The Indianola Branch

This section of the Virtual Train Watching in Iowa Museum contains images and text describing rails to our hometown of Indianola, Iowa. Indianola was once served by two railroads, which connected in a wye track, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. The CB&Q branch, built as the Chariton, Des Moines and Southern in 1878, came north from the mainline at Chariton, and was abandoned in 1962, three years before we moved to Indianola. The Burlington depot remained until 1968. The Rock Island connection, which comes south from the UP (ex-RI, ex-CNW) main at Carlisle, was built in 1871 and has remained in service for more than 120 years.

The Rock Island depot that appears in these pictures was the second one in Indianola, and was built in 1912, after the original one burned (photo from Wojas collection, courtesy RITS). Located in the northeast corner of the intersection of Detroit and Howard streets, the depot was of brick and stucco construction with a tile roof. After abandonment by the Rock Island in 1973, the depot was used as an office by Laverty Elevator and eventually torn down to make room for apartment buildings.

One of the agents at the Rock Island depot, A.T. Lau, has left an account of the day-to-day business of running the depot. When Agent Lau wished to take a vacation, he left instructions for a student operator. Most of the locations mentioned in his instructions can be found on the map above. For one month during his supervision of the agency, Agent Lau left a list of the freight traffic in and out of Indianola. At the time of its abandonment, the depot office contained hundreds of typed messages on scraps of paper, and a collection of rubber stamps.

The Indianola Turn ran from Short Line Yard in Des Moines south to Carlisle where it entered the Indianola Branch. The trip to Indianola and back was a very slow one, due to the poor condition of the branch line track. The lack of maintenance on the branch often led to derailments, some quite spectacular. A short walk into the country north of town brought us to this derailment.

The condition of the track was no better in town, and the Indianola Local's power often had to be jacked up and placed back on the rails. In the Spring, particularly, when the frost went out of the ground, one could expect to find the local stuck in the mud somewhere. Sometimes, even the freight managed to head in the wrong direction.

The pictures in the list below show some of the points of service, trackwork and activities of the Rock Island crews working in Indianola.

The engine most frequently found in Indianola was RI 1259, seen here at the engine house in Des Moines, and here on the siding by Indianola Building. The local carried a caboose, and a 4 or 5 man crew. On some occasions, the traffic would require two engines to pull the grade into town, but mu'd power was rare on the branch. The regular crew had engineer "Mac" McCaleb in the cab of 1259.

After switching (and being rerailed when necessary) the local went north into the country after crossing Iowa Avenue and headed for Carlisle. The trip back downhill toward the Middle River followed, and they were soon running along the river valley. At Carlisle, they called the dispatcher for permission to return to Short Line Yard, sometimes having to wait for a train passing on the RI main.

Today (1995), neither the original Rock Island or CB&Q tracks cross highway 65/69, although the elevation still remains in the highway. The Rock Island tracks stop at Euclid Avenue, beside Indianola Building. Two sides of the wye are missing, and the Bell-Wood spur, along with some of the old CB&Q right of way, has become a nature trail. The northwest leg of the wye remains, and still crosses Euclid Avenue, connecting to the mainline. Surprisingly, the boxcar storage sheds beside the CB&Q connection have survived. The old CB&Q track serves no industry, but is used to store grain hoppers for the new elevator. Honeggers, and the portion of the CB&Q that crossed the highway are long gone. Laverty Elevator was moved to the east side of town, and is now part of Heartland Coop, which is the principle customer for the branch line, recently acquired by the Union Pacific.

UP-date (so to speak)
As of March 18, 1997, notice of intent to abandon the Indianola branch has started appearing in the Record Herald.