usual seat. I worked and finished the night photo session story as we waited for the passengers to board.

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 (IA). The line originally extended between Cedar Rapids and Ottumwa (IA), 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 can not 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 route guide provides the history of the line station by station. The east end of the route started as the Chicago & Rock Island, chartered by the Illinois legislature to build from Chicago to the Mississippi River at Rock Island. Construction started in October of 1852, and the line reached Joliet later that month and was completed with trains running in late February of 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 didn't 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 a 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 couldn't 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 (IL) to Bureau (IL). 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 (IA) and Des Moines (IA) and on to Newton (IA). On the very west end of the line between Atlantic (IA) and Council Bluffs (IA), the Iowa Railroad Company (IARR), 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 (IA) to Bureau (IL).

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 (IAIS), 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 of 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 1902-1968. 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 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

Engines Iowa Northern F40PH 451 and 678, Wenonah Coach NSRX 202 800261, Nokomis Coach - NSRX 203 800898, Lake Pepin Coach NSRX 7616 800799, Franklin Inn - NRHX142 800957 , Braddock Inn - PPCX 800854, NYC 38 - Tavern Lounge , High Iron 60 seat dome lounge class seats ATSF 551 now named "Scenic View" RPCX 551, Super Dome 53 - NSRX 53 Dome Lounge 800862 and Cedar Rapids - NSRX 186 Observation Car 800040.

I shot this picture after I arrived here at Smith-Dow Yard this morning. They fed the passengers a light breakfast in First Class prior to our departure this morning at 7:53 AM with the Iowa Interstate 714 pulling us to the Yocum Connection.


We headed south through the Smith-Dow Yard.

The train ran by this Iowa Interstate Freight us we left Smith-Dow Yard.

The train turned into Fairfax.

The railfans were out in force waiting for us in Fairfax.

The inside of the Cedar Rapids.

More railfans in Walford.

This guy was driving and videotaping at the same time just west of East Amana.

Coming into Amana.

Crossing that creek in Amana.

Later we crossed the Iowa River.

The train has reached the Yocum Connection and we took the east leg of the wye where many railfans were waiting.

We pulled forward to the new Iowa Interstate shops which are still under construction and our steam engine is waiting on the mainline. I visited with Kathie Evingson of "Visit Anchorage" where next year's NRHS Convention will be held September 18-22, 2013.

The field across from the shops.

Iowa Interstate 714 had cut off the train and Iowa Interstate QJ 6988 was placed on the now westbound facing point of our train.

We soon left the new shop area for Marengo our first Photo Runby of the day and my new rail mileage would begin.

More of those Iowa corn fields.

Sand and gravel operations were run by on our special train.

We ran by this lake before we arrived into Marengo. The train was unloaded for the Photo Runby. I had Kathie get off the train so she could see her first Photo Runby. I would walk down the road to the point where I could get the grain silos behind our train.

Our engine in Marengo.

The photo line moved over again but that was not going to stop me today. I would crop my photos and be in excellent shape.

The Photo Runby at Marengo which was excellent. Thank you Bart Jennings.

The return move at Marengo.

Iowa Northern F40PH 461.

My Dome Car Scenic View.We all reboarded for our trip to Newton, Iowa.

Views on the way to Ladora. We made a quick servicing stop at Brooklyn, Iowa.

Views west of Brooklyn.

Malcom, Iowa.

A corn field west of Malcom.

A tree in a field.

Clouds of interest to our west. Iowa needs a few days of good rain.

Milepost 300.

More clouds heading slowly our way.

The train took a curve as it closed in on Grinnell.

More corn fields on this hill.

We came to this yellow signal for the Union Pacific crossing in Grinnell.

Grinnell and the Milepost 302.

The Rock Island Station in Grinnell.

A view looking north up the Union Pacific tracks.

The Railway Express Building in Grinnell.

Downtown Grinnell.

A smoke stack in Grinnell. The Cedar Rapids set off a hot box detector so we had to stop and inspect it.

The train ran though Kellogg.

The train then move on to the Newton Yard.

We pulled up to the east end of the yard and came to a stop.

The Iowa Interstate Steam Shops.

Iowa Interstate 712 then went to the end of our train for use later this afternoon.

From here we took the train on into Newton.

Here passengers could get lunch in Sunset Park or visit the Rock Island Station or both. After lunch we would do a pair of Photo Runbys at 1:30 PM.

Click here for Part 2 of this story