Humanities 290
Railroading in Iowa

Humanities 290 Syllabus

Class Members

First Excursion - May 1, 1996

Our first field trip took us to southeast Iowa to visit a number of spots of interest to rail buffs, and to catch Amtrak #5, the California Zephyr, for a short ride on the 25th anniversary of Amtrak. We followed the UP Spine Line south and saw no trains this morning, but we did find some track equipment setting on at Melcher. I stopped there briefly to show the class a detector, which we'd heard about in a video earlier in the week.

At Chariton, we checked out the old Rock Island depot and then went trackside on the BNSF mains, having heard on the scanner that a train was due from the west. The class waited expectantly, and in a few minutes, a coal load appeared behind two Oakways and an early AC demonstrator unit. We watched the train pass and then headed downtown to Piper's, where some of Iowa's greatest homemade candy can be found. Piper's is a living museum, established in 1905, with worn board floors and figured metal ceiling. While the group pondered their choices of toffee and turtles, westbound 161 rolled into town and began switching the Chariton yard area. We took a quick restroom break and went to one of Chariton's small park areas to watch a coal empty behind two MACs pass.

A tight schedule pushed us on to the east toward Albia. I pointed out the crossovers at Halpin, where CTC begins, at the base of the grade up through the town. From the scanner, we'd learned that two coal trains were stopped on the south hill, waiting for Amtrak to come around them. We grabbed our lunch on the way into town and went to a grassy corner between the Des Moines branch and the "north way", track #1, normally westbound. Shortly after noon, Amtrak #6 came up the hill and headed east toward Maxon, the end of CTC at the edge of Albia.

After lunch, we briefly checked out Maxon and watched a coal train that we'd seen in Chariton take off behind Amtrak. We turned south, following the Appenoose County Railroad line down to Moravia. The Moravia Historical Society has restored a 1903 Wabash depot and turned it into a museum. We were greeted there by Bill and Delores Burkland, with whom I'd arranged for a visit by the class. We were treated to a fine tour of their interesting collection, and had a chance to hear about the current projects, such as the HO model railroad in the depot waiting room that Bill was working on. While we were looking at the collection of school artifacts, I was invited by a couple of my students to try on the dunce's cap. Naturally, it was a very poor fit.

We followed back roads from Moravia to Blakesburg, paralleling the CP (ex-MILW) track toward Ottumwa. There, we went straight to the diamond where the CP tracks cross the BNSF mains. We'd heard on the scanner that a coal train was being doubled up the hill to Rutledge, and we got to the diamond in time to see the power, a mixture of UP and CNW units, coming back for the second half of the train.

We had a 3:30 appointment at the Old Threshers' Heritage Museum in Mount Pleasant, so we hurried on east along highway 34. We took one short side trip to check out the remains of a derailment in Lockridge, the home of the roommate of one one of our class members. We were just a little late to the museum, but got to see a short video and tour the main part of the museum. The collection at the museum is vast, and deserved more time than we had available. The grounds of the Old Threshers' Reunion is home to the Midwest Central Railroad, which runs narrow gauge steam and traction equipment, in season.

After being hustled out of the museum at 4:30, we decided that we had time for a side trip up to Washington, to see a restored depot that was once jointly used by the Rock Island and Milwaukee lines. Today, the depot houses several businesses, and the only line through the town is the CP. Just east of Washington, we met the UP-powered coal train that was being doubled up the hill in Ottumwa.

Back in Mount Pleasant, at the BNSF depot, we watched a coal empty go by, and then, at about 6:30, we gave our van a head start back toward Osceola while we awaited Amtrak's arrival at 7:19. My friend and fellow Simpson employee Steve Duffy graciously agreed to accompany us this day and to drive back west as we rode the train. The class hung out in the waiting room for a while, and then headed for the north side of the double track with a handful of other passengers to board the train.

