The Fever of Building Railroads in America



As seen in the map below, the Narrow Gauge Railroad was an important portion of Iowa's Railroad building boom.
And a narrow gauge railroad would come north from Des Moines to reach Hamilton County.
You may click the map below to read a 1932 Palimpsest article about the Narrow Gauge Railroads in Iowa.

Click for another Narrow Gauge Page


In the next news article published in the September 5, 1938 Webster City Daily Freeman Journal,
mention is made of a person shouting,  She's a comin' !   She's a comin' !   (The Narrow Gauge railroad)


Most of the remaining text on this page is provided by an article (pages 57-62) published in the 
1999 Summer issue of Northwestern Lines.

       It is a long significant article because it deals with an attempt by a railroad company to construct a narrow gauge track heading north out of Des Moines.   Although it did finally reach Jewell Junction on its way north, this article documents the joys and struggles which started in Des Moines in 1870.   While this article may not satisfy the interest of every reader, we hope that determined or avid Jewell historians and true railroad buffs will enjoy learning about this episode in the history of Jewell Junction.

     While three maps are included to supplement the text of this article, they may seem to be in reverse order because they are placed chronologically and the railroad was building towards the north.   In that way, the map showing Des Moines appears before the map showing the rest of Polk County and the map showing Story County.
 

The Des Moines & Minnesota Railroad Company

The North Western's Narrow Gauge Connection
By Ron Sims


     The Des Moines and Minnesota was formed in November 1870, and was responsible for the construction and operation of 37 miles of 3 foot narrow gauge track connection Iowa's Capital City with the Chicago & North Western Railway at Ames Station and an additional 21 miles north of Ames Station to Lakin, later named Callanan.   This 1870 date, however, was not the actual beginning of this railroad.   In order to go back to the very beginning of this project we would have had to be present at a public meeting called for 7P.M. Friday evening on January 7, 1866, at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, "for all persons interested in the construction of a railroad from Des Moines to the North State Line in the direction of St. Paul."

     Six days later a second meeting was held to form a committee to draft the articles of incorporation for the new railroad, and it would not be until February 8, 1866, that the public would learn the new name of this proposed railroad: The Iowa and Minnesota Railroad Company.   Incorporation records were filed with the State of Iowa effective April 12, 1866.

     The Iowa and Minnesota proposed to build from Des Moines to a connection with the Chicago & North Western before the following winter.   This was in an era when businessmen did not plan to fully bankroll railroad projects, nor were they expected to take on the full burden of construction, by the public, after all they were construction the railroad for the good of the public, increase land values and to promote growth of the cities and towns through whence their benefit as much as, and possible more, they were told, than the owners in each township along the route vote to tax themselves to aid in these railroads projects.

     During other meetings held through the year all along the proposed route politicians from local and state governments along with thier best to convince the public to support the project through stock purchases and tax aid.   It was said that Polk County, alone, needed to supply $46,000 towards construction costs.   The general consensus seemed to be that the Des Moines residents were less willing to help the railroad than those residing in more rural areas.

     The  Iowa and Minnesota was to be only one link in a grand plan to link St. Paul, Minnesota with Galveston, Texas through the heart of America.   T.D. Coates, a promoter for the Galveston and Kansas City Railroad, told the public that their line now extended 120 miles north from the Gulf of Mexico.   It was also claimed that the entire right of way, of the Minnesota Central Railroad, was graded from St. Paul to the Iowa State line.

     By the end of March, 1866, the company announced that not only would they build north to a Chicago & North Western connection, but probably extend south from Des Moines 20 miles to Indianola.   On April 7, 1866, Iowa and Minnesota Chief Engineer, J. R. Bausman, a Des Moines resident, announced he had completed the first survey to the north.   It connected Des Moines with the North Western at the location of Ames Station, but in the process bypassed the only town near the survey survey route, Polk City, by 3 and one half miles.

