Monday, May 18, 2020

The Kenosha & Rockford Railroad

The Kenosha & Rockford Railroad, or the KD Line, was first organized by Kenosha area businessmen as the Kenosha, Rockford and Rock Island Railroad. First proposed to connect Kenosha with Beloit, WI, Beloit showed little interest in the road, and promoters chose to connect the line to Rockford, IL instead, a distance of 68 miles. It opened in 1861 after eight years of planning and construction. 

Image: Mark Atkinson Collection via

The line transported passengers between the two cities, often to tourist sites near Silver Lake and Twin Lakes, WI. Those same lakes became important sources for ice before the days of refrigeration. Two ice spurs connected to lakes at Paddock Lake and Powers Lake

Shown in Periwinkle are the ice spurs this line connected to. The abandoned mainline is in blue. Image: Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines

Early in the 20th century, it was acquired by the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, who named it the Kenosha Division, or "KD Line". 

A video of satellite imagery of the mainline in 1939 just post-abandonment.
Most of the line was abandoned in 1939, but portions of the line are still active between Rockford-Loves Park, Chemung-Harvard, and Kenosha-Pleasant Prairie.

Part of the right of way is submerged under Pierce Lake, which in the days of railroading was a rock quarry.

The Long Prairie Trail uses the right of way between Capron, IL and Caledonia, IL, with the Hebron Rail Trail running near Hebron, IL.

Image: "A train on the KD Line speeds northeast through the cut in the limestone which gave Rock Cut its name. From the treeline down, this area is now under water as part of Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park. The tracks were removed before the lake was filled. (Brian Landis collection)" via Old Northwest Territory
Image: "A train on the KD Line speeds northeast through the cut in the limestone which gave Rock Cut its name. From the treeline down, this area is now under water as part of Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park. The tracks were removed before the lake was filled. (Brian Landis collection)" via Old Northwest Territory.

Further Reading: Rockford Area Railroads, by Brian Landis. (Amazon)

Thanks as always for reading!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

El Firdan Railway Bridge - A Bridge Not Far Enough

In the context of railway infrastructure, "Transcontinental" typically refers to the original Transcontinental Railroad, particularly in the United States. But very few pieces of infrastructure can truly be considered transcontinental. 

One that can be considered is Egypt's El Ferdan Railway Bridge (Google Maps), which is a dual swing bridge that spans the Suez Canal, connecting Africa with Asia. The bridge opened in 2001, and is (or was) the longest swing bridge in the world. Between 2001-2015, it served the Egyptian National Railway

Railway bridges over the Suez Canal have had a tendency to not last very long, as it was the fifth bridge over the Suez Canal built in that location. 

The first bridge over the Suez was built in April 1918 for the Sinai Military Railway, but removed after World War I as it was a hindrance to shipping. 

A swing bridge built in 1942 was removed in 1947 after being damaged by a steamship. 

A dual swing bridge replaced it in 1954, but was closed in 1956 after the Suez Crisis. 

It was replaced in 1963, only to be destroyed in 1967 during the Six-Day War with Israel. 

Image credit: H Nawara, Wikipedia Commons

While this bridge has had the longest life of any railway bridge in the vicinity, it has not operated since 2015. The Suez Canal was expanded to include a second shipping line, causing the rail line that used the bridge to end at a dead end. A new railway tunnel is planned to connect the railway east of the Suez to the rest of Egypt's railway network, rendering the El Ferdan Railway bridge obsolete. 

Al Firdan area, with the out-of-service right of way. The Maroon color is for the African continent, while the Yellow is for Asia.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Dulaney Railroad: Delaware's First Abandoned Railroad

Within the State of Delaware, the first railroad built south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal was also the first railroad abandoned within the state, known as the Dulaney Railroad. 

Walter Dulaney owned land in western Delaware about six miles west of present-day Clayton. The area was eventually known as "Dulaney Manor" or simply "Dulaney". 

The land at the time was heavily timbered, and to clear land for farming, in addition to making money from the timber industry, a railroad was constructed from Dulaney east to a point on the Smyrna River known as  Brick Store Landing, where the timber could be shipped.

Image: Delaware DOT. Note the Dulaney RR in the central part of the state.

