Rock Island Remnants

April 1st and 2nd


March 31st marked the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Rock Island.  On the Rock Island Technical Society's email list, we've been discussing getting the RI fans out to take pictures of whatever vestiges of the Mighty Fine Line we could uncover.  I couldn't get away on Friday to do any train-watching, and on Saturday it rained, naturally!  I did a little homework for part of the morning and then took off under cloudy skies for what's today on the UP called the "Spine Line".  It was known to us RI fans back in the good old days as the "Kansas City Short Line".  The Short Line was built as a short cut between Des Moines and Allerton in the early 1910's, fairly late as mainline construction goes in this part of the country.

Saturday, April 1

My first stop on this excursion was the museum in Melcher, where there is a preserved RI three-light signal.  The signal is marked with a number plate with 393 on it.  I assume this would correspond to Melcher's location, MP 39.3, or else the signal is from the line somewhere south of Allerton, where the mileposts were measured from Chicago.

The Spine Line was quiet this morning, but on my scanner I could hear BNSF trains coming from both directions, so I went on down to Chariton to catch some traffic and get lunch.  It was still drizzling a bit and about 45 degrees.  I stopped at the west end of Chariton yard next to Curtis Ave and caught a westbound at 10:35.  This train was a coal empty with BNSF 9724 and BN 9527 on the point.  The cars were high-mileage CEPX box-gons, class of '79.

I walked east a bit to get a shot of the power on a ribbon rail train parked on the north side of the mains in Chariton.  The ex-Santa Fe power had been renumbered as BNSF 6347 and 8627.  I knew another train was coming up Whitebreast hill and shortly heard, "We're over the top...", on the scanner.  At 11:00 the DENGAL came across Curtis Ave. behind BNSF 7880 and 7323.

I grabbed some takeout from a nearby gas station and waited for the next train at Roland Ave.  They showed up at 11:35, a CWEX coal load, with BN 9604 and 9623 doing the work on the head end.

There was no break in the cloudy weather yet, so I headed back north up the Spine Line, cutting back south of Melcher to find a crossbuck I'd seen last fall with a Rock Island tag still in place.  This led me to wonder if I could find any more of them, so I worked north, crisscrossing the line until I finally located another at a "Level B" crossing well north of Melcher.  This second tag looked like it had fallen victim to a fine "sportsman" at some time or another.  Both of the posts I imaged carried UP tags as well as their original RI ones.

Most of the gravel road crossings were not at grade, but  went under the tracks or over them on one of the spindly bridges erected by the RI when the line was originally constructed.  There are a number of these delicate structures between Carlise and Allerton and they are today rated by the county engineers at a whopping 3 tons.  This particular example is north of Beech near MP 55.

Early Sunday, April 2

I got up at 4:00 a.m. (Okay, Five - Savings Time) and did my usual constitutional up around the college campus.  It was a perfect spring morning, 37 degrees and clear.  I buzzed through my morning routine, ignored the Sunday Register and headed for Des Moines with the camera.  A fairly thick fog filled the low areas and blanketed much of Short Line Yard when I arrived around 7:00 a.m.  I cruised around the east end and over the East 30th Street viaduct, deciding to come back when the sun was a bit higher and to walk up the viaduct to get some pictures.

I heard the yardmaster (Tim/Ray) tell the DMEA to start moving toward Dean Avenue, so I continued around the yard and back to Short Line Junction.  The train was still working its way through the yard ladder when I got my first picture at 7:20.  I moved around to get some images of the train as they came around the northeast leg of the wye behind CNW 6819 and UP 2984.  They took the signal onto the CTC at 7:30.

Still in search of things uniquely Rock Island, I went downtown to the RI passenger station and got some images of this survivor.  The stonework on the east end of the building caught my eye.  In the image, you can see an arch of shadows imposed on the brickwork arch.  The shadows are cast by the framework of the Fourth Street archway, which once had a roof and glass walls illuminated from within.  The stonework features cornucopiae, shocks of wheat and an orb with "C R I & P" engraved upon it.  The work was closely guarded by a sparrow warming in the early morning sun.

I next went over to the east side of the Des Moines River, near the end of the now-abandoned NS bridge, and got a shot of the barely-legible lettering on the north side of the Rock Island's double-track girder bridge.  One track of the bridge has been abandoned and the remaining one is still in use by the Iowa Interstate.

Before heading back to Indianola in time for church, I walked up onto the west side of the East 30th Street viaduct to get an image of the east end of Short Line Yard with the Iowa state capitol in the background.

That's It!