The railroad over which we operate got its start in 1893. Fraser had just become the center of the newly discovered coal deposits and transportation was needed to move the coal. A line was built about 4 miles to the west from Fraser to connect with the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad at Fraser Junction, which is now called Wolf.
In those days, railroads were expanding rapidly and the line was extended north to Gowrie and Rockwell City for connections with other railroads. The line underwent several changes of name, goals, and management teams. By 1907, the line had reached the cities of Fort Dodge and Des Moines. That same year, a power plant at Fraser was finished, and the line was electrified, with interurban cars running from Fort Dodge to Des Moines, with branchline service to other towns.
In 1912 and 1913, the current 156′ tall steel high bridge over Bass Point Creek was constructed, replacing the wooden trestle originally spanning the valley.
At its peak, electric cars were operated on an hourly basis. As automobiles became numerous, passenger service was cut back but the line continued to push their freight business. With the increase in gypsum mills, sewer pipe and drain tile, freight business flourished, especially in the Fort Dodge area.
In 1954, severe flooding landed a major blow to electric operations on The Fort Dodge Line, as the Des Moines River overtook the line’s power plant located in Fraser. The last interurban cars were operated in September of 1955, electric lines were removed and diesel engines handled the freight business.
In 1968 the Chicago & North Western Railway purchased the entire line. Shortly thereafter, portions of the line were mothballed. However, some grain elevators (such as Boxholm, northwest of Boone) and other shippers continued to receive rail service until 1983. That same year, a group formed the Boone Railroad Historical Society. Their goal was to purchase 11.3 miles of track, including bridges, in order that this scenic portion of the line might be preserved. The first trip handling passengers was made in November 1983. Tickets were sold out of a tent for rides out onto the high bridge. The society purchased the line from the Chicago and North Western Railroad for $50,000.
In 1984 work commenced on our present depot. The depot was built in the style of a depot in Rockwell City, Iowa. Much of the interior woodwork in our depot was salvaged from a depot in Tama, Iowa Our platform was constructed from bricks originally used in depot platforms around the area. The depot was officially dedicated, and opened to the public in 1985.
In 1988, Boone saw the return of the electric trolley, with Chicago South Shore & South Bend car 106 making trips from our depot to the 11th Street Station located in downtown Boone.
In 1989, railroad steam operations returned to the state of Iowa with the Iowa Railroad Historical Society’s purchase of the world’s last commercially produced steam locomotive, our JS8419. The locomotive, constructed in Datong, China, was purchased for $350,000.
The first dinner train operated over our rails in April of 1999. Since that time, dessert and picnic trains have been added as well. These trains, along with special event trains such as Thomas The Tank Engine™, Easter Bunny Express, Pumpkin Express, and Santa Express™ trains ensure that our museum offers something of interest to everyone.
In February, 2001, the railroad once again entered the freight business, with the purchase of the remaining 1.66 miles of original Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern trackage in the Boone Industrial Park.
The society’s 9,000 square foot James H. Andrew Railroad Museum, located onsite, houses many artifacts and displays pertaining to the history of The Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern, Chicago & North Western Railway, and several other lines across our state. The museum has a strong commitment to preservation and education, and strives make a tour of our facility a truly enjoyable and enriching experience for people of all ages.
The Iowa Railroad Historical Society has continued to obtain equipment, rolling stock, and buildings, which are being restored as funding becomes available.