Tuesday, July 18, 2017

History of the Rock Island Southern



"Few interurbans died a slower and more painful death than the Rock Island Southern, although the road began life with great promise."   Hilton and Due

The Rock Island Southern had a complex and interesting history, and we will present the information largely gathered from the archives of the late Stephen Scalzo.  Paul Buhrke has also provided valuable help and guidance.  Any mistakes in this work are my responsibility.

The RIS consisted of two divisions, which had little in common physically, but were usually both under the control of the Walsh Brothers, a local family syndicate.  The Eastern Division (1906-1951) was built first, from Monmouth to Galesburg, with typical interurban standards.  Ordinary simple-suspended trolley wire was used, energized at 600V DC.  Except for work trains during construction, there was no steam operation.  Passenger service ended in 1924, but freight service continued with a series of second-hand electric equipment until the end in 1951. 

The Northern Division (1910-1952) consisted of a branch line built earlier by the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific south from Rock Island, which was then leased by the RIS, plus new construction southwards to Monmouth.  The line was electrified with the Westinghouse AC system at 11,000V, the last interurban to adopt AC.  Initially, most passenger service was provided by large Niles cars with AC power, and there were two AC box motors.  But throughout its history, most of the freight service on this division was provided by steam, often using leased CRI&P engines.  Electric operation ended in 1920, when the electrical equipment at the power plant was repossessed by Westinghouse.  After that, passenger service was limited to steam-hauled mixed trains.

The two divisions met at Monmouth, but there were no through trains.  Freight cars could be interchanged at that point.  The electrical systems were of course incompatible.

This history is divided into the following parts:
All pictures unless otherwise noted are courtesy of the Stephen Scalzo estate.


Joshua Sutherland said...

Very interesting. Sad yet somewhat amusing to hear how Westinghouse repossessed the equipment from the power station due to it never being paid off, I guess that kind of sums up the condition of the entire road.

Chris said...

Is the Walsh Construction company in this the same as the giant Walsh company that still exists?

Randall Hicks said...

That's an interesting question, but looking at the company website I'd have to say the answer is no. The Walsh Brothers operated in the Monmouth area around the turn of the century, and when they wanted to build a railroad, they essentially hired themselves to build it. By the thirties, most of these enterprises seem to have vanished, and the widow of one of the brothers was in charge of what was left of the railroad.