Riding Rock Island, Published 10 February 1937The taxliab driver deliberately picked his way through heavy traffic so he could run the meter up to 85 cents, but we did finally reach La Salle Street Station, where the Rocky Mountain Limited of the Rock Island was to leave. You are. of course, in Chicago, at "Chicago's only station on the Loop." In a few minutes we'll climb aboard No. 7, but let me straighten, you out on a few points first.
The Rock Island is named for Rock Island. Illinois. (In Quebec, if you ask for a Rock Island folder, they'll reach for a Quebec Central folder, thinking you want to go to Rock Island, Quebec.) The true name of the line is Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company, and in Texas, where every line must incorporate separately, it is called the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf. (Texas gives every line a headache, by making all the lines incorporate in Texas, and administer all Texas railroads from a point in Texas. Canadians forget that each of the 48 states is a sovereign state, and can do silly things like that.) There seem to be too many parentheses in this paragraph, so I promise you we shall have no more, and rush on to say that the Rock Island has four great lines, and I have tried them all and you've been with me on each Lesson. The main one perhaps is the Golden State Route to California, and you went with me to Mexico in 1933 that way. Another is the Memphis-California line, and on it, you came back from Jumping Bean Land. Then there is the Mid-Continental Route, which we also traversed en route back from the Rio Grande. Lastly, there is the main line from Chicago via Des Moines and Omaha to Denver, and that's where we all are now.
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I went upstairs about seven floors to say hello to W. J. Leahy, passenger traffic manager, whom I know, and then J. P. Kilty went down seven floors with me to put me on the train safely. This episode went off without incident, and after shaking off some of the rabbit warrens of suburbs in Chicago, we soon were out on the level prairie. The car I was in was a classy affair with curtains on the windows, and a radio played softly to the paying guests. You could also have a shave or a haircut from the barber up ahead, when he wasn't serving drinks.
For me, there has always been a sentimental attachment to the Rocky Mountain Limited. For on July 26, 1925, one day after Field Marshal Haig had visited Hamilton, Ontario, and the same day that William Jennings Bryan died after his monkey business trial at Scopes, Tennessee, I board this same Rocky Mountain Limited and met my wife.
The train swung on through middle Illinois, and there were occasional interesting spots. I might mention Joliet where the famous state penitentiary is, in which Leopold and Loeb were put away for their sensational murder, after Clarence Darrow had saved their necks, at least. I might mention that we went through La Salle, home town of Big Ben clocks, the bane of a nation. Then there was Ottawa. To me as an old Ottawan I could hardly pass by Ottawa, Illinois, without a flicker of interest and a snap of my Zeiss camera. It was in Ottawa. Illinois, you may recall though I doubt it very much that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had their debate on slavery. That was in 1858. Then, some minutes later, to jump back to 1936. the prairie gives way to huge chunks of rock, and the train goes through what I believe to be the only tunnel in Illinois, to penetrate Split Rock, part of the famed Starved Rock area. Starved Rock rises abruptly from the Illinois river to the height of 157 feet, a fact that would sound dull enough if you did not take into consideration that this stone emerges from the corn tassels rather unexpectedly. In and around Bureau are the old Illinois-Michigan canals, serving what purpose I neither know nor care.
Let us jump next to the first of the four cities dropped down on both banks of the Mississippi where we cross it. The first is East Moline. located just where the Mississippi makes its famous curve, on which the betting is 100 to 1 you never heard of said curve till now, and of which I never heard either till I read about it in a Rock Island folder. Moline itself has about 40,000 people, and is easily distinguishable by the giant deer which leaps up perennially into the sky from the roof of the John Deere Plow Company. I can never think of Moline (pronounced Mow- leen) without thinking of that deer.
