Iowa Interstate QJs for Flood Relief

On August 14, 2008, Railroad Development Corporation and Iowa Interstate announced a weekend of steam operations as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army, as a way of thanking and supporting them for their relief efforts during the record-breaking summer floods of 2008. The railroad would run four sets of trips out of Rock Island, IL – two runs towards Walcott, IA, three runs towards Silvis, IL, a dinner train to Walcott and back, and a Sunday trip from Rock Island to Iowa City – with all proceeds going to charity. All costs – operations, food (in the case of the dinner train), and staff – were donated either by the railroad, their partners, the City of Rock Island, or individuals so that every dollar raised went straight to the Salvation Army.

Tuesday / Wednesday – October 14-15, 2008

While I was primarily making the trip home to photograph Iowa Interstate’s two QJ class 2-10-2s, I decided that with the coming of the dozen new ES44ACs, I should make an effort to photograph the railroad’s regular operations one more time while the trains were still primarily being handled by the old GP38-2s and SD38-2s. So, I took the entire week prior to the QJ events and spent as much time as possible chasing and photographing operations across the Rock Island to Newton segment of the system.

Tuesday was relatively calm. I slept in, and consequently only went as far west as Iowa City before meeting the east train (CBBI) coming past the old Rock Island depot. Both the east and west trains were into town by 1030h, so I just waited around for a while for the east train to head out towards Rock Island. Of note was that it was lead by 153, one of the SD38-2s. It used to be that the six axle EMDs held down the Cedar Rapids – Iowa City – Rock Island turns, and seldom wandered further. Now, with the GEs entering service, I found the 150s wandering the system on the regular through trains, such as this CBBI. By just before noon, 153 and crew had a warrant, and so after grabbing some lunch, I headed east after it.

I caught up with it just short of the Cedar River bridge, preparing to enter the work area on the western approach to the bridge. Maitenance of Way was still out lining the grade with heavy rip-rap, presumably in an effort to prevent severe erosion damage as was seen during this past summer’s flooding. There was no work train out, though, when I went by the first time.

Proceeding on into Wilton, the east train met the RIIC turn and a work train. The work train had been using 154 as power when it was dumping rock out on the west side of the bridge earlier in the day, and the turn was still swapping 154 out for 719 when the east train arrived. This was the first time I’d seen the SmartStart automatic shutdown actually work – the east train had to wait so long that both engines stopped. Rather eerie to be standing next to two huge diesels and have them just suddenly go quiet.

With the meet done, I decided to follow the turn back towards Iowa City, given that the sun had shifted over and all three SD38-2s on the front were running backwards. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the engineer trying to run that way, but it did make for an interesting sight. I caught them at Moscow and West Liberty, and then decided to head back for home as I was supposed to meet my aunt for dinner in Clinton in about two hours.

On the way back, I stopped to see Work Extra 719 near the Wendling Quarry. The work crew was loading rock into the six side dump cars with a backhoe and getting ready for another run up to the work site.

What follows is an abbreviated copy of the update I sent to the IAIS list to accompany the photos from Wednesday, 15-Oct-2008. Just thought I’d make a note of it, since it’s written in a short first person style that’s a little different from how I usually narrate trip reports.

I went west today, on the off chance the QJs started to move. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t budge. The good news is that by the second time I went by, both engines were hot and smoking. Maybe tomorrow? (Turns out the answer was Friday, 17-Oct-2008…)

I did run into the Menlo ethanol train (506/502) today just outside of Grinnell, and wound up chasing it all the way to its meet with the west train at Marengo. It was a tight fit – the ethanol train held the main, just barely clearing between the switches – and the huge west train ran past on the siding. Put it this way – by the time they re-entered the main at the west switch, the IAIS 506 crew estimated that there were still 35-40 cars yet before the end of the west train cleared the east switch.

As for why it was so big… By the point it got that far west, it had dropped the power set from the morning and picked up five EMDs – 717, 714, 702, 715, and 151. It had the regular freight (grain empties, intermodal, etc.) plus a huge string of ethanol empties, presumably headed out for loading at Menlo later in the week.

Given the clouds to the east and the blue skies to the west, I decided to follow the west train instead. Shot it once at the US 6 bridge between Ladora and Victor, then again at Malcom and a couple times west of Grinnell. I tried for the interlocking at Grinnell, but I’m not used to chasing this new, faster IAIS and got skunked in the process.

From I-80, I saw what I assume was the CR job at Tiffin at about 1815h. Looked like it had a 500 on the front, but didn’t turn around to chase it – too little light.

The final train for the day was around 1930h at Walcott, when 155 and 704 blasted through with a string of coal empties. For tomorrow, the DS told the coal empty that they’d probably tie down in the hole at Atkinson. So, for those of you out east, look for a second sub run tomorrow.

Thursday – October 16, 2008

What follows is an abbreviated copy of the update I sent to the IAIS list to accompany the photos from Thursday, 16-Oct-2008. Just thought I’d make a note of it, since it’s written in a short first person style that’s a little different from how I usually narrate trip reports.

