The Georgetown Loop

Looking down the canyon towards Georgetown, you can see the massive Devil’s Gate High Bridge far below

The Georgetown, Breckenridge, and Leadville Railway, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, completed the Georgetown Loop Railroad in 1884. Built as a 3-foot narrow gauge, its main objective was to haul silver out from the mines in Silver Plume. Due to the rugged and narrow confines of the Clear Creek canyon, the line wound 4 ½ miles from Georgetown to Silver Plume, a straight-line distance of only 2 miles. This portion of the line gains more than 600 feet in elevation with horseshoe turns, grades approaching 4%, and 4 bridges across Clear Creek. It also includes the massive 95-foot high Devils Gate Bridge that loops the line over itself. Later in 1893, the line became part of the Colorado and Southern railroad system. Due to its unique construction and beautiful vistas, the Georgetown Loop has been popular with tourists since its beginning. The line was dismantled in 1939 due to declining revenue from the mines, but thankfully, was re-built in the 1980’s. Read more

The Kate Shelley Story
 Part Two

On a stormy summer night in 1881, 17-year old Kate Shelley crawled across the Des Moines river bridge in the dark to warn the approaching Midnight Express of the collapse of the Honey Creek bridge. She became a legend. This is part two of her story. Part One is here.
Building the High Bridge, 1900 (Chicago & North Western Historical Society Photo)

A New Mainline

Some 18 years after the dramatic events of July 6th, 1881, the Chicago & North Western Railway began construction on a new high tech mainline located several miles north of the Shelley Homestead, near Moingona, Iowa. This new cutoff was part of a multi-year project to rebuild the highly important mainline between Council Bluffs and Chicago. Construction of the portion through the Boone area began in 1898, and work on a new viaduct over the Des Moines River began in 1899.

Likely the first train on the bridge, 1901 (Chicago & North Western Historical Society Photo)

In early 1901, the new cutoff opened to traffic. The highlight was a half mile long, 185-foot-high viaduct over the Des Moines River. Originally referred to as the Boone Viaduct, it gradually became known as the Kate Shelley High Bridge, as a tribute to the young girl who saved the Midnight Express in Moingona. The viaduct was engineered by famed engineer George S. Morrison, and was one of his final projects. Both American Bridge Company and Union Bridge Company supplied the structural components for the bridge. At 2,685 feet long; it is still regarded as one of the largest double track railroad bridges in the world. Soon after the new line was opened, the Moingona line was downgraded to a branch line.

Newly Completed Bridge, Ca. 1902 (Chicago & North Western Historical Society Photo)

Despite the constant attempts by the railway to hire her, Kate oftentimes had other jobs; working at the Iowa State House as menial labor, or as a school teacher in the area. However, Kate finally took the job of station agent in Moingona. She remained unmarried through her life, despite the interest of coworkers in the area. Her mother died in 1909, and she stayed with her brother, John, who also worked for the railroad. In 1910, Kate’s health began to fail. She had some brief stints in hospitals, before returning to Boone County, where, in September of 1912, she succumbed to Bright’s disease.

Moingona Bridge Ruins, March 2013 (John Marvig Photo)

In 1930, the Moingona line was removed in preference of the Chicago & North Western route north of the area. All traces of the line were removed, including the Honey Creek Bridge that had collapsed and set in motion the events of that night in 1881, and the Des Moines River bridge that Kate Shelley crawled across in the dark to save the Midnight Express. The remaining artifacts included the 1901 depot, which replaced the original structure that burned the same year, a stone arch in Moingona over Mill Creek, and several miles of railroad grade.

Mill Creek Stone Arch near Moingona Depot, Built 1881, March 2013 (John Marvig Photo)

Over the years, Kate Shelley became a legend in the area. The Chicago & North Western designated a train from Chicago to Omaha as the Kate Shelley 400. The name was created in 1955, and removed from service in 1971. Boone County created a museum at the Moingona station, called the Kate Shelley Railroad Museum. The portions of the rail bed around Honey Creek and the Des Moines River are footpaths for those seeking to follow in the foot-steps of Kate’s heroic run in 1881. The Boone Viaduct, while never officially renamed the Kate Shelley High Bridge, still stands and can be visited very easily. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In addition, a number of documents pertaining to Kate and her family are in a special collection at the Iowa State University Parks Library.