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You get the feeling that you are coming into some pumpkins of a place, when you pick up East Moline on the starboard side. For you run through that city, roll slowly through Moline, and finally come to a full stop in the heart of Rock Island. All three cities are on the Illinois, or eastern bank of the Mississippi. I really don't care much about these facts I am giving you myself, but I think you ought to know more about this part of the world than you do and your Geography Teacher is being dull designedly. Rock Island has 25,000 people, and it is here that a monument is erected to the great Indian chief, Blackhawk, after whom Irene Castle's husband's hockey team is named. At Rock Island too, Scarlett O'Hara's sweetheart in Gone With the Wind was interned. Abe Lincoln when a soldier in the Blackhawk wars camped at Rock Island. He was Captain Lincoln then. The first bridge to span the Mississippi was built here by the Rock Island Railroad in 1855, joining it with Davenport, Iowa. Two weeks after its erection, a steamer hit it, and a 250-foot span was burned. Bitter litigation followed, but old Abe Lincoln, acting as lawyer for the Rock Island Lines, won his case, and the bridge, instead of being removed, was rebuilt. Down beneath the bridge is a government arsenal, and underneath the railway tracks is the vehicular road, over which we travelled in a bus back in 1931. So in a sense. Rock Island is old territory to veteran Geography Lesson readers.
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We left Illinois behind on the east bank of Old Man River, and crawled over into Iowa, center of the Corn Belt. Thus we reached Davenport, big brother of the quad-city group, and headquarters for chiropractic. B. J. Palmer has his famous spine-punching institute here.
I am not going to write a treatise on Iowa here. Catholics will be interested, I believe, to learn that the only Trappist Monastery in the whole United States is in Protestant Iowa up near Dubuque, and others too will be surprised to know that the Germans around Amana practise a sort of communism and have for a hundred years as they work and share in common. The state university is at Iowa City, where the first state capital was, and Newton is devoted to Mr. Maytag, his eight sons and his washers. At Grinell you cross that most hopeless of railways, which never seems to go anywhere, the Minneapolis and St. Louis. The M. & St. L. is among the 59 railroads I have ridden. There's nothing much at Colfax but a sulphur water spring, and then comes Des Moines.
Des Moines, capital of Iowa, has about 150,000 people, is in size like Ottawa, and as different from the snobs and spires of Ottawa as day is from night. Des Moines was gay and festive when I was there, due to Christmas bonuses being paid for the first time since 1928, and business was good, and new motor cars were plentiful. I paused for two days in this city, before moving on. I had a wonderful meal in Younker's, the department store run along the lines of Eaton's. They say the store doesn't try to make money on its food and I believe it. Another episode, less satisfactory, came when I foolishly chased a M. & St. L. engine, block by block, down the track. The train was picking up cars for a short haul to Valley Junction, five miles west, and every time I'd get close enough to unfold my camera, it would slip away west another few fathoms. Finally, with a derisive toot, toot, it went completely beyond running distance, with me holding an open camera, and my breath coming in short pants. The only other M. & St. L. engine would not be out of the roundhouse till after dark. I went to the locomotive foreman to ask if he could get said hog out into the open. He would be glad to do so, he said, except the engine had not enough fire in her yet for steam. I just never did get that picture.
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That same night, I was tucked safely into the solarium car of the Rock Island by W. H. Weik, a R.I. passenger man, and the trip to Omaha commenced. The time went by quickly, and I intend to finish the Rock Island in my next, but I want to cite one seemingly unimportant episode. Those who know me know my voice carries, and it is impossible for anybody within 30 feet of me not to hear me when I talk. My mention of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway brought a man to my side who introduced himself as A. C. Shields, vice-president of the D. & R.G.W. What this casual meeting meant to me later I shall tell in due course.
Meanwhile, I want you to ride with me on my first streamliner in my next; I want you to take the Burlington's Denver Zephyr with me. But in order to do that properly, oddly enough, I have to leave you half-way between Des Moines and Omaha.
Why, you shall see. You'll ride 100 miles an hour in a train in my next.