Readers of this blog will know that I like rail cars that still feature traces of “fallen flag” railways. These railways that have gone bankrupt or merged into other railways still live on, in the memories of those who worked on them and the memories of railfans, as well as ghostly logos on old freight cars.
This post is about Rock Island cars.
Route of the Rockets
The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad was a regional railroad, obviously in the Chicago area. Construction commenced in 1852 and at one time the railroad served 14 states. However, it never seemed to be very successful and had a number of occasions where it either entered bankruptcy or threatened to. The Rock Island had a number of famous passenger trains (a number of Rocket trains), it ran the GM AeroTrain for eight years, and the song “Rock Island Line” was written about it by Clarence Wilson and a version by Johnny Cash was a big hit. This page has a lot of history of the Rock Island.
Any former Rock Island cars that I recognize are invariably grain cars. They are distinctive with their faded blue colour and the big “R” in the upper right.
Traces of a Mighty Fine Road
Combing through my images of rail cars, the big “R” of the Rock Island logo stands out. Even from across a field, as in the above image taken at the Mollard grain elevator in May 2014, the Rock stands out from the rest.
As I stand watching trains, in the warmth of summer or the dead of winter, I look for traces of dead railways – the Chicago & North Western, the Santa Fe, the Milwaukee Road, the Cotton Belt, the Southern, and the Rock.
Many of the ex Rock Island cars that I have seen have the FURX reporting mark. You may know that the “X” at the end of a reporting mark indicates a private company owns the car, not a railroad. FURX was owned by First Union Rail, a large railcar leasing company that was purchased by Wells Fargo not too long ago. Wells Fargo operates under WFRX, a reporting mark I have seen a lot.
The Illinois Central also had a lot of ex Rock Island cars, which makes sense given that the two railways were in many of the same states.
After the locomotives pass, I’m often standing with my cell phone in hand, ready to capture individual rail cars that catch my attention. I don’t photograph every rail car – it’s hard enough to keep up with cataloging images as it is – but the “interesting” ones get photographed. This train in Otterburne had a lot of fallen flags.
Another reporting mark that has more than a few ex Rock Island cars is DWC, owned by the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific, which is now part of CN.
Some cars are easier to spot than others. The light blue of the Rock cars helps in spotting them!
I find it interesting that most cars say ROUTE ROCK but some say THE ROCK. I wonder when the slogan changed?
RUSX is another reporting mark owned by First Union Rail.
This one was so covered by graffiti that I couldn’t spot the reporting mark from across the CP yard in Winnipeg.
IC 769652 below was built in January 1979, so this car with its grimy Rock Island logo could be circulating almost 20 years from now.
THE ROCK was visible on FURX 815447 sitting in the CP Winnipeg yard.
Here’s another DWC car, spotted on a train rolling through Lorette, Manitoba on the CN.
I almost missed this one as it left Portage la Prairie in January 2020. MWCX = Midwest Railcar Corporation.
A FURX car on the same train through Portage bore a political statement.
Passing some lineside cabinet, NAHX 65513 shows its Rock Island heritage quite well.
Here’s two cars captured on the same train on April 12, 2020. The first car looks like a little hand painting of the reporting mark was required.
The vandals have really worked over FURX 815358 but they can’t hide the heritage of the Rock.
Another FURX car, a capture from a video:
This was clearly a Rock Island car, even though all the logos have been painted over.
Resurgence of the Rock
It’s hard to believe, but the Rock Island name and logo have been resurrected. Rock Island Rail, aka the Mississippi Delta Railroad, has acquired the rights to the name and logo and have painted locomotives sporting the Rock Island name. They are a short line in Mississippi that serves local customers, stores cars and interchanges with CN at Swan Lake, MS.
They recently acquired one of the Dash-8 locomotives that CN put up for auction, CN 2127.
I saw a post that indicated that this will be repainted into Rock Island colours as well.
Just One More Thing
Here are some books I saw on Amazon about the Rock Island Railroad that might interest you.
- A Mighty Fine Road: A History of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific – by H. Roger Grant
- Rock Island Requiem: The Collapse of a Mighty Fine Line – by Gregory L. Schneider
- Rock Island Railroad: Travel on the Rockets – by John Kelly
- The Rock Island Line – by Bill Marvel
- Rock Island Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment – by Hile, Hickcox and Miller
Please note that these are affiliate links, meaning that I get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you buy anything after visiting the link.