     The next survey route followed a more easterly line from Des Moines through Cambridge to Nevada.   One additional survey would be run before the final decision would be made as to which way the rails would head.   A second survey was made between Ames and Des Moines, this time the people living in the village of Polk City would find the survey crew in their neck of the woods plotting a course.   It is quite certain Polk City residents woud not vote to tax themselves for the construction of a railroad that would miss them by several miles! 

     The decision to build the State Agricultural College at Ames Station may have been the deciding factor, along with fewer miles to construct, to choose the Ames Station over Nevada.   By mid July 1866, the Iowa and Minnesota executive committee was instructed to let the grading contract immediately for the section running from Ames Station south to Polk City.  At this same time construction crews building the Des Moines Valley Railroad from Keokuk to Des Moines were racing towards Iowa's Capitol City wherre they would arrive on August 29, 1866, to be the first railroad to Des Moines.   Late in July right of way agent B. F. Roberts had been successful in obtaining all the right of way from Ames Station to the Polk County like and the Cedar Rapids & Missouri River Railroad (Chicago & North Western) had donated land for station grounds at Ames Station.   A contract covering grading, bridging and piling work was awarded to Collier & Roberts (Roberts was Iowa & Minnesota right of way agent) and covered the entire route from Ames Station to Indianola.   Work was to have been completed in one year. 

     The first ground breaking on the Iowa & Minnesota occurred on August 14, 1866, at a location one and one quarter mile from the village of Polk City: Iowa & Minnesota right of way Agent Roberts made a speech telling the crowd of all the great things to come with the completion of the railroad.   Roberts turned over the first spade of dirt, followed by several of the company's directors.

      On September 4, 1866, it was noted that sub-contractors had completed considerable grading for Collier & Roberts south of Ames Station.   The preliminary survey from Indianola to Des Moines, via Carlisle, had also been completed.   Plans called for the line to run down Plug Run from Indianola to a Middle River crossing just about Gilman's Mill.   The rest of the route to Des Moines would be across level terrain following the Middle and Des Moines Rivers' valleys.   Ground breaking occured at Indianola on September 20, 1866.

      At the first annual meeting, January 11, 1868, Iowa & Minnesota stockholders were painting a very bright picture of the future.   The railroad could be built for something less that $20,000 per mile, and so far just over $13,000 had been spent on grading work.   The director said the estimated cost of grading and bridging the entire line would be less than $200,000 and investors culd expect a 7 per cent return on their money.

     With work suspended for the winter season, it would restart with grading at Indianola and Polk City in May 1867.   Sub-contractors Mullane & Mahoney were working at the Polk City site while crews of Prentiss & Smith were moving dirt south of Des Moines.   Marcus Kavanagh, a noted Des Moines contractor, was grading in the Squaw Creek bottoms near Ames Station.

     A newspaper article in the Daily Iowa State Register dated August 10, 1867, tells of the progress of the work on the Iowa & Minnesota.   Five miles are completed south of Ames Station and all the heavy cuts done between Ames Station and Des Moines.   The rest of the grading will require about 10 weeks.   When this point is reached, all work will stop unless Des Moines citizens vote to support the project with tax dollars.   If $50,000 can be raised by Polk County residents for the Iowa & Minnesota, the railroad could be completed by Januray 1, 1868.

     The first Rock Island locomotive enters Des Moines on a construction train September 1, 1867, just two days after Iowa & Minnesota grading commences south from Des Moines towards Indianola.

     Early November 1867 saw two thirds of the route between Indianola and Des Moines completely graded and optimistically claimed rail laying would be started in two months.   In December 1867, a survey was in the progress of being run from Ames to the Minnesota State line.

     Old Man Winter halted work once again and the first noted work of the new season did not get underway until the following June.   This consisted of trying to complete the balance of the route between Des Moines and Indianola.   At this same time residents of Des Moines were being asked to vote taxes to aid the expansion of the Des Moines Valley Railroad towards Ft. Dodge as well as work on the Iowa & Minnesota.

