Railroad Stories: Railroad Towns Grew and Prospered Because of Trains

Railroad towns, such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, grew because of the train industry.

| Good Old Days

Railroad towns, such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, grew and prospered because of trains. Now, motorists sit and fume while long freight trains lumber through the heart of downtown. Occasionally, the city council huffs and puffs with indignation. Policemen ticket trainmen for overlong halts on crossings. Then normality returns. The latest attempt to make lemonade out of a lemon has been to plant flower beds along the tracks.

Freight trains were the ride of choice for unemployed men who were looking for work during the Great Depression. They frequently dropped from the train - or were thrown off and asked townspeople for handouts of food or money.

I like to watch the passing freights and dream of far-away places with strange-sounding names. I am old enough to remember when any conveyance, aside from a horse and buggy, was a breathtaking adventure. Trains were the stuff of fantasy.

The plush seats seemed to me to be the epitome of opulence. They marched, two by two, down each side of the aisle. I was fascinated by the fact a seat could be reversed to provide a cozy nook for four. Even a small child or two could be accommodated.

The Mark Twain Zephyr ran between Burlington, Iowa, and St. Louis. The glass-enclosed dome car was introduced in the 1930s, and it gave one the feeling of being a Rockefeller to ride there at no additional cost. One had a panoramic view of the countryside.

No one that I knew ate in the dining car. It was considered too expensive. If one began a lengthy trip, it was with a well-stocked food basket that was expected to suffice until one's destination was reached. Sandwiches, fried chicken, deviled eggs, cookies and fruit were staples. Beverages depended upon vendors who boarded the train at stops.

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