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Iowa and Illinois Depots plus Medota Railroad Museum 5/27/2022

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke at the Quality Inn in Decorah and after checking out, I drove us over to the Family Table Decorah Restaurant where we had a great breakfast. After that meal I drove us to Luana and the first depot of the day.

Milwaukee Road Luana station. We returned to the car and headed to Maquoketan where the station from La Motte is now located. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Narrow Gauge Depot in LaMotte is a historic building formerly located in La Motte. The Chicago, Bellevue, Cascade & Western Railroad was incorporated in August 1877, to build a narrow-gauge railway from Bellevue to Cascade. Narrow-gauge was chosen because it was cheaper to build, and it could negotiate the tight turns on the rugged terrain better. Construction began the following year, but lack of money doomed the project. The Chicago, Clinton, Dubuque and Minnesota Railroad took over the project, and it was completed on December 30, 1879. The first train reached Cascade on January 1, 1880. Ten months later they sold all their holdings to the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, and this line became a branch line of the Milwaukee Road. That same year a frame depot was built in La Motte. It served as a combination freight and passenger station until it was destroyed by fire in 1910. This depot replaced it the following year. The one-and-a-half storey frame combination station represents the corporate style and standardized practices of the Milwaukee Road. However, it reflects the depots they built in the late 19th century, so it was somewhat outdated when it was built.

The depot served its purpose until the Milwaukee Road abandoned the line in 1936. There were 12 to 15 narrow gauge railroads built in Iowa, and this one survived longer than any of the others. The depot mostly sat empty until its exterior was refurbished by a group of volunteers for La Motte's Centennial in 1979. Rick Clasen, a local restaurant owner, bought the property in 1994 and continued to refurbish it. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the following year. When Clasen sold the property, he donated the building to the Jackson County Historical Society, who moved it to the Clinton Engines Site in Maquoketa, Iowa in May 2015.

Milwaukee Road LaMotte station.

Map and information about the only narrow gauge railroad in Iowa.

Replica Milwaukee Road combine car 8 is on display.

The plaque about the combine car.

The last surviving narrow gauge station in Iowa plaque. I drove us next to Preston.

Milwaukee Road Preston station. Later we crossed the Mississippi River at Sabula and had to stop in Savanna when Elizabeth spotted a passenger car.

Milwaukee Road coach 541 built by Milwaukee Road in 1947. It now houses the Savanna Train Museum and although the sign said it would be open on Memorial Day weekend, it was not.

There is also a grade crossing signal here.

Across the railroad tracks is Milwaukee Road caboose 01933 built in 1933 as Milwaukee Road 991933. I drove us to Thomson to our next station.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Thomson station.

There also have a track speeder.

The mileage on the station sign was interesting to us both. I drove us to Fulton.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Fulton station.

Milwaukee Road Fulton station. Next we went to Hooppole where we found a railway that neither of us had heard of before. The Hooppole, Yorktown & Tampico Railroad connected its namesake cities in western Illinois, beginning service in 1909. This line connected Hooppole to the rest of the United States railroad network at Tampico via a junction with the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Farmers along the route would donate right of way, and stocks began to be sold for the new company. However, not every landowner was excited for a new railroad, meaning the right of way meandered around, despite no significant physical barriers. Nonetheless, the project improved transportation and allowed people access to major cities, like Chicago, that they would not have had otherwise. It was originally envisioned as an electric interurban line, but ultimately ran on steam power, and at least some adjacent landowners were so unappreciative of, several sections of track were relocated slightly. The line went bankrupt in 1943, when investor Howard Mathis took over operations. He would keep the line running for another 11 years before it was finally abandoned in 1954.

Hooppole, Yorktown & Tampico Hooppole station.

One of their crossbucks. Next we headed to La Moille and we found a surprise.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy wooden caboose 101 built in 1878 as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy 14570.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy station built circa 1875. From here it was short drive to Mendota and our major stop of the day.

