Friday, August 26, 2016

I Feel Like the Rock Island (Memories of a Stricken Railroad)

As of the date of this post (August 2016), I am 65 years old.  When I wake in the morning, I often think, “I feel like the Rock Island.”  Those of you younger than a certain age don’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about.  Those older may understand but don’t want to be reminded.   When I remember the Rock Island, I recall Oklahoma red dirt country and a train rocking crazily, tracks obscured by tall grass, and the damn thing coming at me with no visible means of support.  In the last years, this was not too far from the truth.

The Rock was a perpetual oddity.  Some of its most direct routes (Memphis-Amarillo, an almost straight shot) carried little traffic, while some of its more circuitous routes (Kansas City-Houston by way of Herrington, Kansas, and El Reno, Oklahoma) were fairly busy.  The railroad never seemed to have enough money.  Track, roadbed, rolling stock, engines – all were in various states of disrepair.

CRI&P 4338 East Leaving El Reno
The Rock’s operational center in Oklahoma was not in the logical spot, Oklahoma City, but in a yard about 20 miles west in El Reno, where the north-south main crossed the Memphis-Amarillo line.  El Reno was, and still is, a small, county-seat town, roughly in the middle of the approximately 100 miles-wide belt in western Oklahoma where hard-red winter wheat is grown on dry land farms.  The north-south main traversed those fields in some of the loveliest, red dirt country you will ever see. 

Northbound Mixed Freight Passing Hard Red Winter Wheat

Northbound Manifest Passing Ripe Winter Wheat in Late May, 1977
 F-Units Passing Winter Wheat North of Kingfisher, Oklahoma
During harvest – early May to early June, south to north – one could chase trains through the ripening gold grain from Kansas south all the way to the Red River on U.S. Highway 81, encountering few automobiles and fewer towns.  The line north of El Reno was Centralized Traffic Control; south it was Automatic Block Signal.  A northbound freight reliably left El Reno every morning about 9:00 a.m.  Catching a freight climbing Concho Hill north of town was always a treat, especially since the trains were often underpowered, and stalling on the hill was a possibility.

Northbound Manifest at Summit of Concho Hill

Northbound Climbing Concho Hill at Dusk
Another Northbound Beginning Climb up Concho Hill, With El Reno in Background
At the top of this hill was another oddity, Concho: the location of a Cheyenne and Arapaho school originally named Darlington, established in 1887.  In 1932, a new school was constructed, and the name changed to Concho Indian Boarding School, which remained in operation until 1969, when an even newer school was constructed.  This facility remained open until 1981, when federal funding ceased.  
Northbound U-Boats, with Concho to the Left of Train at the Top of the Hill

Southbound Approaching Concho -- January 1978
Southbound Descending Concho Hill -- Notice "Track Work" on Passing Siding
In my mind and the pages of most historical accounts, those boarding schools (all closed now) were horrible places where native Americans were forced, often through physical abuse, to give up their own culture and adopt the ways of Europeans.  Yet I know people who went to school at Concho, and they all have fond memories of the place.  In any event, the Cheyenne and Arapaho have had the last laugh, because Concho is now the site of an Indian casino that draws crowds from Oklahoma City to play blackjack and feed slot machines.  I think this is proof that God loves irony.

On Fire

In addition to the northbound morning train, the Rock Island during the 1970s ran an eastbound out of El Reno at 8:00 a.m.  I would sometimes chase it through Oklahoma City and eastward until I found its sister, a Little Rock-generated westbound, which I would then follow back home.  The trains often met in the early afternoon in the small town of Calvin, along the banks of the South Canadian River, where the old Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf (by then a Missouri Pacific line) crossed at a diamond that generally saw four trains (two on each railroad) every 24 hours.

