The Tower

Short Line Junction was the crossing of the Rock Island's east-west and north-south mainlines in Des Moines, Iowa. Located east of the state capitol, the junction came into being with the construction of the "Short Line" from Carlisle to Allerton, Iowa in 1911-1913. This section of track was formally purchased by the Rock Island in 1922. The tower building, which controlled all movements through Des Moines on the double track E/W and single track N/S routes, was located at the northwest corner of the diamond. The structure, shown here looking southwest, and here northeast, was built in 1926. A few wood frame construction outbuildings were just west and south of the tower.

The second floor of the tower was the location of an assortment of equipment, including CTC boards for train movements on the Rock Island in Des Moines and a collection of levers and timers used in lining switches and signals around the tower itself. The junction had four wye tracks and crossovers that allowed train movements between all routes. The windows of the tower provided clear views in all directions, east toward Short Line Yard, west toward downtown Des Moines, north and south along the Kansas City Short Line.


Short Line Tower was operated on three shifts, around the clock. Operators were responsible for certain train orders as well as lining movements through the junction. Over the years, the tracks of several railroad companies converged and crossed within the tower's jurisdiction, including FtDDM&S, C&GW, C&NW, CB&Q (BN), and Wabash (N&W, NS). A record book of the crews called out on trains at Short Line was maintained by the operators. As is evident on the cover of the crew book above, there was time for humor or to study one's rule book.

The mixture of duties and responsibilities at the tower sometimes brought personnel into conflict with one another. Operators often were expected to be lining movements for trains, copying train orders from the dispatcher, and answering the yardmaster's needs at the same time. An analysis of tower activities was made in the fall of 1968 to determine if the operators were overloaded.

Our favorite operator was Ray Brandt. Ray welcomed me and my family to the tower, and was a gracious and friendly host. We enjoyed many hours at the tower, making friends of the Rock Island crews and listening to Ray's stories about railroading.


Here are a few more images of railroading at Short Line Junction: More images taken at Short Line Tower can be found in Rockets in Des Moines pages of the Museum section.