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Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad
System map
The Rock Island System in 1965.
Reporting mark RI, ROCK
Locale Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas
Dates of operation October 10, 1852–March 31, 1980
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P RR) (reporting marks RI, ROCK) was a Class I railroad in the United States. It was also known as the Rock Island Line, or, in its final years, The Rock.



Rock Island Locomotive #627, circa 1880


Its ancestor, the Rock Island and La Salle Railroad Company, was incorporated in Illinois on February 27, 1847, and an amended charter was approved on February 7, 1851, as the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. Construction began October 1, 1851, in Chicago, and the first train was operated on October 10, 1852, between Chicago and Joliet. Construction continued on through La Salle, and Rock Island was reached on February 22, 1854, becoming the first railroad to connect Chicago with the Mississippi River.

In Iowa, the C&RI's incorporators created (on February 5, 1853) the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company, to run from Davenport to Council Bluffs, and on November 20, 1855, the first train to operate in Iowa steamed from Davenport to Muscatine. The Mississippi river bridge between Rock Island and Davenport was completed on April 22, 1856.[1]

In 1857, Abraham Lincoln represented the Rock Island in an important lawsuit regarding bridges over navigable rivers. The suit had been brought by the owner of a steamboat which was destroyed by fire after running into the Mississippi river bridge. Lincoln argued that not only was the steamboat at fault in striking the bridge but that bridges across navigable rivers were to the advantage of the country.[2]

The former Rock Island Depot at Chillicothe, Illinois, now a railroad museum

The M&M was acquired by the C&RI on July 9, 1866, to form the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company. The railroad expanded through construction and acquisitions in the following decades.[1]


The Rock Island stretched across Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. The easternmost reach of the system was Chicago, and the system also reached Memphis, Tennessee; west, it reached Denver, Colorado, and Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Southernmost reaches were to Galveston, Texas, and Eunice, Louisiana while in a northerly direction the Rock Island got as far as Minneapolis, Minnesota.[3] Major lines included Minneapolis to Kansas City, Missouri, via Des Moines, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri Meta, Missouri, to Santa Rosa via Kansas City; Herington, Kansas, to Galveston, Texas, via Fort Worth, Texas, and Dallas, Texas; and Santa Rosa to Memphis. The heaviest traffic was on the Chicago-to-Rock Island and Rock Island-to-Muscatine lines.

Chicago-Peoria Rock Island's Talgo Jet Rocket in 1956.

Passenger train service

Iowa City Depot, once part of the Rock Island system.

The Rock Island jointly operated the Golden State Limited (Chicago—Kansas City—Tucumcari—El Paso—Los Angeles) with the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) from 1902–1968. The name was shortened to the Golden State after 1948's modernization. Another joint venture with the SP, the Golden Rocket, was planned to enter service in 1948 but instead became "the train that never was," after SP withdrew from the joint train operating agreement. The Golden Rocket's uniquely-colored livery was placed in Golden State service instead.

In 1937, the Rock Island introduced Diesel power to its passenger service, with the purchase of six lightweight Rocket streamliners.

The railroad operated a number of trains known as Rockets serving the Midwest, including the Rocky Mountain Rocket (Chicago—Omaha—Lincoln—Denver—Colorado Springs), the Corn Belt Rocket (Chicago—Des Moines—Omaha), the Twin Star Rocket (Minneapolis—St. Paul—Des Moines—Kansas City—Oklahoma City—Fort Worth—Dallas—Houston), the Zephyr Rocket (Minneapolis—St. Paul—Burlington—St. Louis) and the Choctaw Rocket (Memphis—Little Rock—Oklahoma City—Amarillo—Tucumcari).

The Rock Island did not join Amtrak on its formation in 1971, and continued to operate its own passenger trains. After concluding that the cost of joining would be the same as operating the two remaining intercity roundtrips (the Chicago-Peoria Peoria Rocket and the Chicago-Rock Island Quad Cities Rocket), the railroad decided to "perform a public service for the state of Illinois" and continue intercity passenger operations. Both trains were discontinued on December 31, 1978.

The Rock Island also operated an extensive commuter train service in the Chicago area. The primary route ran from LaSalle Street Station to Joliet along the main line, and a spur line, known as the "suburban branch" to Blue Island. These services started to receive financial backing in 1976 from the newly formed Regional Transportation Authority. Today these lines are operated as part of Metra, and are known as the Rock Island District.

Rock Island's Survival Challenge

As the glory years of the Farrington era waned into the late 1950's, the Rock Island found itself once again faced with flat traffic, flat revenues and increasing costs. The property was still in decent shape and the Rock Island made an attractive bride for a rail suitor looking to expand the reach of their current system.