Operation began in 1849, using wooden rails for the roughly 10-mile distance, and ended just one year later. Using a single horse for power, it was not a common-carrier railroad, and built for and used exclusively by the Dulaney family. The right of way generally followed present-day Clayton-Delaney Rd and Brick Store Landing Rd. 

By virute of its 1850 abandonment, it marks the first abandoned railroad in Delaware, although as it was not a common carrier operation, the first chartered railroad abandoned in the state belongs to the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad, which was abandoned west of Bear, DE in 1859. 

Links to cited works in this blog - 
History of Delaware : 1609-1888: Local history

Thanks as always for reading!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Iowa's First Abandoned Railway: The Farmers Union Railroad

Despite being one of hundreds of failed short-lined railroads throughout the United States, the Farmers Union Railroad is notable for a number of reasons.

In 1875, the company was incorporated in the State of Iowa to build a road from the Mississippi River to the Missouri River in the central part of the state, a distance of about 300 miles.

What wound up being built was a wooden-railed, narrow-gauge railway between Liscomb, IA and Beaman, IA, roughly between 10-12 miles in length. One engine and 10 cars was all the company could afford to run the route. As a result of poor construction, rolling stock, and lack of financing, the railroad lasted only months into 1876. I simply can't imagine a wooden railway operating anywhere near the length that the original charter for the road was considering.

From Liscomb east to Beaman, IA, almost no trace of this railroad exists today, and as far as we can tell, no photographs exist of the road itself. By virtue of its 1876 abandonment, it was the first abandoned railroad in Iowa.

Not all was lost of the proposal, however. Between Vinton, IA and Trayer, IA, the Burlington Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway completed part of the right of way of the route, which fared much better, and passed down to the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific, and later the Iowa Northern Railway short line before being abandoned in the early 2000's. It is now the Old Creamery Trail.

Iowa has a ton of abandoned railways, which we do our best to map. The State of Iowa has been a fantastic resource to that end, with their own map of railroad abandonments within the state.

Image: Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines

Thanks as always for reading!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Visiting Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (By Jet Lagged Jaff)

My Visit to Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
Modern Day Machu Picchu. Image: Chelsea Cook, Pexels
One of history's most famous archaeological sites is that of Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan city built on the side of Huayna Picchu Mountain, located in present day Peru. In January, our friend JetLaggedJaff was able to visit this amazing world heritage site, and share his thoughts on visiting. Take it away!

Before I discuss my visit to this magnificent civilization, I want to give a little basic history behind it.
As some of you may know, Machu Picchu was built back in the 15th century and eventually abandoned in the 16th century. Machu Picchu was used as a royal estate built by the Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Construction of Machu Picchu began in the 14th century, after the Incans defeated the Chanca people in the territory. It was built as a refuge for the Incan aristocrats. 

Located nearly 8000' above sea level, mountainous weather and fog are common climactic elements.
There is no known reason why the Incan citadel was abandoned.  Historians suggest that a number of outbreaks caused the fall of the Incan people, eventually causing it to be abandoned. In 1572, the last of its rulers came to an end. Historians also suggest that political campaigns done by the conquistadores caused it to fall and be abandoned. Aside from these hypotheses, there is no clear evidence why this amazing civilization became abandoned. At this point, there are only theories with no hard evidence.

How does one get to Machu Picchu? 

So first, I flew into Cusco, Peru. Then, you have to transfer to a train to Aguas Calientes. If you are going around their summer time, you will be using a bi-modal (bus/train) service. There are only 2 train companies tourists can choose from, and have very limited schedules; they are PeruRail and IncaRail. 
Since I went in their summer time, I took a bimodal service through IncaRail to Aguas Calientes and spent the night there. I took a bus from Cusco to Ollatantaytambo, which was about 2 hours, and then transferred to a train to Aguas Calientes which took another 2 hours.  Overall, I enjoyed my experience on the IncaRail and it was overall, an amazing experience. There was drink and snack service, the people on the train along with the staff were very polite, and the views on the Andes mountains were breathtaking. 

Pictures and words can only do so much, eventually you need to visit these places yourself!
From Aguas Calientes, you can either hike up the mountain where Machu Picchu is, which takes about 2 hours, or you can take a 30 minute bus ride. I ended up taking a bus up to Machu Picchu so that I could maximize my time. Machu Picchu only allows you to visit for a certain amount of time, so that the flow of tourists is constantly running, and to prevent overcrowding. 

