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7 Along the Way: 1971–87

Don L. Hofsommer Indiana University Press ePub

BY THE 1970S, RAILROADS WERE AMATURE INDUStry.” It was not a term of endearment. Indeed, many observersX were ready to write off the industry, consigning it – soon, they said – to the dustbin of history. The naysayers got it wrong, happy to say, but the long decade of the 1970s proved wrenching in the extreme for those who held affection for the industry at large, for the individual companies, for the trains they ran, and for the employees who worked for them. It would be a grim ten years. Yes, there was a glimmer of hope, and a new era beckoned. It would be a hard slog getting there, but over the next several years, a very different industry would emerge – slimmed down, deregulated, and led by a talented and innovative management cadre. A new era, to be sure, one that resembled the past only at the margins.

IC for years was Iowa’s premier handler of packinghouse products, but reflecting a broad pattern, billings slipped in the 1970s as packers relocated their plants and as they increasingly turned to trucks for their transportation needs. Six days a week, however, IC in August 1976 still wheeled tonnage eastward from John Morell’s huge facility at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Train 776, shown here slipping through Matlock in northwest Iowa, would hand off most of its consist to train 676 from Sioux City at Cherokee.

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1 In the Land of the Hawkeyes

Don L. Hofsommer Indiana University Press ePub

CALLENDER, IOWA: M&STL, THE HOME ROAD

The steam-car civilization came to Callender, Iowa, in the fall of 1870 when Des Moines Valley (DMV) pushed its existing line from Keokuk to Des Moines northwestward from Iowa’s capital city through Perry to Fort Dodge. Kesho, the original townsite, simply picked up and moved across the tracks to the west and rechristened itself Callender. Early train service included a through-passenger run from Keokuk plus scheduled freights.

Des Moines Valley unfortunately was unhealthy. Out of it in 1874 came two roads: Keokuk & Des Moines (K&D), which inherited DMV’s avenue between those points, and Des Moines & Fort Dodge (DM&FtD), which acquired the northern section through Callender. DM&FtD advertised itself as “The Fort Dodge Route – The Great Throughfare between Des Moines and the North and Northwest.” Heady stuff that, but, in fact, the company was no more robust than DMV, its predecessor. Giant Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island) took lease of it in 1887, the lease in 1905 passing to Minneapolis & St. Louis (M&StL), which some years later bought the property.

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5 In the Land of the Sooners

Don L. Hofsommer Indiana University Press ePub

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AT OKLAHOMA STATE University presented itself during the first portion of the 1970s. Stillwater was Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF or Santa Fe) country, located on a spur from what once had been a concave but through route from Newkirk, Oklahoma, to Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, parallel to the east of Santa Fe’s main gut from Newton, Kansas, to the Gulf of Mexico. Passenger service had ended November 10, 1956, but local customers still provided attractive freight revenue.

Santa Fe was a well-managed company with premier routes from Chicago to Los Angeles and Chicago to South Texas. In a relative sense, it was prosperous compared to many other railroads at the time. Yet the mood across the industry was grim, and it got worse as the decade of the 1970s wore on. Causes of financial anemia were many and varied among particular companies, but a popular prescription among virtually all carriers was abandonment of line segments, especially branches and redundant secondary routes. Santa Fe was not immune in this regard.

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6 In the Land of the Longhorns

Don L. Hofsommer Indiana University Press ePub

WORK OPPORTUNITY AT PLAINVIEW, TEXAS, PREsented itself in 1973 and would result in a fourteen-year stay in the Lone Star State. Plainview, like Stillwater in Oklahoma, was Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF or Santa Fe) country, served, as it was, by a primary north–south line linking Amarillo and Lubbock, completed in 1907–10, and a stub southeastward to Floydada, twenty-seven miles, in 1910. Fort Worth & Denver (FTW&D or Denver) also occupied the territory in 1929 with an extension from its Amarillo–Fort Worth main at Estelline to Lubbock, with a spur to Plainview and on northwest to Dimmitt.

Still another aspirant in the region was Quanah, Acme & Pacific (QA&P or Quanah Route), which, in fits and starts (1903–1909), pushed a line of road west from Quanah to Paducah and finally to Floydada (1929). St. Louis–San Francisco’s (SLSF’s or Frisco’s) western reach from St. Louis and Kansas City through Tulsa and Oklahoma City stubbed at Quanah. Predictably, Frisco took an interest in and then took control of QA&P as a logical extension of its strategic aspirations. In time, and for several years, Frisco and Santa Fe teamed on long-distance, expedited traffic moving over the Floydada Gateway. Indeed, QLA and QSF were a couple of Frisco’s hottest freights; they were authorized forty-nine miles per hour across QA&P’s 110-mile route between Quanah and Floydada. But in 1973, Frisco and Santa Fe agreed to move their joint business up to the Avard Gateway in Oklahoma, and QA&P faced an uncertain future. Local business ebbed and flowed, but mostly ebbed. Abandonment was sought and permission gained, at least west of Paducah to Floydada, sixty-seven miles. The final run was made on May 5, 1981.

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3 In the Land of the Buffaloes

Don L. Hofsommer Indiana University Press ePub

THERE IS NO KNOWN ANTIDOTE FOR PERSONS exposed to the Colorado narrow-gauge-railroad virus. Personal infection dated from family trips in 1952 and 1954, categoric affliction came as the result of spending the summer of 1964 at Alamosa, relapse followed the next year, and flare-ups have occurred ever after. Indeed, once fully exposed, there is no cure, no salvation.

The earliest predecessor of Denver & Rio Grande Western, the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG), was given life by those who saw in it a powerful tool of urban economic imperialism that would make the aspiring city of Denver the commercial center of the whole mountain area and, indeed, the entire Southwest. Begun as a north–south venture hugging the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, D&RG’s promoters contemplated a strategic narrow-gauge route reaching all the way down from Denver to Santa Fe, El Paso, and finally to Mexico City. Three potential routes were studied:

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