     September 2, 1868, Iowa & Minnesota contracted to Smithward & Company to furnish all materials to finish the road except for spikes, iron (rails) and chairs (tie plates).   In addition, they claimed that the grading work from Des Moines to Polk City would be started.   By October 22nd the company claimed to have six miles completed south from Ames and ties contracted for the line from Ames to a point south of Polk City.  (By this time the City of Ames had been incorporated and it was no longer referred to as Ames Station.)

     At the end of October, it was claimed only eight miles were left to grade and the entire line from Des Moines to Indianola would be completed.   January 21, 1869 saw 18 miles graded Ames to Polk City and partly bridged with a few ties scattered on the ground.   Fourteen miles remained to be completed to reach Des Moines.   The 13 miles south of Des Moines were done, leaving only 7 more miles to grade.   The contract was about to be let for construction of the bridge spanning the Des Moines River, just southeast of Des Moines, and company officers were ready to head east to sell bonds and purchase steel rails.   The newspaper editor admonishes Des Moines to help out with tax money they urgently need.

     The trip east must have been successful because on February 21, 1869, it was announced the Chicago & North Western had agreed to purchase the Iowa & Minnesota bonds.   It is understandable that the Chicago & North Western would be interested in only the Ames to Des Moines section, so it was not surprising that on July 17, 1869, the Chicago & North Western offered to lay rails on the Des Moines to Indianola section once the grading was completed.   No doubt the Rock Island had plans to utilize this line as part of the Des Moines, Indianola & Missouri Railroad.

     On August 22, 1869, the Iowa & Minnesota was sold to John Jack for the small sum of $1,400 from Des Moines to the north edge of Pok County.   Very little grading had been done on this section, except for a short portion of the right of way just to the southeast of Polk City.   The survey covering the balance of the line to Des Moines had only been completed in July of that year.

     A new survey for the Des Moines, Indianola & Missouri Railroad is run south of the Raccoon River, in the bluffs, to avoid river flooding.   This new route will no doubt enable it to connect up with the existing Iowa & Minnesota grade southeast of Des Moines.

     On November 16, 1869, J. S. Polk and F. M. Hubbell of Des Moines purchased the Iowa and Minesota Railroad franchise for the sum of $1,000.   This covered only the portion from the Polk/Story County line to Ames.   Polk and Hubbell along with B. F. Allen, J. B. Steart, J. M. Walker, and A. S. Welch formed the Des Moines & Minnesota Railroad Company on November 16, 1870.   A newspaper article stated that the Des Moines 7 Minnesota had purchased all the roadbed of the old Iowa & Minnesota Railroad and soon as the public would vote taxes to complete the roadbed, they were ready to lay rails.

     Two things come clear by this time.   Number one was that for some unknown reason the Chicago & North Western did not purchase the bonds of the Iowa & Minnesota as had previously been reported, or they would have gained control at this point.   Second, the new management for reasons unknown, decided to concentrate on completing the line between Des Moines and Ames and forget about the southern extension to Indianola.   More than likely, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad through the Des Moines, Indianola & Missouri was more than happy to take over this section of the line, saving them many dollars in construction costs.

     In the August 13, 1870, issue of the local Des Moines newspaper, B. F. Allen is stated to have offered to build the Iowa & Minnesota from Des Moines to Ames, if the citizens of Ames would give them some money.   Since Ames residents had contributed so readily to the cause back in 1866, Allen must have thought they would be willing to help out once again to get the line finished and trains running.   Also take note that the newspaper editor was referring to the company by the old name.   By this time it had been reformed as the Des Moines & Minnesota.

