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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Firmly ensconced in the suburban sprawl of Concord, NC, lay a railroad past bypassed with explosive growth in the Charlotte metropolitan region. As time has marched onward, the expansion of Concord has cloaked a past not unlike numerous cities and towns throughout the North Carolina Piedmont. Whereas the dependence on the railroad, whether it be for passenger travel or the corridor for a bygone textile industry, is gone, the stamp of the past remains conspicuous along this former Southern Railway main line. Modern day annals, however, tend to overlook Concord as compared to other locations along the route such as Salisbury, Spencer, and Kannapolis. Archival photographs of the railroad in Concord are few in number which has continued to trend as there are few contemporary photos taken here as compared to other locations.
The railroad origins of Concord date to the antebellum period a decade before the onset of the Civil War. In 1848, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill for the construction of a railroad connecting the coastal region of the state with the interior Piedmont. The following year, the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR) was chartered with the intent of constructing a 223 mile corridor between Goldsboro and Charlotte. On July 11, 1852, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Greensboro and construction of the railroad began. Four years later, towns along the route, including Concord, witnessed the passage of the first train to traverse the length of the railroad in January 1856.
After the tumultuous Civil War years, the Richmond & Danville Railroad (R&D) signed an operational lease with the NCRR in 1871. This lease remained in effect until the R&D was acquired by the Southern Railway in 1894. Maps of Concord during this era are in existence and indicate the exact location of the first depot. However, there appears to be no photographs or artist renditions in the public domain to reveal the early appearance of this structure.
During the early 1890s, the Concord Railroad Company constructed a line from the depot area into the downtown district to serve the local businesses. Due to the topographical layout of Concord, the town is located on the heights above the railroad and the public sought improved efficiency for transport. Rather than walk or traverse these grades by horse and wagon, an inner city line was constructed to alleviate these concerns. Designed as a “steam” line and dubbed the “Dummy Line”, this street track diverged from the Richmond and Danville main line and ran on Corban Avenue until reaching the business district at Union Street. Here, it turned west and split numerous times with spurs to serve the local proprietors. Within a few years, it was extended further north on Union Street and to the Gibson Mills plant at present day McGill Avenue. In spite of these efforts, the “Dummy Line” was plagued with problems, most notably pertaining to reliability issues. Concord was among the first urban areas in the United States to utilize battery powered street cars and their usage on this route was generally unsuccessful. The battery life was short and passengers frequently assisted by pushing these cars. By the end of the century, the “Dummy Line” was history and Concord constructed a true streetcar system which partially utilized this former route.
By 1892, a Sanborn Fire Insurance map indicates that a small wooden passenger station existed on the west side of the now Southern Railway main line opposite the freight depot and cotton platform on the east side. A separate smaller structure was located adjacent to it. Perhaps this was also the location for the original station as well—structurally repaired as needed but oddly located opposite the town district side of the railroad. It was also during this era that the Cabarrus Cotton Mills was constructed opposite the station on the same side of the tracks as the freight depot.
At the turn of the century, a new passenger station was constructed on the east side of the railroad by the Corban Avenue grade crossing south of the freight depot. This structure was also of wood construction and included a separate baggage office. The life span of this station was through the first decade of the 1900s until 1913. It was that year that a new passenger station would be constructed serving Concord until the 1970s.
Construction began on the larger station several hundred feet south of the existing depot. The location, in effect, sandwiched the new site between the Southern Railway main line and the Cabarrus Cotton Mills. This new station, built with brick and trimmed in wood, was resplendent in the Victorian influence of the era. Solid and attractively designed, it became the railroad centerpiece for Concord during the halcyon years before the end of passenger service. The World War II years in Concord, as in countless other stations throughout the nation, proved a bright but brief zenith of the passenger train in full glory. As an example, in 1941, fourteen trains still called at Concord. Name trains such as the Piedmont Limited #33 and #34, the Peach Queen #29 and #30, and regionals such as #11 and #12, the Danville, VA – Greenville, SC, all stopped at Concord.