The Rock Island was known as 'one railroad too many' in the plains states, basically serving the same territory as the Burlington, only over a longer route. The midwest rail network had been built in the late 1800's to serve that era's traffic. The mechanization of grain hauling gave larger reach to large grain elevators, reducing the need for the tight web of track that crisscrossed the plains states such as Iowa. As far as available overhead traffic goes, in 1958 there were no less than six Class I carriers serving as eastern connections for the Union Pacific at Omaha all seeking a slice of the flood of western traffic that UP interchanged there. Under the ICC revenue rules in place at the time, the Rock Island sought traffic from Omaha, yet preferred to keep the long haul to Denver, where interchange could be made with the Denver and Rio Grande Western, a connection to the Western Pacific for haulage to the west coast.

The only option for the Rock Island to grow revenues and absorb costs was to merge with another, perhaps more prosperous railroad. Overtures were made from fellow midwest granger line Chicago and North Western and granger turned transcon Milwaukee Road. Both of these never advanced much beyond the data gathering and initial study phases. In 1964, the Rock Island selected Union Pacific to pursue a merger plan to form one large 'super' railroad stretching from Chicago to the West Coast.

Facing the loss of UP's traffic at the Omaha gateway, virtually every railroad directly and indirectly affected by this combination immediately filed protests asking that the transaction be denied. With these filings began the longest and most complicated merger case in Interstate Commerce Commission history. Faced with failing granger railroads and large Class I railroads seeking to expand, ICC Hearing Examiner Nathan Klitenic, presiding over the case, sought to balance the opposing forces and completely restructure the railroads of the United States west of the Mississippi River.

The UP-RI Merger Case

After ten years of hearings and tens of thousands of pages of testimony and exhibits produced, now-Administrative Law Judge Nathan Klitenic approved a plan for rail service throughout the west to be covered by four mega-systems: The Chicago-Omaha main would go to the Union Pacific. The Kansas City-Tucumcari Golden State Route would be sold to the Southern Pacific. The Memphis-Amarillo Choctaw Route would be sold to the Santa Fe Railway. The Rio Grande would have an option to purchase the Denver-Kansas City line.

The visionary plan would not be realized until the mega-mergers of the 1990's with the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific remaining as the two survivors. In 1974, the plan was viewed as a radical solution to the granger railroad issue. There was one major hitch to the plan.

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad #235, a GE U25B, passes through Blue Island, Illinois, in July, 1975.

During most of the ensuing merger process, the Rock Island operated at a financial loss. In 1965, the Rock Island would earn its last profit. With the merger with Union Pacific seemingly so close, the Rock Island cut expenses to conserve cash. Expenditures on track maintenance were cut, passenger service was reduced as fast as the ICC would allow, and locomotives received only basic maintenance to keep them running. Rock Island began to take on a ramshackle appearance and derailments occurred with increasing frequency. In an effort to prop up its future merger mate, UP asked the Rock Island to forsake the Denver gateway in favor of increased interchange at Omaha. Incredibly, the Rock Island refused this and the UP routed more Omaha traffic over the Chicago and North Western.

By the time of the 1974 approval of the merger, the Rock Island was no longer the attractive bride it had once been in the 1950's. The Union Pacific viewed the cost to bring the property back to viable operating condition to be prohibitive. The conditions attached to the agreement for both labor and operating concessions were also viewed as excessive. Union Pacific simply walked away from the process, ending the merger case.

The Rock Island's Last Attempt to Survive

In 1974, the road adopted a new color scheme proclaiming "The Rock." #4340 was among several EMD GP38-2 units acquired by the Missouri Pacific Railroad when the Rock Island shut down in 1980, and became MoPac #2278.

Now set free and adrift, both operationally and financially, the Rock Island assessed their options. Rock Island hired a new president and CEO, John W. Ingram, a former Federal Railway Administration official. Ingram quickly sought to improve efficiency and sought FRA loans for the rebuild of the line, but finances caught up with the Rock Island all too quickly. With only $300 of cash on hand, on March 17, 1975, Rock Island entered its third bankruptcy. William M. Gibbons was selected as receiver and trustee by Judge Frank J. McGarr, with whom Gibbons practiced law in the early 1960s.

With its debts on hold, Rock Island charted a new course as a grain funnel from the midwest to the port of Galveston, Texas. The Ingram administration estimated that the Rock Island could be rebuilt and re-equipped at a cost of 100 million dollars and sought financing for the plan. Cabooseless grain shuttles were one cost effective way to gain market share and help finance the plan internally.

