CRI&P-Rock Island Rail Diesel Repair Shop

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City/Town: El Reno
Location Class: Railroad
Year Built: 1920's
Year Abandoned: 1980's
Status: Demolished
Photojournalist: David Linde

Founded from the creation of an amended charter issued by the Rock Island and La Salle Railroad company, the famous Chicago and Rock Island Railroad was established on February 7, 1851 with the first lines running between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois. The rail line was continued on to La Salle and finally reached Rock Island in 1854. The railroad continued building a huge empire that reached just about every major city in the central and midwestern United States.

Until it’s last days in 1980, the Rock Island Line reached into Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. By 1984, all the railroad’s remaining locomotives, rail cars, tracks, equipment, and property were sold to scrappers or other railroads in order to pay all remaining debts incurred by the line.

Railroad First to Connect Chicago to Mississippi River
In 1854, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad was the first railroad to connect Chicago to the Mississippi River, an important step in increasing commerce and making Chicago the hub of business in the Midwest. Mississippi River Steamboat operators did not like the railroad bridges because they made navigating the mighty river more difficult.

One steamboat was destroyed by fire after running into a bridge operated by the Rock Island Railroad. Abraham Lincoln, then a young attorney, represented the Rock Island in the case against the steamboat operator. Lincoln argued that the steamboat captain was at fault and helped to show that bridges across navigable rivers were an advantage to the country [1].

The Rock Island Railroad Rides Into the Popular Legend
The Rock island continued to grow throughout the latter half of the 19th century, buying up other, smaller rail lines and adding them to it’s own network. From the early 1900’s through the mid 1950’s, the Rock Island Line was a growing and prosperous railroad. Because the railroad covered such a large area of the Midwest, it was well known by most folks in the Midwest.

The rail line gained wide public popularity in the 1940’s when it was glorified in the song “Rock Island Line” by American blues/folk singer Huddie William Ledbetter, also known as Lead Belly. The song was later made more famous by popular singers Johnny Horton, Lonnie Donegan, Bobby Darin and even later by Johnny Cash. The first lines in the chorus of this song are still remembered today, “Rock Island Line, she’s a mighty good road, Rock Island Line is the road to ride.” The song was a hit in the U.S. from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.

Final Days of the Legendary Rock Island Line
During the first part of the 20th century, railroads were being built everywhere across the U.S. Until the advent of commercial aviation began to erode the passenger train business in the early 1950’s, trains were the primary mode of travel in this country. After the 1950’s, the glut of railroad companies and lines became apparent.

The Rock Island Railroad had been built in the 1800’s to serve the needs of that era. But the needs of a nation changed and the Rock Island found itself as just another of the many railroads that would eventually go bankrupt, sold, or merged with another railroad. In 1964, the Rock Island chose to pursue a merger with the Union Pacific Railroad, combining it’s midwest rail network with UP’s massive west coast rail network.

1965 was the last year Rock Island made a profit, and it continued to lose money until the merger with Union Pacific was finally approved to move forward in 1974. By this time, the UP was no longer interested and walked away from the merger, taking with it the last hope of Rock Island’s survival.

Things only got worse for the now nearly bankrupt railroad as creditors pressed for payment and operational costs continued to mount higher every year. Attempts to reorganize in bankruptcy were refused by the courts. On January 24, 1980, a judge ordered the Rock Island Railroad to be shutdown and it’s assets to be liquidated for much needed cash. On March 31, 1980, the final operational shutdown and liquidation of the great Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad occurred.

Sources:

1. Donald, David Herbert; Lincoln (1999); Touchstone; New York, NY; p. 157

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Kevin
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Kevin

In case this thread is still alive, Does anyone have a graph or something with its original layout?

marc shields
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marc shields

no, but the rock island tech society put out an aerial series of photos covering the entire tracks/complete/it is awesome. i have the magazine.

Mike
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Mike

I was Fireman (hoslter) at the shop from Oct. 1979 until closing March 1980. Before that I was Brakeman from June 1977 until Oct. 1979. Good days at El Reno, OK. I'm currently a Conductor in Amarillo, Tx. with the BNSF Railway.

marc
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marc

i am a rock island fan/grew up 2 blocks from the mainline in wellington, ks. got to be such good friends while watching trains/the crews would let me ride to caldwell from wellington & back/took my bicycle on board too. i met them when they stopped for beans. next day, when coming back, northbound/they stopped the train pick me and bike up/stop right at the 16th street crossing and help me off w/my bike. seems to me, they didnt care who was watching. last time i ever rode a revenue freight, i was 25 they were almost to shutdown and… Read more »

Lawrence Ridge
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Lawrence Ridge

Marc I operated a Nordberg track liner in Wellington back in 1974…did you know Al Monday? It's nice to meet folks who remember the Rock.

rezman
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rezman

I'be been in that building. Back in the late 80's the company I worked for leased out the RIP shop at the west end of the yard to set up an operation resurfacing portable runway for the Navy. Part of the old yard to the east and west of the shop was fenced off for this operation. At one time early in the planning, my boss looked into leasing out the diesel shop for the operation. What killed that idea was that he would have had to go in with earth moving equipment and take out six feet of soil… Read more »

rezman
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rezman

Also, where the wash track was, west of the overpass, was a company called Sunbelt Rail Car Repair, and the operated out of an old boxcar that sat on the ground. Don't know if they're still there.

I had blue prints of the yard at one time. We had a house fire a couple years ago, and I think they were consumed, but we may still have some at work. I also recall an aerial photo of the yards as well.

marc shields
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marc shields

my name is marc shields/i posted above. if interested call 620-307-6544/ leave a message and number and i will return your call. i have photos to share of el reno shops while still in service, plus, i love the old rock island.

marc shields
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marc shields

i have heard recently, the engine house has been razed, much to my dismay. anyone know if this is true? i certainly hope not.

marc shields
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marc shields

it was so sad to see the deferred track maint. while greedy upper mgmt. deferred maint. to this once mighty fine line since 1963….in hopes of merging w/up. all up had to do is wait it out….until the track was junk/and get it for pennies on the dollar…and thats exactly what they did. but greed and corrupt r.i. mgmt. was the underlying culprits that destroyed this once mighty line. up has it now, and refuses to put any ctc or anything on it. now here on bnsf in arkansas city ks, we see numerous up trains running that should be… Read more »

Paul_Morphy
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Paul_Morphy

I I ran acrossran across this website August 14, 2013…I'm retired from the Cotton Belt but worked as a system Maintenance of Way machine operator for the Rock from 1974 to the last of the show in 1980. I carried my seniority to the St. Louis Southwestern until 1987. Most of these posts go way back but if anyone adds anything new here I'll be notified. I like to browse Rock Island history here on the web..

Gary Browning
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Gary Browning

Just turned 71. When I was 19-20 I worked out of Amarillo, Texas' on Rock Island B&B # 4 ( Bridge and Building Gang Number 4 ) Lots of memories. Worked Texas, Okla, Kan and New Mexico. Primarily building Wooden pile driven bridges. I doubt there are many old Builders left who used a coal fired, steam driven Pile driver. I can't remember if it had a 6,000 or 8,000 hammer. Later we got a diesel and they were on the light side. When I was 12 to 15 we lived in Rawlins, Wyo. Dad was a brakeman and on… Read more »

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