Image of the Machu Picchu trail map via The Only Peru Guide
Machu Picchu was like stepping into a piece of history and seeing firsthand how the Incan civilization lived and operated. You can see the different houses that people lived in, the different temples that are present in Machu Picchu, the farming terraces, and the many llamas and alpacas that were roaming around Machu Picchu, and let me tell you, there were a lot. It was an amazing experience and you won’t regret ever going there. If you make a trip to South America, this amazing landmark is a must!

After I visited Machu Picchu, I then journeyed to the mountain of  Huayna Picchu to begin my hike to the very top!

While Machu Picchu sits at just under 8000', Huayna Pichu reaches a maximum height of nearly 9000 feet!
Before I discuss my visit to Huayna Picchu, I want to give a little basic history behind it. 

Huayna Picchu is the mountain that rises over Machu Picchu. It was home to the high priest and local virgins at the top of the mountain, with colonies built along the track to the top and descending onto the bottom. Every day before sunrise, a small group of people, along with the high priest would descend down into Machu Picchu to signal the beginning of a new day. 

It was also the look out point for Machu Picchu in case of any threats from the surrounding tribes. Thanks to Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu was always prepared for any potential invasions. 

You can see nearly everything from the top of the site.
I got the chance to climb Huayna Picchu. It was an amazing, but very challenging experience. It was my first time mountain climbing and it was definitely exhausting! Was it worth it? Yes! When you get to the top of the mountain, which takes about two to three hours to ascend, you get beautiful views of Machu Picchu and of the Andes Mountains. 

Once I reached the top, I did not want to come down, it was such a thrilling experience! Do I recommend doing this? Yes, but with proper preparation. Before visiting, I suggest training for it by running, climbing, or hiking. While you don’t have to be in top physical condition, some preparation will definitely pay off in the long run. Before climbing, I recommend stretching, warming up, and bringing lots of water. Trust me, it will make the climb that much easier, but it still will be challenging. Lastly, pack some good running shoes or hiking boots. 

Overall, visiting these places was an experience I will never forget! I went to Peru for one week, and planning the Machu and Huayna Picchu parts of the trip was probably the most time consuming, but it was definitely worth visiting at least once in your lifetime. Once the travel restrictions have been listed, maybe you can visit this wonderful place yourself. If you want to know more about how you can also be prepared for your travel, read one of my latest blogs on common fears that people have when traveling and how you can conquer them. 

Thank you for reading and for your support and this is Jet Lagged Jaff taking off until next time! Goodbye for now! If you need any travel tips or support, please send me a message on Facebook through the Jet Lagged Jaff page or at 
Also, please check out my travel blog! I regularly post once every one to two weeks on different travel tips and destinations that I recommend.

Further reading: Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time (eBay) (Amazon)

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Havana Rantoul & Eastern Railroad

The Havana Rantoul & Eastern Railroad was one of the very few narrow-gauge railways in the State of Illinois.

Construction began in 1875, and eventually the line ran from LeRoy, IL to West Lebanon, IN. A Havana-LeRoy segment of the road was proposed, but never constructed. (Right of way)

Image: "A westbound Illinois Central train passes the Sabina station en route to LeRoy. This was the first grain elevator east of LeRoy on the colorful “Punkin’ Vine.” (Jack Keefe)
It was built in response to the Illinois Central Railroad, whom financier Benjamin F. Gifford believed was charging exorbitant freight rates. Locals referred to the operation as the Punkin’ Vine, alluding to its narrow trackage.

Havana Rantoul & Eastern RR Stock Certificate. (Amazon)

Like many short lines, it ran on a shoestring budget, and had little in the way of rolling stock. Less than five years into its life, it was purchased by the Wabash Railroad.

Havana Rantoul & Eastern Timetable, 1885, at this point under the Wabash flag.
In 1886, the Illinois Central, the line for whom the railroad was built to compete with, acquired the road, and ran it as a subsidiary called the Rantoul Railroad. During IC's ownership, it was re-gauged to standard gauge.