Eastbound Crossing North Canadian River Bridge in Oklahoma City at Dawn

Westbound Crossing the Diamond at Calvin, Oklahoma
Westbound Southern Pacific Power at McCloud, Oklahoma
CRI&P 301 West Meets F-Units In Oklahoma City -- July 1978
Same Train "Rocking and Rolling" Through Oklahoma City on Way to El Reno
There was so little traffic and other activity at Calvin that you could stand by the tracks and not hear a sound other than the wind, which often did not blow in the river bottom.  To the north, you could see the winding route of the Missouri Pacific past Tabletop and Lamar Mountains, through country too rugged even for a dirt road.  The only passage was on the railroad, and since passenger trains were long gone from the line, I never ventured into that wilderness, nor have I ever seen a photograph taken there.  The Missouri Pacific line is also now long gone, torn up and sold for scrap when Union Pacific took over in the 1980’s.
Eastbound Approaching Oklahoma City from El Reno (Same Train Shown Above, Leaving El Reno Yard)
East of Calvin, the Rock Island wound through hills and forest toward McAlester and a U.S. Army ammunition plant that supposedly stored enough ordnance to eviscerate all of Oklahoma and Arkansas plus a good portion of east Texas. 

Eastbound in Wooded Hills Near McAlester (Same Train Shown Above, Crossing North Canadian River at Oklahoma City)
I remember standing by the tracks one afternoon in March of 1975, chatting with the crew of the eastbound from El Reno, waiting for the approach of the Little Rock train.  These were not large consists, rarely more than 50 cars, but the terrain was rugged, and you could hear the westbound attacking the grades a good 10 minutes before the headlight appeared down a tunnel of trees.

On that mild, late winter day, the westbound was led by a recently repainted (bright red and yellow) unit, followed by four grimy engines that appeared to have been to hell and back.  I followed the train west as it first crossed the river, then turned north toward Holdenville on a steep grade, where the freight slowed to about 10 mph. 

Suddenly, bright orange flames appeared above the exhaust port of the third unit.  I could just barely see the train through the leafless trees, but the flames were easy to spot.  The train slowed even more, making me think that it was going to stall on the hill.  But it kept moving, barely.  I was not in a position to take a shot.  A crewman emerged from the lead unit, fire extinguisher in hand, ambling along the catwalk toward the flames, in no hurry at all, as though he had seen units catch on fire many times.  

My vehicle was approaching a clearing.  Just a few more seconds, and I would get a shot of the flames.  The train slowed almost to a stop.  The crewman approached to within 10 feet of the flames, then discharged a mushroom cloud, like a tiny atomic bomb, from the extinguisher.  I reached the clearing, parked and jump out of my car.

For an instant, flames and cloud existed simultaneously.  Then the portal between them closed, and the flames vanished -- about ten second before I snapped the shutter!

The crewman attached the fire extinguisher to the hand rail of the third unit, in case the flames reappeared, then turned and began nonchalantly walking back to the lead unit.
I followed the train all the way back to Oklahoma City, taking photographs.  The fire extinguisher is clearly visible on the railing of the third unit.  I don’t think the train ever exceeded ten miles per hour the remainder of the journey, even downgrade.  The third unit did not catch fire again.  

4448 East Climbing Grade out of River Bottom, Before Flames Appeared

Crewman on Third Unit Has Just Extinguished the Fire, As 4448 East Crawls Past Abandoned Junk of Eastern Oklahoma
4448 East at Harrah, With Fire Extinguisher Visible on Railing of Third Unit
"Train of Fire" Crossing North Canadian River into Oklahoma City at Dusk

The Last Train

The burning train was symbolic of a railroad that had been in intensive care for decades. Convinced that a merger with a stronger line was the only way to survive, Rock Island executives sought to join the Southern Pacific, but in 1962, rival Union Pacific made a counter proposal to split the ailing CRI&P with the SP, mainly because the UP coveted the Rock’s Chicago-Omaha line. Unfortunately, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s hearings on the case dragged on for 12 years, by which time the Rock had deteriorated to the point that the UP no longer wanted the Rock Island carcass, which resembled the discarded shell of a cicada.  
CRI&P 357 South at Bison, Oklahoma

321 South at Chickasha
A Lead Unit with No Name Approaching Minco
At the time, I could not conceive how a federal administrative body could be so dilatory.  Having practiced law before the Federal Communications Commission and various state regulatory bodies for more than 30 years, however, I now understand clearly.  Regulatory agencies, sooner or later, become ends in themselves, serving no purpose at all beyond maintaining their own existence.  This appears to be a rule of nature.  If the ICC ever had a purpose, it was lost years before Congress abolished it in 1995.

