ELDON — Many southeast Iowans have a connection to the railroad. They may have retired from the railroad industry, worked railway mail or had family members who did.
Sunday afternoon’s Humanities Iowa program “Trains Across Iowa” provided an opportunity to share their memories and learn some more background about the fascinating history of railroads in Iowa.
With the historic Eldon Depot as the backdrop of the day’s presentation, Dr. Rudolph Daniels, assistant dean and department chair of Railroad Operations Technology at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City, took the audience on a trip down memory lane.
Before saying a word, Daniels gave the train call you would have heard in Eldon many decades ago. “Iowa’s Super Conductor Rudy,” as many around the state know him, then opened up the floor for personal storytelling. Those in attendance spoke of their days working railway mail and were able to say mail sent from anywhere in Iowa could make it anywhere else in the state overnight thanks to the railroad mail service. Others remembered traveling on the Rock Island Railroad to visit family or to take special trips.
Only one person in the room had never ridden on a train. Stories were told of growing up in a railroad family, riding the passenger trains and seeing other parts of the state through the windows of the train car.
This rich history is precious to those around southeast Iowa, and it goes back to the state’s beginnings.
“Just prior to it becoming a state, farmers could only move to Iowa and live along the rivers that were navigable,” Daniels explained. “Farmers needed to get their products to market, and before the railroad, they had to use the rivers. In the interior of the state, it was much harder to get their products to market.”