IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items


Waukon & Mississippi Narrow Gauge Railroad
~compiled for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb by S. Ferrall






The "Narrow" Comes In - Above is a photo of the "Union Prairie," first train to enter Waukon on the narrow gauge. This event took place on Oct. 27, 1877, and hundreds of Waukon people were at the station to meet it. The "narrow gauge" railroad is still in operation, running from Waukon to Marquette, its train carrying passengers as well as every kind of freight. (Telegraph-Herald, Dubuque, IA, July 2, 1944)

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The Waukon narrow gauge railroad was built for both political and commercial reasons. Waukon, as the county seat was being threatened by Lansing. Lansing wanted a vote on moving the county seat from Waukon, saying Lansing had the advantage of being located on the Mississippi River, and was served by a branch of the Chicago, Clinton, Dubuque & Minnesota Railroad. Waukon unfortunately had attracted no early railroad development due to its geographic location, the terrain between Waukon and the Mississippi River being the steepest of any along the Iowa bank of the river. For this reason, Waukon businessmen envisioned that a narrow gauge railroad could be built.

A first, but unsuccessful attempt, was made in the 1850's to finance a railroad along a Paint Creek route. In 1875 D.W. Adams and a group of Waukon businessmen were finally successful in forming the Waukon & Mississippi Railroad Company. Articles of incorporation for the company were adopted in 1874.


The Grange is on the eve of clasping hands across the bloody chasm. It is announced that Hon. D.W. Adams, Grand Master of the National Grange, has been elected president of a narrow gauge railroad company, the projected road to run from Waukon to McGregor. ~The Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye, June 6, 1875


The route would be over very difficult and rough terrain, with a grade elevation climb of 600 feet from Adams Junction to Waukon, some of the gradients being more than 100 ft. per mile. Once financed the narrow gauge was built in 53 days, construction beginning on April 29, 1875. The station was built at Adams Junction (now Waukon Junction) about 4 miles south of Harpers Ferry and 23 miles from Waukon.


Notwithstanding the unpropitious weather, the Waukon & Mississippi narrow gauge railroad is progressing rapidly. Last week one third of the grading was reported done, some of the bridges in and ties being delivered along the line. The road is a fixed fact. ~Postville Review, July 7, 1875

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The farmers of Iowa are now engaged in the construction of a new and important line of narrow gauge railroad to run from Johnsonport in Allamakee county, to Waukon, Iowa, a distance of twenty-two miles. It will make connection with the Chicago, Dubuque and Mississippi road, and it is expected that it will be graded and ironed by the 1st of November. The building of this road seems to be a Grange enterprise. Dudley W. Adams, Master of the National Grange, is its president, and the necessary capital is expected will be raised in Waukon, "whose business men have put their heads and their money together in a manner that gives emphatic assurance that their wishes will be accomplished." This says the Waukon Standard, should be regarded as of more importance than would appear at the first glance. Here is a Western community absolutely about to build a railroad with its own money. They, the owners of the road, have put their money into it to use themselves, and they will see that it is completed. It does not depend on the will, caprice, or uncertain circumstance of any foreign corporation, but it is the work of our own hands just as our raising wheat, corn, hogs or cattle are, or our manufactures or merchandise. ~Pacific Rural Press, August 28, 1875


With the railroad construction started, Lansing stepped up their cry to move the county seat north, and sharp editorials were exchanged between the Lansing and Waukon papers. Farther south, Postville vicinity businesses and farmers backed keeping the seat of county government in Waukon, in their opinion, a more desirable central location in Allamakee county. In reply to one especially viscious attack by the Lansing Mirror, the editor of the Postville Review, W.N. Burdick, wrote this editorial:

The Lansing Mirror, as well as the Journal, has plucked up courage and entered the county seat arena, and now the combat deepens! This time the fusilade is directed to the Waukon Standard, and the following forcible points are made:

1st: The narrow gauge will not be completed "before winter."
2nd: Lansing is "convenient" to Postville, because the delegates to the Lansing convention started home at 4 p.m. and arrived here before morning, after a perilous night ride of nine or ten hours.
3d: Lansing is a better wheat and lumber market than Waukon.
4th: Lansing has more hotels than Waukon.
5th: The Lansing court house is better than the Waukon court house.
6th: The tax payers will save $10,000, because Lansing is going to build a jail and donate the use of it to the county, and the county must build one if the seat remains at Waukon.
7th: It is no further from Waukon to Lansing, than from Lansing to Waukon!

