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Fort Dodge Des Moines & Southern - A Capsule History

The Fort Dodge Des Moines & Southern was a classic, large interurban line that ran electric cars between its namesake cities in Iowa. Its extensive freight operations set it apart from many other interurbans, and the revenue from freight prolonged the life of the line. Never noticed by historians was the fact that the FDDM&S also earned revenue from the sale of electricity to rural farms, industries, and homes.

Major towns reached by the line included (mostly north to south) Webster City, Lehigh, Fort Dodge, Rockwell City, Boone, Ames, and Des Moines. Towns on two branches that were abandoned early are not included.

The line was the largest interurban in Iowa and was noted for a number of things, including its 800 bridge across the Des Moines River. It owned several large electric freight locomotives and several passenger cars, as well as an unusually large number of freight cars. Its primary freight cargo was gypsum board, which came from gypsum mines and companies in the Lehigh/Fort Dodge area. It interchanged cars carrying these gypsum products with the Chicago & North Western, the Chicago Great Western, and the Minneapolis & St Louis.

Although it was primarily an electric interurban, it started out a steam railroad and ended up as a dieselized railroad. A segment of the line survives today as the Boone & Scenic Valley, which is a tourist line. A visit to this line is highly recommended, and the visitor can see and ride parts of the re-electrified line (which sometimes uses diesels and sometimes steam locomotives, in addition to its electric cars).

Chronology and History:

  • 1905 The steam railroad, the Newton & Northwestern, began operating from Newton to Rockwell City, Iowa.
  • 1906 The FDDM&S is incorporated and takes over the N&N and a street operation in Ames.
  • 1907 Parts of the line are electrified and through electric passenger service begins to run from Fort Dodge to Des Moines.
  • 1910 The Crooked Creek Railroad is purchased.
  • 1911 Voltage is raised to 1200 volts (600 volts was common among electric lines at this time.) The Rockwell City segment is electrified. The segment to Newton is abandoned, never having been electrified. Electric freight locomotives are purchased.
  • 1916 A line is built from Fort Dodge to Evanston Junction to Brushy. Now Webster City, Lehigh and Fort Dodge are connected.
  • 1926 1928 Branch line passenger trains are eliminated to Rockwell City, Webster City, and Ames.
  • 1947 Two large electric locomotives are purchased from Oregon Electric.
  • 1954 The entire line is dieselized after the power plant is flooded, but electric operation is re-instituted for a short period of time.
  • 1955 The Salzburg interests purchased the FDDM&S line. Salzburg also operated other short lines and was a scrap dealer. The line is completely dieselized
  • 1968 The Chicago & North Western purchases the FDDM&S (along with the D&CI) from the Salzburg interests. The line continues to originate many loads of gypsum products.
Compiled by Joe Piersen

Sources:
Grant, H. R., The Corn Belt Route
Ibid., The North Western
Hilton and Due, The Electric Interurban Railways in America
Nebbe, D., a paper

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