     By October 8, 1870, Madison Township (Polk City area) voted for the Iowa & Minnesota Tax and since the line was already graded from Polk City to Ames, these funds would be used to extend the grade toward Des Moines.   On October 18, 1870, it was announced that B. F. Allen had taken a contract to complete the grading and lay track on the Des Moines, Indianola & Missouri Railroad.   Allen was a principal in the new Des Moines & Minnesota, and his involvement with the Des Moines Indianola & Minnesota only serves to prove to the author that this was one way to dispose of the old Iowa & Minnesota grade south of Des Moines to Indianola to a new company and concentrate on building the Des Moines & Minnesota northward from Iowa's Capital City.   This new grading work was subcontracted to Marcus Kavanagh, the well known Des Moines contractor who had done much railroad work.   Kavanagh's work consisted of a short section of abnout 1 or 2 miles running north from the Warren/Polk County line.   Other contracts covered bridging and piling work.   Some ties had already been distributed along the right of way and the Rock Island stated that they had the rails ready to lay.   We are able to deduce by November of 1870, the new Des Moines & Minnesota had disposed of their ownership of the old Iowa & Minnesota between Des Moines and Indianola to the Des Moines, Indianola & Missouri Railroad.

     The Des Moines & Minnesota appears to have lain dormant from October 1870 until December of 1871, when it was announced that engineer James Carss had just completed a new survey from Des Moines to Polk City which was referred to as "The Prairie Route".  This new route was better than the old Iowa & Minnesota surveyed "River Route" which closed followed the floor of the Des Moines River valley from Des Moines to Polk City.

     Nothing more is heard from the Des Moines & Minnesota until June 23, 1873.   This is quite likely due to the primary postwar depression that lasted from the late 1860s until about 1871, drying up capital for many projects, including railroads.   It was stated at that time five miles of right of way had been acquired for the narrow gauge and Frank Pelton, the Des Moines City Engineer, would commence a survey the following day.   This is the first time that the gauge of the new railroad is mentioned.   It is presumed prior to this time the road was planned as a standard gauge project.   1875 fell during a time when "Narrow Gauge" fever was sweeping the nation and Iowa had caught a good case of it.   In Iowa many 3 foot gauge lines were proposed and many actually constructed, several starting or ending at Des Moines and the Des Moines & Minnesota would be the first placed into service at Des Moines.

     On July 18, 1873, the Des Moines & Minnesota stated they were ready to grade a 12 mile section between Polk City and Des Moines and if the Des Moines City Council would agree to grade less than a mile of city street 12 feet wide, running from Market Street to the north corporate line along what would then become East 4th Street, it would leave the road only a short five miles left to grade and the entire route would be completed.   They estimated the cost to the City of Des Moines would be less than $10,000 and warned that if it were not done the railroad project would be abandoned.   (The Des Moines & Minnesota planned to lay track on East 4th Street.)   Later in the month, the Des Moines & Minnesota said the first station out of Des Moines would be located at the Poor Farm (Saylor) and the next stop the established village of Polk City.

     At the September 10, 1873 Des Moines & Minnesota stockholders meeting, they agreed to subscribe to $60,000 in stock to complete the road.   Obviously the management held little hope that tax money would be voted anytime soon to help with construction work and took the matter into their own hands in order to get grading work completed.   An office had been established at 318 Smith Street on Des Moines east side and at that office bids were received on September 13th for grading work and ties.

     The City of Des Moines, most likely through pressure from the key men in the Des Moines & Minnesota started grading work on East 4th Street on September 19, 1873.   Railroad Superintentendent Day announced their grading work would commence on September 22 and four days later it was reported 52 teams were at work completing the work along East 4th Street.

     By the end of September things were in high gear with the grading progressing and the balance of the right of way secured.   Even the iron (rails) had been ordered.   On October 10, 1873, the first two miles of grade had been completed and a contract for an additional eight miles had been let.   150 men and 30 teams were engaged on the project.   This time it really looked as if the narrow gauge would actually be completed, at least to Ames and the Chicago & North Western connection.   At this same time in history, the old Des Moines Valley Railroad, Des Moines first rail link with the outside world, was sold to the bondholders in New York, and would be divided up into the Keokuk & Des Moines and the Des Moines & Fort Dodge railroads.

