Local News

April 25, 2013

Speakers talk railroads, railroading

OSKALOOSA — It’s an important part of our nation’s history.

On Tuesday evening, Walt Smith and John Carl, of Newton, presented “Railroads and Railroading: Past, Present, and Future” at the Musco Technology Center. Smith and Carl Spoke as part of William Penn University’s Chautauqua Speaker Series.

Steve Noah, vice president of advancement at Penn, introduced the speakers at Tuesday’s event. Noah said Smith is an industrialist and entrepreneur and Carl is a retired radio executive.

“John and Walt have traveled the world to visit and travel on railroads and tonight they’re going to share some of their railroading lore with the William Penn community,” said Noah.

Smith focused his presentation on the history of railroads and railroading.

Many of Iowa’s early residents lived near water, explained Smith. In 1846, Iowa became a state with just about 25,000 people living in the state, Smith said.

“If you didn’t live on a river, you couldn’t get your grain out or your supplies in,” said Smith.

The role played by railroads in Iowa’s history has been “quite significant,” Smith pointed out.

Ten years after Iowa became a state, railroading in Iowa picked up some steam when a railroad bridge was able to be built across the Mississippi River, said Smith.

“That brought railroads to Iowa,” Smith said.

The Civil War would slow the progress of railroads in Iowa, noted Smith. The northern states’ railroad infrastructure worked in their favor during the Civil War, Smith said. He noted that the northern states were able to move troops and materials via railroads more effectively than their southern counterparts.

In 1862, Congress passed a bill authorizing the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, said Smith. This is when railroads began to have a real impact on the nation, said Smith.

Smith said there are many railroads passing through Iowa and used a map from 1917 to show the state of railroading at that time.

Carl discussed more recent history of railroads and railroading during the course of his talk. He talked of the economics of railroading, as well as changes in the industry, over the years since the early 1980s. He talked about the moving of coal across the country via railroads, among other railroad-related topics, as well.

Carl also talked of differences between railroads in the United States and those in Europe. He pointed to the differences concerning passenger vs. freight in Europe and the U.S.

During his portion of the presentation, Carl looked to the future of railroads in the U.S., as well.

“I think probably the network — the rail network — that we have today will probably hold us in good stead for the coming future,” said Carl.


Herald City Editor Andy Goodell can be reached at news2@oskyherald.com.

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