In the postwar years, as passengers left the rails in mass exodus, trains were either combined or abolished. Examples affecting the patronage at Concord included combining service from two trains into Southern’s flagship Crescent Limited. The southbound Aiken-Augusta Special was absorbed into the Crescent in 1956 and the northbound Peach Queen several years later in 1964. Further cutbacks would ensue as the passenger base eroded and services were discontinued. In 1971, what remained of the national passenger network was forged into Amtrak but the Southern Railway remained a stalwart by continuing to provide its own service that would continue through the 1970s.
In March of 1974, northbound manifest train 158 was passing through Concord when a defective wheel on a freight car picked a switch causing a derailment. This resulted in a pile up at the station area and the building sustained damage to its south and west sides. The damage was repaired but by this date, the venerable old structure was nearing the end of its useful life. In 1976, came the coup de grace. Trains #1, the southbound Southern Crescent, and #5 and #6, the Piedmont, remained on the timetable but by the end of the year, the Piedmont was abolished. With the discontinuance of the Piedmont, Concord was eliminated as a passenger stop. The Southern Crescent existed for another three years until the Southern Railway turned over its passenger operations to Amtrak.
On March 28, 1978, an epoch ended. The noble Concord passenger station, standing in silent vigil to a bygone era, met its end. Demolition began on this date and as the bricks crumbled, the visible connection to passenger rail at Concord belonged to history. It is, in a sense ironic, as a regional passenger rail renaissance occurred the following decade. In 1984, a joint effort by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)and AMTRAK resurrected the Piedmont train although it lasted but a year due to agreement conflicts. After a five year hiatus, service was resumed in 1990 and subsequently expanded in the 21st century. Today, eight passenger trains—the Crescent Limited and six Piedmonts— pass through Concord by the empty lot where its station once stood. With no structure to serve as a stop, Concord is now but a milepost location along the main line, nestled between the stops at Kannapolis and Charlotte. Whether a new station is constructed to restore Concord as a terminal may be a topic of future city discussion.”
Dan Robie – Photographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Dan’s work at his website WVNC Rails.
This project’s title, From the Main Line, came to me since I began traveling throughout the Northeast exploring what survives and what developed as a result of the presence of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The project is the culmination of four distinct interests and their interaction: geography, history, architecture, and a life-long love of railroads. Among other reasons, I chose the Pennsylvania Railroad to satisfy a simple question; “Why would a company consider itself the Standard Railroad of the World?” I am sure many would argue that it was just plain arrogance, but that answer was not good enough. Starting in 2007 I set out to better understand the former PRR system by examining the various aspects of the railroad to create a cohesive survey of the railroad, its defining attributes and the landscape through which it traveled.
There are several concise topics that combine to create a holistic understanding of a railroad network and its effects on its surroundings. This approach can help one to identify the unique characteristics of any railroad corridor but specifically those that refer to the Pennsy.
Unlike the railroads born of the United States’ westward expansion, the Pennsy was built and prospered in the established northeastern region. Much of the original route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh followed a private rail line that was part of the Main Line of Public Works (MLPW), a combination canal and rail system that ultimately failed. In 1854 the PRR bought the MLPW, and later the canals were filled in. Forges, mines, and transportation centers had formed around the canals, but flourished after the arrival of the railroad. Highlighting this history of the neighboring landscape was important to establish the visual identity of a very distinct topography.
Over this topography, the railroad traveled through a landscape both remote and civilized, but the physical plant itself is a unique engineered landscape, often identifiable by vernacular attributes specific to the railroad that constructed it.
The right-of-way is perhaps the most recognizable attribute of the railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad was a two-to-six-track wide main line that cut across the land on a highly engineered corridor largely separated from the outside world. A result of years of refinement, this infrastructure allowed the PRR to move countless trains using traffic management systems that enabled fluid operation of both freight and passenger traffic within shared track space. Linking towns, cities and industry, the right-of-way of the Pennsylvania Railroad is immediately recognizable and stands out among its peers due to its sheer magnitude. East of Harrisburg, the towering poles and tethers of wires for the electric traction system further define the right of way and has distinction as the only surviving long-distance electrified mainline in the United States.
