Trains, Boats & Planes | 15 February 2017A History of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroads Share article facebook twitter google pinterest The history of railroading in North America is a long and storied one. Today’s train buffs yearn for all the gritty details regarding their favorite railways and the locomotives that pulled freight and carried passengers across the country. From North American Locomotives: A Railroad-by-Railroad Photo History is a history of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroads, one of the 75-plus lines profiled in the book. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroads In the steam era, flatland Rock Island offered few surprises as its steam fleet largely mirrored national developmental trends, with the notable exception of articulated types (which Rock avoided completely). In its early days, 4-4-0s predominated. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Rock sampled various compound types, especially Baldwin’s famed Vauclain compound (of which it bought 22 by 1900), and later, it used some of Baldwin’s patented balanced compounds. Like most other lines, Rock didn’t embrace compounding on a wide scale, and the majority of its locomotives remained simple types. In the twentieth century, its freight power advanced from 2-8-0 to 2-8-2 and 2-10-2. For passenger service, Rock progressed from 4-6-0 to 4-4-2 and 4-6-2. Relatively early, it adopted the 4-8-2 Mountain as a passenger engine, while its late-era steam was typified by well-proportioned, high-drivered Mountains and one of America’s largest fleets of dual-service 4-8-4 Northerns. A pair of Rock Island FA-1s leads two EMD GPs with a long freight in August 1966. Rock Island bought a fleet of Alco-GE FA/FB-1s in 1948. To solve difficulties with these locomotives, Rock Island sent them to EMD for rebuilding between 1954 and 1957, at which time they were repowered with EMD’s 567BC and 567C diesels. (Robert A. Buck) This engine lineup at Blue Island, Illinois, on July 18, 1958, exemplifies a colorful eclectic period of Rock Island’s dieselization. Here we find two Alco RS-3s (one in the lively Route of the Rockets passenger scheme), an EMD BL2, and an FP7. (Richard Jay Solomon) In contrast to its conservative steam policy, Rock Island had an early interest in diesels, which produced one of the most unusual and diverse fleets in the Midwest. Prior to widespread commercial diesels, Rock operated a sizeable fleet of internal combustion railcars, including many EMC products. In 1937, EMC built Rock a fleet of six model TAs; these 1,200-horsepower locomotives were custom styled for the Rockets streamliners and built to unique specifications. While technologically similar to the early E-units (each TA was powered by 16-cylinder Winton 201-A diesel and used related electric components), the TAs were distinctive from the Es because of their single engine and B-B wheel arrangement (Es used twin engines and the A1A-A1A arrangement). More significantly, in 1940, Rock Island urged Alco to expand the design of its basic switcher into a flexible road diesel; the result was the first road switcher (later known as model RS-1). These were the first of a type that within a decade grew to become the most popular diesel arrangement in the United States. By the late 1950s, it had become the dominant type. Also in 1940, EMD built a pair of flat-front half baggage car/half locomotive model EBs (derived from the E-unit) for service on the Colorado Springs section of its Rocky Mountain Rocket. In August 1978, Rock Island U33B No. 199 belches black smoke as it accelerates westward with symbol freight ARRO at Bureau, Illinois, on its Chicago–Omaha main line. Rock operated a number of GE Universal series U-boat models, including 42 of its pioneering 2,500 U25B (built between 1963 and 1965). The U33B was built between 1967 and 1970, and it delivered 3,300 horsepower. One hundred thirty-seven were built, of which the Rock took 25. (John Leopard) Rock Island’s myriad paint schemes gave it one of the most colorful diesel fleets in the Midwest. In its final years, Rock adopted a sky blue and white livery that contrasted sharply with its previous red and yellow paint. GP7 No. 4533 and a pair of U25Bs rest at Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, in August 1978. After Rock was liquidated, Chicago & North Western acquired many of its GP7s, while some U25Bs were bought by Maine Central. (John Leopard) Rock Island also embraced a variety of standard EMC and Alco models before World War II, including early E-units, a lone Alco DL103, and a variety of switchers. After the war, it dieselized rapidly, again favoring Alco and EMD, buying a mix of common and unusual models. It bought BL2s, Fs, and Es from EMD, as well as more RS models along with FA/FB cab units from Alco. Among the unusual small diesels owned by Rock were Davenport-built models, including a group of 30-ton six-wheel side rodders built between 1938 and 1941, several 44-ton switchers, and a pair of 1,000-horsepower center cabs built in 1950. It also sampled Whitcomb’s small switchers. Rock Island took an interest in EMD’s lightweight trains of the late 1950s, initially buying one with Talgo cars for its Talgo Jet Rocket and ultimately inheriting all of the progressively styled Aerotrains, which finished their days in Chicago suburban service. In the 1960s, Rock bought U25Bs, U28Bs, and U33Bs from GE; center-cab C-415s from Alco; and GP18s, GP35s, and GP40s from EMD. Although destitute in the 1970s, Rock added EMD GP38-2s and SD40-2s and GE U30Cs to its fleet. The railroad was liquidated in 1980, and its locomotives were sold to lines across the nation. Of the larger railroads, only Rock, Southern Pacific, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle bought Alco’s centercab 1,500-horsepower model C-415. Alco built just 26, and Rock Island took 10 units, Nos. 415–424. This view of Rock No. 417 at Blue Island, Illinois, on March 15, 1980, symbolizes the railroad’s sad state in its final days. (John Leopard) Buy from an Online Retailer Spanning more than one and a half centuries, this treasure trove examines the steam, diesel, and electric locomotives that have have kept North American commerce on the rails since the middle of the nineteenth centuty. Prolific rail author Brian Solomon takes an encyclopedic approach and describes every major type. And because locomotive-building has long been a made-to-order business, North American Locomotives: A Railroad-by-Railroad Photo History is arranged alphabetically by railroads from across the United States and Canada to show the variant technologies that railroads ordered to best suit their specific needs, whether for freight or passenger operations. The 75-plus railroads covered range from the best known historical lines such as Canadian Pacific, Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and Baltimore & Ohio, to today’s giant Class I roads, commuter lines, and selected short lines. The result is a profusely illustrated and beautifully presented reference guide that features more than 400 locomotive gems from throughout the ages, including historic machines such as New York Central’s J3a Hudsons, Pennsylvania Railroad’s GG1 electrics, and EMD’s classic E- and F-Units, to today’s most powerful modern diesels. All the major builders—past and present—are represented, including such heavyweights as Baldwin, Alco, Lima, EMD, GE, and more. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.