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The Rock Island Line

Bill Marvel

Publication Year: 2013

This richly illustrated volume tells the story of a legendary railroad whose tracks spanned the Midwest, serving farms and small-town America for more than 140 years. One of the earliest railroads to build westward from Chicago, it was the first to span the Mississippi, advancing the frontier, bringing settlers into the West, and hauling their crops to market. Rock Island’s celebrated Rocket passenger trains also set a standard for speed and service, with suburban runs as familiar to Windy City commuters as the Loop. For most of its existence, the Rock battled competitors much larger and richer than itself and when it finally succumbed, the result was one of the largest business bankruptcies ever. Today, as its engines and stock travel the busy main lines operated by other carriers, the Rock Island Line lives on in the hearts of those whom it employed and served.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Railroads Past and Present


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p. 1-1

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-11


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pp. 3-5

Introduction & Acknowledgments

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pp. 6-7

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Chapter 1: The Bridge

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pp. 8-29

The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad began, fittingly, with a journey across the Mississippi River. The small group of prosperous businessmen was crossing by boat, not bridge. That would come soon enough. For the moment they were focused on a swifter, more modern kind of transportation: a railroad. ...

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Chapter 2: A Bend in the Road

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pp. 30-53

Rock Island’s late arrival in Council Bluffs left it with a dilemma: Which way to turn? The way west was blocked by Union Pacific. Iowa was fertile ground for branch lines. Minnesota still beckoned from the north. To the south laid Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Texas. ...

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Chapter 3: A Rocky Road

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pp. 54-75

On July 12, 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner addressed a distinguished gathering of colleagues at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago’s Jackson Park. Many of those present had ridden Rock Island trains to the fair, where they could stroll the grounds ...

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Chapter 4: Planned Progress

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pp. 76-105

The man who saved the Rock Island railroad was a square-jawed, flinty-eyed railroader’s railroader, a slowtalker who chose his words carefully and meant every syllable of each. ...

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Chapter 5: The Road to Ride

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pp. 106-131

Even in the worst of times, the railroad did its best to field a fleet that gave passengers a run for their money. And when times were flush, the Rock Island often ran ahead of the pack. It was among the first with onboard dining and streamliners. ...

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Chapter 6: The Road to Ruin

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pp. 132-158

By the late 1950s the signs were not good for the railroad business. The prosperity that had returned with World War II had largely dissipated. Jet airliners were scooping up the high-end passenger trade, and the growing interstate highway system would soon harvest what was left. Freight was going to trucks and barges. ...

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Epilogue: Pieces of the Rock

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pp. 159-160

More than three decades after its death, the railroad that Union Pacific President John C. Kenefick once called “a bag of bones” remains a pretty lively skeleton. An arm or leg might be missing, but thousands of former Rock Island rail miles still get regular exercise. ...


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pp. 161-162


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pp. 163-164


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pp. 165-168

Other Works in the Series, About the Author

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pp. 178-180

E-ISBN-13: 9780253011312
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253011275

Page Count: 180
Illustrations: 104 color illus., 42 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Railroads Past and Present