The Kate Shelley High Bridge

Kate Shelley High Bridges, July 2012 (John Marvig Photo)

In 2006, after 105 years of use, a project began to replace the High Bridge near Boone. Chicago & North Western was purchased by Union Pacific in 1995 and the Union Pacific continued to use the line to full capacity. The new bridge opened in 2009. At 190 feet high and 2,813 feet long; it is larger than the old structure. This bridge was officially christened as the New Kate Shelley High Bridge. In 2016, the old structure is closed to trains, while the new concrete and steel structure carries the traffic. Side by side, the two bridges create one of the most impressive spectacles in Iowa.

Kate Shelley High Bridges, July 2012 (John Marvig Photo)


While Kate passed away over 100 years ago, her legend and story is one of the most inspirational and common stories passed to children in Iowa. At college in Ames, Iowa; I was hard pressed to find a student who grew up in Iowa not knowing the story of Kate Shelley. The two high bridges off Juneberry Road between Boone and Ogden attract tourists, rail fans and history buffs alike. While the new bridge oftentimes serves over 100 trains a day, the old bridge has been closed since 2009. It is hoped that it can someday become part of a memorial walkway. One would find it very difficult to visit Central Iowa without at least a glimpse of the legend of Kate Shelley.

John MarvigPhotographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of John’s work at John Marvig’s Railroad Bridge Photography

The Kate Shelley Story

Kate Shelley – Photo Courtesy of the Boone County Historical Society


On a crisp July afternoon in 2012, I stood on the dried up banks of the Des Moines River near Boone, Iowa, watching a train fly overhead on the Union Pacific’s famed Kate Shelley High Bridge.  The train was traveling on a portion of the Overland Route, a highly trafficked rail route from Chicago to San Francisco.  The massive structure the train crossed stands nearly 190 feet above the river valley, and is a half-mile long.  While this certainly was a breathtaking scene for a 14-year-old bridge-hunter from Minnesota, it cannot compare to the story of the young woman for whom the bridge is named.  Upon starting Civil Engineering School at Iowa State University in August of 2016, I began to understand the true impact this legendary heroine had on generations of Iowa residents.

A Railroad Family

Katherine Carroll “Kate” Shelley was born in Ireland in December of 1863 to Michael and Margaret Shelley.  With four additional children the family immigrated to the United States when Kate was one year old.  At first, they lived near Freeport, Illinois,  but later moved to Boone County, Iowa.  The family settled on a large tract of land, which was unsuitable for farming, but the land was near the Chicago & North Western Railway mainline between Chicago and Council Bluffs, near Moingona. Michael took a job as a section foreman for the Chicago & North Western. Their land overlooked the Honey Creek Bridge.

When Kate was 12, sudden tragedy struck the family.  Her father was killed in a railroad accident shortly after her brother drowned.  Kate was suddenly thrust into control of the household, as her mother’s health declined.

The Beginning of a Legend

On the 6th of July in 1881, a particularly muggy and sunny day led to a series of heavy thunderstorms that came rolling out of the west in the evening.  Honey Creek was already running very high from previous storms, and the heavy rains of this night would increase the swell.  Kate and her mother kept a close eye on the stream, and at 11 PM heard a train with a four-man crew returning from Moingona to Boone.

Diagram seen on the Moingona Depot – Photo Courtesy of the Boone County Historical Society

The next thing they knew, tragedy struck.  As Kate later recalled, there “…came the horrible crash and the fierce hissing of steam”.   As the train attempted to cross the Honey Creek Bridge, the wooden trestle gave way and sent the engine, and its four-man crew plunging into the creek.  Despite the initial shock of the accident, another thought came through the 17-year-old girl’s mind.  Another train, The Midnight Express, would be coming eastbound in about an hour, and Kate decided it was time to race into action.  Running to Honey Creek in an old dress and a tattered overcoat, she noticed two of the men clinging to branches.  Ed Wood and Adam Agar had escaped the tragic accident with their lives, clinging to trees to prevent that from changing.

Moingona Bridge 1882 – The Des Moines River bridge she crawled over, Pictured Ca. 1882. Photo Courtesy of the Boone County Historical Society

In the meantime, Kate knew she had to get to Moingona to stop the train.  She left the men in the perilous safety to prevent another tragedy.  The biggest obstacle was crossing the Des Moines River Bridge, a bridge that sat about 30 feet off the ground.  However, to discourage trespassing, the railroad removed some of the boards.  Kate would be in for quite a challenge as she crossed the bridge, literally on hands and knees.  With lightning and wind still fiercely surrounding her, she fought off splinters and ripped clothing to make it to Moingona, before collapsing.

