Iowa will be the center of the universe for old train buffs this week as Cedar Rapids hosts the National Railway Historical Society’s annual convention. The events will spread out across the state to various towns that once greeted rail passengers daily when riding the rails was the main means of transporation.
Bart Jennings is organizing five special excursions with antique cocahes and observation cars dating back to the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Manly in northern Iowa is preparing to see the passenger trains pull in for the first time in 43 years.
“The little towns like this are a lot of fun to run a train in or out of because they really appreciate it…sometimes we will double or triple the population of the town with a train,” Jennings says. Railroads that normally carry freight are cooperating; that’s why the Railway Society picked Iowa.
Brad Sabin is with the Iowa Northern Railway, which will preview its new railroad museum. “Were excited to get 300-400 people in Manly to show them what it is about. The community seems to be very excited about it,” Sabin says.
Thousands of chasers will be watching and photographing the excursions along the way to Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Iowa City, all the way to the Quad Cities and as close to Des Moines as Newton. The last car will be the Cedar Rapids, a plush solarium coach that is rounded off at the back, offering panoramic views of Iowa’s countryside.
The car was built by the Milwaukee Road in 1948 and this will be the first time the Cedar Rapids has ever visited its namesake. Steam engine number 6988 owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad will pull the train into Newton’s historic Rock Island Depot on Wednesday. The depot is now a graphic design business called Art Ala Carte. Owner Cathy Rickers will host an open house to help celebrate its centennial.
“We get a lot of senior citizen type folks who used to ride the trains, so they come in and tell us their stories, when they went to war and when they came home, and Eisenhower going through,” Rickers says. Convention Chairman Jennings says some of next week’s visitors will have a one-track mind, that’s to ride on routes that are normally used exclusively for hauling cargo.
“All of these routes are running on what we call rare mileage. There’s not normally passenger trains on them so people coming from across the world because this may be their only chance to ride these different rail routes,” Jennings explains. “And these collectors of rare mileage have their own rules and they stick to it, they’ll come anywhere for new trackage.”
The excursion to Manly is on “rare mileage” as the track hasn’t had regular passenger service since 1969 when it was a Rock Island hub. For the classic train’s first journey on Tuesday, a steam locomotive will lead the way through scenic eastern Iowa and across the Mississippi to Rock Island.