Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book
Stories of Early Nichols
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 158-159
One January day in 1855 the regular stage coach jolted its way from Muscatine to Davenport. From the swaying coach the editor of the Muscatine Journal observed a crowd of laborers throwing up an embankment for a railroad. With shovels bus, they were cutting through the hills and hauling earth to fills.
Prospects for the country were excellent, business was already there for the railroad, and the railroad would bring more business.
Such was a report in an early Iowa newspaper. But it was some time before the railroad reached Pike Township and Nichols.
The growth of the township begins with the coming of the railroads and the establishment of shipping centers.
The town of Nichols was located on the main line of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railroad, running north and south. Another railroad was built west from Muscatine, known as the Muscatine Western. It terminated at Montezuma.
A shipping station, known as Adams Station, was also located on this line in Pike Township. It continued to be a shipping point until the line was abandoned.
A note in the 1911 history states that of “2 July 1872, at 6 p..m. the last rail was laid on the Muscatine Western Railroad connecting Muscatine with Nichols, and a mixed train came over it and into the city at 11 p.m.”
The Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad company erected a commodious depot at the junction of the two railroads. They also built a good stock yard (1889 history).
Large sums of money were voted by the cities and townships through which the railroad passed to aid in the construction. The railroads were considered to be that important in the economic growth of the area, and it was considered a feather in the cap of the town or city which had a railroad going through it – lack of a rail line could also cause the death of a town.
The Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad passes through the western tier of Orono, Pike and Wapsinonoc Townships. At West Liberty, it crosses the main line of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific. A branch of this road, built as the Muscatine Western, runs from Muscatine west, intersecting the main line at Nichols. It passes through Bloomington, Lake and Pike Townships. In the construction of these roads, large sums of money were voted by these townships, and the city of Muscatine was also very liberal in that respect (1911 history).
The railroad station became a social center. Watching activities at the depot, one soon knew who was leaving town and who was returning.
At one time there were as many as twenty or more trains arriving and departing the station in Nichols. A person could get on a train to go any direction nearly any hour of the day or night.
With the advent of paved roads, cars and trucks, use of the railroads declined rapidly. In 1938, the east-west line from Muscatine to Riverside ceased operation except for the short section between Nichols and Lone Tree. By 1958 even this segment passed into history.
Who doesn’t remember the midnight meeting of the north and south bound Rockets? The Rockets were the fast, streamlined Rock Island passenger trains. Every night about midnight they met at Nichols. One would pull off the main track on to a side track, wait until the other train came and passed it, then it would back on to the main track and proceed. These Rockets ran between Minneapolis, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri. But you had to go to West Liberty if you wanted to ride either of those special trains.
The following article was found in the Muscatine Journal, dated 9 September 1926.
The Muscatine-Montezuma branch of the Rock Island, on which service was recently curtailed to the dissatisfaction of Muscatine, its terminal, and other towns along its line, soon will reach the forty-sixth anniversary of its completion.
On 27 December 1880, according to Muscatine County histories, the first train ran from Muscatine to Montezuma. A new trade area was opened to Muscatine, and towns along the route of the branch were given an important connection with the main routes of travel.
Planned in 1870This railroad was planned fully ten years before its building was completed. Articles of incorporation for the Muscatine Western railroad were filed on 23 May 1870, the capital stock of the line being $10,000,000.
No time was lost in beginning work on the line. On 6 July, surveying began along the 88-mile route to be traversed by the line. Two years later, on 19 April 1872, a contract was let for the grading.
The first work actually done in Muscatine was the driving of piling in Mad Creek near what was then Dorn’s Brewery. This was on 21 April 1872.
Mixed Train First and LastBy 2 July 1873, the line had reached Nichols and the first train ever to run from that town to Muscatine came in at 11 p.m. This was a mixed train, such as are now being operated on the line under the curtailed schedule.
By 28 December of the same year, the line had been extended to Riverside, a distance of 32 miles. Riverside is now an important livestock shipping point in Muscatine’s territory.
Before the line had reached Montezuma, however, the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern railway company acquired the Muscatine Western and it was under the former name that the line was operated.
Leased by C.R.I. & P.The year 1879 was an important one in the history of the new line, marking extension into an important territory and another change of operating control. The What Cheer coal fields were opened by the extension of the line, and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific leased the branch which is now claimed to be unprofitable. In the same year, the Rock Island reached Kansas City.
Many colorful events marked the early days of the railroad. Among these was what is now called a “good fellowship tour.” Three hundred Muscatine citizens went to South English, 58 miles away in Keokuk county, in celebration of the opening of the new tributary of trade on 12 October 1879.
On 18 May 1881, an excursion brought crowds from all points on the Western line to Muscatine for a huge celebration which included a parade of companies of firemen.
THE RAILROAD DEPOT
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 159-160
By Ruth Graham Day
The Rock Island railroad, too, played an important part in the history of Nichols. In 1939 our family moved to the living quarters on the second story of the railroad station. It was fun for a thirteen year old, even though at times the wail of a speeding train in the middle of the night was frightening. The aging building rocked along with the ties in the railroad bed.
The railroad station, or depot, as it was called, was at that time a hub of activity. Passengers came to purchase tickets and often sat in the oil-swept “waiting room” before the train arrived. Dad lugged heavy canvas bags of mail between the depot and the post office with heavy, iron-wheeled freight trucks. Numerous express and freight packages were moved from trains to the freight room and to customers’ pick-up trucks. The telegraph’s keys chattered incessantly with train orders and telegraph messages (long-distance telephone calls were not yet prevalent). It was impossible to foresee the changes coming in a few short years.
During the war I can remember the sadness in Mother’s eyes whenever we saw a troop train pass by. World War I wasn’t that far behind. Worse was the pain we all felt when on occasion Dad had to relay a telegraph message which began with the words, “We regret to inform you…”
Dad continued his assignment in Nichols until his death in 1953. The railroad station, I understand was closed and later it burned to the ground. But, as I said before, it played an important part in the town’s history.
KILLED STEALING RIDE ON TRAIN
Benjamin Schrader of Carrolton, Ill., Loses Life at Nichols
Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, page 160
Nichols, July 22. – Benjamin Schrader of Carrolton, Ill., was fatally injured here Thursday night while beating his way on the northbound Rock Island passenger train due here at 10:50 o’clock, and died shortly afterward. Shrader, who was riding on the steps of the rear coach under the trap door of the vestibule, swung out from the steps, it is believed, as the train approached Nichols and was struck by the girder of the bridge one-fourth of a mile south of the station. He was evidently knocked senseless, but his feet catching, was dragged head downward until the train stopped at the depot, where, unconscious, but still living, he was found by two companions, John Euart and Ed Costello, both of Carrolton.
Schrader was 17 years old.
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