A St. Cloud University professor has written a book about the impact of the railroad on the state of Iowa. Author Don Hofsommer says his interest comes from his boyhood days in the state. His father ran a lumber yard in the small community of Calendar south of Fort Dodge. He says the rail depot was the center of the universe to him. Hofsommer says the daily activity at the depot always caught his interest. He says it was intriguing to think about the people on the trains, where they were coming from, where they were going to. He says it “was magic to me.” Hofsommer says the book “Steel Trails of Hawkeyeland: Iowa’s Railroad Experience” chronicles the history he always wondered about. He says the railroads came to Iowa in the 1850’s as a result of the growth of Chicago on the east and the rich agricultural potential of the state. He says the government’s decision to sponsor the central overland route to the west coast that started in Council Bluffs boosted the state’s rail system even more. Hofsommer says a great vertical rail system also grew out from Minneapolis into Iowa and to the south. He says Iowa was front and center on the railroad scene because of its location in the middle of the country. He says as a result there wasn’t a place in Iowa that was more than 13 or 14 miles from a railroad, and he says Iowa ranked third or fourth among the continental states in total rails miles. As a result he says: “Iowa was well blessed by the railroad industry.” Hofsommer says Iowa’s rail industry hit its peak in about 1916, but even after that he says there were some great trains to come through — the Santa Fe in Fort Madison, the Chiefs, the Zephyrs in the southern part of the state, the city trains through Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, the Illinois Central, and the Sioux in Calmar and Mason City. Hofsommer is a graduate of UNI and his book is published by the Indiana University Press.
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