Passenger service along the route ended in the 1930's or early 1940's. Most of the line was abandoned pre-1980, but an 8 mile stretch of the line still operates as the Fisher Farmers Grain & Coal Railroad between Rantoul, IL and Dewey, IL. (DeBruler)

Image: Eric Coleman, FFG&C RR 1828
Thanks as always for reading!

Monday, April 6, 2020

From Railyard to National Icon: Toronto's CN Tower

As the North American railway network contracts in size (while improving efficiencies and moving more tonnage overall), there are many examples of former railroad property that has been converted into prime real estate, as many railyards were once built in and around major cities in the United States and Canada.

Chinatown Square in Chicago, and Heinz Stadium in Pittsburgh are two of the many examples of this, and something we've discussed before

In Canada, the Canadian National Railway turned a redundant railyard into Toronto's Entertainment District, which houses, among other venues, the Toronto Railway Museum, and the CN Tower, the subject of today's blog.

JetLaggedJaff visited the Tower in 2015, and shared his thoughts on the visit.

CN Tower Stock Image
The CN Tower, also known as The Canadian National Tower, was constructed from 1973 to 1976. It was built over the former Railway Lands. The Railway Lands is a neighborhood in Toronto near the waterfront that used to be a large railway switching yard. After CN ownership, it was transferred to the Canada Lands Company. 

"The Railway Lands between Front St and the Toronto Waterfront, c.1919." Rail lines were built up between the 1850's-1920's. Image: Canadian Postcard Company, Wikipedia Commons
After the train yards shifted away from Toronto and into Vaughn in the 1960s, the yards in Toronto became redundant and the railway lands began the process of abandonment.

With newly opened land, development started in that area, including the building of the CN Tower. The Tower was the only part of the proposed MetroCentre that actually became reality. From its opening, until 2007, it was the tallest free-standing structure in the world and is now the 9th tallest free-standing structure in the world. 

In 1995, it was declared one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World. The CN Tower is a communications tower, observation tower, and a major tourist attraction in Toronto. Today, it is a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline as it attracts more than 2 million visitors.

Toronto's Skyline as seen from the tower. Image: JetLaggedJaff
I had the pleasure of actually visiting the CN Tower 5 years ago when I went to Toronto. It was truly an amazing experience to view the tower from the outside and the inside. You get amazing views of the city, the Toronto Islands, and of the railway that passes by the tower. The railyard may be gone, but the main line still passes just to the north of the tower. Toronto Union Station is less than a half a mile away.

Image: JetLaggedJaff, Billy Bishop Airport
One of my favorite views was watching the planes take off from Billy Bishop Airport. You can either take the elevator to the observation deck or you can go even higher to the SkyPod. I had the opportunity of going all the way up to the SkyPod, which is 446 meters (1460 ft) off the ground.

Editors Note: No way in hell. Thank you.
Another cool feature of the CN Tower is that it has a glass floor at the observation deck, and it was really, really cool to stand on. I admit, I was really freaked out that I was standing on top of the glass floor, but then someone told me that it can practically handle anything and I was like “phew”!

Overall, if you are visiting Toronto, this is definitely a must-visit. I promise that you will not regret it.

A panoramic view of the city taken from the SkyPod.
As stated already, the railway heritage of the land is still present, as the Toronto Railway Museum occupies a significant portion of land adjacent to the tower, and has many different pieces of rolling stock on display along Roundhouse Park, which preserved an old railway roundhouse as part of the museum.

Image: CN 6213 on display. Image: Discover Ontario Museums
Further Reading: Toronto's Railway Heritage (Amazon),

For more on Jaff's travels all across the world, visit JetLaggedJaff on Potoky Creative

Thanks as always for reading!

Monday, March 30, 2020

An update on RailROWMap

Hey all,

Just a heads up on RailROWMap. Good news and bad news. Obviously, March 29th has come and gone. Earlier this month, we set an ambitious goal to have the mapping app deployed and ready to go for a March 29th launch.

That is not going to happen, as unfortunately, unforseen circumstances (ie nearly everything being closed as the result of this pandemic) has delayed progress on the app. Obviously, the health of the world is more important than our app being deployed in a timely basis, and we all have our part to do maintaining social distancing.

The good news is that we currently have a functioning beta app in hand. But it isn’t ready for deployment in this state.