      In early November 1873, 10 miles of grading was done and 300 ties delivered.   Additional funds were necessary in order to lay track and equip the Des Moines & Minnesota, so on November 20, 1873, $200,000 of 1st mortgage bonds were issued @ 10 per cent interest.   December 1st saw 3 carloads of rail arrive and on December 3rd, grand plans were announced for the driving of the first spike.   The newspaper editor noted that the current financial panic (the 1873-1878 second post war depression) was not going to stop this railroad.

     At the end of December 1873, the Des Moines City Council passed an ordinance that would have the City and the Des Moines & Minnesota split the cost of grading East 4th Street.   The Railroad Company with its own means had, by this date, graded and bridged a total of 10 miles, all completed by August 1873.
 

     Monday, January 12, 1874 dawned as a cold and cloudy winter morning in Des Moines.   Today would be a special day in the history of railroading for Des Moines.   The first rail would be laid on the new narrow gauge line to Ames.   A procession, formed at the Jones House, (East 4th and Locust) that included the Governor of Iowa, Des Moines & Minnesota Superintendent Day, Des Moines Mayor Turner and other noted officials and stockholders.   Escorted by the Olmsted Zouaves and a brass band, they arrived at the site of the rail laying, described were East 4th Street crosses the Rock Island Railroad, to find that Supt. Day already had placed several lengths of rail ready to be spiked down.   Governor Merrill, Col L. Q. Hoggatt of Story County, made speeches along with remarks by Senator Larrabee.    Governor Carpenter, a fast friend of the railroad, presented the main address.   The main theme of the speeches was that the new railroad would be cheap.   Cheaper to build, operated, and cheaper for the citizens of Iowa to use.   They also urged the citizens of Des Moines to aid in this project.   When the speech making ended, the Capital City Brass Band played "Hail Columbia" and Gov. Carpenter planted the first two blows.   The President of the Des Moines & Minnesota, Gov. Merrill, started swinging, but his spike got twisted.   About this same time, a pair of Rock Island Railroad locomotives arrived on the scene and gave out with some hearty and long whistles of congratulations, just as the sun broke through the clouds, ending the ceremonies.

     Track laying was to continue through the winter, except when the weather prevented, and the company hoped to take the northern members of the Iowa Legislature to a connection with the Chicago & North Western at Ames at the time of their adjournment next spring.

      Des Moines & Minnesota's first piece of rolling stock was a push car built in Des Moines by the Eagle Iron Works.   This appears to have been the sum total of construction equipment used for the early track laying.   By mid January temperatures as low as 15 degrees below zero were common, slowing track laying.

     As the end of January, the railroad asked the City of Ames for free depot grounds and $10,000 in cash.   The Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad's offer of free station grounds to the Iowa & Minnesota at Ames evidently did not carry over to the Des Moines & Minnesota.   It was estimated to cost only $1,000 to get the old right of way between Ames and Polk City, ready to lay track, noting that the Iowa & Minnesota built bridges were still in good condition.

     The last day of Januray 1874 saw the first true rolling stock arrive at Des Moines, consisting of two new flat cars, 26' long and 7 and one half feet wide sporting 24" trucks.   It would not be until February 6th before they were actually unloaded off the standard gauge flats that carried them to Des Moines from Cincinnati and placed on the narrow gauge rails.   What was the hurry?  They had no locomotive with which to use them!

     By mid-February, 1874, rapid progress was being made.   The last 7 miles of grading was being finished up south of Polk City, all of the ties contracted for, with many already delivered, and a locomotive was finally on order.   Four miles of track was completed north from Des Moines and it was being laid at the rate of 1,000 feet per day.   The railroad was also finished up track work between Vine and Court Streets at Des Moines in preparation for the arrival of the new locomotive.   The best news was that $5,000 worth of the $200,000 1st mortgage bonds, authorized back in November 1873, had been sold.