Another fine Iowa day out there. I picked up the CBBI with 156/709/151 at Marengo, the crew having stopped to re-line the west switch (still reversed from yesterday’s meet). Chased it all the way into Iowa City, grabbed lunch, then caught 708/153/712/700 with the west train coming into town about 1300h. Not one GE to be found in the IC yard, and I can live with that. Just as happy to shoot the old power doing their thing, particularly the 150s roaming further from their old haunts.

Once 708 west was in the yard, 706 left (by itself) with a very short CBBI. The plan was for them to pick up 701 at the Wendling spur, and then meet the returning turn at North Star. That said, they made it as far as mp 214 when their warrant ran out, as 701 and the work train were still holding their warrant from 211 to 214. (Note: Yes, it was 719 put on the work train on Tuesday. It was swapped out for 701 Wednesday morning, being bad-ordered after reportedly trying to push through rip-rap and damaging the front handrails.)

Maintenance (of / in the) Way is still working on putting down rock along the repaired western approach to the Cedar River, using 701 and a couple of air dump cars, as well as some big Case gear. One of the air dumps had dropped a wheel or two off the rail, though, so everything was on hold.

After an hour or so, they got the air dump back on the rails and shoved into the clear. 706 east stopped to pick up 701 and then met 720/154 and the turn at North Star. From there, it was a chase back into Iowa City (and finally running into Andy after being here for five days) and then back to Walcott for dinner with the family.

Friday – October 17, 2008

Friday was finally the day. The day the two QJs made their way from their storage building in Newton over to the Iowa City yard. There they’d overnight and wait for the Saturday morning steam-powered freight into Rock Island.

Saturday – October 18, 2008

On August 14, 2008, Railroad Development Corporation and Iowa Interstate announced a weekend of steam operations as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army, as a way of thanking and supporting them for their relief efforts during the record-breaking summer floods of 2008. The railroad would run four sets of trips out of Rock Island, IL – two runs towards Walcott, IA, three runs towards Silvis, IL, a dinner train to Walcott and back, and a Sunday trip from Rock Island to Iowa City – with all proceeds going to charity. All costs – operations, food (in the case of the dinner train), and staff – were donated either by the railroad, their partners, the City of Rock Island, or individuals so that every dollar raised went straight to the Salvation Army.

In addition to the passenger trips, IAIS planned to run what was billed as a “record setting” amount of tonnage behind steam on Saturday morning. Well, record-setting for the 21st century at least, since much more tonnage was routinely handled before mainline dieselization. Since the railroad needed to get 6988 and 7081 from Iowa City to Rock Island anyway, they just attached what appeared to be the regular freight from ICRI (the Iowa City-Rock Island turn) on the back, totalling 62 cars and some 6950 tons. The weather was supposed to be beautiful for a chase, but Saturday broke with a dense fog overlying most of the route. Still, though, there were good spots where the sun broke through, such as West Liberty and Walcott, and by the time the freight reached Rock Island for the main events, the fog had all burned off.

Saturday afternoon consisted of five shorter runs: three from downtown Rock Island towards Silvis at 1200h, 1400h, and 1600h, and two towards Walcott at 1300h and 1500h. One steam engine, four passenger cars, and a GP38-2 (for the reverse move) were assigned to each. In addition, for those waiting on their train or just watching the activities, Iowa Interstate had IAIS 502 on display in the downtown yard. Looking at ticket sales before the event, the Walcott trips were selling reasonably well, but the Silvis trips looked to be struggling a bit. I don’t know how exactly it panned out, but those observations were mirrored by the number of people I saw on board.

On Saturday night, the railroad ran a dinner train consisting of IAIS 7081, BNSF 45 (Powder River), IAIS’s own 100 and 101 (Hawkeye and Abraham Lincoln), and IAIS 716 on the back for the shove from Walcott. (Note: 716 was likely following and not added until we started back from Walcott.) The chefs for the occasion were all either RRDC or IAIS employees, representing four different sites on the globe – Robert Pietrandrea, President of RRDC (Pittsburgh), Mick Burkhart, IAIS Chief Transportation Officer (Cedar Rapids), Hugo Avila from RRDC’s Ferrocarril Central Andino (Peru), and Joel Lopez of RRDC’s Ferrovías Guatemala. In addition, a wonderful selection of wines for the evening was provided by Dmitri Papageorgiou of Dmitri Wine & Spirits. If any of the chefs happen to see this, I want to both thank you for volunteering your time and talent, and commend you on what has to be the best charity dinner I’ve ever eaten.

Sunday – October 19, 2008

One final charity trip was made Sunday morning – the return run from Rock Island to Iowa City with both QJs on the front end, followed by the coaches, and bought up in back by IAIS’s pair of business cars. The train ran just a hair late, not clearing West Davenport until a bit after 0900h (scheduled departure was 0830h), and arrived in Iowa City at around 1115h, with the full fan contingent trailing behind.


All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 40D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM, Sigma 18-50mm, or a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS/USM.

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