RITS National 1997
Waterloo, Iowa
September 12 and 13


Jan and I got out of Indianola about 1:30 on Friday afternoon and headed north for the annual national meeting of the Rock Island Technical Society in Waterloo. We'd planned a route that would follow the Rock Island's line from Des Moines toward the Twin Cities (now the UP "Spine Line") for a while and then take us east into Steamboat Rock to check out an old RI caboose.

We knew from the scanner that there had been a meet at Cambridge, so we cut over from I-35 to a county road and began following the Spine Line north out of Elkhart. At 2:25, just outside of the unincorporated community of White Oak, we intercepted the southbound PBDM, with CNW 6880 and UP 2997 on the point. We continued up the line, and got to Nevada just in time to see the rear end of a northbound passing "Chicago Junction" and continuing north.

After a short restroom break in Nevada, we went east out of town and then north on S-27 in pursuit of the northbound. The UP had two westbounds, a manifest and a coal empty, parked on the mainlines east of the junction. The northbound train, with UP 6335 and 9072 in the lead, had a pretty good head start on us, but we finally got ahead of it and stopped to get a picture at Garden City as it came by the elevators at 3:15.

We cut across to the east through Eldora, and then went north into Steamboat Rock. Just a few days before we were to leave for Waterloo, Roger Kirkpatrick had posted a question to the RITS mailing list about some Iowa cabooses, one of which was in Steamboat Rock. We easily located the caboose (It's a small town!) in the sideyard of the home of Ralph Gast, just west of the center of town. I interrupted Mrs. Gast's nap to ask about the caboose, and she was very gracious considering the circumstances! She said that the caboose had burned before they obtained it, and that, "all we bought was the metal". Her husband has built a new wooden structure on the old framework.

We got to Waterloo around supper time, registered for the RITS meet and moved our stuff into the motel room. After supper, we went to a panel discussion, "Rock Around the Table -- Life and Times from Four Rock Island Employees". Actually, only three were former Rock Island employees - the third was a current employee of the Iowa Northern and a collector of Rock Island memorabilia. On the panel (left to right in the picture) were Paul Gourley (RI), Francis Edecker (Iowa Northern), Howard Hoy (RI) and Homer Day (RI). They provided answers to questions and fascinating anecdotes about the Rock Island for several hours.

At the same time, just east in the next meeting room, was the RITS board of directors. Among those in attendance were President Dick Reedquist, Secretary Dave Engle, Vice President Bob Riebe and directors Steve Suhs and Drew Cannon. Several others, including Steve Hile, Rock newsletter editor Matt Willett, new assistant editor Peter McGraw, and Digest Editor Bill Riebe, were enduring the board meeting instead of having fun next door. (Picture - L. to R. Engle, Reedquist, Riebe, Suhs)

Principle board concerns continue to center on the delayed publication of the once-annual Digests. According to the discussion at the meeting, several will soon be forthcoming. This possibility raised the issue of which members and former members will receive which issues. It was decided to fulfill any obligations to former members with digests as they are published, regardless of "year", and to send any new publications to current members, regardless of how many (or few) they are owed. I hope I've summarized that correctly! Although difficult to implement, this approach seemed to offer the best hope for restoring members' confidence in the organization. At midnight, I gave up and went to bed.

Saturday morning, Jan and I went out for a take-out breakfast by the IC tracks, but didn't see any trains. On the way back to the motel, we stopped by the IC yards where I got a picture of the roundhouse and switcher 1300. We also stopped for a look at the old Rock Island depot in Waterloo, now serving as a lawyer's office.

By 9:30, back at the motel, the "swap meet" was buzzing with activity. I put swap meet in quotes because, although I'm sure someone, somewhere, has swapped models at one of these, I generally end up swapping cash for goods. This year I swapped a check on my bank account for Hile, et al's Rock Island passenger and freight car book. Here are some pictures:

Swap Meet
Swap Meet
Display Models
Display Models
Display Models
Meanwhile, upstairs in one of the meeting rooms, those attending the convention were voting in the model contest. Also on the morning's agenda were a slide show and caboose clinic.

Jan and I had to be back home later on Saturday, so we slipped away for an early lunch and a start on the afternoon's agenda of layout tours. We drove first to Francis Edecker's place, about 30 miles northwest of Waterloo, near Clarksville. I was astounded at what we found there. Francis has his own museum of Rock Island memorabilia, including newspaper articles, photos, maps, models and prototype artifacts, signs and signals. Edecker has constructed a small depot with model railroads inside and full-scale rails and Rock Island signals outside. In another outbuilding on his farm, he has an operating Marx collection, including several frontier playsets. A Rock Island fan could have easily spent the rest of the afternoon going through the scrapbooks in his collection.

Our next stop was back in the northwest end of the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area at the Cedar Valley Railroad Modeler's club layout. We'd visited this large layout in the past, and it was interesting to see the progress being made on scenery and structures. The layout had a Rock Island passenger train in operation (with freight power), and a number of pieces of Rock Island motive power at the engine service area. A few club members, preoccupied with dirty track, incorrect switch settings and derailments, operated the layout for visitors. Operation seemed to suffer because, for most of its circuit around the layout, the "engineer" could not see his train.

Marvin Long's O Gauge Rock Island layout was the next one on our afternoon agenda. We'd seen a former incarnation of this layout, which features 60's era freight equipment, in another Cedar Falls location. Marv moved about a year ago, and has reestablished the layout in the basement of his new home.

The last stop of the afternoon was Nora Jean Csukker's collection of Rock Island memorabilia in the southeast corner of the city. Nora Jean has only recently started this collection, and has nearly filled a room with models, photographs and other RI goodies - even a garden scale train circling the room overhead!

We had hoped to visit the depots in Walker and Vinton on our way home, and headed south out of Waterloo on highway 218. We got to Vinton just 20 minutes too late to see inside the nicely-restored Rock Island depot there. This is a large stone and brick structure. The museum includes RI caboose numbered17823 on display next to the depot. Roger Kirkpatrick pointed out to me that this can't be a correct number, since the extended vision cabooses were not numbered in this series (178**), but this is what the Benton Co. Historical Society put on it. Just a couple of blocks to the east, one can find the remains of a Rock Island freight house, as well.

We weren't able to make it to Walker, but Wade Calvert was kind enough to send some pictures of the restored depot and caboose there.

Walker Depot
Walker Depot
Walker Depot - apparently taken in the 1960s.
Thanks, Wade!

Jan and I decided that it was time to turn toward home, so I drove south to highway 30 and then west to Marshalltown, where we stopped for supper (Taylor's Maid-Rites, of course!) This provided an opportunity for some more UP-watching. Just after we arrived at 6:00, a coal load, of CWEX aluminum cars with UP 8057 and 9297 in charge, roared under the viaducts. A few minutes later, a local arrived and tried to enter the yard. The dispatcher'd told them that six track should be open, but they found it blocked and eventually had to back out onto main two. Some veteran CNW power was on the point of the local - CNW 4709, 4160, and 4711. It had been a cloudy and damp day, and by this time, the automatic flash had started going off on my camera, so we hustled on home to Indianola.

That's It!