In my years as a staff photographer for the Topeka Capital-Journal, many of my favorite photographs came from stories and events far from the courts or playing fields where I flourished. This week’s images come from a story published on May 4, 1975, on the demise of the legendary Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, known simply as the Rock Island.
My photographs, and the story by David Arnold, ran in the Midway section, one of the paper’s many great outlets for photographic display during the period when the Capital-Journal was the dominant photographic newspaper in the nation.
The Rock Island was once a leading Midwestern railroad. Created in 1847, the Rock’s tracks were the first to cross the Mississippi in 1856. By the time we did this story, the Rock had suffered from years of bad management and poor track maintenance due to a reduced work force spread too thin.
Belleville, a small Kansas town of 3,000, proved to be a perfect location for the story. The railroad once was the lifeblood of the community, but with ongoing merger rumors, the workers on the Rock already were looking elsewhere for employment or contemplating retirement.
When a merger with the Union Pacific Railroad failed, the Rock was left to die. On March 31, 1980, the Rock Island ceased operation. Ironically, the Union Pacific eventually acquired most of the 7,000 miles of track, with many still in use today. As for Belleville, the old station today is the home for area’s VFW.