Begging pardon of the Mirror for mixing in what may not be considered our funeral, we will take the floor for a moment, because we want to say a word.

Firstly the narrow gauge will be built; if not this fall, it will be next spring. But if it never was built it would be no reason why the county seat should be removed from a central position in the county. Scarcely one in ten ever use a railroad to get to a county seat when it occupies a central position in the county, because any farmer or other person who owns a horse can drive his own team to better advantage, and cheaper, than he can go by rail.
2d: Is Lansing convenient to Postville on the theory of that delegation? It may be pleasant to ride nearly all night through rain, mud and pitch darkness, but those delegates did not think so when they got home!

3d: Lansing may be a little better market for wheat and lumber than Waukon, but how much? If Lansing does not alrady know it, she will find out in due time that the moment the road is completed, her western trade will be nearly all cut off, and Lansing will be worse off than McGregor is to-day! McGregor's Mississippi river, backed by competing railroads, could not save her from going into a hopeless decline. Be warned of the fate of this once more prosperous city, and prepare for the result.

4th: The hotels. If Waukon has not got enough to accommmodate all who need them, there are plenty of men looking for such places to start in the hotel business.

5th: The court house. We never have been inside the Lansing court house, but it is a small building, entirely too small to do the present county business.

6th: The jail. It may be built, but what of it? There is no pressing need of a new jail at Waukon at present. We don't believe that even the Lansing editors could get out of the present one, and they get out through mighty small holes!

7th: The distance between the towns has nothing to do with the issue. It is the convenience to all sections of the county that we should consider; and without regard to the selfish interests of either Lansing or Waukon.

~Postville Review, September 29, 1875


The RR company ran one locomotive, 16 boxcars, five flatcars and a car for passengers. From time to time violent weather damaged the tracks and the train stopped running until repairs could be made.


On Saturday evening last this section was visited by one of the heaviest rain storms that we have had for years. The rain fell in a perfect torrent for about two hours. All level plats of ground presented the appearance of small lakes as the flashes of lighting revealed the situation, and the sewers and small ravines poured out a volume of water that was astonishing to behold, Postville being above high water mark, did not suffer materially except that the cellars were soon transformed into large sized cisterns. In the country round about, much damage is reported in the way of fences and bridges being washed away. The Waukon & Mississippi narrow gauge lost a bridge at Waterville, and was otherwise washed. ~Postville Review, June 8, 1878


In May, 1880 the line passed into the hands of the Milwaukee railroad and soon was changed from narrow gauge (3') to a standard gauge track.


The Chicago, Clinton, Dubuque & Minnesota railroad, known as the river road, has purchased the Waukon narrow gauge road, paying $100,000 for it. ~Lyons Weekly Mirror, October 5, 1878 (Lyons, Iowa)

The Rochester Record says, "There is a prospect of an extension of the Narrow Gauge road from Waukon, Iowa, to Chatfield and Rochester." ~Chatfield Democrat, August 2, 1879 (Chatfield, MN)


A train yard is a dangerous place and there were serious accidents, some fatal ......


Andrew Thompson informs us of an accident at Waukon by which conductor R.F. Lane, on the narrow gauge, was instantly killed on Wednesday mornig, while switching, preparatory to going out. He jumped from the car and slipped and fell backward, one wheel of the car running over his head and chest, of course mangling him terribly. He leaves a wife and one child to mourn his terrible fate. ~Postville Review, March 13, 1880


The railroad faced other challenges as well, and complaints were made about the rates they charged for shipping freight. In May 1882, Albert Rosa, a corn shipper, filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Railroad Commissioners. He asked the Board to look into the higher rate being charged by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul RR Company to ship his corn from Waukon, compared to the rates being charged from Lansing. The rate from Waukon was 21 cents per 100 lbs. and the rate from Lansing 16 cents per 100 lbs. The decision of the Board was, in part: "...considering the situation, the branch, the grades and the cost of break of bulk and transfer, that a difference of 4 cents per 100 lbs. is not unjust discrimination ..."

