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From La Plata, Missouri to Chesterton, Indiana 5/30/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke and after our Internet duties, checked out of the Depot Inn and Suites and I drove us north to Kirksville where we had an excellent breakfast at Pancake City. After that, we made our way north on US 63 to Queen City and our first station of the day.

Wabash Railroad Queen City freight house. Elizabeth navigated me east to Downing.

Keokuk & Western Downing station built in 1872. This railroad was originally chartered in Missouri as the Alexandria and Bloomfield Railroad Company, by Special Act of February 9, 1857, which called for the building of a railroad from Alexandria, Missouri in the direction of Bloomfield, Iowa to the northern boundary of the state of Missouri. A subsequent Act on February 19, 1866, changed the corporate name to the Alexandria and Nebraska City Railroad Company. It later became part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

Our third station was in Memphis, Missouri.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Memphis station built in 1872. I then drove us into Iowa.

Keokuk Union Depot, erected in 1891, was designed by the Chicago architectural firm Burnham and Root, noted for its railroad depot designs across the Midwest. Five railroads served Keokuk, a bustling business and transportation center at the confluence of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers and site of a series of locks that allowed river traffic to bypass the rapids upriver from the city. The new depot, combining passenger and express traffic of all railroads, was constructed and operated by the Keokuk Union Depot Company, jointly owned by the railroads.

The Depot is distinguished by its Romanesque Revival features and is noted in the architectural preservation community as one of the last designs of John Wellborn Root. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 178-foot building was constructed at a cost of $75,000. The central section, which originally contained offices on the second floor above the baggage room, was topped by a 64-foot-high peaked tower The vaulted waiting room is at the northeast end, while the southwest end originally served express agencies and contained the steam heating plant. It was illuminated at first by both carbide gas lamps and around 175 incandescent bulbs. The waiting room included a lunch counter for the convenience of travelers and other frequenters of the Depot. Older illustrations show a clock in the central tower, but it was never installed.

The Union Depot served railroad travelers and express shippers until the end of rail passenger service to Keokuk in 1967. In the earlier 1900's, passenger service was provided by the Toledo, Peoria & Western; the Wabash Railroad; the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. Keokuk was an important stop for the Burlington Route's streamlined Mark Twain Zephyr, inaugurated in 1935 between St. Louis, Missouri and Burlington, Iowa and later for the Zephyr Rocket, a joint service of the Burlington and Rock Island between St. Louis and Minneapolis. After passenger service was discontinued, the freight railroads serving Keokuk used the Depot as a headquarters for their agents and operators. The last trains to carry passengers through Keokuk were railfan excursions.

In 1981, the Keokuk Junction Railway purchased the shares of the Keokuk Union Depot Company, having previously acquired local trackage and switching rights from the bankrupt Rock Island. Beginning in December 1986, its operations extended over Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (former Toledo, Peoria and Western) trackage to La Harpe using the Mississippi River bridge owned by the City of Keokuk.

Led by owners John Warfield and Rich Taylor, the Keokuk Junction renovated the Depot's waiting room in 1991, removing a false ceiling and partitions and restoring the woodwork's oak finish. The Depot was the base for the Keokuk Junction's tourist train operations, some including the former Wabash parlor car renamed Chief Keokuck, and for its popular Trans-Mississippi trolley rides across the river to Illinois. In 1996, Pioneer Railcorp acquired the assets of the Keokuk Junction Railway, including the Union Depot, and used the building for storage. In 2011, Pioneer Railcorp conveyed the Depot and adjacent land to the City of Keokuk for a period of 99 years. The City formed a Depot Commission, named by the Mayor, to oversee the management and restoration of the Depot. In 2012, the non-profit Keokuk Union Depot Foundation was established to raise funds to restore the structure, its directors not required to be Keokuk residents.

National Register of Historic Places Plaque on the depot. We then drove down the road that paralleled the river and the tracks.

BUGX SW1200RS 1357, ex. Pioneer Rail Corp 1357, nee Canadian National SW1200 1357, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1957. From here we went to Lock and Dam 19.

Keokuk Water Plant out in the Mississippi River.

Lock 19 on the river.

Lock and Dam 19 information board.

We departed Keokuk and went north on Business US 61 into Fort Madison to find to our next two depots.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Fort Madison station built in 1889.

Santa Fe steam generating plant.