Our group had a block of seats in a Superliner coach, and we settled into them for just a minute before moving on to the Lounge-Café. We brought aboard a sheet cake decorated with the Amtrak logo and "Happy 25th". In the lounge car, we watched the Iowa countryside go by and identified the locations we'd visited earlier in the day by van. My class was impressed by the roominess of the Superliners and commented that they hadn't expected the ride to be "so smooth".

Although we'd just missed the last call for the diner, the crew chief arranged for us to be seated shortly after we boarded the train. I chose the Prime Rib Biltmore from the menu of Oven-Fried Chicken, Grilled Halibut, or Vegetable Enchiladas. At least one of our number insisted (in spite of lots of good-natured ribbing from the steward) on having the children's "Choo Choo Chewies". After a long day of driving the van it was great to kick back, watch the sun set ahead of us and toast what remained of long-haul passenger service. The dining car crew helped us distribute our cake, and we returned to the lounge for the remainder of our short ride.

We arrived at Osceola just a few minutes down due to a couple of slow orders on the way over. We were met there by station caretakers J.R. and Pat Greene, who were celebrating Amtrak's anniversary with decorations and refreshments in the depot. After helping ourselves to some punch and another helping of cake, we watched one more coal load head east and then returned to Indianola.

Scouting Trip to Newton and Grinnell

Second Excursion - May 7, 1996

We left early (6:00) on a rainy Tuesday moring, heading in the general direction of Iowa City and a tour of the Iowa Interstate Railroad offices. I drove the group's van east out of Indianola and then north to Newton, stopping to point out several rights of way as we crossed them along the way - UP at Beech, BNSF at Pleasantville, and IAIS at Monroe. At Newton, we stopped to see the restored Rock Island depot and to see what the IAIS was up to this morning. From here on, we followed old Highway 6, so that we could stay close to the "Route of the Rockets". In Grinnell, we stopped for breakfast and went to see the depot at the junction of the UP and IAIS routes that has been rebuilt, expanded, and converted to a railroad theme restaurant.

We traveled on east across the state, checking out Brooklyn and Ladora, the hometowns of a couple of class members. We made our 10:00 a.m. appointment at the IAIS with just a few minutes to spare. We were greeted just outside the office door by Fred Cheney Jr., Chief Mechanical Officer of the IAIS. He directed us first to the diesel shop area, and pointed out some engine parts before taking us inside the shop. IAIS unit 601 was inside for maintenance work, and we were given a walk-around, with Fred pointing out the principle components and explaining the type of work they did in the shop.

We moved outside just as a couple of units were coming up the hill from the south side of Iowa City. These units, 603 and 481, were spotted by the sand tower and the handbrake set. Fred invited the class to come aboard 603 to see the cab and locomotive controls. Back on the ground, the class got a chance to ask some more questions about the locomotives.

We next went inside the busy office building of the IAIS, where we got a look at the dispatcher's office. The dispatcher is a busy individual on the IAIS these days, as UP detours west of Des Moines are added to the regular traffic. On top of this activity, in a few days the IAIS will begin handling passenger traffic between Bureau, Illinois and Earlham, as the "Madison County Zephyr" begins a set of tours extending through the summer months.

After a driving tour of the CIC (CRANDIC) trackage in Iowa City and a look at the old RI depot, we took a break in the U of I Memorial Union before following the CIC tracks to Cedar Rapids. In Cedar Rapids, we looked over the CRANDIC yard and shop area and got our lunch before beginning the trip back west toward home. I again took to the "blue highways" so that we could stay near the UP right of way and see the old CNW depot in Belle Plaine. We met a couple of trains along the way, and I demonstrated what an EOT device sounds like on the scanner.

We stopped for a break in Marshalltown, and looked over the ex-CNW facilities there. The UP kindly ran a few trains by while we were in town, and we also stopped to look at a string of locos headed for (???). CNW units 4164, 4117, 6644, 6000, 4208, 4187, 6643, 4137 and 4179 were standing dead on the north side of the yard. We followed the UP tracks over to Nevada and checked out KC and Chicago Junctions, where the old Rock Island and CNW tracks connect just southwest of town, and looked at the site of the old RI depot. One class member dropped off in Nevada, and we went south along what UP and CNW call the "Spine Line", stopping briefly in Cambridge for a look at the abandoned MILW right of way and the UP siding south of town. After a long day on the road, we made it back to campus around supper time.

