Friday, April 07, 2017

Fifty years ago: Last Run of No. 190

It's really been 50 years. I was all of fifteen years old. On the evening of April 7, 1967, I boarded a Trailways bus at the Iowa City bus terminal in the old Burkley Hotel for Cedar Rapids. From there I had to find the address of the Rock Island Lines depot, which turned out to be in the downtown freight yard. I had already bought the ticket back to Iowa City. I was a little bit worried about finding the station, though, as there were no buses back home until morning. But after walking what seemed like a mile ( it wasn't) from First Avenue, I came to the little cinder-block station and found I had lots of time to spare before the train came in. There was a Des Moines Register reporter of the station who talked with me.

I was there to ride the last run of Rock Island Lines' No. 190, the last vestige of the Zephyr Rocket, a Minneapolis-St. Louis streamliner jointly operated by the Rock Island and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. The train debuted in 1941, with a sleeper and observation-lounge, as well as reclining seat coaches. By the mid-sixties it was coach-only, but the railroads kept it running until the Post Office canceled the mail contract. Without the Railway Post Office, the lightly-patronized train would become a big money-loser, and the two railroads petitioned for discontinuance in late 1966. After a series of hearings the Interstate Commerce Commission granted the petition.

So I was there on the platform as the train came in, led by a single diesel locomotive, followed by the R.P.O, the baggage car, and a single coach. I snapped a picture of the coach before boarding. I had a simple Kodak camera with a flash attachment. The big press bulbs I had bought captured the image.
On board, I met two other railfans--Don Hofsommer, who was an instructor in history at Oklahoma State, and LaVerne "Andy" Andreessen, who had earned his master's in accounting at the State College of Iowa (now University of Northern Iowa), and was engaged to be married. (Sadly, I learned that Andy, a longtime accounting professor at UNI, died in 2009 when researching this piece.) The would be operating south to Burlington, where the equipment would turn and return to Minneapolis. Don offered to pay my fare to and from Burlington, but I had to decline--the northbound train would be too late for me to make my connection at West Liberty. I talked about trains with my fellow railfans until I got to West Liberty, where I'd have a long wait for my connection--No. 9, the former Corn Belt Rocket. I didn't know it at the time, but No. 9 would be gone--technically consolidated with No. 5 between Chicago and Rock Island, and discontinued west of there. It was also a victim of the Post Office's decision to cancel the mail contracts.

The Minneapolis-St. Louis corridor, in a civilized country, would have high-speed trains traversing the route. Instead, we Midwesterners are going to have to fight to keep the few trains we have. It's still possible to go between St. Paul and St. Louis by train, but with a change of trains in Chicago. And if the Trump Administration has its way, the St. Paul-Chicago link will be gone by the end of September. Once again it's time to repeat author Peter Lyon's line from To Hell in a Day Coach: "Passengers of America Unite! You have nothing to lose but your trains!

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Do you ever watch Big Bang Theory? Sheldon is a train lover.