In ideal times, we’re less than two weeks away. Unfortunately, the app review process will take at least another week (usually it’s less than 24 hours) given that most tech employees are working remotely.

I am shooting for an April 12th release, but am not guaranteeing anything at this point. I wish you all good health in the coming month, and hopefully this virus begins to die down with upcoming warmer weather.

Thank you all!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Auto Trails: North America's Predecessors to Numbered Highways

In the early 20th century, with the advent of the automobile becoming inexpensive enough to be affordable by the Middle Class, America's highway infrastructure was nearly non-existent. 

Road networks were essentially a series of dirt roads and plank roads outside of major cities, and the interurban railways of the day were usually more reliable forms of transportation. 

Historic Yellowstone Trail Marker in North Fond du Lac, WI. Image: RoyalBroil, Wikipedia Commons
From these paths, an informal network of roads began to coalesce that would be become known as Auto Trails. Today we're going to look at this system, and how from the Auto Trails, the US Highway System, and later the Interstate Highway would come to fruition. 

To understand the Auto Trail in the context of transportation history, one must go back to the beginning of the development of the transportation system of the United States, which begins thousands of years before the United States even existed. 

One of the most fascinating things I learned on my ride on the Coopersville & Marne Railway was that the 1858 track of the railroad followed "an ancient water route first cut into the earth by glacial events." And indeed, parts of our transportation system were naturally formed, and from that formation, human ingenuity took over. 

From the river's course, Native American trails were developed. 

From Native American trails, pioneer trails and military routes were developed. In many cases, early Americans simply used Native American trails for moving large distances. 

From these military routes and pioneer trails, dirt roads, canals and plank-roads were built, improving the routes that were already there. 

From the canals and plank-roads, railroads and improved gravel roads developed. And from these gravel roads, the Auto Trails eventually tied them together in a network.

A 1913 example of what dirt roads looked like in the early 20th century. This eventually became US 101 in Ventura County, CA. Image: GBCNet
By the 1890's, ideas for a transcontinental highway began to unfold, undoubtedly from the successes of the Transcontinental Railroad. Despite automobiles still being very expensive, the early proposals for a transcontinental road were quite forward thinking, given what typical roads looked like during those days. 

But in 1902, the first meeting of AAA began envisioning a route from New York City to California. Good Roads Magazine noted that "The plan of a transcontinental highway is spectacular; but Congress cannot be induced to support a spectacle.", and suggested that this be a private project with state and local support, not dissimilar to how many early railroads were funded. 

The idea of mass produced automobiles that could be purchased by the many still wasn't a thought at this point, and the automobile was thought of more like the airplane is today. In fact, many of those who advocated for "Good Roads" did so with bicycle traffic in mind. But, the idea of Auto Trails and publicly owned automobile highways was beginning to enter the stream of consciousness. 

A map of proposed roads of the United States.
In 1911, many routes had been identified as areas where improved roads could be a public good, including many upgraded pioneer trails. But still almost none had been built. In early 1912, the first 25 miles of the Yellowstone Trail would be built, which would eventually stretch from Seattle to Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

The rest of the decade would see a tremendous amount of roads constructed, each of which with a different story, and different level of funding. One of the most well known of these roads was the Lincoln Highway, which fulfilled the promise of a New York City to California route, albeit requiring a ferry across the Hudson River, until the Lincoln Tunnel was built in the 1930's. 

The original east end of the Lincoln Highway at Broadway & 42nd St in New York City, right at Times Square.
By 1920, there were hundreds of different Auto Trails in the United States, and the idea of named roads even made its way into Canada. While many had the word "Trail" in their names, it is important to note that they were mostly independent roads, and not a national network of highways. Trails were marked with wooden signs and arrows. 

A Lincoln Highway maker with the distinctive "L" pattern and arrow. Image: Lincoln Highway Association
Most were marketed and promoted only by their associations, and while states and municipalities generally helped to fund improvements along their routes, many of these roads were little or no better than local roads, especially in rural areas. 

Auto Trails were slightly ahead of their time, as they were organized by people who saw the potential of the automobile, but were still enough of a luxury item that the US Government was not yet interested in promoting roads. By 1916 however, the impact that the automobile was going to have on transportation in the US was clear, and began negotiations to fund individual highways.

