The NRHS Convention
Attending an NRHS Convention is usually very rewarding, and the 2012 gathering in Iowa was no exception. The NRHS (National Railway Historical Society) holds its annual convention at a different US location each year, usually in June. As with most organizations, the NRHS convention has business meetings, guest speakers, seminars, and social gatherings. But, what really brings the delegates to the NRHS convention is the opportunity to visit local and regional rail sites and to ride the rails on mainline, tourist, and museum tracks.
As a long-time NRHS member, I’ve enjoyed many NRHS convention trips in locations all over the country. While Iowa doesn’t have majestic mountain ranges to ride through, or sunny coastlines with panoramic views, it turned out to be a delightful place with plenty of variety for all. The trip line-up for the Iowa NRHS Convention was ambitious and compelling.
The 2012 NRHS Convention was headquartered in Cedar Rapids. Located in eastern Iowa, Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in the state with a rich railroad history. It is a city dominated by the grain milling industry, with large facilities representing Quaker Oats, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and General Mills, which are serviced by a network of rails.
In 2008, the city suffered what is called a 500 year flood when the Cedar River overflowed, flooding 1,126 city blocks, or about 14% of the city. Major changes as a result of the catastrophe were still very evident around parts of the city in 2012.
While Cedar Rapids was the NRHS convention city, most of the action took place around eastern Iowa. The first major event was an Amtrak and Union Pacific diesel trip bringing delegates from Chicago to Cedar Rapids. The all-day trip over the former Chicago & North Western included some rare mileage. This move also brought the passenger consist to Cedar Rapids. The cars were was used on all five mainline NRHS convention trips, and also carried passengers back to Chicago at the end of the 8 day gathering.
NRHS Convention Highlights
The first full day trip was to the Midwest Old Threshers at Mount Pleasant, IA. We had the entire day to wander about the huge grounds, which is the site of the annual Old Threshers Reunion held every Labor Day weekend since 1950. About half of the grounds is circled by a steam railway loop and the NRHS convention attendees enjoyed riding behind an 1891 2-6-0 built by Baldwin and a couple of antique gasoline-powered track vehicles.
The other half of the grounds has an electric traction railroad, and most of the equipment was operated for our enthusiastic fun as we rode past historic structures that have been moved here from surrounding farms and villages.
For the NRHS convention, the Midwest Old Threshers also opened many of their exhibit buildings, which contain heritage steam and internal combustion farm and road machinery, stationary steam engines, and a steam operated carousel.
The following day, NRHS convention delegates rode behind Iowa Northern and Iowa Interstate (IAIS) diesels to Rock Island, IL. The return trip featured IAIS QJ steam locomotive 6988. This Chinese-built locomotive had been recently “Americanized” with a new whistle, headlight, lettering, and black paint applied to the formerly red wheels.
The next day, another trip with QJ 6988 for NRHS convention riders, this time west to Newton, where we experienced several spectacular runbys at the historic former Rock Island depot. After the runbys the train proceeded to the IAIS facility outside of Newton, where 6988 was returned to its engine house (which it shares with QJ 7081, still in its Chinese livery). Diesel power took the train back to Cedar Rapids.
The NRHS convention next took to the road, traveling to Boone, IA for a day at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and Museum. The organization operates steam and diesel powered trains over a scenic route that includes two river crossings, one of which is the spectacular Bass Point Creek High Bridge, a span 754 long and 156 feet above the creek. We rode behind a Chinese 2-8-2 JS Class #8419. It was built in 1988 and purchased new by the Boone & Scenic Valley. This was the last steam experience during the NRHS convention, but there was still more fun ahead!
Boone & Scenic Valley has a large collection of diesel locomotives, many of which are operational. They also operate an electric line from the depot through downtown Boone with a variety of traction cars and motors. Charles City Western car #50 made trip after trip from the Boone & Scenic Valley depot to downtown Boone with NRHS convention riders.
The last three days of the NRHS convention each featured rare mileage diesel trips over freight-only lines. The first was a ride on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City (CRANDIC) line. This roughly 25 mile route originally was an electric interurban line connecting the two cities. As freight eclipsed passenger traffic, the electric wires came down in 1953 and diesels took over. The railroad has grown with additional track from fallen flags Milwaukee Road and Rock Island, and operates today with about 60 miles of mainline track serving a variety of customers and industries.
The next day our trip took us from downtown Cedar Rapids to Waterloo over the Iowa Northern. This line was originally part of the Rock Island, and the route once hosted the Zephyr Rocket passenger trains. The Zephyr Rockets were jointly operated by the Rock Island and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads between St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul, as late as 1967. The Rock Island operated the line until bankruptcy in 1980.
In the next few years, Iowa Northern was incorporated, and eventually purchased the line between Cedar Rapids and Manly.
At Waterloo, lunch was served and there was a tour of Iowa Northern’s Waterloo shops before the train returned to Cedar Rapids.
The last NRHS convention trip continued from near where we ended the day before, once again on Iowa Northern Railway’s main line stretching from Cedar Rapids to Manly, Iowa.
We started in Cedar Falls, just a few miles beyond the Waterloo Shops and Yards. In the 1980’s, highway reconstruction severed the former Rock Island line between the adjoining cities of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, and now Iowa Northern bridges the short gap through trackage rights on both the Union Pacific and the Canadian National.
Our train was staged for boarding in downtown Cedar Falls where the tracks right run down the middle of 5th Street. The 140 mile round trip was at a leisurely pace through the green Iowa countryside, and served as a nice ending for a busy week of convention excursions.
NRHS Convention Chair Barton Jennings is to be commended for keeping everything “on track”. When you organize an event such as the NRHS convention, things are prone to go wrong. Careful attention to detail ahead of the convention, and back up plans are an important part of making sure people are not disappointed. It was clear that planners had done their homework.
We also must say thanks to all of the volunteers, those who were visible as they directed us and manned positions, and those who were behind the scenes before, during, and after the NRHS convention.
Experience the 2012 NRHS Convention
Whether or not you attended the 2012 NRHS Convention, I’m sure you will enjoy the DVD we produced which includes all of the trips described above. This was a big project for us, with a crew of videographers and cameras in multiple locations to record the action. The trips featured on the DVD were unique, one-time events that will not happen again. The two museums visited included locations and activities not available to the public. This is an historic record that goes beyond being a souvenir of the the NRHS Convention. You will want this in your collection!
There was so much to this NRHS convention that our planned single-DVD turned into a 137 minute, two-disc product, however we are keeping the price the same as a single DVD.
You will find this to be another Yard Goat Images quality program, recorded with tripod-mounted HD cameras. As always, we limit the narration to simple introductions for each chapter. Order your copy here.
Thanks, Steve Mitchell, Yard Goat Images