All aboard!

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, October 4, 2017
We could hear the train comin’, rolling ‘round the bend. On that final day of September the sunshine came pouring in.

The diesel locomotive pulled into the train depot, with five passenger cars full of people and a second engine in tow.

Over 1,400 people road the railroad between West Liberty and Durant Saturday, Sept. 30, thanks to the Iowa Interstate railroad (IAIS), Durant and West Liberty Fire Departments.

“Everyone has very much enjoyed it,” said West Liberty Fire Chief Kirt Sickels of the train ride fundraiser. “It’s gone really well, every trip has sold out.”

The train made four trips between West Liberty and Durant, dropping off and picking up passengers accordingly. Each trip was packed with over 360 travelers.

All the money raised in West Liberty went towards a new ambulance, which can cost around $240,000. The WLFD made around $7000 to $8,000 for the cause.

In fact, West Liberty welcomed the passenger train back. After all, it was back in 2012 when the WLFD held a similar train ride event with three train trips back-and-forth.

“The railroad contacted us again and asked if we’d be interested in doing it. Since we had such a great time last time we told them ’Sure,’” said Chief Sickels.

The West Liberty Train Depot, owned by the West Liberty Heritage Foundation, opened up the depot, museum, one-room school house and more for the day.

The train began its first leg of the journey around 8 a.m. heading to Durant. Every time it stopped in the two towns riders had a half-hour to unload and load.

Besides the Heritage grounds and all its attractions, the West Liberty side also had several vendors.

The Rotary Club served Yotty Bards, Our Redeemer Luthern Church served brats, while Lugo’s Kettle Corn had popcorn.

On the Durant side the Durant Fire Department served lunch to all the travelers while a couple vendors were set up in the park.

“I know all about trains,” said four-year-old Ben Arthur. “This train is even cooler than the other ones I’ve been on. I like the cars because they look like Hawkeye cars.”

Ben boarded the train in West Liberty with his mom Amber and his younger brother Noah. From Tiffin, Iowa, he eagerly watched the world go by outside his window.

Several heads poked out of the passenger car windows as the train traveled down the track by trees, farms, and eager train watchers with cameras and video recorders.

“I have lots of toy trains,” said Ben as he starred out the open window. “I like trains because they have really awesome fans at the top. It’s cool.”

The passenger cars were packed every trip. Each set of seats faced into another set of seats, allowing groups of four to talk while the train traveled.

With the rig chugged along at 40 mph, it took about 25 minutes to get to Durant. After a half-hour stop, it was another 25 minute trip to get back.

However, the padded seats were comfortable and the riders were excited, chatting the entirety of the trip. The train passed through Atalissa, Moscow and Wilton along the way.

Conductor William “Bill” Nelson has been volunteering as a conductor for a number of years though the IAIS.

He and several other conductors spent all day punching tickets, directing people onto the passenger carts, talking to riders during the trip and telling corny jokes.

“More than anything else it’s getting a chance to talk with the people about the railroad history of some of the unique things that happen,” he said.

For instance, each conductor had a unique hole puncher on Saturday, just like back in the day when railroads used different punches on tickets to keep track of travelers.

“My job primarily is trying to get people organized so they’re going to the right place, it’s a lot like herding cats,” he jokes. “So part of it is trying to get people to the right place.”

The loading and unloading portions of the day were definitely the picture of organized chaos. Both fire departments assisted the conductors in the process.

However, to see hundreds of people boarding the train at the West Liberty Train Depot, then watch the train chug off into the distance, was historically pleasing.

The train would lurch forward from the depot as family and friends waived out of the window. For a day West Liberty was back in it’s own past.

“It don’t know what it is, I’ve liked trains since I was a kid,” said Conductor Ken Roehrs.” He explained why there was an engine on the front and the back of the train.

“We got one going in reverse while the other goes forward,” he said. “So one pushes while the other pulls.”

Soon enough the train whistled, signaling to passengers they had five more minutes to board. The last stragglers jumped on just in time.

And for a day West Liberty let that lonesome whistle blow its blues away.

Perhaps we’ll see that train again on another sunny day.
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