The right-of-way supported transportation networks vital to the public and industry. An extensive passenger network moved people on long distance, regional, and commuter trains from stations that ranged from monumental metropolitan gateways to a simple frame structure. It was also the supply chain for industry, connecting line side mining, manufacturing, steel production, and deep-water ports. Most of the freight was moved on the Low Grade, a freight bypass built between the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers. This route was a testament to the PRR’s engineering prowess and a final piece of the railroad’s massive system-wide improvements at the turn of the 20th Century that would make the railroad worthy of the title, Standard Railroad of the World.
The railroad corridor is an assemblage of engineering feats used to manage high volumes of traffic, setting it apart from other railroads of the era. Ranging from bridge construction, the massive flying junction, the interlocking technologies that controlled them and the electrified rail network east of Harrisburg, the PRR spared no expense to improve efficiency and capacity. Fortunately, surviving elements provide insight on how the railroad functioned, including the many stationary and movable bridges, terminals, and extensive interlockings throughout the system.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of documenting a railroad that has been gone for more than 45 years is envisioning what was lost in order to understand how the original network worked. Whether a result of recent or ancient railroad history, it is the archeological aspect of this project that requires the most imagination to complete the puzzle that was the Main Line network. There was considerable abandonment and change after the fallout of Penn Central and the creation of Conrail and Amtrak which forever changed the railroad landscape and operations. As a result, defining attributes like the Low Grade and many of the interlocking towers and stations were abandoned, eliminating evidence of the larger unified system.
Research is the element that ties everything together: the stories, history, triumphs and failures behind the surviving objects and places. Utilizing historical photographs and maps adds a layer of context to the contemporary images, something that was absent in my earlier work. Understanding the historical significance gives me a better perspective of a place before I visit and allows me to create more informed images. Putting together my findings, and sharing information fuels the creative process. This element in the Main Line project allows me to expand the reach of my audience beyond the rail community, connecting with the casual observer, historian, architect, and engineer alike.
My goal when I set out was to satisfy a curiosity, but what I think I have done is expand my use of photography to become part of a larger idea interpreting the social, industrial and railroad history in a creative and accessible way. As this project continues I start to ask the question, was the PRR the Standard or the exception in the railroad world, doing things differently literally from the ground up? When will it be done? I don’t really know. I just know railroads have been a life long interest, and it’s nice to combine it with my creative work. I hope that my approach to railroad photography will inspire others to explore and understand their favorite railroad differently the next time they are out on the main or even a branch line operation.
The Trackside Photographer is pleased to present a gallery displaying 40 images from Michael's project. Click here to view the gallery, or go to the Galleries menu at the top of the page.
When passenger service on the Maine Central Railroad (MEC) ended in 1960, I was 15 years old and had never been to the State of Maine. After the passenger trains were gone, the freight business was alive and well, thanks to the smart investments and wise business management of E. Spencer Miller, President of the railroad from 1952 through 1975.
My introduction to Maine was in 1964 through Colby College, which together with the railroad, was a major presence in Waterville, where the Maine Central had its repair shops, and its largest and most important classification yard.
Excursions beyond Waterville served as a diversion and study break from grinding through textbooks in the college library, and presented the chance to learn more about the railroad and how it worked.
One bitterly cold January day, a trip to explore the eastern portions of the Maine Central seemed like a good idea. I headed up toward Northern Maine Junction, where the MEC interchanged cars of Maine products, including printing paper, pulpwood, and potatoes, with the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad.
Around 1957, the Maine Central was still very much investing in the railroad, and a new CTC installation between Pittsfield and Northern Maine Junction was authorized to realize savings in redundant trackage and improve efficiency in the operation. The upgrade eliminated double track, and replaced the automatic block signals with a modern centralized traffic control system.