So the Rock limped forward on its own, losing more money, while the track, rolling stock and power deteriorated even further.  One of the labor unions – I no longer remember which one – threatened a strike.  Management responded that a strike would precipitate bankruptcy.  The union called the bluff – except there was no bluff.  Management filed for bankruptcy.  The trustee took one look at the property and moved to modify the filing from Chapter 11 (reorganization) to Chapter 7 (liquidation).  To the surprise of both union and management, the Judge granted the motion.
CRI&P Navigates the Weeds South of Minco
In those days long before the internet, I followed the Rock Island’s fate in the newspapers.  I was a young lawyer who knew enough about bankruptcy law and liquidation to realize that the railroad’s parts were being sold to the highest bidders.  Some lines had value – the Golden State Route from Kansas City to Santa Rosa, New Mexico – and were purchased, while others – the line from Amarillo to Tucumcari – did not and were literally pulled out of the ground.  The trustee announced when all operations would cease in March of 1980 – a mercy killing.

On the last day, I drove to El Reno to see if any trains would run.  The yard was deserted.  I parked near a maintenance building and looked in vain for an employee.  Had I wanted, I could have walked anywhere, into any building, and hauled away anything I could carry.  Inside one building was a blackboard on which crew assignments were written.  Two trains were listed, and my hopes soared.  Then I noticed that both were scheduled to run the month before. 
The lack of sound in a deserted yard is eerie, because if railroads do anything, they make noise -- but not El Reno, not that day.  The railroad was dead.  

Northbound Merchandise Freight at Orkarche about Nine Months Before the End
Out of curiosity, I walked among the weed-infested tracks.  Hundreds of box cars had been brought in from around the southwest and were parked in long strings, awaiting disposition.  A long line of dead power stood near the engine terminal.  I could not believe then, and still cannot believe, that the place was deserted.  Maybe there were employees on site, and I had missed them.
Disappointed that I would not be able to photograph a final freight, I returned to my car.  At that moment, I heard a whistle west of the yard, where the north-south mainline years before had been routed on a by-pass.  To my amazement, a train appeared, pulled by newly repainted units in a modernistic blue and white scheme called “The Rock.”  The train stopped short of the diamond where it crossed the line west to Amarillo.  It was late afternoon; the sun was approaching the horizon of a blue sky cob-webbed with cirrus clouds.  I assumed that the train would remain motionless and never run again.

Then, to my amazement, the crew whistled, and the repainted units began to roll slowly northward.  I started my vehicle and raced toward Concho Hill.  The sunlight was minimal, and the train was moving slow, but I managed to take several shots before the light disappeared completely.  I don’t know if that was the last Rock Island train to run out of El Reno, but I’m pretty sure it was the last train to run out of El Reno in the daylight.  

Last Train North of Kingfisher

The Sun Sets on the CRI&P

All the Pretty Paint Schemes

As the Rock Island collapsed head-first down the stairs, the motive power became more and more incredible.  It was not uncommon to see trains pulled by lead units without functioning headlights.  This probably violated several federal and state laws, but who was going to enforce them?  And what was the penalty?  A fine?  How would the Rock Island pay it?
Southbound Sans Functioning Headlight
Virtually every unit running in and out of El Reno belched black smoke, often so thick that it was difficult to photograph the train.  On many units, I observed what looked like ulcers, open sores, as though the railroad had contracted leprosy.  Many units were so covered with grime that markings, even the name of the railroad, were illegible.
One Month Before Death -- 311 South Shows the Open Sores, Lack of Markings and Black Smoke That Carried the Rock to its Grave
Every now and then, one of the newly repainted, blue and white units, bearing the legend “The Rock,” would appear.  This event was very startling, a little like seeing an alien chewing its way out of the belly of a space crewman.

