Each year, thousands of people from across the state, the nation, and around the world make the trek to Boone, Iowa to ride the rails of the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad, “The Scenic Line.” The line, now known for its 156’ Bass Point Creek High Bridge (offering a breathtaking view of the Des Moines River Valley), its Chinese steam locomotive, dinner trains, and special events such as Day Out With Thomas and the Santa Express, exists today due to the need to move coal out of the Des Moines River Valley. The line over which the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad operates got its start in Fraser, Iowa in 1893. Fraser had just become the center of newly-discovered coal deposits, and transportation was needed to ship the coal out of the valley. A few miles of track were constructed west out of Fraser, and a connection was made with the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway at what is now called Wolf. Railroads were expanding rapidly in those days, and the line from Fraser was soon extended, reaching Gowrie and Rockwell City to the north and west, and Newton and Des Moines to the south and east. The line underwent several name changes, and by 1907, it was known as the Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern. The line was electrified (a power plant was constructed at Fraser, providing electric service to the line), and passenger service utilizing interurban cars got underway. At its peak, the interurbans operated on an hourly basis. However, as automobiles became more numerous, passenger service was cut back. But, with the increasing number of gypsum mills and tile factories, especially in the Fort Dodge area, the freight business on the line continued to thrive. In 1954, electric service on the line was dealt a hefty blow when severe flooding ravaged the Des Moines River Valley, and floodwaters inundated the Fraser power plant. The interurban cars made their last trips in August of 1955. Electric lines were removed, and newlypurchased diesel engines handled the freight business. In 1968, the entire line was purchased by the Chicago and North Western Railway. Shortly after the purchase, service on sections of the line was discontinued. However, a handful of grain elevators and shippers continued to receive service until 1983. When the Chicago and North Western announced its intention to end service to (and scrap) the entire line, a group known as the “Boone Railroad Historical Society” was formed. 2,254 charter members pulled together, and secured the $50,000 needed to purchase the 11.3 miles of the line which makes up the railroad today. The first trip handling passengers was made in November of 1983. Tickets for a ride out onto the high bridge were sold out of a tent. The 1980s were a period of rapid change for the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. Track was rehabilitated, locomotives and passenger cars were purchased and refurbished, a depot was constructed, a section of the line was electrified (allowing for trolley operations for the first time since the 1950s), and one of the last steam locomotives ever built was purchased and arrived on the property. In the 1990s, the transformation of the line continued, with the addition of a popular dinner train, a dessert train, a major expansion of the depot, and the debut of central Iowa’s own Day Out With Thomas event. More recently, the 9,000 square foot James H. Andrew Railroad Museum & History Center opened its doors. The facility houses more than 4,000 unique railroad artifacts, many from the collection of James H. Andrew of Jefferson. It also features a theater and a large railroad research area library. Special exhibits include: “Depots of Iowa”, and “Railroads at War.” A new exhibit will shine a spotlight on streamliners that passed through the state during the golden age of passenger rail travel. For more information about the museum, train rides, fares, schedules and preservation efforts, visit www.bsvrr.com or call 1.800.626.0319.
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