The History of Trains in Winfield, Iowa
by Orin (Bub) Kepper
The C.B.& Q. Railroad (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy), according to what records I have, was built in 1878 by the Burlington Northwestern Narrow Gauge Railroad, a very narrow gauge track. The standard gauge track was eventually built by the C. B. & Q. in 1902. The tracks ran north and west from Burlington through the towns of Atlanta, Sperry, Mediapolis, Roscoe, Yarmouth, Mount Union, Winfield, Wyman, Crawfordsville and Washington, Iowa. Just north of Winfield, a set of tracks branched west from the main line through the towns of Wayne (about a mile north of Olds), Wayland, Coppock, Keota, Harper, Sigourney, Delta, and Atwood, before ending up in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Personal Experiences and Knowledge of the C. B. & Q.
As a little kid, the train was an important part of my daily life. There wasn't much to do, so you had to make your own fun. My thanks to the C. B. & Q.
I was born in 1925 and have many fond memories involving the railroad. When I was about three-years-old, my mother would take me to Winfield to ride a trolley or a one car passenger train that was run by a man named Claude Pierce who was a resident of Winfield. From Winfield, we would ride to the town of Wyman where her father, John Cannon, would pick us up in a horse and wagon to visit he and Grandma Cannon on their farm about two miles west of Wyman. Many times Mom would pack a picnic lunch for the trip. Claude would ask me to come up and ride with him in the engine part of the train. At the time I was shy and didn't want to leave my mom, so I wouldn't go, but ever since then, I wish like heck I would have taken him up on the offer!
When I was eleven-years-old I would help Grandpa Cannon drive cattle from the same farm west of Wyman to the stockyard to be loaded by rail and shipped to market from Wyman to Chicago, Illinois. Grandpa used to raise fat cattle and since there weren't any trucks to haul the animals we would walk them into town where about twenty-five head (weighing about a thousand pounds apiece) would be loaded on boxcars and shipped to be slaughtered at the Union Stockyards in Chicago. When you paid the freight for the animals, you also got a ticket to ride to the city with them.
I remember the year 1943 in particular. I was eighteen years old and just graduated from Winfield High School. Back then, when a cattleman paid for a load of cattle to be taken by rail to Chicago, he was given a pass to ride along. My grandpa Cannon talked Dutch Oldt, the depot agent, into giving him two passes for the train, so I got to go along to sell these cows. I remember we rode in a single passenger car that doubled as the caboose. We left about one o'clock in the afternoon and were to pick up more boxcars in Burlington, Iowa and Galesburg, Illinois. When we got to Galesburg, I remember we stopped at a little place called The Beanery for a sandwich before traveling on into Chicago. The same afternoon after the cattle were sold, we returned to Union Station on Adams Street to return home. Just by chance we got to ride on the new Burlington Zephyr. Another cattleman, formerly from Winfield, was also on the Zephyr; a fellow by the name of Burch Buffington. After speaking with the conductor, he came and placed a sticker of the Burlington Zephyr on my shirt-front.
Later that evening, when the train pulled into the station in Burlington, we discovered Burlington's Union Depot had burned down and the train going on to Winfield would not be running that day. Grandpa and I had to spend the night at the Union Hotel located across the street from the smoldering train depot. The following morning, about 10 a.m., we were able to catch the Washington, Iowa train that dropped me off in Winfield and Grandpa off at Wyman. That was quite an experience for me.
On another trip to sell cattle with my dad, Sam Kepper, when we had to stay all night before coming home, we saw Ted Weems and his orchestra at The Chicago Theater. That was another great experience for me.
In the summertime, when the weather was good, the circus would come to town. This train would run on Sunday so that it wouldn't interrupt the regular train schedule that ran the rest of the week. There were elephants, giraffes, and all kinds of wild animals that arrived by train. For me as a little kid, that was really something to see!
Sometimes sparks from the train engines would come out of the smoke stacks. I also remember one summer as a child when these sparks caught a field of dry hay between town and the Washington Bridge on fire. The whole field of twenty some acres of hay was burned off. I don't know if the railroad made restitution for the damage, but I do know that it was the railroad's responsibility to build and maintain fences on both sides of the track. This was not always the case and sometimes cattle would get out, walk down the track and get out on the road.
In later years, my brother raised thousands of turkeys that ranged in the fields near the tracks. They, too, got on the track. When the train stopped to shew them off the tracks even more flew onto the train and rode all the way to Washington and back. Although the railroad said the birds had been returned, some of the engineers may have gotten a free Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey.
As a kid, for something to do, we used to walk up and down the tracks a quarter mile south of our house and sometimes find an occasional mushroom. More often, however, if we could find a penny, we would put it on one of the rails and wait for the train to come by and smash the penny flatter than a pancake. I don't know what ever happened to those pennies.
In the summer when Crooked Creek was high, some of the older boys from Winfield would walk the tracks from town and jump or dive from the Washington Bridge into the water. It was the local swimming hole and many of the boys took advantage of the high water to go "skinny dipping" on a hot summer afternoon. Some of those boys' names were: Barney Marshal, Chig Ball, Willie Marshal, Tooley Honts, Socket Wilson, Hotsy Davis, Gag Long, Poozy Peck and others.
Another quite common site to see was a couple named John and Lula Evans, a local couple from Winfield who liked to fish in their later years. They would walk out to the Washington Bridge and fish for turtles as well as frogs and fish for their dinner from the creek bank below. Whenever they caught a turtle they would take it home and keep it in a ten gallon crock and continue to feed the turtles scraps from their own meals. When a turtle grew to be nice and fat they would then butcher the turtle and eat it. I guess that was all right, but I always thought it was a little unusual.
For 101 years the railroad played an important part in the economy and growth of Winfield. For me, personally, it also provided a world of wonder and fond memories for a farm boy growing up in southeast Iowa.