Santa Fe Fort Madison station built in 1910 which houses the North Lee County Historical Society Transportation Museum. As of December 2021, it became the city's stop on Amtrak's Southwest Chief after having undergone a fourteen-year restoration to raise the building above the Mississippi River floodplain after extensive flooding in 2008. This returned service to downtown for the first time since 1968, when Santa Fe moved passenger service to a structure at its Fort Madison yard, 1.35 miles away.

Santa Fe caboose 999235 built by the railroad in 1942.

A shortened wig-wag crossing signal.

BNSF 6522 West ran through town with DPUs BNSF 8567 and 9766 on the rear. We then drove over to the steam engine.

Santa Fe 4-8-4 2913 built by Baldwin in 1943 and donated to City of Fort Madison in 1959.

We proceeded north on US 61, then east on US 34 into Illinois and took local streets to get to our next depot in Victoria.

Galesburg & Great Eastern Victoria station. The railroad's start was as the Galesburg, Etherly and Eastern Railroad in 1894 which was built from Wataga east to a mining town three miles south of Victoria named Etherly. It was a company town where miners lived and thrived for a time. In 1893 and for years after, there was a economic and business panic not only here, but all over the country. Many businesses, as well as railroads, went under, and this one was no exception as it was not financially stable enough to survive the crisis. The mines at Etherly closed in 1895 and the railroad went bankrupt. A few years later, the economy rebounded and by 1898, the Galesburg & Great Eastern Railroad was formed and railroad service was built until Victoria. By 1899 Etherly had declined to the point where structures were moved into Victoria. It struggled over the years and at one point, a second railroad which would have provided competition, was discussed and planned but never panned out.

Despite never being a financial and profitable line, it did survive until 1960. During the great depression, it took a major hit as the bank in Victoria closed by 1931, taking the railroad's capital with it which had been deposited there. The railroad cut expenses and still managed. To provide passenger and mail service, a Lincoln automobile was fitted with flanged wheels and used on the line, but it was involved in an incident in 1933 which proved to be a liability to the owners of the road. By the mid 1930's, G&GE was little more than a right-of-way with no equipment such as locomotives or freight traffic. However, a coal mine company from Indiana would change their luck and after some hesitation, the G&GE was sold to the Central Indiana Coal company, which, in 1954, was sold to the Stonefort Corporation. The last twenty years of the line were used to mainly haul coal. The Little John mine near Victoria closed in 1960 and the abandonment of the line soon followed. Mining machinery, as well as the two Whitcomb locomotives were moved to a coal mine to the northeast in Wyoming, Illinois. The rails were sold and scrapped and the right-of-way ended back in the hands of the farmers who owned the land around it.

More country driving took us to our next station.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Wyoming station built in 1879, now the headquarters of the Rock Island Trail State Park. Wyoming was on the CB&Q's line between Buda and Elmwood, Illinois. The 44-and-a-half-mile mile line was built by the Dixon, Peoria and Hannibal Railroad and was bought by the CB&Q in 1899. The Buda-Elmwood branch of the railroad, which by that time had become the Burlington Northern Railroad, was torn out in 1984. The station is near the former Peoria and Rock Island Railroad line, between the Quad Cities and Peoria. That 86 mile line was operated by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and did not utilize the CB&Q depot. Furthermore, after the Great Depression, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific ceased to offer passenger service on its line, and that line itself was abandoned in 1963.

The plaque on the station wall.

The Rock Island State Trail display board. I drove us to Streator but had to stop when I spotted a depot.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Streator station. From here we drove to the Santa Fe station.

Santa Fe Streator station built circa 1910 and was served by numerous Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway passenger trains during its heyday. Amtrak served the station until 1996 with the daily Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles. When the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe merged, BNSF built a connecting track between the two main lines east of Cameron, Illinois, (known as the Cameron Connector), which allowed passenger trains to change from the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad mainline to the Southern Transcon freely. This, along with the amendment of a stretch of track that was essential for getting to Chicago Union Station, forced Amtrak to re-route the Southwest Chief to bypass Chillicothe and Streator. In 2013, the station received upgrades by BNSF Railway including a new roof, brickwork, tuck-pointing and new windows.

Here we switched drivers and Elizabeth drove us to Chesterton, Indiana where we had a good dinner at Bob Evans Restaurant before I drove us to the Best Western Indian Oak hotel and we checked in for the night.