"Bankruptcy Blues" Approaching Holdenville on East-West Mainline
But the most visible symbol of the Rock’s demise was the roadbed.  I have a photograph of a train coming at me in which the tracks are invisible, lost in Johnson grass as tall as my waist.  This was a mainline freight, south of El Reno, running at track speed, which even in the last days was around 30 miles per hour.  The train rocked wildly from side to side, bouncing with abandon, and I had the impression that the crew were attempting a derailment, though the train, somehow, did not go on the ground. 
Damn Thing Coming at Me With No Visible Means of Support
My photographs of the passing siding at Concho Hill are laughable.  (See the cover image for this post.)  You would bet your life that trains could not possibly stay upright on those rails.  Yet they did.

In those days I developed a theory.  The more paint schemes a railroad went through, the closer it was to collapse.  Why?  It is difficult to comprehend the dreadful condition of the railroad industry in the 1970’s.  Over-regulation and archaic labor rules were strangling even the strongest carriers.  My photographs from that era of the Santa Fe north-south mainline through Oklahoma show roadbed in desperate need of ballast and new ties, and the Santa Fe was perhaps the strongest railroad in America.  The Rock Island’s track was far worse. 
So exactly how many paint schemes did the Rock Island go through?  There were at least five different freight color systems during the years I observed the company: early maroon with pinstripes, solid maroon, maroon and yellow, red and yellow, and the last, that artsy blue-and-white pattern called “The Rock.” In addition, the Rock Island also slapped its logo on the noses of inherited Union Pacific and D&RGW engines.  I took a photograph of a southbound freight near Okarche, pulled by nine units, the first five of which were F units.  I think I can see every Rock paint scheme except Bankruptcy Blue, as well as two Southern Pacific units.  Two F-units might be the same scheme, though the grime makes it difficult to tell.

My Favorite Rock Island Train
My favorite scheme was the bright red and yellow.  I also enjoyed the blue and white “The Rock” scheme, which appeared in the year of the railroad’s demise.  I could never figure out why anyone bothered.  But someone did, proving that the bounds of human resilience are indeed wide.
Three Different Paint Schemes Just South of Cimarron River

My Favorite Scheme South of El Reno
Now the Rock Island is a vague memory, gone more than 30 years, like my grandparents.  From time to time, I still chase Union Pacific trains on the north-south main, and every once in a while I drive through El Reno.  Most traces of the old yard are gone.  U.S. Highway 81 crosses on a large overpass, but the only things beneath the highway are fallow, weed-covered ground, a small creek and a few sets of track where the UP occasionally parks box cars.  Maintenance buildings, lights poles, engine terminal, yard tower – all were removed when Ronald Reagan was president.  People today wonder why the overpass was built in the first place, but I know.  That is why, when I awake in the morning, I feel like the Rock Island.  
How I Choose to Remember the Rock Island -- Southbound Approaching El Reno Beside Winter Wheat Waiting for the Ground to Warm

Same Train South of El Reno Beside More Winter Wheat

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Postscript:  October 2020:  My friend Dale Jacobson recently provided by email some interesting detail on the Rock Island proceeding before the Interstate Commerce Commission, information of which I was previously unaware.  Because it presents a more fully rounded picture of the last days of this lovely but forlorn railroad, Dale has permitted me to quote him directly:

I recently looked at your blog on the Rock Island RR (RI) again.  I was a bit skeptical of your accusation that the ICC was "dilatory" when it came to dealing with the proposed RI/UP merger.  So, I checked what Bill Marvel wrote about this merger proposal in the book he put out on the RI called The Rock Island Line.  I first met Bill in late 1969 at an interlocking tower in downtown D.C.  He was working for the National Observer, a Wall Street Journal sponsored newspaper, as its arts columnist. I guess it was better than covering the cop beat in Denver, where he grew up and got his start as a reporter.  After retiring he became an independent writer.  This book on the RI, one of his favorite RR's, is one result of his efforts.  