A 1922 Rand McNally Map of Auto Trails in the United States and Canada
Wisconsin began a system of numbering state highways in 1918, as the first successor to the named Auto Trails. In 1922, six States in New England began creating a system of multistate highways that were numbered as opposed to named. The states had designed and numbered the roads in such a way that could be replicated in the rest of the contiguous United States. From this system, New England Route 1 would eventually become US Highway 1 in 1926. 

From the Auto Trails, the US Highway system would develop, and in many cases, simply number the roads that were there already. While numbered roads and systems seem commonplace today, the transformation from names to numbers was not without criticism. The New York Times wrote that "The traveler may shed tears as he drives the Lincoln Highway or dream dreams as he speeds over the Jefferson Highway, but how can he get a 'kick' out of 46, 55 or 33 or 21?" Notably left out was 66, who travelers eventually would  be able to get their kicks on. 

Some names, such as the Dixie Highway and, of course, the Lincoln Highway, would stick even past the days of the US Highway, but many faded away in favor of the (somewhat) orderly numbers of the US Highway system.

The early history of the US Highway system requires a blog, or perhaps a few, to truly encapsulate, and as such, I will stop here. The Auto Trails provided a brief, but notable bridge from the dirt, unimproved roads, to a system of slightly-improved roads that would be reconstructed and re-engineered over time, in a process that continues to this day. 

Thanks as always for reading!

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Dachau Concentration Camp: My Experience (By Jet Lagged Jaff)

Our friend who goes by JetLaggedJaff recently completed a visit of Europe, and among the spots he visited was the Dachau Concentration Camp. He has graciously shared his visit and thoughts on this extremely harrowing place in which unspeakable atrocities occurred against humanity. We'll let him continue from here...

First of all, would I recommend a place like this for a visit? Absolutely. It may have been frightening, but it was also an experience you would not want to miss when you visit Germany. You can read all about the Holocaust in textbooks, but visiting Dachau will definitely give you a true connection with the prisoners. You will definitely grow as a person and have a deeper understanding and compassion for the people that died.

Entrance to Dachau, which translated means "Work Sets [You] Free". The phrase appears on many concentration camps.
Dachau Concentration camp was the first concentration camp to open in 1933. It was originally intended to hold political prisoners. The concentration camp eventually started holding other types of prisoners, such as Jews, criminals from Germany, Austria, and other occupied territories during the Third Reich. Over the war, the Nazis went from a policy of imprisonment of people they deemed undesirable, to a policy of extermination, and Dachau became a death camp.

Like all of the concentration camps, the conditions were terrible. Very overcrowded, a lot of torture, and lack of food. The main cause of prisoners’ deaths at Dachau were hunger, medical experiments, disease, and murder. A gas chamber was in place but never used, but the crematoriums were used often.

Map of Dachau Concentration Camp (Link and further information)

There were 32,000 documented deaths were recorded at Dachau, until the camp was liberated by US troops in April 1945. It was the longest running concentration camp throughout Nazi history, and was the largest concentration camp until Auschwitz-Birkenau was built.  
Inside the museum, the "March of Death" Sculpture. As the Allies closed in on the camps, prisoners were forced to march, and were usually shot they could travel no longer.
The International Memorial Inscription
The Russian Orthodox Chapel
As soon as I set foot on the grounds of this camp; it was a bone-chilling experience. The very fact that people died on these particular grounds definitely gave me an eerie feeling. It was mind-blowing to see how the prisoners lived, what forms of torture were used on them and to learn about their living conditions.

It really makes you wonder how can someone have so much hatred for a particular race, that they would want them to go through that kind of torture? That was the question that was going through my mind the entire visit. I wouldn’t want this for my absolute worst enemy.

NOTE: As part of this blog, we have made a donation to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, to make sure no part of the Holocaust is forgotten.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

RailROWMap: The Future of Mapping Abandoned Railroad Lines (Available May 2020)

It's been awhile since I've sat down and blogged, but it hasn't been because I've stopped wanting to, or had writer's block, but rather, over the last few months, I've been working to fully realize the ultimate goal of the abandoned and out-of-service railroad lines map since its inception.

And that is to create a platform which allows you, yes you, to contribute your knowledge of railroad history and mapping to the project. The vastness of the abandoned railroad network is such that the only way it can be fully realized is with the magic of crowdsourcing.