     Des Moines and Minnesota announced on March 18, 1874, their construction costs, so far, had been less than original estimates.   They claimed cost per mile was $7,000 and equipped at $9,000.   The break down per mile as follows: Grading $5000, ties $600, 30 pound rails and spikes $4,000, splice bars $200, engineering $200, right of way $2000, and station buildings, water tanks, etc. another $600.   This made the total actually $6,3000 per mile.

     March 26, 1874, the first Des Moines & Minnesota locomotive arrived in Des Moines via the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.   The following day it was unloaded, and the next steamed up.   The "Granger", as it was named, had been built by National Locomotive Works of Connellville, Pa., was a 0-6-0 with 36" drivers, 11x16 cylinders and had a tender holding 550 gallons of water and one and one half tons of coal.   With a weight of 15 tons it had cost the railroad $7,500.   To supply water for the locomotive, a city water hydrant was installed at East Locust Street.

     The local newpaper editor, in a typical April Fools Day joke, printed that the Des Moines & Minnesota would place at the disposal of the public all their passenger cars for a free excursion to the end of the line.   The train would leave from East 4th and Locust at 10 A.M. sharp.   Many potential riders arrived at the enginehouse bright and early that morning and after waiting an hour or so decided it prudent to look for the missing coaches.   It was soon discovered the railroad did not own any passenger cars and only then was it recalled the date was April 1st!

This next image is a portion of the 1875 Andreas Atlas Map showing
the Des Moines, Indianola & Missouri Railroad narrow gauge railroad coming to Des Moines
from the south, joining with the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad line until Fourth Steet
where it turned north to head towards Polk City and Ames as the Des Moines & Minnesota Railroad.

Click for Full Map
(Click on this 1875 narrow gauge railroad portion of Des Moines to see the large map showing the entire city.)

     April 4, 1874, was set for the first test trip for the Granger.   The Board of Directors and stockholders gathered, but for some unrecorded reason, the trip was not made until April 7th.   It was said the Granger took two carloads of rail and one carload of directors.   Since it had been reported the railroad only had two flat cars, it is possible that the directors rode abourd the handcar tied to the rear of the little train.   The locomotive operated successfully, even up and down the steep grade called Haast Cut, which was traversed in leaving the Des Moines River Valley floor to attain the high prairie land.

     A more formal public excursion was scheduled for April 10, 1874.   Leaving the enginehouse on East 4th Street, with two carloads of excursionists, the train was stopped on the big hill, due to a pair of ladies walking on the tracks.   The Granger had no problem starting back up on the grade and continued to the end of the track at a point 2 and one half miles from Des Moines.

     An interesting fact was discovered as to the coaling of the Granger.   This action took place at a point 2 miles north of Locust Street at Peterson's Bank, a slope coal mine, located only 30 feet from the railroad right of way.  The locomotive consumed 1 ton of coal per day operating at the rate of 15 M.P.H.   The locomotive's engineer Ben Rees, an ex Rock Island man, said he was of the opinion it would only take 1 and one half tons of coal to run all the way to Ames.

     By the first of May, 1874, track had been copleted to the Poor Farm (Saylor), 70 tons of rails had just been received and the narrow gauge decided to build a spur track a couple blocks to the Rock Island depot in East Des Moines in order to make the transfer of the rail easier.
On May 19, 1874, Dr. Ankeny a director of the Des Moines & Minneapolis, started east to place orders for a locomotive, coach, mail & Express, and baggage cars.   There were now nine freight cars, flats and boxes in service supplying material to the tracklayers.   Regular freight service was also being conducted along the route as the rails were being laid.  One man was shipping hard wood lumber to Omaha via the Des Moines & Minnesota and a local farmer was moving oats to Des Moines for trans-shipment into Rock Island boxcars for Chicago.   The construction train provided this service to the public.