Third Excursion - May 10, 1996

We loaded up the van and pulled out of Indianola in the rain early Friday morning. After worrying about how dry things were early in the spring, we've been getting more than our share of moisture lately, and Iowa's rivers and streams are beginning to flood. Our ultimate objective this day was a train ride on the Boone and Scenic Valley tourist line in Boone, Iowa. We cruised through Carlisle and went into Des Moines at the southeast corner for a short visit to Short Line Yard and Junction. We had to make do with looking out the van windows, as it was too wet to get out and look around.

I showed the group the old Rock Island depot in downtown Des Moines, the Valley Junction area in West Des Moines, and then we went on west along the old Rock Island route through Booneville, DeSoto, and Earlham. We saw no trains along the way, and the IAIS scanner channel was quiet. In Dexter, we made a candy stop at Drew's, where the group filed in to sample and buy some homemade chocolates. I drove the group next over to Stuart to see the old RI depot there and to take a quick restroom break. Next, we returned to Dexter and went to Weesner Pharmacy. At Weesner's, one can browse and purchase copies of historical photographs of Iowa. The collection of postcard size photos is organized into storage boxes, in alphabetical order by town. Subjects are mixed, but include lots of railroad depots, schools, and churches.

Our next leg was northeast to see a few old Iowa rights of way and depots. We went to Adel, Dallas Center and Minburn, and then straight north to Ogden on the UP (ex-CNW) mainline across Iowa. We drove back east toward Boone for a couple of miles and then went north and down into the Des Moines River valley to see the famous Kate Shelley bridge. On the way to lunch in Boone, I took the group past the CNW yard area to view the old concrete coaling tower and assorted work equipment.

After lunch we went to the B&SV depot and checked in to get our tickets. We had some time to spare, so the group checked out the museum area and gift shop inside the depot. After signing the guest book, we relaxed in the waiting room. Before long, our train was ready for boarding. The train consisted of BSV 1003 in a CGW paint scheme, RI caboose 17051, a RI coach, and CNW caboose 11136. The RI coach has been beautifully refurbished, with reversing seats, new woodwork, and a wheelchair lift at one corner.

The Scenic Valley, is, indeed. On this particular spring day, it was cool and cloudy, but at least we were free of the rain for a while. Even at 10 mph, the trip goes quickly down into the valley on a one percent grade, and over the high bridge at Bass Point Creek. The high bridge over Bass Point Creek is crossed at 5 mph, and provides a spectacular view of the creek, 156 feet below. Just after entering the YMCA camp, the train crosses the Des Moines River, nearly bank-full on this afternoon.

After a short run on the west side of the river, the train reaches Fraser, the original site of the power plant for the line when it was the electrified Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern. At Fraser, 1003 cut off and ran around its train. In a short time, the train was put back together, and we were on our way back across the river and up the hill toward Boone. As the group neared Boone, I spotted the old Rock Island turntable from Iowa Falls on a flatcar in the BSV storage area. The Scenic line has received a grant from the state to restore and put this turntable back into use.

Back at the depot area, I paid a quick visit to the Museum Annex, which is inside a couple of old passenger cars. I was particularly interested in the interlocking equipment from Rock Island's Short Line Tower that is in the museum's collection. Since we had a BSV employee, Spencer Vaughn along with us, we were treated to a guided tour through the Scenic Valley shop area. The class members were taken through restored Charles City Western car 50, and then shown BSV 8419, a steam loco manufactured in China. Even cold, the steamer is pretty impressive close up. We were told that this was red paint day, and to be careful where we touched the loco. One of the BSV centercab diesels was also in fresh paint, sitting just outside the barn. The group also toured the west storage barn, where we saw several cabooses and the passenger car, Kate Shelley.

