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This is my look at the Rock Island in Arkansas. Even though it has been nearly 30 years since the bankrupt railroad was shut down, there are still a lot of remnants throughout the state. I've included photos of many of those sites. I've also made an effort to interview people who worked for the Rock Island in Arkansas, with MP3 files of their stories available for download. They share what it was like working for this once great railroad, as well as the steady decline in its final years. It was hard work. I hope to add more interviews in the future. There are also links to other web sites with related material. For anyone who doesn't know the history of the Rock Island, Wikipedia has an interesting profile, which is a good starting place for anyone wanting to learn more.

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MOST RECENTLY ADDED (05/24/09):

ARKANSAS RIVER TRAIL: In this story for KUAR, aired May 22, 2009, I looked at efforts to expand and improve the 14-mile walking and biking trail along the Arkansas River in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The Rock Island Bridge, which is now part of the Clinton Presidential Library, has long been slated to be the eastern end of the loop, but the cost of renovated it -- expected to be about $10 million dollars -- has kept work from beginning. A local bicycle advocacy group has been meeting with the Clinton Foundation and representatives of both cities, to pressure them into completing the project. Click on the link above to hear my radio report and see a slide show of photos of the trail, including a couple of recent shots of the bridge.

ROCK ISLAND PARKWAY: I produced a story for KUAR-FM 89.1 in Little Rock, aired May 8, 2009, about a plan being considered to build a highway over the Rock Island's former track bed through Saline County. But plenty of residents who live alongside it are opposing the plan. Click on the link above to listen to my report and see a slide show of photos.

 

Click here to see photos of the Bridge & Little Rock depot

 

ROCK ISLAND BRIDGE & LITTLE ROCK DEPOT

15 black and white images, taken in the late 1980's to mid-90's, of the century old Rock Island Bridge, spanning the Arkansas River at Little Rock. At that time the bridge and nearby depot were abandoned and decaying. In fact at one point there was a plan by Union Pacific, which had acquired the bridge, for it to be dismantled. But fortunately it and the depot have been preserved as part of the Clinton Presidential Library, which was built on the grounds of this former railroad complex. Also included are 10 recent images taken on a foggy day.

Click here to see recent photos of Rock Island Depots  

OTHER ROCK ISLAND DEPOTS IN ARKANSAS

They may not have tracks beside them anymore, but there are plenty of old Rock Island depots still standing in Arkansas. While many were in terrible shape just a few years ago, most have been restored and are beautiful relics of a long gone era. In this section you can see classic images of some of the depots, along with photos that I've taken in recent years. I also include old trackage and other remnants where the railroad ran through Arkansas. There are also photos of two short-line railroads now operating on old Rock Island tracks.

Click here to see photos of Rock Island caboose #17883  

ROCK ISLAND CABOOSE #17883

42 images of this Rock Island caboose, which was built in 1930 and ran for 50 years before the railroad was shut down. My family purchased it in 2003, after it had sat practically abandoned for two decades beside a house near Pinnacle Mountain, outside of Little Rock. We replaced the roof and did other work on the caboose, but ended up having to leave it on the hilltop property when my parents sold their home there. Here you can view images of the caboose when we bought it and the extensive efforts that it took to move it.

Click here to see Rock Island postcards  

ROCK ISLAND POSTCARDS

My small collection of Rock Island postcards from Arkansas. The first several are from the early 1900's, with two showing the Little Rock bridge, two of the Little Rock depot and one of the Rock Island's track west of Little Rock, where it parallels the Arkansas River. There are also five postcards showing other deports in Arkansas, photographed from the 1960's through the 80's, including North Little Rock (Argenta), Lonoke, Carlisle, Hazen and Booneville.

Click here to see MP3 files that you can download  

WORKING ON THE ROCK ISLAND

While researching a high school paper on the railroad in 1988, I recorded an interview with L.T. Walker, who worked as a conductor and had retired a decade earlier. I found his incredibly vivid stories so fascinating that in recent years I've been seeking out more Rock Island employees to record their stories, which you can download here as MP3 files. I've also spoken with Joe Rook, who worked as a conductor before the railroad shut down, and Al Dodson, who was the Rock Island's union representative. They all weave together great, first hand accounts of the Rock Island's final years.

 

ROCK ISLAND AND OTHER TRAIN-RELATED LINKS:

-Raymond Van Hook shared his Rock Island Recollections with me, writing about what it was like growing up alongside the tracks of the Rock Island in Howe, Oklahoma, just west of the Arkansas boarder in the 1940s and '50s. This was part of the main line between Memphis and Tucumcari, New Mexico.

-Minnesota Public Radio produced an incredible documentary on the history of the song "Rock Island Line," a folk song that, as explained here, was first documented in a Little Rock, Arkansas prison in 1934. The entire radio program can be listened to on this web site.

-Here's an interesting site focusing on the Choctaw Freight Terminal in Little Rock, which would become the Rock Island's, situated on the opposite side of the tracks from the railroad's Little Rock depot. Sadly the century-old structure was destroyed in November 2001 to make way for the Clinton Presidential Library. At least the passenger depot and Arkansas River bridge are being preserved. See some great photos of Rock Island sites in Little Rock on this page.

-Ken Ziegenbein of North Little Rock hosts Ken's Weather and Railroad, which includes lots of information and constantly updated photos of trains and sites around Arkansas. Many Rock Island items, along with an online version of his monthly publication Arkansas Railroader.

-The Rock Island Technical Society has a detailed site that has equipment rosters, including the locations of all known Rock Island cabooses, photos and lots of great historical items.

-A really great, professionally maintained site is RailPictures.net, which features photos of practically every railroad, including plenty of "fallen flags" like the Rock Island. Plenty of photos are added every day, so it seems there are always new images to look at.

-A good source for official railroad information is the Federal Railroad Administration site. Here you can do searches, read different reports are railroading and see official information about Amtrak.

I am not directly associated with any of these sites. If any of these links no longer work, please let me know! Also if you know of any sites with Rock Island-related content, also please shoot me an email.

 

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