I'm pleased to announce RailROWMap will be available by the end of May, 2020.
I started mapping abandoned railroad lines as a side project on March 29th, 2016. Exactly four years to the day, I am beyond excited that the next step toward creating an accurate, crowsourced map of abandoned railroad lines is will be a reality! Both iOS and Android users will each have their own apps available in the App Store and Google Play, respectively. A desktop app to update the interface of the current map is in development as well, and will release on the same day as the iOS and Android apps.

The Google My Maps application has been amazing to this end, but a new system is needed.

In the few years that I've been active in the railroad history community, I've come to realize that no one is a complete railroad expert, but each of us has our own unique knowledge, that as a whole, is far more valuable than the sum of its parts. Human-Computer chess matches, for example, have resulted in humans learning things about the from computers, and as large a dataset as exists in the abandoned railroad network, I see the applications for such data, and how it can be useful to society as a whole, as limitless and beyond my imagination.

A perfect example would be a conversation I had with an esteemed railroad historian, who did not realize that Bolingbrook, IL had (an albeit very small) bit of railroad trackage and history, despite living just a few miles away. "Bolingbrook is a relatively new suburb, and as such, has no railroad history", he said incorrectly.

But just as relevant, there are numerous parts of our railroad I can't fathom myself, which is why the knowledge of the crowd is so necessary.

In my current system, users must email me information about railroad lines, which is cumbersome for both myself and them; but the app will allow users to create their own railroad lines on the map, and then immediately send them on the map screen, where a file will be generated, allowing me to simply add the line onto the existing data.

While the map in its current for has been available for viewing and disseminating online for the last four years, the app will be available by the end of March. Like everything on this website, it will be available free of charge, supported by ads, affiliates.

Some may argue that I'm simply "reinventing the wheel", as many other mapping alternatives are available, for instance OpenRailwayMap. However, OpenRailwayMap is cumbersome to use, and more importantly, has a steep learning curve when it comes to plotting the tracks of old rights of way. One of the goals of the app is to allow users much easier access to sending lines, as many people who may have extensive railroad history knowledge may lack the IT skills necessary to make accurate, clean maps.

For those who wish to keep using the old map, I do not envision the old map going away, however both app and web interfaces will be updated.

I say this many times, and I mean it, without you I would not be doing this, so I greatly appreciate your contributions and activity! Feel free to comment on any features you would find helpful in the app, and I will try to make it feasible, either in the first iteration of the app or an update.

Thanks as always!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

You Can See Economic History in Nebraska's Satellite Imagery

The accessibility of satellite imagery has opened up a treasure trove of interesting things that might otherwise remain hidden in plain sight. I've past mentioned scarchitecture in this blog before, where the historic tracks of railroads, canals, roads, and other transportation systems can result in oddly-angled buildings which offer clues of the past.

Others have noticed geography playing a role in other arenas of history as well, as geologist Steven Dutch noted that the more Democratic Black Belt in Alabama matched up nearly perfectly with a 100 Million year old rock formation. (Wired)

Similarly, I noticed something interesting in regards to my abandoned railroad map, with regard to the proximity of three railroad lines that had significant portions of their routes that were never built. These were three related branches of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad that never reached their full extent in central Nebraska. Today we explore why they were never completed.

These were the lines that ran from Palmer, NE to Burwell, NE along a 70 mile route; Palmer, NE to Sargent, NE, along a 75 mile route, and Greeley, NE to Ericson, NE along a 20 mile route. These are shown below in blue, with the unbuilt sections in pink.

Image: Google Maps, Abandoned & Out of Service Railroad Lines
I call this little oddity the Three Fingers area, given how it looks on the map. And after quickly searching online, I came to learn that there is a reason that none of these lines was completed.

Old Chicago Burlington & Quincy Depot at Burwell, 1983. Image: Stu Nicholson,
The Burwell Branch, along with the branches to Sargent, NE and Ericson, NE, were all intended to run farther north into the Black Hills, however economic and drought troubles of the 1890's, most notably the Panic of 1893, quite literally derailed these plans.

