Sunday, January 1, 2017

Rock Island Southern - Northern Division



The Davenport, Rock Island and Southern Ry. Co. was organized by the Walsh Brothers interests on January 7, 1905.  Nothing was done toward construction until Sept. 5, 1908 when the name was changed to Rock Island Southern Railway.   On that date, a 25 year lease was signed with the CRI&P permitting the RIS to electrify the line from Rock Island through Milan to Preemption.  The RIS would have exclusive rights to the passenger service, but the CRI&P would still use the line, which extended to Sherrard and Cable, for freight service (using steam locomotives, of course.)

The P. T. Walsh Construction Co. was awarded the contract for construction of the new line, starting at a junction with the leased portion of the Rock Island about a mile and a half west of Preemption.  This point was labeled Monmouth Junction, also known as Southern Junction.  By Sept. 10 surveyors had laid out the line south to the Edwards River crossing.  On the 15th, a crew was put to work installing switching tracks at the junction to handle the work trains.  Another crew of 25 men were fencing the right of way, and several men with teams and scrapers were put to work on the grade.  A map issued at that time indicates that the plan was to eventually build straight north from Monmouth Junction to Milan for a more direct entry into Rock Island, but no work was ever started.  Similarly, the Walshes claimed to be interested in extensions to Burlington or Macomb, but nothing came of them. 

The Rock Island Southern decided to electrify the northern line with 11,000 volt single-phase AC, the last major interurban to select AC.  One of the attractions of AC was that there was no need of substations; the entire line was powered directly from the power house, located about in the middle of the route at the Edwards River.  Six motor cars and two trailers were purchased from Niles and rewired by Westinghouse.  The original intention had been to run trains down the street in Rock Island to the center of the city, but the cars were too long and heavy for this use, and were always confined to the CRI&P tracks.  A makeshift station was constructed at Fifth St. for use as the terminal.

On Oct. 21 five cars of steel were received.  By this time graders were a little over a mile south of the junction and a temporary track was started so the big steam shovel could be moved to where it was needed.  On the 27th a trainload of equipment arrived for the Walsh Construction Co., consisting of three construction locomotives, a steam pump, another steam shovel, dump cars, a kitchen car, a diner, sleepers, an office car, and a private car for the officials.  50 more men and 50 more teams were put to work at this time.  By Nov. 5, three miles of temporary track had been laid and the two steam shovels were moving huge quantities of dirt.  By Dec. 15 the grade was almost to the Edwards River and surveyors were working south from Gilchrist.  Severe weather closed the work a short time later and little was done until spring.

About the middle of March, 1909 crews started work on the grade south of the Edwards River. In June contracts were let for building the Edwards River bridge, the bridge over Cedar Creek, the Pope Creek trestle, and so on.  Grading and tracklaying continued through the summer, and in October the branch to Aledo was surveyed.  By late October a crew of 38 men were working along the CRI&P line, north of Reynolds, bonding rails and setting poles for the electrification.  By this time, the construction of the power plant at the Edwards River was underway.  There was a detailed article about construction of the powerhouse in Electric Traction Weekly at this link.

In November two steam locomotives were purchased, both 4-4-0 types, for use on either freight or passenger trains.  By December 1 the poles were set from Milan to Pope Creek, and the crew were working south toward Monmouth.  The track was withing 12 miles of Monmouth, and four more miles of grade were ready for the ties and rails.

  Pope Creek

About March 1, 1910 work again resumed; by the 25th two camps were located on the uncompleted portion, one at Cedar Creek and the other at the county line.  Gravel ballast was being placed on the completed portion of track from Southern Junction to south of Gilchrist.  By the middle of May the track was nearly completed and it was announced that train would be run with steam power until the overhead work was completed.

On Monday, May 30, 1910 Rock Island Southern locomotive #100, pulling a borrowed Burlington coach, #6123, filled with nearly a hundred prominent men of the region left Monmouth at 10 AM, stopping at the power house camp for lunch, and arriving at Rock Island about 2 PM.  On June 22, an excursion was run from Rock Island into the center of Monmouth; Rock Island #526 pulled three Rock Island coaches with about 200 passengers.  Regular passenger service started on Sunday, June 26, with two trains daily between Rock Island and Monmouth and two between Rock Island and Sherrard.  Steam power was used, as the electrical system was still uncompleted and the electric cars had not been delivered.

Cedar Creek

At Monmouth, the old CB&Q depot was rebuilt for RIS use, and the tracks were completed for connection with the line to Galesburg.  

In Sept. 1910, the Aledo branch was completed.  On Sept. 30, the first electric car was shipped from the Westinghouse works at Pittsburg.  However, delays in construction of the overhead set back tests of electric operation until late November.  Finally, electric operation between Rock Island and Monmouth started on Dec. 12, 1910 with one round trip daily, quickly increased to four round trips.


The RIS was heavily impacted by conditions arising from WWI and the resulting inflation.  It appears that maintenance nearly ceased and service suffered badly.

In August 1919, an engineer with the Illinois Public Utilities Commission made an inspection of the line, and issued an extremely critical six-page report, summarized here.  Hearings were held and as a result, in November the Commission ordered the line to repair all dangerous bridges, secure sufficient power to operate the cars on schedule, resurface tracks on the branches, repair and maintain the passenger cars in safe and sanitary condition, repair all pole lines and to maintain suitable terminal facilities at Rock Island.  

Essentially none of these things were done, and on Jan. 11, 1920, the power house was shut down for major repairs and all train service was stopped without warning.  The company also stopped supplying electric power to the surrounding communities, and it appears the power house never restarted.  A report issued at that time is summarized here.  On Jan. 17 the Public Utilities Commission ordered the line to resume service at once, but nothing happened.  On Jan 26, the USRA assumed control of the railway, and resumed steam-powered service from Rock Island to Aledo.   On Feb. 9 service was resumed to Monmouth.  USRA control only lasted a little over a month, until Feb. 29, 1920.

The company was put into receivership at the petition of the minority bondholders, and operated by the receiver from March 19, 1920 to December 24, 1921.  The Walsh brothers then resumed control.  We will not attempt to explain the confusing details of the corporate history.  Sorry.

In 1920 the Westinghouse Company repossessed the electrical equipment at the power house, which had never been paid for, thus ending any chance for resumption of electrical operation on the Northern Division.

It appears that the USRA never took control of the Eastern Division, which at that time was known as the Galesburg and Western.  The law establishing the USRA had exempted interurban lines from government control.


On Sept. 28, 1920, the RIS was authorized to abandon the Alexis branch, and to dismantle poles, wires, powerhouse and other equipment pertaining to electric operation.  This work began soon thereafter.

On Jan. 28, 1925, the RIS was authorized to abandon service on the 5 miles between Preemption and Cable, and at the same time authority was granted to the CRI&P to dismantle the line, of which it was the owner.  Other minor branches and mine spurs were abandoned over the years.

In May 1929 the trestle south of Gilchrist near Burgess burned and was not replaced.  As a result, service on the Northern Division was cut back to operations between Rock Island and Aledo, and the southern half of the main line was not used again, although the rails remained in place for many years.

The passenger equipment seems to have been preserved long after it had been removed from service, and several cars were stored in the carbarn at Monmouth.  The carbarn burned down about 1931 or so, but we have been unable to determine the date.  The cars stored there were destroyed, but it's thought that a few cars that had been stored at Rock Island when the main line was cut were still there a few years more.

Freight service on the remaining portion of the line from Rock Island to Aledo continued for many years.  There was enough business in moving agricultural supplies and fuel to keep the line barely alive.  The last run was in Feb. 1952.

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