Steam Era, 1869 - 1955
Steam railroad history began in 1869 for Mason City when the McGregor & Missouri River Rwy laid track from Nora Springs to Clear Lake and became part of the effort to link Chicago with South Dakota, and in 1870-71 when the Mason City & Minnesota, and the Iowa Central RR began to establish a north-south route to move coal from the Fort Dodge area. These and other short-line railroads in the region eventually merged by the early 1900's into the five major rail lines that served Mason City for most of the steam era.
A sixth railway of the steam era was the local Mason City & Clear Lake RR, an electric rail service begun in 1897 that still exists today as the Iowa Traction RR. It served to interconnect businesses, passengers, and rail transfer services between the major regional RR lines.
A few major industries of the steam era such as cement, bricks, tile, fertilizer, sugar, diary, livestock and meat industries are shown on the map, but many other businesses such as fruit, groceries, lumber, coal, kerosene, oil, fur and hides, furniture, grain, milling and feed, also depended on the railroads to move the products in and out of Mason City. Region wide, passenger services grew fast, and in 1915 nearly 2 million passengers were served by the M&StL RR alone.
You can trace the route of the five railroads on the map by following the heralds.
Railroad Herald Legend
Chicago Great Western RR
Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific RR
Chicago [&] Northwestern RR
Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific RR
Mason City & Clear Lake RR
Minneapolis & St Louis RR
Railroad Transitions in Mason City
Chicago Great Western
1886 - Mason City & Fort Dodge RR
1901 - Chicago Great Western
1968 - Purchased by Chicago & NorthWestern RR
Chicago [&] NorthWestern
1889 - Iowa, Minnesota & North Western RR
1899 - Chicago, NorthWestern RR
1995 - Purchased by Union Pacific RR
1869 - McGregor and Missouri River Company
1871 - Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul RR
1985 - Soo Line RR
1991 - Canadian Pacific RR
1997 - I & M Rail Link
2002 - Iowa, Chicago & Eastern
Minneapolis & St. Louis RR
1872 - Iowa Central RR
1912 - Minneapolis & St Louis RR
1960 - Chicago [&] NorthWestern RR
(1995 - Purchased by Union Pacific RR)
1909 - St Paul & Des Moines Short Line
1911 - St Paul & Kansas City Short Line
1913 - Rock Island RR
1980 - Liquidated. Some track and equipment to CNW
[Right Panel Photo Captions, from top]
Downtown Mason City in 1874, looking west toward Central Park
CNW RR over Lime Creek
(Winnebago River, NW of cement plant)
Corner Cafe & Cobb Furniture store at SW corner of State St. and Main Ave. (Federal), 1909, future site of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed bank and hotel
Mason City and Clear Lake RR pulling Kennedy Farms refrigerated cars.
Colorful and decorative, "billboard" box cars and refrigerator cars were common sights during the steam era
M&StL #130, a 4-4-0 "American" built in 1882 by Manchester Locomotive Works.
M&StL #634, a 2-8-2 "Mikado" built in 1920 by Brooks Locomotive Works. During WWII this workhorse of the rails became known as a "MacArthur".
In the mid 1930s
, diesel powered locomotives began to be introduced, and shared nearly 25 years with steam on the rails before steam phased out in the late 1950s. The demise of steam power was swift on most major railroads, and except for remote rail lines, tourist excursion lines, and museum displays, steam locomotion has all but disappeared in favor of diesel power. The smoky, smelly, sooty days of steam are long gone in favor of clean efficient diesel power. But nothing will match the drama, majesty, and romance of a mighty steam locomotive on the rails.