Tower MD’s building housed the CTC machine, relays and electronic equipment, a robust heating system, the operator, and a cat. On this winter day, I’m sure Phil Butler, the tower operator, was not expecting any weekend visitors to his lonely outpost, but he was most cordial and welcoming. I think he appreciated anyone who was interested in what he did and how he did it. After some railroad small talk, he explained the machine and how it worked. Tower MD was also a train order office, and so the order hoops and train order signal over the building were part of the station’s equipment.
To me, these photos are a time capsule of the Maine Central in good times. Trains were run at speed on well maintained track, most of the time with “High Green” Clear signals displayed.
After the boom years of the 1970’s, a combination of business and economic factors brought the Maine Central to its knees. Wall Street raiders took over the debt free railroad, precipitating a long and bitter strike of the Maine Central’s loyal and hardworking employees. Hundreds of track miles which had served the state’s industries for one hundred years and more were either abandoned or no longer maintained.
Today the CTC is gone. Most of track has a speed limit of 10mph, and many of the paper mills have closed as their product has become unneeded in the internet world.
It has been hard to watch the decline, but I certainly have many wonderful memories of what main line railroading was like Down East, back on that bitter cold winter afternoon.
The 1,067mm (3’6″) gauge network in the Australian state of Queensland is dominated by heavy coal and mineral traffic moving from mines to ports, and some intermodal traffic heading up the coast from the capital of Brisbane. Until a few years ago though, there were some scattered remnants of trains that belonged very much to the previous century—in spirit at least.
One such service was a weekly train that ran to the south-west outpost of Dirranbandi. Built in stages starting in 1904, the line arrived at its eventual terminus in May 1913. The line was built to serve small communities in the area, and like most such lines around the world, carried out its role of bringing in the essential supplies needed for rural living, and taking out the products of the land, in this case cattle, sheep, wool and grain. This line served a second purpose, hinted at by its early nickname of the Border Fence: to prevent this traffic from moving south to travel over the rails of the rival state of New South Wales.
The importance of the line was declining rapidly when I travelled out that way in 2007 and 2008. General freight was virtually non-existent, but the line beyond the major grain silo at Thallon still saw a weekly freight train working out and back. The train wasn’t much to look at—a handful of vans—but still a sight worth seeing if only for its anachronistic nature, a fact acknowledged by the train’s driver who, when we got to talk at one of the stops along the way, cheerily exclaimed that it was good to see someone photographing one of Queensland Rail’s last dinosaurs.
The country out this way is pretty lonely. Large grazing stations and very little population are the order of the day, with the little train heading over the light 42 pound rail and spindly track well away from pretty much anything, apart from the endless scrub and the occasional siding with a disused woolshed. Sometimes a kangaroo or two might nonchalantly cross the line. Not far from Dirranbandi, the grain silo at Noondoo would be passed. For the line’s recent history, it was this silo that justified keeping the line open. The light track meant that grain wagons could only be partially loaded. The obvious solution was to upgrade the line, but the railway and the grain shippers couldn’t agree on who’d pay, so rail service stopped and the grain had to be trucked over to Thallon, which still happens.
On my first trip, Noondoo was a silo-in-waiting, with the surrounding paddocks barren of grain but a year later, after the first decent rains in years, the land was alive with activity. The railway though, played no part.
Here at Hawkston, about halfway on the very light rail, there is some evidence of human activity, with a small but quite elaborate storage box built to receive the newspapers that used to be dropped off by the passing train until quite recently. Located on the long dirt road to the grazier’s home, a stop by the train would eventually be followed by the farmer driving out to collect the newspapers.
I’m not sure if there was ever what could really be described as a station at Hawkston, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that if there was it would never have had a station master, but I liked the ironic humour of the locals, allowing such a minor item of infrastructure to take on added importance, while the train disappears into the hazy distance.