"First Train into Sargent, Custer County, NE, October 25th, 1899"
The Ericson Branch was the first line to be abandoned, with the last train arriving there in 1940. What was built along these branches was usually poorly maintained, but the Burwell and Sargent Branches each survived until the early 1980's, which is surprising, because as early as the 1920's, the Chicago Burlington & Quincy noted these lines were unprofitable. Ultimately, they were abandoned by the Burlington Northern, after having been passed on from the CB&Q.

Despite never having been operated, each of the unbuilt sections of grade are still quite visible on satellite imagery, with the exception of the grade which ran through what would become the Calamus Reservoir. At least thirty miles of the Sargent Branch continuing north of Sargent is plainly visible on satellite imagery, continuing until nearly Brewster, NE.
  • 41.65435, -99.38339
41.65435, -99.38339
Here's the Burwell grade as it extends past the Calamus Reservoir:

41.90571, -99.29619
The Ericson grade continues on as Cedar River Rd north of the town.

41.79088, -98.69342
So, the economic downturn of the 1890's remains immortalized in our satellite imagery, at least in central Nebraska, and even though these routes were never completed, the grades themselves tell a story of railroad lines that wouldn't make it past construction.

Thanks as always for reading!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad was a narrow-gauge line that ran from Durango, CO to Ridgway, CO, along a roughly 160 mile route. (Right of Way)

Image: "Railway station at Ophir, Colorado" 1940. Via Shorpy
First founded in 1889, the road began construction the year after. "The RGS’s early revenues came mainly from the numerous silver and gold mines near Telluride, Ophir and Rico. Hauling hundreds of tons of precious metal ores and hundreds of passengers in and out of the area made the financial condition of the railroad extraordinarily strong for its first two and one-half years! " (RGS History)

RGS 461 at Ridgway, CO. Photographer: Richard Kindig. Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places Photo Collection.
Unfortunately for the line, the silver panic of 1893 meant the newly opened line would face unforeseen financial difficulties from then on.

RGS 2101 freight car. Unknown photographer: Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places Photo Collection.
Through most of its history, it was owned by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, but operated separately, although often with second-hand equipment from the D&RGW.

Despite never being a highly-profitable route, the line survived longer than many narrow-gauge lines, finally being abandoned in 1953. Part of this can be attributed to creating the "Galloping Goose", a motorcar which allowed the line to carry passengers, mail, and small amounts of cargo along the line necessary to meet demand.

RGS "Galloping Goose #6" Unknown photographer: Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places Photo Collection.

Essentially a cross between a truck, bus and diesel railroad engine, they were replicated in a few other railroads around the world, but are best known for their use on the Rio Grande Southern.

"Photo by David Fluit #4 and #5 on the D&S at Tacoma, August 28, 2015 during Railfest. This was the first time the two "Geese" operated together since 1952." (RGS History)
The right of way is still traceable in spots, and follows US-160, and several Colorado State Highways.

Further reading: “Robert W. Richardson's Rio Grande Southern: Chasing the Narrow Gauge” (Amazon) (eBay) Note: This site may earn a commission using the provided links.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Cassville & Western Railroad

The Cassville and Western Railroad connected Cassville, MO with Exeter, MO along a five mile right of way. First proposed in January 1896, the line quickly secured financing, and construction along the short route was complete in June of that year. This gave Cassville a connection to the Frisco system at Exeter, connecting it to the rest of the US Railroad Network.

Fields' Photo Archives via Barry County Museum.
The line was imperative to Cassville's success, as roads to the town were impassable during the winter, and during inclement weather. By 1919, the line was nonetheless facing bankruptcy. After reorganization as the Cassville & Exeter Railroad, its fortunes changed dramatically.

Fields' Photo Archives via Barry County Museum

It was billed as the shortest independent standard-gauge railroad, although there were quite a few examples of shorter short lines, such as the Illinois Midland Railway. Newspapers across the US, and Ripley's "Believe it or Not" publicized the line, and its one-man operator. It thus remained profitable for its remaining decades.

Right of Way via our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map
The line would continue to run independently until 1956, when it was abandoned. Today, only scarchitecture in Cassville and the tree line of the right of way to Exeter are the only visual cues that remain of the line's existence.

For more information on this line, check out Seven Short-lines Their Lives and Times on Amazon.

Thanks as always for reading!