Mendota Railroad Museum

Mendota is an Indian name meaning crossing of the trails. In 1853 the Illinois Central Railroad and Chicago & Aurora Railroad crossed at this junction called Mendota. (Chicago & Aurora became the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy in 1858.) The Illinois Central was known as a land-grant railroad, the first of its kind. The railroad was built on land granted to it by the government. The land grant for the construction of the Illinois Central was made possible by special legislation implemented by Abraham Lincoln and Stephan A. Douglas. (Abraham Lincoln was an attorney for the Illinois Central before becoming president.) The Illinois Central line was at one time the longest in the world. A section is still in place on the west side of the Mendota Depot/museum. (The Illinois Central's advertising slogan was The Mainline of Mid-America.) Mendota quickly became a big railroad town because it was a major interchange point for freight and passengers. The Illinois Central freight house, which was built in 1854, still stands in Mendota. It is the oldest brick structure in town.

Our Visit

We parked the car to look around the outside of this museum as they are closed, and only open on the weekends.

Santa Fe Mendota station built in 1886.

Milwaukee Road Railway Express Agency car 2713.

Southern Pacific lounge car 10402 "Golden Trencher" ex. WRLX 402 "American View", exxx. Cadillac and Lake City 402, exxx. Amtrak 10512, exxxx. Amtrak 10502, exxxxx. Amtrak 8502:1, nee Southern Pacific 10402 "Golden Trencher".

Illinois Central Railroad Express Agency Mail Storage 508 built by American Car and Foundry in 1937.

Museum view.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy wooden caboose 14451 built by the Aurora Shops in 1911. The LS&BC RR sign is in commemoration of the LaSalle and Bureau County Railroad Company which operated 15 miles of track in north central Illinois. The "Bee" (as it was called locally) was founded in 1892 to provide a connection for the zinc mines of LaSalle to the neighboring railroads. In LaSalle, the LS&BC connected with the Illinois Central's "Gruber Line" at Midway. The line then went west to a wye (called Hegeler), where it connected with the Streator-Zearing branch of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, along with the DeKalb-Spring Valley branch of the Chicago and North Western. The LS&BC then had to complete a "flatland switchback" in order to gain access to the New York Central's Illinois Division track (at Churchill), which provided the LS&BC with access to Ladd, Illinois. After the Rock Island folded in the early 1980s, the LS&BC took over some of the switching operations on the south side of Chicago. The LS&BC also operated some former Milwaukee Road trackage around Mendota after Milwaukee's retrenchment, but that service was eventually taken over by the Burlington Northern. Operations at LaSalle lasted until 1986, at which time the ICG abandoned the Gruber Line, stranding the LS&BC. The last day of operation was March 25, 1986. The name LS&BC ended when the name of the Chicago switching operation was changed to Chicago Rail Link. The CRL exists to this day, as a part of the OmniTRAX Inc. group.

Chicago Burlington and Quincy 2-8-2 4978 built in 1923. It was originally assigned to the CB&Q Galesburg division, which included Mendota, and was active as late as 1961. It was retired in 1965, when it was donated to the LaSalle County Historical Society.

HLCX GP38-3 1058 built by EMD in 1969 as Missouri, Kansas and Texas GP40 214.

HLCX GP38 3801 built by EMD in 1975 as Nacionales de Mexico 9250.

Mendota grade crossing tower complete with a bell.

Museum view.

Milwaukee Road Mendota station.

Santa Fe freight house built in 1854. Elizabeth and I waited across the tracks for the Southwest Chief.

The Southwest Chief train 3 arrived into Mendota, did its station work and left for Galesburg and points west. Elizabeth and I then drove over to Cindy's on 34 restaurant where I had a steak and she had clam chowder and grilled chicken breast. Both our meals came with a dessert so I had ice cream and she had tapioca pudding. I worked on the Elizabeth story and went for a walk later before we called it a night.