Model Railroaders Add Rock Island Railroad Luggage Cart to Display
The cart, purchased from the estate of Sibley resident Harry Blau, had been stored in the Rock Island Depot for years until Blau, an artifact collector, acquired it along with several other pieces. Members of the Northwest Iowa Model Railroad Club purchased the part – still in its original condition – at an online auction conducted by Kevin Klaassen in early 2020, and are delighted to have saved part of the history of Osceola County.
While club members hoped to display the cart next to their Otter Valley model railroad on the lower level of the Osceola County Fairgrounds open-air building, the room was too big for the space they had available. . As a result, it will be on the main level of the building, surrounded by historic railway features such as newspaper clippings, timetables, and information on 1949 bus fares.
The exhibit includes a story about Henry Fonda stranded at Sibley in 1951 after a blizzard piled several feet of snow on the railroad tracks. Visitors can also check the price of a first class train ticket in 1949 and note that it cost 58 cents to travel from Sibley, Iowa, to Ellsworth, Minnesota.
The Rock Island Rail traversed northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota, stopping in every small town along the way to make freight and passenger deliveries.
“Rock Island is dear to the hearts of many members of the club,” said John Galstad of Worthington, one of the five active members of the model railroad club. “We have acquired limited things because we have limited space.”
Club member Dennis Jurgens made the tender on behalf of the club.
“There were two baggage carts and other railway items,” Jurgens explained. He informed the club members of the items and they decided on a limit on what they would spend on the cart.
“I proceeded to bid on it, and bid again… and bid again,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Then I got frustrated and bid a bit more. “
When he finally won the auction – spending more than three times what the group initially set as their limit – Jurgens went to get the luggage cart and the auctioneer told him that at least that coin was left in the Osceola County and not go to Texas.
“It made me feel better,” Jurgens said.
It wasn’t until they delivered the cart to the fairgrounds that a club member noticed it was stamped as Rock Island Railroad property. Another club member, Denny Davids, knew the railway parts were from Sibley’s depot.
“I think the club have unanimously felt good about (the purchase),” said Galstad, adding that it was important for the club to share the piece of history with the public – hence the display they will have at the fair.
Jurgens said it was an important story in northwest Iowa, adding that without the railroads, the land west of the Mississippi River would not have been settled.
“How much product has been brought into the communities and how many people have come here by train – that’s what we’re trying to express with the display,” he said.
Jurgens has papers in his own family of windows, doors, and trim that shipped by rail in the 1950s.
Sibley was once home to two depots, with eight depots throughout Osceola County at one time. May City is the only community in the county that is not built along a railroad track.
Sibley housed a hub and an engine room, which was more than the whistle and water tower of the other communities along the route.
Images of each of the eight depots, along with other railroad-related items, are displayed on the lower level of the open-class building, where the Northwest Iowa Model Railroad Club has operated its Otter Valley Rail exhibit for 35 years. Since 1987, the exhibit has been open to the public during the Osceola County Fair and other times by appointment.
In 2019 the exhibition was closed due to flooding and in 2020 the fair was canceled due to the global pandemic. So, for the first time in three years, the club is once again welcoming people to watch model trains cross the tracks.
“Every year people come here and say, ‘We didn’t know it was here. “” said Jurgens, adding that a new large sign was in place this year to welcome visitors to the model railroad. A new sidewalk was also poured, leading directly to the open class building from the street.
The building – and the model railroad – will be open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday during the County Fair. Osceola.
The club is always on the lookout for train enthusiasts interested in becoming members. They get together for working evenings on the model railroad exhibition every Wednesday evening, all year round.