After considerable time planning to model the IAIS in my hometown of Altoona, IA, I recently decided to make a couple major changes to my modeling goals. These changes involved both the scale of choice and the prototype, with the goal of having an operating layout sooner rather than later. No longer was I building my “ideal” layout but instead building something I could enjoy in relatively short time. A more detailed history of these design choices is outlined on my previous blog.
A conversation with friend and fellow IAIS modeler Scott Thornton pointed me to the Burlington Junction Railway. Based in Burlington, IA, this shortline operates multiple lines in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, providing primarily industrial switching services.
While Scott initially proposed one of the other BJRY locations in Iowa, I initially latched on to their operation in Burlington, IA. This location has a number of intriguing possibilities. The line comes off the BNSF down in Burlington, but the action starts a bit further north. First, you come to a scrap dealer where gondola are loaded to compressed cubes of scrap metal:
Next, you come to what has to be one of the most “Model Railroad” features you’ll ever see in a prototype – a scissors crossover!
To the north is a lumber transload building (with the yellow centerbeam outside). To the east, the line passes a Diamond Vogel (paint) building. Although Diamond Vogel doesn’t get rail traffic, it is still a neat point-of-interest with the colorful trailers:
Going further east on that line and we arrive at several industries. First, a dry transload to the left where those hoppers and semi-truck are seen. The white building at bottom middle is the BJRY shops where locomotive work is performed. The big building at the top is believed to be a refrigerated transload facility. Although the building doesn’t appear to have refrigeration capabilities that you’d expect from a cold storage facility (large compressors and condensers), there are photographs of reefers parked on the siding to the south of the building. I suspect it is direct transload to refrigerated semi-trucks.
Going back north of the lumber transload, we find a large river transload facility. Here, fertilizer (both dry and liquid) appears to the loaded to/from river barges on the Mississippi River.
Unfortunately, the grain elevator to the south of the river terminal appears to only be truck served. Going further north and we find a CNH Industrial factory. While once rail served, this appears to no longer be the case (on pun intended).
While Burlington, IA, offers many possibilities (variety of industries, tight industrial trackage, river) it didn’t quite do it for me. So next, I looked into Quincy, IL.
The BJRY operation in Quincy is big time industrial railroading. Industries include:
- ADM elevator (big!)
- Stratas Foods (dressings, mayo, oils)
- Prince Materials (casting sand?)
- J.M. Huber (calcium carbonate mining and processing)
- Midwest Controlled Storage (underground!)
- Phibro (animal feed)
- Sem Minerals (trace minerals for animal feed)
- Prince Agri Products
- Nutrien Ag Solutions (fertilizer)
- J.M. Huber (fire retardant materials)
These are all large industrial facilities with a variety of rolling stock going in and out. Probably the most unique feature is the Midwest Controlled Storage facility where the track actually goes underground!
While Quincy, IL, checks most of my boxes – lots of industry, lots of variety, grain & agriproducts – it was simply too big. To fit in my space, I’d have to leave out some of the major highlights like the ADM elevator and main J.M Huber facility. That would be a hard sell. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that to do Quincy right would take a room that would traditionally hold a double track CTC mainline and instead do a large switching layout based on Quincy. You could easily keep two or three 2-man crews busy for an operating sessions. But this wasn’t for me. Neither the space, nor fit my intended primary operating scheme of one person (me). So, what about the location Scott originally proposed?
Le Mars, IA
Le Mars is a small town in northwest Iowa, home of Wells Enterprises (a.k.a. Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream), and self-proclaimed “Ice Cream Capital of the World”. It also happens to have a city owned industrial park operated by the Burlington Junction Railway. This industrial park provides a number of interesting modeling and operational possibilities. After some careful consideration, this location was picked as my new prototype, planning has begun, and construction is now underway.
Below is a brief overview of the Le Mars industrial park. Many thanks to Jason Klocke for helping with the research and sharing first hand knowledge of the operations here. Most of what I describe below would not have been possible without his help.
Starting at the CN main toward the north, the industrial spur leaves the mainline and heads into a three track yard.
Interchange between the CN and BJRY occurs in this 3 track yard. In the cleared area to the northeast, gondolas of cotton seed are unloaded into trucks for use as a feed additive in dairy cows. The Americold Cold Storage building to the southwest occasionally receives a reefer at the small outcropping on the building toward the tracks.
And yes, your eyes do not deceive you. When a reefer is parked at Americold, it does block the yard.
Moving south, we come to two spurs. One serves the Wells Blue Bunny Sugar Facility and the other serves the BoDeans Baking flour transload.
The BoDeans flour facility receives flour in large pressure differential covered hoppers for transload onto trucks which take it a short distance to one of the two BoDeans facilities in town. For those who are wondering, BoDeans makes various wafers and cookies for, you guessed it, the ice cream industry.
The Wells Blue Bunny Sugar facility receives sugar by rail and transloads it to semi-trucks for transports to the Wells Blue Bunny ice cream plants elsewhere in town. It receives granulated sugar in covered hoppers, but there’s also evidence that either liquid sucrose or corn syrup is also transloaded at this facility:
That’s a Tate & Lyle tank car on the sugar facility track on the left. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what comes in that tank car, but Tate & Lyle specializes in a variety of sweeteners and corn syrup, both of which could possibly be used in ice cream.
Moving again to the south and we come to a warehouse and IML Containers.
The warehouse gets boxcars of paper, presumably to make packaging. IML Containers gets covered hoppers of plastic pellets and makes plastic containers, presumably for ice cream use. There is some evidence that these two facilities are both owned (or used) by IML Containers – more details on that will come later.
Finally, at the far south end of the line are a couple transload facilities. Dry materials are moved on the west tracks. Anything from limestone from Ft. Dodge, to telephone poles, to rebar have been seen here. The liquid terminal on the east tracks have been reported to move ethanol, though the tank cars seen in the aerial image appear to be some form of acid car. Details are still being sought on the exact loads moved in this transload.
One interesting and somewhat unique feature of this industrial park (beside it’s association with ice cream!) are the derails. Within the park, all the derails are split point type, adding some interesting character:
While this is only a quick tour of Le Mars, IA, more will be forthcoming. The research so far has been fun. Many thanks to Scott Thornton and Jason Klocke for their help with that!
But best of all, I’m making more progress on building a layout than I have in years – probably decades! This is in large part due to the encouragement of James McNab and his willingness to share his simple layout building techniques. I haven’t posted anything regarding the build or even the track plan yet, but plan to soon. Trying to stay focused on building. Stay tuned…