Humeston to Shenandoah

The Humeston and Shenandoah Railway

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Map submitted by Dr. R. Zane Price.

The Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad was organized in Iowa on February 12, 1881. Of interest, the eastern terminus of the railroad was not Humeston, Iowa (Decatur County); rather the eastern terminus was at Van Wert, Iowa (Decatur County). At organization, the railroad consisted of 112 miles of track with 18 locomotives. The railroad was part of a series of rail lines built as a westward extension of the Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska Railway (later the Keokuk and Western Railroad) across southern Iowa during the latter half of the 1800s. Railroad mogul Jay Gould envisioned the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad as a way to allow his Wabash Railroad to extend to Omaha, Nebraska. However, the Burlington Route contested the construction of the new railroad and Gould eventually agreed for the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad to be built as a joint venture with the Burlington. When completed on April 1, 1881, the Humeston and Shenandoah was leased for operation to a company that was owned jointly by the Wabash and the Burlington and operated from their joint accounts. This business arrangement continued until the Wabash bankruptcy of 1899, when the Burlington Route operated the line under lease. In 1901, the Burlington Route acquired the line outright and combined it with the Keokuk and Western Railroad to form a railroad reaching from Shenandoah, Iowa in the west to Keokuk, Iowa in the east.

Towns along the line included (from west to east):

  • Shenandoah, Page County
  • Norwich, Page County (near Ghost Town)
  • Yorktown, Page County (near Ghost Town)
  • Clarinda, Page County
  • New Market, Taylor County
  • Ladoga, Taylor County (Ghost Town)
  • Gravity, Taylor County
  • Sharpsburg, Taylor County (near Ghost Town)
  • Merle Junction (Merle, Conway Station, Conway Crossing), Taylor County (crossing with the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad; abandoned)
  • Clearfield, Taylor County
  • Diagonal, Ringgold County
  • Knowlton (possible listed as Kew), Ringgold County (Ghost Town)
  • Tingley, Ringgold County
  • Ellston, Ringgold County (near Ghost Town)
  • Beaconsfield. Ringgold County (Ghost Town)
  • Grand River, Decatur County
  • DeKalb, Decatur County (Ghost Town)
  • Delray, Decatur County (Ghost Town)
  • Van Wert, Decatur County (eastern terminus at junction with the Keokuk and Western)

In 1896, the name of the railroad wash changed to the Humeston and Shenandoah Railway. By 1898, the line owned 14 locomotives with most being 4-4-0s built by the Pittsburgh Locomotive Co. Business was brisk and encouraged the outright acquisition of the Humeston and Shenandoah Railway by the Burlington Route in 1901. During the early 1900s primary traffic on the line consisted of bituminous coal mined in southern Iowa, grains, cattle and livestock, less-than-carload merchandise, and timber products. In addition, there was significant passenger business until about 1920.

Decline began in the 1920s, but antecedents of eventual decline dated back to the initial construction of the railroad. As the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad was constructed across the generally hilly topography of southern Iowa, the line had operational problems that included steep ruling grades, plentiful curves, and many of the trestles had to be built and require a great deal of maintenance. Effects of the rise in automobile ownership, improved roads, public subsidies for roads, and trucks led to decline. However, it was the Great Depression and loss of timber trestles due to fires that led to a more rapid decline and section abandonment. As southern Iowa's economy struggled and lagged behind that of much of the rest of the state and the Midwest, there was a lack of industrial development along the railroads course. By the 1930s, much of the revenue for the line relied on coal, agricultural products, and passenger service; this combination proved fatal as the line was no longer considered profitable.

The first segment abandoned, Norwich to Clarinda, was during the height of the great depression, December of 1935. April 1938 saw the abandonment of the section from Shenandoah to Norwich. In December of 1945, two segments were abandoned, Clarinda to Merle Jct. and Cleafield to Humeston. The final segment of the railroad, between Merle Jct. and Clearfield, struggled on until abandonment in 1983, bringing an end to the history of the Humeston and Shenandoah Railroad.