     The track was completed to Polk City on June 4, 1874, and on June 9th an excursion for local politicians was operated into Polk City.   Starting 6/27/74 regular train service was commenced.  (A second hand passenger locomotive, baggage car and a coach had been received).   Des Moines to the end of track north of Polk City.   Numbers 1 and 2 would run northbound while numbers 3 and 4 would be their pounterparts.

     Construction crews were making good time in spite of the heavy rains which fell during June, awith their associated washouts, and by July 1, 1874, trains were running to a point 9 miles south of Ames.   It is interesting to note that stagecoaches connected the end of the track to the Chicago & North Western trains at Ames, allowing passengers somewhat of a smooth transition between the two railroads.   Two days later rails reached the Squaw Creek Bridge and the Des Moines & Minnesota commenced train operations by regular published timetable schedule.

     Ames is finally reached on July 27, 1874, and a special excursion operated over the completed route on July 29, 1874.   600 citizens boarded the special at Des Moines and the little "pony engine" pulled out at 8 A.M.   The seven carloads of passengers were met at Ames about 10:30 A. M. by a throng of well wishers estimated to be 1,000 strong.   A band played, a cannon boomed and the crowd marched 1/2 mile to a large grove.   Here dinner was served, followed by the usual speeches.   At 3 o'clock good-byes were said, and the train headed back to Des Moines.

     Business swamped the Des Moines & Minnesota from the start, far beyond all projections, and they simply did not have enough equiopment for the passenger or freight business.   The excursion business was especially good and many a rider was accommodated on flat cars equipped with side railing.   It was noted on September 1, the regular passenger train carried several boxcars, in addition to the coaches, to accommodate all the ticket holders.

     Early September 1874 saw turntables in place at Ames and Des Moines, side tracks built at all the stations along the line and a roundhouse under construction at Des Moines.   The depot buildings at Polk City and Ames were completed but work continued on the Des Moines facility.

     So popular was the narrow gauge, a delegation of Boone citizens contacte the railroad officials asking for a branch line from Polk City.   The Des Moines & Minnesota must have been interested because on September 19, 1874, it was announced a survey would commence the following week.

     A big snowstorm on January 9, 1875, completely halted all operations: even the recently constructed snowplow was no match for Mother Nature.   The 25 degree below zero temperatures even froce up the locomotive air pumps.   The locomotive Granger blew up near Ames while plowing snow, but damage could not have been very great.   It was back in service the following week.

This portion of the 1875 Andreas Atlas Map shows
the Des Moines & Minnesota narrow gauge railroad completed through Polk County.

Click for Full Map
(Click on this 1875 narrow gauge railroad portion to see the whole map showing all of Polk County.)

      On the morning of April 7, 1875, a coupling pin bounced out and left the passenger train standing on the prairie near the Poor Farm.   The rest of the train was nearly to Des Moines before the loss was discovered.

      The Des Moines & Minnesota kept adding rolling stock and motive power as fast as possible, with five locomotives in service by the summer of 1875.   These were named the Granger, F. R. West, Diamond Joe, James Callanan and the J. J. Stewart.

Express service was inaugurated in December, 1875, that consisted of a round trip leaving Des Moines at 10:30 P.M. connecting with both east and west bound Chicago & North Western trains at Ames.

     In the winter of 1875/1876, the narrow gauge decided that the locomotive Granger, demoted to switcher status, was just too small.   It was traded to Grant Locomotive Works on a new larger engine which was placed in service in early April 1876.   Shop facilities were such that a combine car was built in Des Moines for a cost of $509 less than to purchase it from a builder in the east.

     The first reported accident of any consequence was the derailment of the snowplow on December 9, 1876, near the State Agricultural College near Ames.

This portion of the 1875 Andreas Atlas Map shows
the Des Moines & Minnesota narrow gauge railroad completed to Ames.

Notice that in 1875 there was no Gilbert Station because the Des Moines & Minnesota narrow gauge had not yet headed north from Ames.
Iowa State University was then known as State Agriculural College & Farm.

Click for entire map
(Click on this 1875 narrow gauge railroad portion to see the whole map showing all of Story County.)

