New Year's Eve on the Iowa Northwestern

Tuesday, December 31



A few weeks ago a message came across the Rock Island Technical Society's list server (ritslist) saying that there would be a New Year's special on the Iowa Northwestern shortline, which runs between Superior and Allendorf.  This rail line was once part of the Rock Island system in Iowa.  There were very few details in the note about the planned excursion, except that it would board in Spirit Lake near the HyVee grocery store.  I called the number in the email, got a reservation for two on the train and then surfed the WWW for a nice place to stay, settling on the Wild Rose Inn B&B in Okoboji.

Early on New Year's eve Susan Murphy and I started out for the far northwest corner of the state.  We had a nice sunny morning and plenty of time, so we made a number of stops along the way, including some of interest to rail fans.  The first was out at the Kate Shelley High Bridge west of Boone where we waited for a stack train that came onto the bridge at 9:30.  The intermodal had three SD-70's, two with "flag and flare" and one plain, UP 4946, 4964 and 4157.  After this train was over the bridge, we moved on northward.

Our next rail-related stop was in Webster City where we encountered a local doing some switching on the old Illinois Central line (now CN?).  Power for this work was provided by GT 6227, working back and forth across the UP diamond around 10:30.

Eagle Grove, where the UP has engine servicing facilities, was crowded with parked locos as the railroad tied down for the holiday evening.  Among the units present were UP 9778, 2011, 2019, 372, 4769, 9791, 4191, SP 182 and LLPX 2257.

The schedule for the Iowa Northwestern excursion called for boarding at 9:30, and our ride rolled in from the west on time.  I'd used a credit card when I made the reservation, received nothing in return and was hoping that when we boarded there would be some way of identifying paid passengers.  However, to get on the train all one did was stand in line and ask for vouchers, which were freely distributed on a first-come first-served basis.  As far as I could tell, everyone present was permitted to board.  An email note I received later from the Conductor said that there were 130 persons on the excursion that night.

The passenger cars were sandwiched between two locomotives in a push-pull operation.  One car was set up with tables and chairs and had a band playing in the east end of the car.  Since passengers had boarded first at Lake Park, this car was already pretty well occupied.  Two other regular seating cars were available, with a snack and drink bar in the middle.  Waitresses moved up and down the aisle taking drink orders as we rolled west to Lake Park Rail Yard.  After a short break the train returned to Spirit Lake, passing our boarding point to stop at Orleans.  Once the train was in place, complementary champagne was passed out and we counted down to midnight and a fireworks show in a field south of the train.  The train was then moved back west so that Spirit Lake passengers could disembark before the rest returned to Lake Park.

That's It!