When Kate regained consciousness a short time later, she was told that the stationmaster had recognized her as the daughter of Michael and suddenly realized the express must be stopped.  Kate insisted that a rescue party must be formed, and she returned with them to the Honey Creek Bridge.  Ed Wood was tossed a rope and helped to safety, while Adam Agar was rescued once the waters receded.  The other two crew members perished in the accident.

The news of the young heroine spread around Iowa, and eventually even made news internationally.  Reporters from all corners of the United States traveled to Iowa to interview her.  The ordeal, however, kept her bedridden for three months after the incident.

Site of the original Honey Creek Bridge, which collapsed in July of 1881 under the weight of a train. New bridge was built Ca. 1900, and remains are of that. John Marvig Photo

A World Waiting

When Kate regained her strength later that fall, the whole world was waiting.  Passengers from the train she had saved pooled together a few hundred dollars for her. School children in Dubuque gave her a medal, and the State of Iowa contributed another.  The railroad gave her a lifetime pass, among other supplies.  A gold watch came from The Order of Railway Conductors.  In addition, she instantly became a sensation with poems and songs written about her.  Some were so impressed with her quick thinking, they raised enough money to send her to Simpson College in Indianola.  Even the college president was raising money for her to come, being so enamored by her bravery.  However, she came back home after one year, feeling that she belonged in Moingona.

As the years passed, her fame faded.  She became a schoolteacher in Worth Township, making $35 a month.  However, this money was not enough for ends to meet.  In 1890, it was discovered that her home was mortgaged, and she was in danger of losing it.  The public response for Shelley was nothing short of amazing.  The mortgage was paid off by auction of a rug in Chicago, and she was granted a large sum of money by the State of Iowa.  She was even written about for a grade school textbook.

Even in 2016, many children in Iowa learn about this figure from 135 years ago.  However, her fame was far from over; and her biggest rewards were yet to come…

This is Part One of  The Kate Shelley Story. Click here to read Part Two.

John MarvigPhotographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of John’s work at John Marvig’s Railroad Bridge Photography

The Eads Bridge
  St.Louis, Missouri

Overview - Eads Bridge, St. Louis, Missouri
Overview – Eads Bridge, St. Louis, Missouri

The Eads Bridge in Saint Louis, Missouri crosses the Mighty Mississippi in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, and is one of the most iconic bridges in the United States. In addition to being the oldest bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis, it continues to serve significant commuter rail traffic between East St. Louis and St. Louis.

The bridge was first conceived in 1867, with construction beginning the same year. James B. Eads was chosen to design the bridge. Although he had no prior experience in bridge building, all parties involved felt confident he could restore St. Louis to its former glory with the new bridge. The first challenge was the regulations of the Mississippi River. Steamboat Companies set unheard of restrictions for bridge building, which would require the radical design that exists today. The design chosen was an arch, with three spans. These arches would be constructed of iron tubes, and set upon masonry piers and abutments. The Keystone Bridge Company did the fabrication for the owner, the Illinois & St. Louis Bridge Company.

Once construction began, the bridge would see an immense number of challenges. The first involved the depth in which the piles would be driven. Caissons were driven nearly 100 feet below the river surface. The process by which this happened killed 13 men, and paralyzed another 2. It involved putting compressed air in the caisson, and filling it with stone until bedrock could be hit. In addition, once work on the arches began, the superstructure could not be constructed with falsework. Instead, a cantilevered technique was used which involved “launching” from the piers. The spans would meet and be completed in the middle. On July 4th, 1874 the bridge was dedicated. President Ulysses S. Grant dedicated the bridge, while General William T. Sherman drove the golden spike. The bridge was constructed with two decks, one for rail and one for road. The approaches consisted of stone arches of various sizes and shapes.

Despite the accomplishments and achievements of the bridge, it was bankrupt within the year. Railroads boycotted the bridge because of poor planning and access to it. When the bridge was finally sold to the Merchants Exchange during bankruptcy, it went for about 1/5 of the original estimated worth. This caused the Bank of Missouri to fold, and led to the indictment of several officials involved with the bridge. However, Eads did not face trouble.

The Merchants Exchange eventually lost control of the bridge to the Terminal Railroad Association in the late 1880s. Fearing a monopoly of the river crossings, this led to the construction of the equally impressive Merchants Bridge upstream.

Modified arch
Modified arch – Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

By the 1970s, the rail deck would be abandoned and unused. In 1989, the bridge was exchanged for the MacArthur Bridge downstream with the City of St. Louis. Modern trains were too large for both the bridge and approach tunnels. However, in 1993, the MetroLink Light Rail began operations on this corridor. This put the bridge back into service for rail traffic. At the same time, the road deck was closed for reconstruction. It reopened in 2003.

