The Fort Dodge Line Iowa's Feisty Interurban

Don L. Hofsommer, 224 pages, Hardcover

No industry rose as rapidly and collapsed as quickly as the electric interurban industry in America. From a peak of over 16,000 miles, it was practically extinct by the mid-1930s. Only the Iowa Traction Company in Mason City, Iowa, and the South Shore Line running between Chicago and South Bend still operate. The interurban lines of Iowa differed from most of their counterparts as they were built to handle carload freight as well as providing electrically powered passenger service; the state unofficially came to be known as "the land of the steam road interurbans." While most Midwest interurban lines had become weed-grown abandoned rights-of-way, many Iowa interurbans continued to carry freight and passengers well into the 1950s.The largest of the Iowa interurbans, the Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern, contrived to survive the decades through the use of steam, electric, and diesel power to haul freight and carry passengers. Noted railroad historian Don L. Hofsommer chronicles the history of this long-lived interurban and masterfully captures the spirit of the times in which it operated. Originally conceived as a freight-hauling steam railroad, the Fort Dodge Line evolved into an electrically operated freight and passenger carrier that managed to compete and survive in an area crisscrossed with large steam railroads. It was owing to this line's "feisty" character that it was able to survive in spite of spirited rail and highway competition, the financial hardship of the Great Depression, and a catastrophic flood in its final years of electric operation.While most surviving interurbans had morphed into commuter railroads, the Fort Dodge Line remained a true interurban, operating a couple of leisurely round trips each day with classic wood interurban cars. It was its freight service and its feisty character, taking on both competition and the elements, that enabled this line to survive as long as it did and become a cherished memory among Iowans in the Des Moines River Valley.
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