Whispers of the Rock

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

Rock island GP-7 Buffalo Iowa Nov 1977
A Rock Island GP-7 in 1977 – Mark Llanuza

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

Rock Island from a distance
Rock Island from a distance

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.

Icy IC 769612 in January 2016
Icy IC 769612 in January 2016

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.

FURX 815459 west of Winnipeg on September 10, 2016
FURX 815459 west of Winnipeg on September 10, 2016

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.

ROUTE ROCK - IC 769561 in October 2016
ROUTE ROCK – IC 769561 in October 2016

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.

FURX 815414 in Otterburne, Manitoba, May 2017
FURX 815414 in Otterburne, Manitoba, May 2017

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.

DWC 384755
DWC 384755

Some cars are easier to spot than others. The light blue of the Rock cars helps in spotting them!

Very grimy ROUTE ROCK on IC 769650
Very grimy ROUTE ROCK on IC 769650

I find it interesting that most cars say ROUTE ROCK but some say THE ROCK. I wonder when the slogan changed?

THE ROCK - RUSX 815386 outside Winnipeg
THE ROCK – RUSX 815386 outside Winnipeg

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.

Graffiti covers the Rock
Graffiti covers the Rock

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.

NEW 1-79
NEW 1-79

THE ROCK was visible on FURX 815447 sitting in the CP Winnipeg yard.

FURX 815447 in Winnipeg 2019/01/05
FURX 815447 in Winnipeg 2019/01/05

Here’s another DWC car, spotted on a train rolling through Lorette, Manitoba on the CN.

DWC 384755 in Lorette, Manitoba
DWC 384755 in Lorette, Manitoba

I almost missed this one as it left Portage la Prairie in January 2020. MWCX = Midwest Railcar Corporation.

MWCX 462767 in Portage la Prairie, MB
MWCX 462767 in Portage la Prairie, MB

A FURX car on the same train through Portage bore a political statement.

ALT-WRONG on FURX 815435 in Portage la Prairie
ALT-WRONG on FURX 815435 in Portage la Prairie

Passing some lineside cabinet, NAHX 65513 shows its Rock Island heritage quite well.

NAHX 65513 and the Rock
NAHX 65513 and the Rock

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.

IC 769555
IC 769555
Grimy ROUTE ROCK on IC 769569
Grimy ROUTE ROCK on IC 769569

The vandals have really worked over FURX 815358 but they can’t hide the heritage of the Rock.

FURX 815358 in April 2020
FURX 815358 in April 2020

Another FURX car, a capture from a video:

FURX 815426 outside Winnipeg in April 2019
FURX 815426 outside Winnipeg in April 2019

This was clearly a Rock Island car, even though all the logos have been painted over.

Stealth Rock Island
Stealth Rock Island

Resurgence of the Rock

Rock Island Rail RI 4373 (GP38) Webb, Mississippi
Rock Island Rail by Terry Redeker

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.

CN 2127 will soon be sporting Rock Island colours
CN 2127 will soon be sporting Rock Island colours

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.

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.

12 thoughts on “Whispers of the Rock”

  1. Those are some sharp looking locomotives under “Resurgence of the Rock”. Easy to see why it’s such a favourite. Similar to how Ontario Southland Railway out here uses the old TH&B colours. The fact that they’re running FP9s in those colours is even more awesome!

    Reply
    • I love the Ontario Southland Railway… they run such old power and keep it in such great condition. Their pride really shows.

      Reply
      • Agreed. I also love that the OSR website actually links to the Railpast Junction site, which is just full of photos and videos. The snow clearing videos are one of my personal favourites, but nothing beats seeing a pair of FP9s hauling freight!

        I should also add that back when those FP9s were on the Waterloo St. Jacobs railway in the late 90’s, I actually got to ride in the cab on a run to St. Jacobs. Likely a once-in-a-lifetime-never-to-be-repeated experience!

        Love your blog! Makes me want to visit Winnipeg again!

        Reply
  2. I’ve always been a huge fan of the granger roads, CRIP, CGW, MILW, CNW, and CBQ. For sure CP and CN did and still do the work of a granger road but the term is more associated with the american granger movement.
    That new blue and white paint scheme of the Rock Island Rail sure jumps out at ya!
    Good post Steve!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sheldon! I am still learning about the granger roads, and I have a lot of reading left to do. The Milwaukee Road with its electrics really intrigue me.

      Reply
  3. I’m not sure they got the shade of blue right on those locomotives but any video or photos I’ve seen of fresh painted clean Rock Island equipment before the bankruptcy can’t be trusted to be the right shade of blue any longer either. Most of the high quality images I’ve seen are of the red and yellow scheme used on the Rockets.

    Reply
  4. That’s really interesting about the resurgence of The Rock. It’s also like the resurgence of Pan-Am, except that instead of an airline, it become a railway in New England! They have resurrected the various Pam-Am logos for their equipment and branding.
    http://www.panamrailways.com/

    Here is my contribution to your Rock collection, except that the car I photographed appears to be white rather than blue (sorry for the composition: the train was on the move and I don’t have the skills you do). I also caught an ex Milwaukee Road and Chicago and Northwestern on the same train.

    https://flic.kr/p/JQWHKb

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

    Pat

    Reply
    • Hi Pat, nice catch of the ex Rock Island car! It looks like the vertical ribs are still blue.

      I remember when Pan Am started as a railway. Those blue boxcars really stood out! I captured a few of them in Saint John NB.

      I’m reasonably sure I flew Pan Am once or twice in my youth. Maybe.

      Reply
  5. Neat! I like the fallen flag railways as well. We do still get the occasional Rock railcar out west at Lethbridge, its always nice to see trackside!

    Reply

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