West Approach - Eads Bridge - St. Louis, Missouri
West Approach – Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

In 2016, the bridge is considered to be one of the most significant engineering achievements ever. The largest arch is 533 feet long, nearly 200 feet longer than the previous longest arch. The caisson construction also was highly significant. Because of the bridge’s historic importance, it was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark in 1964, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Despite all the recognition, it has been renovated many times. Some of the original stone arch approaches have been replaced with newer spans, such as girders. The original highway approaches have been replaced as well. In addition, the bridge is undergoing another reconstruction in 2016.

Inside station - The Eads Bridge - St. Louis, Missouri
Inside station – The Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

Today it remains one of the strongest and most significant bridges ever built. It presently carries two tracks of MetroLink, with stations on both the west and east end. The bridge is one of the most iconic structures in the area, and perfectly complements the area down by the Gateway Arch.

Overview - The Eads Bridge - St. Louis, Missouri
Overview – The Eads Bridge – St. Louis, Missouri

John MarvigText and photographs Copyright – 2016
See more of John’s work at John Marvig’s Railroad Bridge Photography


Newhall, California - February 9, 1971
Newhall, California – February 9, 1971

Completion of Southern Pacific’s San Joaquin line in 1876 was Los Angeles’ first rail connection to the rest of the country. It required a 6976 foot tunnel between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys.

I photographed the west end of the tunnel (by timetable direction) on the afternoon of February 9, 1971. Why this date? Early that morning the 6.6 magnitude Sylmar Earthquake caused major damage in the area, killing 44 people. I drove up to see how the tunnel had held up, and the view through it correctly indicated there were no problems.


However, just past the far end of the tunnel, the interchanges of Interstate 5 with Interstate 210 and California Highway 14, then under construction, had collapsed on the tracks.

Sylmar, California – February 11, 1971

The railroad was back in service in a few days, but the highway bridges took over a year to rebuild, with strengthened columns.

History repeated itself in 1994 when the Northridge Earthquake again caused bridge collapses at the interchange. The road closures resulted in a major increase in Metrolink service on what was now their Antelope Valley Line, and this increased service remains today.

Gordon Glattenberg – Photographs and text Copyright 2016

Babysitting and Railroads

My daughter did not plan very well. She lives in Yuma, Arizona, in the southwest corner of the state, one of the hottest places in North America. She already had two rambunctious boys, ages three and five, and her third was going to arrive in June of 2014. Her husband would be off with his National Guard unit on the baby’s due date, so my wife and I flew down to help out.

Our days mainly followed the same pattern: get up, take the boys outside early in the morning to work off some energy before temperatures hit triple digits, back home to amuse them in the air-conditioned house, out for a little more running around after sunset, and then bed. There wasn’t much time for photography, but there was a little.

I was surprised to learn that Yuma, despite being in this harsh, hot desert (at least in June), is the center of a major agricultural district. During the winter, 80% of vegetables sold in the United States come from the Yuma area, and my daughter’s home is surrounded by citrus farms. Union Pacific has a very busy line running through Yuma, but there are a lot of other tracks around.

The reason Yuma can support all of this farming is the Colorado River, which is one of the few places one can take hot children to cool off. And one spot, a very nice little beach, also features shade cast by two bridges, one highway and one railroad.

View from the river - Yuma, Arizona
View from the Colorado River – Yuma, Arizona

I occasionally had a bit of time to poke around and see what I could find. Near one little collection of spur tracks I found a bit of discarded history.

Cut rail – Yuma, Arizona

One of the main north/south roads through Yuma near my daughter’s house once had a railroad track running right next to it. Sand keeps trying to cover it, but wind won’t let it.

Tracks, ties, sand - Yuma, Arizona
Tracks, ties, sand – Yuma, Arizona

The two boys were scheduled to attend Vacation Bible School. My daughter wasn’t sure how she would get them there, since by then the baby had arrived. Sensing an opportunity, I volunteered to take them, since I could roam with my camera for two hours, and then go back to the church and pick them up. One evening, I visited the top of the bridge we had played underneath a few days earlier.

Eastbound off bridge - Yuma, Arizona
Eastbound off bridge – Yuma, Arizona

Another evening, I went scouting, and found a signal bridge with interesting possibilities. The next night, I took a good book and a jug of water, went back to the bridge, and waited. An eastbound train came at just the right time.

Eastbound under signals - Yuma, Arizona
Eastbound under signals – Yuma, Arizona

Rob Richardson – Photographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Rob’s work at Where Trains Were