From: "Drew Cannon"
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Big Hook Recollection Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997 Here is a story from my early youth related to Big Hooks. This is just at the edge of my memory, so the details are a little fuzzy. Does anyone else remember this wreck or any others where Big Hooks were called out? Sometime in the early or mid-1950s the Rock Island needed a Big Hook in Iowa City: a locomotive went in the drink at Ralston Creek. At that time the RI still switched industries in downtown Iowa City, and may even have run freight (and perhaps passengers?) northeast out of town, connecting with the old BCR&N mainline between West Liberty and Cedar Rapids (at Elmira?). The day I remember found a red and black Geep nose down in Ralston Creek at the south end of the wooden trestle. Apparently the trestle collapsed under the locomotive's weight. My recollection is that the trestle was only a locomotive length or two long and only 5 or 6 feet above water level. The trestle was maybe a hundred feet west of Gilbert Street, back in a wooded lot behind the commercial buildings fronting Gilbert St. The only effective access was via the track. My father took my brother and I to watch the Big Hook work. What a sight: railroad people and spectators everywhere, a huge black crane inched up to the wreck from the south, two red and black geeps powering the wreck train. (I don't remember what other equipment, if any, was at the actual scene besides the crane and two geeps. With a yard nearby, other equipment and outfit cars might well have been left there.) The conversation I remember is that this was the Silvis crane (makes sense since Iowa City is closer to Silvis than Des Moines). I don't remember whether or not there was a second crane on the north side of the wrecked locomotive. I seem to remember watching as the Hook tried to lift the locomotive: cables strung under the locomotive, railroad personnel watching closely and checking everything. If this is a real recollection, the crane was boom-over the end of the locomotive at a somewhat awkward angle. The operator reeled in cable very slowly while workers kept a sharp eye under the locomotive. As the crane began to bear the locomotive's weight more and more it tipped ever farther to the side, sending everyone scrambling out of the way. The operator must have had experience with this situation because he slowly released tension in the lifting cables until the crane settled back to an even keel. I never did see the actual removal of the locomotive from the creek. We couldn't stay. But they eventually lifted it out. A very exciting day for two young boys and their dad! And a railroad image I still remember! The map below shows roughly the track arrangement. Travelling from the west, the mainline crosses the Iowa River and CRANDIC yard on a high deck girder bridge. Once off the bridge, it approaches the station on a high fill. Just before reaching the station from the west, the track splits into a passing siding to the south of the mainline. The main is closest to the station and was normally used by passenger trains stopping at the station. From the station, the track continues east on another high fill over Ralston Creek as it flows south out of downtown Iowa City. Two large (concrete?) culverts allow the creek to pass through the fill. The east end of the fill is a deck girder bridge over Gilbert Street and the RI lower track into downtown. Even before the east end of the bridge, a switch takes the yard lead and branch line track off to the south. >From the east-west mainline, an intricate three-way switch took the yard lead and branch line track south. This switch overlapped the first switch off the mainline into the yard at the west end and the switch onto the first yard track south of the double mainline. (This switch has been replaced by IAIS with a single switch, so the track arrangement now is a switch off the mainline to become the yard lead and a second switch immediately off the lead south to the branch line--now the CRANDIC interchange track. The first yard track now diverges off the mainline a few yards east.) The branch line / interchange track swings south around a sharp curve and quickly drops down the side of the hill forming the Ralston Creek valley until it reaches the flood plain level about 3 blocks south of the mainline. The hill is steep, the track is rough, and the freight was heavy (mostly loaded coal hoppers from the east in those days) so I remember several derailments in this area over the years. Once at "ground level" the track joins a run-around siding. The route out of the run-around track continues south as the Montezuma Branch to Hills and eventually Montezuma. To the north, the route splits before passing under the mainline: the diverging route to the west toward the CRANDIC yard about 6 blocks away, and the straight route to the north toward downtown Iowa City. The track toward downtown is no longer there, but in the early 1950s, two blocks north after passing under the mainline bridge, the route crossed tiny Ralston Creek on a wooden deck trestle. The creek is normally small, little more than a trickle and only a few feet below track level. During heavy rains, however, it is a very different story as it drains all of downtown Iowa City and the northeast residential neighborhoods. Surely this trestle suffered mightily when flood waters rushed through. to Hills & Montezuma ^ Rock Island | track | diagram-- /| downtown || | Iowa City || | c. 1954 || North /|| | / || V / || / \| / | / | / | / | | |\ | | \ | | \___ to CRANDIC | | | | I _________ \ | O _________\ \ \ W ____yard__\__\ | A __________________\____\__/______________________________ \____/ ____________________________E <--_East-West_Mainline_-->_\____________ / |\ __________ / \ | | Station | R | R |_________| I | a V | l E | t R | s | t | o ]|[ n ]|[ Creek ]|[ | / / / to downtown Iowa City Drew Cannon Des Moines, Iowa