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Edition #35, August 1, 2006

Last One Out Turn Off The Lights

Photographer: Rob Kitchen

                                                                            Photo by Rob Kitchen

Last One Out Turn Off The Lights

After graduating from college I decided that I wanted to pursue a career with a major Class I railroad.  In the spring of 1979, I sent out resumes to every Class I railroad in North America.  I received an interview invitation from the Santa Fe and the Rock Island, and accepted both.  I went to the Santa Fe first and was offered a position in La Junta, Colorado. The Rock offered me a position that would travel around the system but was based in Chicago.  Being a railfan, I thought that the Rock’s offer was more exciting.  I accepted, and started in August of 1979.

I guess that I should have done a little more research, because, six weeks after I started, I was called to report to Blue Island for strike duty.  The strike didn’t last long, but it was fatal for the Rock.  My assignment, after the strike, was with the Division Engineer’s office in Silvis, Illinois.  My office was in the basement of the building in the background of the photograph featured.  This building was also the location of the hump and the hump tower.  For a few months, the constant squeal of cars being pushed over the hump permeated my office.

In January, the bankruptcy judge determined that the Rock Island Railroad should be shut down and the assets sold off.  March 31, 1980 was the last day a revenue train moved on the rails of the Rock Island.  During the first week of the month of April, I traveled to every section house, toolhouse, and shed on the Illinois Division and the eastern half of the Des Moines Division gathering up motorcars, track tools, and other saleable materials of the engineering department.  I brought everything to Silvis to be inventoried and loaded onto trucks to be taken to St. Louis for the “fire sale”.  I finished my job in mid April, and, as I left my office for the last time, I took this photograph.  The Rock Island helped me obtain a position as an Assistant Roadmaster on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, and I was headed for West Virginia.

Today, the Iowa Interstate Railroad runs on the old Rock Island mainline through Silvis, Illinois, and the shops are being operated by National Railway Equipment Company, but the entire hump yard, including this building, is gone.  It’s ironic that 80% of the mainline of a railroad that was once called “one too many” is still being operated when many of its parallel contemporaries are Rails to Trails or less.

Rob Kitchen

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