Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday September 6, 2003 

Saturday Postcard 210: Crandic links Iowa City, Cedar Rapids


A Crandic “interurban” rail car rounds the Capitol-College streets corner a block from Pentacrest 
where Old Capitol is visible beyond the vehicle in this image from about 1950. 
The Crandic acronym uses the initials for Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, joined by the word “and.”


By Bob Hibbs

A 27-mile-long electric railway opened in 1904 offering hourly passenger service from downtown Iowa City into central Cedar Rapids extinguished another rail passenger route, but opened business, employment and student transportation.

“Swing and sway the Crandic way” was a company promotion slogan and an affectionate description used by riders.

As was typical of thinking in two quite different communities, the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway entered local lexicon as “the interurban” in Iowa City, but as “Crandic” in Cedar Rapids. It was an operating subsidiary of the Iowa Railway and Light Company, which in 1932 became Iowa Electric Light & Power Co.

That company also operated street car service in Cedar Rapids, while Iowa City street cars were owned by a separate company. Like their streetcar cousins, each train consisted of a single rail car, driven by electric motors drawing power from wires above the tracks, lending economic sense to electric generating company ownership.

Rail cars were stopped just about any place a passenger could waive down the conductor. Depot calls were made in places like Coralville, Oakdale, North Liberty and Swisher. The late Wendyll Stoner who operated cars for 30 years chuckled that each run had 63 stops.

The original Iowa City depot was at the corner of College and Clinton streets downtown, with track running up Capitol Street from the south, and circling the block located immediately south of Schaeffer Hall. College Street passed through between Clinton and Madison streets until closed by 1970s urban renewal redevelopment.

A subsequent depot adjacent to still-existing tracks beside the UI Power Plant was demolished about 1995.

Interurban passenger service began Aug. 13, 1904, and was discontinued May 30, 1953. Use peaked at nearly 600,000 passengers annually during gas rationing and rubber tire shortage days of World War II. Use plummeted after the war, falling below 30,000 in 1950 when a dozen trains still ran daily, making it the last high frequency service in Iowa.

It initiated freight service in 1907 which still is provided today.

Students used the interurban to access UI classes; but, less well known is that rural kids rode the interurban to high school in Iowa City, particularly those from North Liberty, during an era before school buses existed. They came not only for public school City High, but also to parochial St. Mary’s and to UI’s University High.

Sports fans by the hundreds rode Crandic to UI games, both when the football field was along the Iowa River upstream from the Burlington Street bridge, and then beginning in 1929 at Kinnick Stadium.

Bleachers on the east sideline of the Athletic Park field along the river were built in part above the interurban tracks, making each rail car passing during the game an added excitement. Since the cars were electric, they discharged no smoke or steam typical of cross-country trains using wood, coal or diesel locomotives.

After a 1922 UI football game played during a notorious downpour, numerous autos became mud-bound in route toward Cedar Rapids on old Red Ball Road, now Highway 218. Drivers abandoned them, hopped the next interurban car for a night in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, returning later to extricate vehicles.

The interurban challenged the 1870s “Plug” rail connection from downtown Iowa City to Elmira (known earlier as Lennox) in northeast Johnson County, where one could make connections with service running from West Liberty (and points south) through West Branch, Oasis, Elmira, Morse, Solon and Ely into Cedar Rapids.

Although it provided freight service to eastern Iowa City into the 1960s, the Plug as a passenger service lasted only a short time after the Crandic interurban initiated service in 1904.

Historically, the interurban was both killer and godsend.

Next Saturday: The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Speakers.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and researches history related to them. 

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