     In the spring of 1877, there was talk of extending the Des Moines & Minnesota northward from Ames toward the Minnesota State line.   There was talk of a branch line running from the proposed main line at Williams, that would served Eagle Grove and Humboldt.   Three different townships along the proposed route already had voted the railroad a 5 percent tax, but the citizens of Webster City voted no.

     The Des Moines & Minnesota were one of the few railroads in Iowa that paid interest on its bonds and at the same time carried a surplus fund.   It demonstrated that narrow gauge lines could be a paying proposition.

     July 31, 1877, the Des Moines & Minnesota was reorganized as the Des Moines & Minneapolis Railroad Company, no doubt, to be able to sell the new bonds required to cover the cost of the proposed extension to Minnesota and a Twin Cities connection.   On August 8, 1877, Superintendent Smart went east to sell these new bonds.   He must have been fairly successful in his bid to find willing purchasers, for it was said on October 19, 1877, rails and ties for a 22 mile section towards Webster City were on order.   It was also noted that 9 miles were already graded and waiting for those rails and ties to arrive October 26th saw the rail laying commence.

Click for newer bridge
Narrow Gauge wood trestle bridge over Keigley Creek (about 1880) between Gilbert Station and Story City
(Click to see the standard gauge rail bridge which replaced this trestle mid 1882.)

     A December 7, 1877 construction report by Locating Engineer E E. Moor said 22 miles of right of way were graded and tied.   With the rail laying crew moving at the rate of one mile per day, construction trains reached Story City on December 29, 1877.

     By Janary 30, 1878, tracklayers had completed their work to Callanan and passenger trains were calling at the terminus in early March 1878.

     In April 1878, it was stated the Des Moines & Minneapolis plans called for construction to Humboldt to be completed that year.   (In late 1877, the railroad had claimed to have over six miles graded on this line.)

     The costly and time consuming job of trans-loading freight between narrow and standard gauge freight cars prompted a study, completed in June, 1878, by the Des Moines & Minneapolis whereby the idea of switching trucks from under the standard gauge cars to narrow gauge would allow them to move this business much quicker and at a lower cost.   Nothing more of this idea was ever seen... switching the track gauge solved the problem in 1880.

     The July 1878 vote by Webster City citizens reversed an earlier feeling and gave the Des Moines & Minneapolis $34,000 in tax money to build the line north from the present end of track at Callanan.   This money must have had some effect of the railroad officials because President Callanan went east in August to purchase rail for Webster City extension.

    October 1878, the Des Moines & Minneapolis was considering the construction of a by-pass line to avoid the steep grades into and out of Polk City.   This would allow the operation of longer and heavier trains with the same motive power and at the same time shorten the route by two miles.   Needless to say, Polk City residents were not happy at all with the prospect of ending up at the end of a branch line, after having subscribed to taxes to aid the original construction of the line through the town.   The narrow gauge company did a preliminary survey, but it would take Chicago & North Western control of the Des Moines & Minneapolis before this work would actualy be completed.

     July 1, 1879, the Des Moines & Minneapolis defaulted in the interest payment on its bonds, amounting to $178,000, held by John Blair and John Alley, large stockholders in the Chicago & North Western.   The Des Moines & Minneapolis was not able to pay the interest and control of the road passed into the hands of the Chicago & North Western August 1, 1879, first by lease and then by outright purchase on May 31, 1880.

     On July 11, 1880, the first standard gauge Chicago & North Western train operated from Ames to Des Moines over the former narrow gauge.   Included in this project was the new line relocated that now left Polk City at the end of a two-miles long branch line.
 

Click for a full view
Click for a fuller view of this 1883 map.

      Not until May 28, 1882, would the narrow gauge track north of Ames be converted to standard gauge and connected with the Chicago & North Western at Jewell Junction, ending forever Des Moines first narrow gauge railroad.
 


Back to Page 1 of Jewell as a Railroad Town.