The Railroad

Browns, Sugar Creek and Riggs, Waterford Township, Clinton County, Iowa

Compiled by Lorraine Houghton and Marilu Thurman, updated August 2006.
Thank you so much to Lorraine and Marilu for sending this information to us. 

The Railroad in Browns

In 1871, the first railroad, known as the Sabula, Ackley and Dakota was built in the area going through Browns. The 1865 plat map does not indicate any train tracks through this area, however the 1874 plat map shows the train entering Waterford Township from the Delmar Depot, through Riggs, Browns Station, Spragueville Fairfield Township and on to Green Island.

The steam locomotive was powered by the steam produced from the coal or wood heated water boiler. Since water was constantly being lost through the steam exhaust, railroad towns were built every few miles, so that the trains would be able to take on water when necessary. When the valve opens the cylinder to release its steam exhaust, the steam escapes under a great deal of pressure and makes a "choo" sound as it exits. When the train is first starting, the piston is moving very slowly, but then as the train starts rolling, the piston gains speed. The effect of this is the "Choo…..choo…..choo….choo…" that we hear when it starts moving. Many of the older residents of this area distinctly remember this sound. They also talked about how hard those train engines had to work to pull the heavy loads up the big hills, in the spring, when they were carrying the seeds for the farmers to plant.

The stockyards were an important part of the railroad junction. Cattle and hogs would be herded down the country roads, with farmers, their children and their dogs blocking the farm lanes, as they guided them along to the stockyards. From there, they would be contained, until it was time to load them onto the stock cars and taken by train to the Chicago Stockyards to be sold. Many farmers would take the train, along with their stock, to the Chicago Stockyards. Farmers told about the dangers of being in Chicago. Since they were paid in cash for their stock, they were an easy target for criminals, who frequented the businesses in the area of the stockyards.

New tracks were built through Old Browns around 1913, at the time of the Riggs train wreck. The old track had been built with little elevation and the creek would continually wash out the track. The new track was built on a different route and at a higher elevation, so as to avoid future train wrecks and flooding of the tracks. There had been more than one trestle accident on this track, so the new track included stronger trestles. Current residents recall their parents talking about the tracks on the Franzen farm being flooded over and washed out several times. You can see the difference between the old and the new tracks on the 1905 and 1925 plat maps.
Residents told family members what an engineering feat building this track was. A tremendous amount of manpower and ingenuity was involved. First the elevated tracks were built, with a framework of wooden trusses, with tracks leveled and attached to the top of this framework. Then sidetracks were built to meet this track. Then, with a lot of manual labor, and a steam shovel, several train cars were filled with soil from a nearby hill. This train then traveled via the sidetrack, onto the main track, approximately 20 foot in the air. Then the train cars would dump, sideways, and the dirt would fall to the existing base. This was done, day after day, until the mound of dirt met the tracks. Residents reported that when they removed the old vehicle viaduct that was under the old tracks, they found the supporting wood structure.