An Excursion to
Mason City and Manly


This is an account in text and pictures of an excursion on Saturday, June 3, north along US Highway 65 from Indianola to Manly, Iowa. Our objective was to visit a remaining traction railway between Mason City and Clear Lake, and to see a turntable and roundhouse in Manly. The pictures were taken using an Apple QuickTake camera and processed with a program called PhotoFlash. I normally record times, places and numbers on an audio tape recorder as I train-watch, but I found after I got back that the @%$#&*!! thing had malfunctioned this time.

By taking county roads, we followed the CNW Spine Line pretty closely after leaving Nevada and KC/Chicago Junction. Just east of Nevada, after turning north onto S27, we caught a westbound CNW coal empty. (sorry, no numbers) There was very little traffic on the Spine this particular afternoon.

Our first stop was in Iowa Falls, where we took our lunches to Mills Tower. Mills is the crossing of the Chicago Central and the Chicago and North Western (formerly Illinois Central and Rock Island, respectively). The green diamond remains on the west side of the tower, but it is lettered Chicago Central. In the Southeast corner of the diamond, a pair of switch boxes and instruction plates explain to train crews how to call for signals.

Just southwest of the junction, a CCP local was working in the small yard north of the Iowa river bridge. Their power was CCP 8211 and CCP 8258, both in the old ICG orange and white paint scheme. They arrived about 2:45 with a caboose and four car train. The old IC depot still remains just west of the yard area.

In Hampton, the restored Rock Island depot, RI caboose 17221, and a collection of railroad artifacts have been moved a short distance west of the mainline onto the Franklin County fairgrounds. The depot houses a railroad museum.

We reached Mason City, and went first to the CP Yard area. The ex-Milwaukee Road depot serves as an office and storage area. On the south side of the yard, we took a quick look at the engine servicing area. The locos in the foreground are CP 5775 and, I think, Soo 760.

The Iowa Traction Railway, a portion of the former Charles City Western, is operated between Mason City and Clear Lake, paralleling county road B35. In Mason City, we found IATR 50 sitting on the main just west of the CNW interchange track, and IATR 54 and IATR 60 nearby on a spur near the National Guard headquarters. The spur extends north though a park and connects to the CP track. It appears that the line is not currently (so to speak!) operated east of the CNW interchange. Trackwork on the spur was in progress, with motors 50 and 60 just north of a disassembled switch.

The IATR services a few industries along the line, and about half of the distance west to Clear Lake, there is a small yard and engine service area. IATR 51 was sitting outside the engine house, and IATR 31, a spreader, sat on a siding by the highway. In the city of Clear Lake, the IATR maintains a storage building with trolley cars inside, and provides trolley rides on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30. Unfortunately, we arrived too late (about 5:00), and found them closing the doors. Apparently, there were no customers at 4:30, as there was no car out on the line today.

We proceeded north to Manly, a former Rock Island division point and a junction of the lines from Des Moines and Iowa City. The Iowa City line is now operated by the Iowa Northern Railroad, and the Des Moines line is part of the CNW Spine Line. Manly marks its railroad heritage with a small park and RI extended vision caboose 17054. We went to Manly looking for the remains of the yard and engine servicing facilities. The foundation and pits of the two-track diesel house remain. The hoppers in the background are IANR cars. Toward the north end, and on the west side of the yard, one finds the remains of a large roundhouse and an apparently still operational turntable.

I took several pictures of the turntable and the surrounding buildings. There are two portions of the roundhouse remaining, one with 6 stalls and an attached backshop, and another with 10 stalls. The buildings belong to a local elevator and have been used to store grain. The pictures:

Looking northwest, showing a portion of the 10 stall building.
Looking southeast, showing the 6 stall building.
Looking southeast again.
Looking northeast, showing the base of the turntable.
Westinghouse control box - circuit breaker and reset.
Controller lever.

The pit has a concrete retaining wall with wooden inserts where tracks were connected, and a steel rail circling the bottom of the pit. The turntable rides on a center bearing and a pair of flangeless wheels at each end, powered by electric motors. A pipe circles the inside of the rail and goes around the base of the center bearing. Perhaps this might have had steam in it to keep ice melted in the winter (it's cold in northern Iowa!)? Each end of the turntable has a large plate, controlled by a lever, that slides between the rails of the connecting tracks to align the table. Only one track remains. I stepped off the length, taking 36 of my rather short paces. I estimate the length at around 108 feet.

That's it!