Nevertheless, new and rebuilt locomotives arrived on the property in gleaming blue and white to replace some of the tired, filthy power. Track rebuild projects covered the system. Main lines that had seen little or no maintenance in years were pulled from the mud. Rail and tie replacement programs attacked the maintenance backlog. However, the FRA-backed loans that Ingram sought were thwarted by the lobbying efforts of competing railroads, who considered a healthy Rock Island as a threat. By 1978, main line track improved in quality. For example, at the end of that Summer, the Illinois Division had no slow orders: freight velocity was rising. The sale of the Golden State Route to the Southern Pacific had been agreed to. The Rock Island slowly inched towards a financial break-even point, despite the financial malaise that plagued the late 1970's.

Creditors, such as Henry Crown, advocated for the shutdown and liquidation of the property. Crown declared that the Rock Island was not capable of operating profitably, much less paying its outstanding debts. At the same time, Crown invested as much as he could in Rock Island bonds and other debt at bankruptcy-induced junk status prices.

For the previous two years, while the Rock Island invested heavily into its physical plant, the Rock Island brotherhoods had been working under expired labor agreements. The front line operating employees had not had an increase in pay since the existing contracts expired yet remained on the job during extensive contract negotiations. By the summer of 1979, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the United Transportation Union had accepted new agreements. The Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC) held firm to their demand that pay increases be back dated to the expiration date of the previous agreement.

The Rock Island offered to open the books to show the precarious financial condition of the road in an effort to get the BRAC in line with the other unions that had already signed agreements. Fred J. Kroll, president of the BRAC, declined the offer to audit the books of the Rock Island. Kroll chose instead to pull his clerks off the job in August, 1979. Picket lines went up at every terminal on the Rock Island's system and the operating brotherhoods honored the picket lines. The Rock Island ground to a halt.

The Ingram management team chose to operate as much of the Rock Island as they could. Trains slowly began to move, with more traffic being hauled every week of the strike. President Carter issued a back-to-work order that BRAC dismissed. Still more traffic flowed on the strikebound Rock Island. Seeing the trains rolling despite the strike and fearing a Florida East Coast strikebreaking situation, the unions appealed to the FRA and ICC for relief. Despite that Rock Island management had been able to move 80% of pre-strike tonnage, the ICC declared a transportation emergency declaring that the RI would not be able to move the 1979 grain harvest to market. The ICC issued a Directed Service Order authorizing the Kansas City Terminal Railway to take over operations.

The Directed Service Order enabled one-time suitors, via KCT management, to basically test operate portions of the Rock Island that had once interested them. On January 24, 1980, Judge McGarr chose not to review the Rock Island's final plan of reorganization. Instead, Judge McGarr chose the shutdown and liquidation of the Rock Island Railroad. Not wanting to preside over an asset sale, Rock Island president John W. Ingram resigned, and Gibbons took over as president of the bankrupt railroad.

Kansas City Terminal began the process of embargoing in-bound shipments in late February, and the final train battled three days of snow drifts to arrive in Denver on March 31, 1980. Cars and locomotives were gathered in 'ghost trains' that appeared on otherwise defunct Rock Island lines and accumulated at major terminals and shops and prepared for sale.

The Rock Island Legacy

The railroad's locomotives, rail cars, equipment, tracks, and real estate were sold to other railroads or to scrappers. Gibbons was able to raise more than $500 million in the liquidation, paying off all the railroads creditors, bondholders and all other debts in full at face value with interest. Henry Crown was ultimately proven correct, as both he and other bondholders who had purchased Rock Island debt for pennies on the dollar during the low ebb in prices did especially well.

Gibbons was released from the Rock Island on June 1, 1984 as the estate of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad expired. All assets had been sold, all debts had been paid, and the former railroad found itself with a large amount of cash. The name of the company was changed to Chicago Pacific Corporation to further distance itself from the defunct railroad and their first purchase was the Hoover appliance company. In 1985, the company would be acquired by the Maytag Corporation.[4]

Ironically, through the mega mergers of the 1990's the Union Pacific railroad ultimately ended up owning and operating more of the Rock Island than it would have acquired in its attempted 1964 merger. The one line it currently does not own (or operate regularly, other than detours) is the Chicago to Omaha main line that drove it to merge with the Rock Island in the first place. That line was temporarily operated by the Iowa Railroad and now prospers under the aegis of the Iowa Interstate Railroad.[5]

The "Rock Island" logo (1852-1974)

Company officers

Presidents of the Rock Island Railroad included:

  • James W. Grant, November 27, 1850 - December 22, 1851.[6]
  • John Bloomfield Jervis, December 22, 1851 - December 1854.[6]
  • Henry Farnam, December 1854 - June 1863.[6]
  • Charles W. Durant, June 1863 - August 1866.[7]
  • John F. Tracy, August 1866 - April 14, 1877.[8][9]
  • Hugh Riddle, April 14, 1877 - June 6, 1883.[10]
  • Ransom Reed Cable, June 6, 1883 - June 1898.[10]
  • Warren G. Purdy, June 1898 - December 31, 1901.[11]
  • William Bateman Leeds, December 31, 1901 - March 26, 1904.[11]
  • Benjamin L. Winchell, March 26, 1904 - December 1909.
  • Henry U. Mudge, December 1909 - April 20, 1915.
  • Jacob McGavock Dickinson appointed receiver trustee during bankruptcy, April 20, 1915 - June 21, 1917.
  • James E. Gorman, June 22, 1917 - June 7, 1933.
  • Joseph B. Fleming, Frank Orren Lowden (until his death on March 20, 1943) and James E. Gorman (until his death on March 25, 1942) appointed receiver trustees during bankruptcy, June 7, 1933 - December 31, 1947. Aaron Colnon replaced Frank O. Lowden as receiver trustee on April 19, 1943.
  • John Dow Farrington, January 1, 1948 - 1955.
  • Downing B. Jenks, 1956-1961.
  • R. Ellis Johnson, 1961-1964.
  • Jervis Langdon, Jr., 1965-1970.
  • William J. Dixon, 1970-1974.
  • John W. Ingram, 1974 - March 17, 1975.[12 ]
  • William M. Gibbons appointed receiver trustee during bankruptcy, March 17, 1975 - June 1, 1984.[13][14][15][16][17]

In popular culture

  • An old folk song called "Rock Island Line", made famous by blues legend Leadbelly, memorializes the railroad.

See also


  1. ^ a b Yard Clerical Manual. Rock Island Railroad. 1970. Retrieved September 27, 2007.  
  2. ^ Donald, David Herbert (1999). Lincoln. New York, N.Y.: Touchstone. p. 157. ISBN 0-684-82535-X.  
  3. ^ Handy Railroad Atlas of the United States. Rand McNally & Co.. 1973. p. 53.  
  4. ^ "A Brief Historical Overview of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad: Postscript". Rock Island Technical Society. 1996. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  5. ^ "A Brief Historical Overview of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad: Postscript". Rock Island Technical Society. 1996. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  6. ^ a b c Beydler, John. "The Rock founders faced tragedy and travail before triumphing". The Railroad Comes to Town. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  7. ^ "Financial" (PDF). New York Times. June 4, 1866. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  8. ^ Wargin, Tom (June 2, 1999). "RITS: Today in History: 06/02". Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  9. ^ Hofsommer, Don L. (2005). Minneapolis and the Age of Railways. University of Minnesota Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-8166-4501-9.  
  10. ^ a b "In the railroad world: Mr. Riddle says he was not forced out" (PDF). New York Times. February 26, 1884. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  11. ^ a b Hannah, Leslie; Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo (2006). "Ownership and Control in the Twentieth Century: Ambiguous Trends in Marriage and Divorce" (PDF). p. 13. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  12. ^ "Lines on Labor". Railway Age 177 (13): 16. July 26 1976.  
  13. ^ "William M. GIBBONS, Trustee of Property of the Chicago, RockIsland & Pacific Railroad Company, Appellee,v.GRAVES CONSTRUCTION CO., INC., Appellant". United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit. - 727 F.2d 753. December 10, 1984. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  14. ^ "NATIONAL STEEL SERVICE CENTER, Appellee, v. William GIBBONS, Trustee of the Property of Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company, Appellant-Movant". United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit. December 2, 1982. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  15. ^ "In the Matter of CHICAGO, ROCK ISLAND & PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Debtor. Appeal of BANKERS TRUST COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. William M. GIBBONS, Trustee-Appellee". United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. August 2, 1979. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  
  16. ^ Schafer, Mike (1996). Classic American Railroads. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 0-7603-0239-1.  
  17. ^ Baird, Douglas G. (1982). "Bankruptcy Procedure and State-Created Rights: The Lessons of Gibbons and Marathon". The Supreme Court Review 1982: 25–47.  
  18. ^ Rock Island Trail (1950)
  19. ^ "Roy Rogers, Delores Chapman in North of the Great Divide". Captain Ernie's Showboat. Retrieved March 14, 2008.  

External links


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