Starting on page 140 in a sub section called "Merger Madness" Bill gives a brief, but pretty thorough, synopsis of what happened and why it took so long for the ICC to render a decision.  The madness started in June 1962 when Ellis Johnson of the RI met with Donald Russell of the SP to talk about a merger.  In September UP joined the talks.  In both cases the proposed merger of RI with either of these stronger RR's made lots of sense.  The result was that RI stock rose from $20 to $26 per share.  

The following summer UP formalized its offer for the RI, and the RI Board of Directors approved and recommended approval by the stockholders.  Feeling threatened by the loss of interchange traffic with the UP, CNW's President Ben Heineman made a counteroffer and filed the plan with the ICC. This plan called for a merger of the RI, CNW and MILW RD.  Alarmed by this proposal the ATSF and MOPAC announced they were in merger discussions and invited other western RR's to join in.  Thus, Heineman's proposal put the UP-RI merger proposal onto a "side track."  

In late 1964 UP recommended that the RI hire Jervis Langdon Jr. as its CEO.  He had just brought the B&O back to health, and UP thought he might be able to do the same for the RI as well as aid in merger negotiations.  However, the opposition of other RR's continued to grow.  The DRGW and WP joined the fray.  With both the UP and CNW offers to consider the RI stockholders waffled and failed to give the UP a needed majority of votes.  A federal judge ordered there be another vote.  UP upped its ante promising to pour $200 million into the decaying RR.  This time the stockholders overwhelmingly approved UP's proposal.  New locomotives and freight cars for the RI followed.  

The DRGW challenged the merger proposal announcing it wanted RI's trackage east to the Missouri River and trackage rights almost everywhere on the SP.  CNW meanwhile wanted the RI to sell everything south of Herrington, KS, to the ATSF.  Meanwhile the ATSF was proposing splitting the RI with MOPAC and CNW.  All this time MOPAC was buying up ATSF stock, and then asked the ICC to bundle all the petitions and counter petitions into one giant merger case.  The SOO Line seconded this idea.  The UP, SP, and RI also agreed to this idea.  And thus was born the most complicated RR merger case in the ICC's history.  

Proceedings rolled on through 1967 into 1968.  By that time the case had generated 43,000 pages of testimony.  Meanwhile, the RI was losing $$$, and its situation was getting desperate.  Most of the testimony was arcane arguments about which RR would lose traffic to which other RR.  Langdon was becoming exasperated as his thinking was there were already too many RR's in the area.The number needed to shrink.  If all the RR's could do was argue, Langdon felt the ICC had to make that happen.  
Nothing happened in 1969.  The Dept. of Transportation then proposed consolidating all these Midwestern RR's into three systems.  No one paid any attention.  And by this time the RI was getting less than 10% of the UP's traffic at Council Bluffs, IA.  The RR couldn't handle any more.  Langdon left the RI to become a trustee of the Penn Central.  William Dixon took his place.  There were now 155,000 pages of testimony.  

Now more trouble arose.  In response to galloping inflation in August 1971 President Nixon had imposed a price and wage freeze.  That October RR workers were due a wage increase.  Dixon worried that if the wage increase, when allowed, were made retroactive  to the start of the freeze the RI would be crippled.  The employees were apparently willing to give the RI a break, but then had to contend with the bad winter of 1972-1973.  At one point the Colorado line was blocked for five days.  By the summer of 1973 only two RI freights were running at 55 mph, both on the Golden State route.  That fall brought a rush of business which the power short RI had to meet by leasing anything and everything it could get its hands on.  That's when we started seeing all that foreign power in El Reno.  And John Ingram became the RI's president.  