Rosa was not pleased with the Board and let them know it in his reply, made May 24, 1882, in part: "...Your decision the case of A. Rosa against the C.M. & St. P. R'y [does a] great injustice against myself and Waukon. Waukon has more railroad business than any other town in northeastern Iowa. Any rational mind ought to know that from 2 to 3 cents per bushel is discrimination, and destructive and ruinous to Waukon. If your body will not do anything to remove this discrimination, I shall make a lengthy argument and put your decision in some of the leading papers in Iowa and show up to the people what a great nuisance and farce is that body called "commissioners".

The Board replied to Rosa's threats giving a lengthy explaination as to why the Waukon rate was justly highter, ending with: "The Commissioners would be pleased to have the question of discrimination in your case reviewed by the courts, and also before the broader tribunal of public opinion - through the press, as you suggest. There is much to be learned on this subject, and a full and complete discussion cannot fail to be of value to the people of the State."

The Railroad perservered and served it's patrons until about 1960.

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Sources used that were not otherwise credited in the above text:
1) American Narrow Gauge Railroads; George Woodman Hilton, 1990; pg 399 (this book cites as it's major reference "Grass Between the Rails", Rehder & Cook, 1972)
2) Annual Report of the Board of Railroad Commissioners, State of Iowa, 1882; pgs 484-487
3) The Palimpsest, edited by John Ely Briggs; Vol. XIII, No. 4; April 1932 - article: Iowa and the Narrow Gauge; pg 142, 144 & 145 (this source included a map of the Narrow Gauge RR's in Iowa, of which the NE Iowa portion was copied by the compiler and appears at the top of this page),

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Waukon to Marquette Narrow Gauge Railroad
by Mrs. Will Deeny

Waukon, Ia. - Posters tacked up in railroad stations over the United States advise one against making train trips. One may be stranded, they say, and one will never know if he will get to his destination in time.

However, there is one railroad which doesn't care whether you take a trip or not. That's the narrow gauge branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, running between Waukon Junction, on the Mississippi River, and Waukon, 23 miles to the northwest. A ride on the "narrow" isn't exactly like one on the "Hiawatha," but it's a great ride, nevertheless, and many passengers are carried.

The so-called "mixed train" runs daily except Sunday. It begins on a down-grade run immediately after leaving the Waukon station and winds around the hills, through fields, and the valleys of Paint Creek. At places it winds so sharply it is possible to look into the locomotive cab from the cupola.

High water has often caused thousands of dollars of damage to bridges and tracks. Very often cattle and other livestock graze along the tracks, and when they are on the tracks they are not afraid of the shrieking whistle of the train. They seem to know the train will slow up to let them get off, or, if necessary, will stop.

Livestock, coal, and merchandise shipments provide a fine business for the road, despite the lack of passenger traffic.

The first train into Waukon reached here on the afternoon of Oct. 27, 1877, and older residents still talk about it. The "Union Prairie" rolled up to the platform of the Waukon depot as hundreds of people cheered and the Waukon band played its finest music. Thomas Clyde was engineer on that day, O.J. Bunnell, was fireman, and Harry Lear was conductor. The residents served more than 500 free suppers to celebrate the event.

The officers of the railroad, to which about $35,000 had been subscribed by stock subscriptions, were D.W. Adams, president; C.D. Beeman, vice president; H.C. Grattan, secretary, and L.W. Hersey, treasurer.

The old depot which stood there welcoming trains for more than 40 years ws replaced by a modern building in 1927. The C.M. and St. P. discontinued the station at Waukon Junction some years ago, but that terminal is now being maintained at Marquette.

Places served by the "narrow' are Rossville, Waterville, Bluff Springs, and Marquette. George Milcks is the engineer; Silas McCauley, brakeman, Everett Moody, fireman, and Frank Wells, conductor.

Waukon has the distinction of having had but two station agents in 67 years, E.B. Gibbs of Waukon, was the first, serving until he resigned to become manager of the Upper Iowa Power Company. On June 8, 1908, Fred Intelkofer, of Lansing, came to Waukon to take over, and has been agent ever since - for 36 years.

~The Telegraph-Herald, July 2, 1944 (included the photo at the top of the page)
~transcribed by S. Ferrall

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