Copyright 2004 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday October 02, 2004 

Postcard 264: Train to Kinnick – 1950s Style

kinnick train

A 1950s image of Rock Island men who helped route special trains to Kinnick Stadium is superimposed upon a photo of 

a train currently reviving the effort. The collage created by the author displays altered labeling on the engine. 


By Bob Hibbs

A special train is running to Kinnick Stadium from Coralville for University of Iowa home football games, reviving a tradition which stretches back more than a half century.

As with many revivals, however, it’s not quite what it used to be.

As many as 10 specials dropped scores of people at Kinnick during the late 1940s, recalls Chet Miller who worked in the Rock Island Railroad yards after graduation from Iowa City High in 1945 before going to work for the U.S. Postal Service. He recalls that the larger gatherings were for the Notre Dame and Minnesota games.

The trains ranged in size from four or five cars each, up to a maximum of 10 or 12 from Des Moines, Miller says.  Most cars typically were not packed full, carrying from 40 to 50 people in the coaches, but only 20 to 25 in the Pullman sleeper cars routed from as far away as South Bend, Ind.

On the Rock Island, trains came from both directions, often originating as far east as Chicago and Omaha in the west, stopping at stations along the route to pick up anyone who had scheduled the ride. Minnesota fans probably would have been routed to Cedar Rapids, then into Iowa City over the Crandic route.

There were two sets of tracks beside Kinnick during that era, while only one set remains today – and it’s now in use as the main line across Iowa. Incoming trains were timed to avoid each other as much as possible, but sometimes had to wait in the Iowa City yards a few minutes until space was opened on the Kinnick siding.

The author recalls seeing fans streaming up from the tracks below the Melrose Avenue overpass at Kinnick during the 1960s. Wooden stairs there have been repaired to serve current patrons; but, in no where near the size used earlier.

During the time of a game, crews took the equipment to the Iowa City rail yards east of the still existing depot on what is now the Iowa Interstate Railroad, the successor to Rock Island in the state.

There was plenty of partying during the train rides; in fact, so much so that Miller recalls some men were in no condition to attend a game, so sometimes would just remain on their train to avoid getting lost or being left after the game.

Ginny Bireline Herbert recalls her father telling her that when he worked the specials he frequently was invited to join parties at the stadium – and often accepted the invitations. An Oxford native from about 1900 who loved railroad work, he was particularly eager for the Saturday work, she relates, since it meant pay at overtime rates.

She recently provided an image of her father and seven other Rock Island men taken in front of a white shed in the rail yards at Iowa City.

The author superimposed the men from that image upon a photograph of the current “Ski Train” being used to transport fans from near Coral Ridge Mall to Kinnick for home games this season to help mark the 75th anniversary of the construction of Kinnick in 1929. The labeling on the train also was altered by the author.

The Ski Train is on assignment here this fall from its usual winter duty of serving patrons in the Colorado Rockies.

She identifies the men in the picture, from left, as Webb Cramer, Dale Cox, Charles McConnell, Bob Schafer, Cyril Bireline, Bill Schindale, Paul Noah and Harold Shipley. Her father and McConnell are known to be deceased; the whereabouts of the others is unknown.

Although these 1950s men are shown here now half a century later, as just a phantom image, the train is real.

Next Saturday: Iowa City Rec Center marks 40 years.

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

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