A rough timeline of this route:

      Shenandoah    Norwich    Clarinda    Merle Jct.    Clearfield     Humeston
===================================================================================
1881      |------------ Built: Humeston & Shenandoah Railroad --------------|
1901      |------ Purchased by Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad -------|
1935      |------------|...........|----------------------------------------|
1938      |............|           |----------------------------------------|
1945                               |............|-------------|.............|
1970                                            |--- BN RR ---|
1983                                            |.............|

|......| = abandonment

Thanks to Dr. R. Zane Price for contributing information about this route.

I am originally from Corydon Iowa. Humeston is just to our northwest. Humeston used to be an active railroad junction town with the Humeston and Shenandoah going west, the K&W going east through Corydon, Promise City and Centerville to Sedan, Iowa. The CB&Q ran from Chariton, Iowa to St. Joseph, Missouri. The Humeston and Shenandoah and K&W became part of the CB&Q after being the Wabash for a brief time.

It was abandoned in 1946 west of Humeston except for a small portion of the line from Merle to Clearfield which was abandoned in the 1980's. The water tower and stucco depot still stands in Humeston and you can see the grade north of downtown.

The railroad crossing at US Highway 65 used to have a pair of Western Railroad Signal Model 6 rotating stop signs with alternating flashing lights.

The line to Chariton north from Humeston was severed in the 1970's by a fire on a trestle and was abandoned. There was a WRRS wigwag signal on the County road from Iowa Highway 14 to Derby where it crossed the road. THe line was railbanked and made into a county park called The Cinder Path from Chariton to the Wayne-Lucas County line a few miles north of Humeston.

Prior to this time in 1958, the tracks from Corydon to Centerville were abandoned. An interesting human interest story: The first passenger train on this line carried a little girl. The last run in 1958 carried an elderly woman. They were one and the same.

There are glimpses of the grade east of Corydon especially along a paved road that was old Iowa Highway 2. the timbers of an old trestle can be seen north of new Iowa Highway 2 along the grade that is still in a farm field.

The track from Humeston to Corydon were abandoned in the 1980's although the depot is still in Corydon and used as a warehouse.

The tracks from Humeston to St. Joseph, Missouri were abandoned in the late 1980's. You can still see the grade in places and you can see the junction of Togo in Decatur County near Lamoni, Iowa. The CB&Q rand a branch from Togo, to Lamoni, through Kellerton to Mount Ayr. This line was pared back to Lamoni before abandonment of mainline. It has been replaced by a bike train through Lamoni.

I can still remember trains on that line and the line to Corydon. The line to Corydon had a train on TUE and FRI for the most part. The line from Chariton to St. Joseph had service 6 days a week - MWF one direction and TTS the other direction.

I get teary-eyed every time I drive past this line. IMHO - it is a symbol of our failed railroad abandonment policy in this country. It was also the beginning of the decline of the small towns along the route.

Happy to discuss other Iowa line abandonments with others and will add some more observations.

Jerold (813) 293-3645

Jerold Crawford
Tampa, FL
6/10/2013

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I grew up in Villisca Iowa in the 40s and 50. from time to time I write article sbout history there and around the general area for the Villisca Historical Society. Villisca is on the main line of the CB&Q and had several branches that I don't see mentioned here. One of them ran to St. Joe Missouri through Clarinda. Another is one I am trying to do some research on, The Atlantic Southern which also had a terminus in Villisca and ran north to Atlantic Iowa, probably other connections as well. My Dad who is still alive at 93 remembers the depot there in Villisca. PLease contact me if you have any facts or figures on the line. It has been abandoned probably since the early 1900s.

Dave Higgins
Sierra Vista, AZ
1/23/2014

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I spent most of my childhood living in Kellerton Iowa, on the Burlington branch to Mount Ayr. My family moved away in 1975 and I believe that the line was removed in 1977. My recollection of service on this line was sporadic and was probably on an "as needed" basis. Train size was usually one locomotive, two to five freight cars and caboose. Not sure what the source of traffic in Mount Ayr was but the only car loading I remember seeing in Kellerton was hardwood logs going into gondolas. The engine was always a chinese red and gray EMD GP-7 or 9 and I remember seeing streamlined aluminum cabooses several times. I wish I had been older at the time and taken pictures of this obscure little branch. I have scoured the web and can't find much in the way of photos. If anyone has any information or photos they would like to share, I would be most grateful. My email address is wyatt@wccta.net.

Wyatt Haldin
Fort Dodge, IA
8/10/2016

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