On November 8, 1974, after 11 years, 300 lawyers and now over 200,000 pages of transcripts the ICC gave its conditional approval to the UP/RI merger.  The conditions were:

the DRGW get the RI trackage to Omaha;

everything south of KC would go to the SP;

ATSF would get the Choctaw Route to Memphis;

jobs would be protected; and

some traffic arrangements would be preserved.

All this was too much for the UP, especially since the RI's Omaha mainline was now virtually worthless.  And thus the RI withered away eventually to be dissolved.  So ends Marvel's discussion of this merger debacle.

In fairness to the ICC it had never had any case like this.  At the time the RI was liquidated it was the largest liquidation of any company this country had ever seen.  The ICC wasn't really interested in seeing such a large liquidation and had no idea what would happen once it occurred.   As it turned out the knotty issues of this merger proposal were due to the RI's parts being worth more than the value of the whole RR.  Look at a map of the RI, and you'll see that a significant portion of it is still in use.  By becoming Langdon's Midwest Borg the UP has ended up with virtually everything the SP and CNW wanted.  That includes the Golden State line and the Spine Line.  The Iowa Interstate RR (IAIS) has been renovating the Chicago - Council Bluffs route [well, west of Bureau, IL, as the CSXT got the line east to Joliet, and METRA owns the tracks between Chicago and Joliet.  IAIS has trackage rights over the CSXT portion, and IAIS and CSXT have trackage rights over METRA into the Chicago area]. Thanks to eating up the MKT UP also has RI's Texas mainline through Oklahoma.  The Iowa Northern runs a part of the former mainline to the Twin Cities between Cedar Rapids and Manly, IA.  There are other RR's operating former RI trackage as well.  We've visited three of them in Oklahoma. 

So, to call the ICC dilatory is, in my humble opinion, being overly harsh.  By the time the ICC is abolished and replaced with the STB (Surface Transportation Board) and RR mergers biforcated into "major" and "minor" mergers in 1995, the ICC had outlived its usefulness.  However, this had as much to do with the greater freedoms RR's were given in rate making and other areas under the Staggers Act in 1980 (in part a reaction to the UP/RI merger proposal) as due to the ICC's own faults.  

The RR's are what created the ICC and most of the RR regulations passed by Congress up into the 1920's, and they also were happy to see the ICC go away. 


  1. Absolutely fantastic! Your post is a real treasure that brings back so many wonderful memories of the Rock Island. Would you happen to have any pictures of the Rock
    Island's former division office building in Shawnee, OK? It later served as the freight station and crew change point until shutdown. My ancestors worked for the R.I. in the shops at Shawnee. Sadly, I failed to get many pictures of the building and would like to make a model of it someday. I hope you consider publishing a book of your wonderful exploits on the R.I. In Oklahoma, as your photographs and narrative are superb. I can't thank you enough. Regards. J. Kent Fredenberger

  2. What a wonderful tribute for the once mighty Rock Island. I live in Missouri, where efforts to try and keep the St. Louis to Kansas City line active were undertaken, but the west end of the line was never reactivated, while trains continued as far west as Belle -- just a few miles east of the longest trestle in the state of Missouri spanned the Gasconade -- until 1983 and then slowly retreated Owensville, then Union. The line from St. Louis to Union is still operated today by Central Midland Railroad, while the remainder of the line, which was never officially abandoned is being converted to a trail...the lines rails and ties removed over the past 18-24 months.

    In addition to that connection to the Rock, I went to school at the University of Oklahoma (after the line had shut down). In a span of weeks, I fell hard for the wide open space of the state. I was only there for a few years, but when I read "The north-south main traversed those fields in some of the loveliest, red dirt country you will ever see.", I knew exactly what you meant. The winter wheat, the blaze of a sunset, the forks of lightning across a canopy of may not be everybody's embodiment of picturesque, but it is and always will be mine.

