From: "Drew Cannon" 
Subject: Big Hook Recollection
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997

Here is a story from my early youth related to Big Hooks.  This is just at the 
edge of my memory, so the details are a little fuzzy.  Does anyone else remember
this wreck or any others where Big Hooks were called out?  

Sometime in the early or mid-1950s the Rock Island needed a Big Hook in Iowa 
City:  a locomotive went in the drink at Ralston Creek.  At that time the RI 
still switched industries in downtown Iowa City, and may even have run freight 
(and perhaps passengers?) northeast out of town, connecting with the old BCR&N 
mainline between West Liberty and Cedar Rapids (at Elmira?).

The day I remember found a red and black Geep nose down in Ralston Creek at the 
south end of the wooden trestle.  Apparently the trestle collapsed under the 
locomotive's weight.  My recollection is that the trestle was only a locomotive 
length or two long and only 5 or 6 feet above water level.  The trestle was 
maybe a hundred feet west of Gilbert Street, back in a wooded lot behind the 
commercial buildings fronting Gilbert St.  The only effective access was via the

My father took my brother and I to watch the Big Hook work.  What a sight:  
railroad people and spectators everywhere, a huge black crane inched up to the 
wreck from the south, two red and black geeps powering the wreck train. (I don't
remember what other equipment, if any, was at the actual scene besides the crane
and two geeps.  With a yard nearby, other equipment and outfit cars might well 
have been left there.)  The conversation I remember is that this was the Silvis 
crane (makes sense since Iowa City is closer to Silvis than Des Moines).  I 
don't remember whether or not there was a second crane on the north side of the 
wrecked locomotive.  I seem to remember watching as the Hook tried to lift the 
locomotive:  cables strung under the locomotive, railroad personnel watching 
closely and checking everything.  If this is a real recollection, the crane was 
boom-over the end of the locomotive at a somewhat awkward angle.  The operator 
reeled in cable very slowly while workers kept a sharp eye under the locomotive.
As the crane began to bear the locomotive's weight more and more it tipped ever 
farther to the side, sending everyone scrambling out of the way.  The operator 
must have had experience with this situation because he slowly released tension 
in the lifting cables until the crane settled back to an even keel.  I never did
see the actual removal of the locomotive from the creek.  We couldn't stay.  But
they eventually lifted it out.  A very exciting day for two young boys and their
dad!  And a railroad image I still remember!

The map below shows roughly the track arrangement.  Travelling from the west, 
the mainline crosses the Iowa River and CRANDIC yard on a high deck girder 
bridge.  Once off the bridge, it approaches the station on a high fill.  Just 
before reaching the station from the west, the track splits into a passing 
siding to the south of the mainline.  The main is closest to the station and was
normally used by passenger trains stopping at the station.  From the station, 
the track continues east on another high fill over Ralston Creek as it flows 
south out of downtown Iowa City.  Two large (concrete?) culverts allow the creek
to pass through the fill.  The east end of the fill is a deck girder bridge over
Gilbert Street and the RI lower track into downtown.  Even before the east end 
of the bridge, a switch takes the yard lead and branch line track off to the 

>From the east-west mainline, an intricate three-way switch took the yard lead 
and branch line track south.  This switch overlapped the first switch off the 
mainline into the yard at the west end and the switch onto the first yard track 
south of the double mainline.  (This switch has been replaced by IAIS with a 
single switch, so the track arrangement now is a switch off the mainline to 
become the yard lead and a second switch immediately off the lead south to the 
branch line--now the CRANDIC interchange track.  The first yard track now 
diverges off the mainline a few yards east.)                                    

The branch line / interchange track swings south around a sharp curve and 
quickly drops down the side of the hill forming the Ralston Creek valley until 
it reaches the flood plain level about 3 blocks south of the mainline.  The hill
is steep, the track is rough, and the freight was heavy (mostly loaded coal 
hoppers from the east in those days) so I remember several derailments in this 
area over the years.  Once at "ground level" the track joins a run-around 
siding.  The route out of the run-around track continues south as the Montezuma 
Branch to Hills and eventually Montezuma.  To the north, the route splits before
passing under the mainline:  the diverging route to the west toward the CRANDIC 
yard about 6 blocks away, and the straight route to the north toward downtown 
Iowa City.  The track toward downtown is no longer there, but in the early 
1950s, two blocks north after passing under the mainline bridge, the route 
crossed tiny Ralston Creek on a wooden deck trestle.  The creek is normally 
small, little more than a trickle and only a few feet below track level.  During
heavy rains, however, it is a very different story as it drains all of downtown 
Iowa City and the northeast residential neighborhoods.  Surely this trestle 
suffered mightily when flood waters rushed through.                             

               to Hills & Montezuma
   Rock Island          |
      track             |
    diagram--          /|
     downtown          ||         |
    Iowa City          ||         |
     c. 1954           ||       North
                      /||         |
                     / ||         V
                    /  ||
                   /   \|
                  /     |
                 /      |
                /       |
               /        |
               |        |\
               |        | \
               |        |  \___ to CRANDIC
               |        |
               |        |                                     I
    _________  \        |                                     O
    _________\  \       \                                     W
    ____yard__\__\       |                                    A
__________________\____\__/______________________________   \____/
____________________________E <--_East-West_Mainline_-->_\____________
                       / |\                  __________     /    \
                         |                   | Station |      R
                         |        R          |_________|      I
                         |        a                           V
                         |        l                           E
                         |        t                           R
                         |        s
                         |        t
                         |        o
                        ]|[       n
                        ]|[ Creek
               to downtown Iowa City

Drew Cannon
Des Moines, Iowa