After our visit to the storage barn, the class took an unscheduled break in the BSV depot waiting room while I rode to the local Ford dealer in a police car. I had cleverly locked our key in the van, but they were able to duplicate it after a call to Noble Ford in Indianola. We were back on the road soon, and went through Ames to see the CNW depot there that has been made into various shops before heading back home to Indianola.

Along for the Scenic Valley ride this day were Simpson College adjunct professor and librarian-to-be Steve Duffy and his spouse. Every time I tell the story of the class's first excursion (above), I'm asked "How did you get the van from Mt Pleasant to Osceola?" Steve very graciously agreed to do this job for us, and we are really grateful for his help!

Optional Excursion - May 14, 1996

Those in the class who cared to were invited to visit the Central Iowa Railroad Club layout at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Tuesday evening, and we took off from campus with six class members, guest speaker Harry Grossman and myself. The club meets regularly on Tuesday evenings for business, work and operating sessions. We'd been invited by member Paul Knowles to show up for an informal tour of the layout at 7:00 before the evening's operating session began at 7:30.

The CIRC is a "mature" layout, having started in its present location in April of 1984. The trackwork occupies an area of approximately 20 by 45 feet, with a viewing area used by fair visitors along one side and adjacent shop and meeting areas, where Paul described the layout for the students. Along the east wall is a large yard and on this particular evening, a medium-sized yardmaster. During the state fair the club is operated in a display mode from a large centralized panel, but for operating sessions, both wired local and wireless walkaround throttles are used.

Fourth (and last) Excursion - May 15, 1996

The class left Indianola at 6:00 a.m. and hurried toward our destination, the Southern Pacific Transportation Training Center in Lenexa, Kansas. We stopped for breakfast in Bethany, Missouri near a captive caboose serving as a visitors' center for the city. Following the excellent directions given to me by Director of Crew Resource Training, Gary McClain, we drove straight to the center's front door, arriving about 9:45. Inside, we were given a chance to relax and settle into a classroom at the center.

Gary provided some introductory remarks and then described the training sequence for operating personnel on the SP. He was followed by Dave Stanton from the legal department, who discussed FELA and other liability and litigation-related issues in railroad administration. After a short break, we met with an FRA representative who happened to be on the property before hearing presentations on Carload and Intermodal shipping from Bill Berry and Stacy McGhehey.

The center provided an excellent buffet lunch for the class before we got back together for a presentation on air brakes by Gary McClain. After Gary, we heard some introductory information from Paul Brooks, who was to be at the control panel of the locomotive simulator this afternoon. We moved down the hallway to the control room, where Paul continued his explanation of the loco simulator. The center has two computer-controlled simulators that use laser-disk technology to create a virtual train-operating environment, complete with sights, sounds and motion.

Groups of five persons entered the full-scale locomotive cab with trainer Craig Thomas. After a group was aboard, the hydraulic cylinders below lifted the cab into running position in front of the video screen. One at a time, each student engineer was seated at the controls, released the brakes, opened the throttle, and was on the way along a Texas branchline. Craig's patient and helpful instruction made everyone at ease, and too soon it was time to "stretch brake" your train and let the next runner take over. Back in the control room, we watched the monitors and listened in on the intercom as Paul and Craig exchanged humorous comments about our experiences.

Each student was videotaped while making a run on the simulator, and the tape, which shows cab, road and computer-generated train dynamics information, is being duplicated for distribution to the class. Gary, Paul, Craig and the others put up with "academic" railroading from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and really gave us a great day. I can't say enough about how generously and thoughtfully we were treated by the folks at the SP center.


On our way back north to Indianola, we stopped again in Bethany and grabbed a photo-op with the now much more grown-up Ronald. The timing was just right for us to make it to the Osceola depot for Amtrak #5, and our last train-watching event in Humanities 290.