    Thanks for your efforts to document the line and sharing it!

  3. Paul, this is a fantastic collection of beautiful photos of one of my favorite parts of the Rock Island. My grandparents lived in Okarche. In your photo of 4154 South, their house is hidden in the cluster of trees directly above the locomotive and to the right of the municipal airport hangar; my uncle's house, which was originally my grandparents' house, is visible at the extreme right-hand edge of the photo, across the road from my grandparents' later house among the trees. As a kid I would be able to hear southbound trains climbing the hill out of Kingfisher long before they got there, because the house was generally quiet since there were few electronic distractions and noisemakers in the house. I would be able to walk back to the fence line opposite the airfield and watch those trains move through town - sometimes at a crawl, and sometimes really moving. It was a great theater. My family lived there - cousins still do - throughout the 20th Century, including when a 5000-class Northern blew its boiler in town, an event they remembered clearly. In the 30's they would feed transients from the trains in exchange for farm work. My dad was RI's safety manager in the 1970's, and we would always stop for a roll-by for any train we saw while we were driving US 81 en route to Okarche. These photos are pure gold for me. Thanks for sharing them!

  4. Love the photos. My memories are from the “Little Rock” that ran from Biddle Yard to Ville Plat, LA. I went to college Ruston, LA and would watch the Saturday local exchange cars there with the east west ICG. Have some pictures from a local going thru Ruston near the end that I am willing to share. The freight house is still there & functions as a bank.

  5. Thank you for posting this. This is history that MUST be recorded and remembered. So many little towns in western Oklahoma exist only because these railroads were their life blood. What is left today is just remnants of what is left behind.

  6. CRI&P 301 West Meets F-Units In Oklahoma City -- July 1978 - Nope, not 1978.
    Same Train "Rocking and Rolling" Through Oklahoma City on Way to El Reno

    No, The Biltmore hotel is still standing in the picture. The Biltmore Hotel was demolished in October of 1977.
    Just a friendly correction. Great pictures of the Rock Island.

  7. Enjoyed this very much! Great photos and text! Thanks for putting this together and posting it for all to see!

  8. Neat bunch of photos, I enjoyed them very muh. Even though I am actually a fugitive of the Rock Island Railroad, I guess when it's in your blood...

  9. Thanks so much for the historic views of your past! you should put it in a book, and talk more about that particular part of the line.

  10. Great pictures, thank you for sharing.

  11. I grew up along the RI line between KC & Denver in the little town of Stratton, CO. Worked at a COOP in the late 60's to early 70's. Loaded grain into box cars and hoppers. Fixed up box cars so they could be loaded with grain. It was called "coopering" or something like that. Made mouth whistles out of the metal straps that had holes in them. The straps would be used to nail cardboard to the wood along the doors and wood that was added at about 5' high across the door opening. Used an old Case tractor to move the cars into loading position under the downspout from the elevator and to move them down the spur when filled. Seems like a lifetime ago....

  12. Paul, your presentation is one of the very best of the Rock Island I’ve ever seen! The photos are suburb! My dad was a conductor in Little Rock between 1940 - 1980. We lived two blocks from Biddle Yard and I knew many Rock Island employees. Use to go on trips all over Arkansas when I was a kid. Ran switch engines when I was six years old! Both of my grandads worked for the Rock. Being a boomer, I followed and studied all the railroad mergers and really wanted the Santa Fe to buy the Amarillo – Memphis line. I do think they were interested but the timing was not right along with freight being interchanged with the Frisco. In retrospect with so many railroads in the Midwest, I honestly think the Rock (along several other railroads) were simply left behind. Uncle Pete seems to have obtained around 2500 miles of the Rock with several short lines using what was left. Politics and big money sure play a part!!! Great Job Paul!!

  13. This is wonderful! My grandfather came over from Norway in 1894 and became a Bridge Foreman for the Rock Island Railroad in Johnston, County, Ok. Thank you for sharing!