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Exploring the Illinois Central Gulf Sioux Falls District

By Cody Grivno | July 27, 2022

Cody's Trackside Finds: Tracing the path of a line that’s been abandoned since the early 1980s

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Photo with grain elevator, grain bins, corn crib, and sign on post
Photo with grain elevator, grain bins, corn crib, and sign on post
The station sign Ben Clare is possibly the only remnant of the Illinois Central Gulf in this unincorporated town in southeastern South Dakota. Model Railroader Senior Editor Cody Grivno shares his findings from a road trip that followed the former Illinois Central Gulf Sioux Falls District between Rock Rapids, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D. The grain elevator in the background was the only rail-served customer in Ben Clare. Cody Grivno photograph

Exploring the Illinois Central Gulf Sioux Falls District. In the August 2022 issue of Model Railroader, I shared how I built an American Model Builders HO scale Illinois Central Type A depot kit. In the story, I noted that the Illinois Central Gulf (ICG) Sioux Falls District is my latest modeling interest. The 96-mile line extended from Cherokee in the northwest corner of Iowa, through the extreme southwest corner of Minnesota, to Sioux Falls in southeast South Dakota. The last train operated over the line in July 1981.

I was drawn to the circa 1972-1981 era of this line by the unique traffic. The line hosted eastbound United Parcel Service trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC) traffic destined for Sioux Falls. Westbound trains featured refrigerated trailers on flatcars transporting dressed beef destined for Chicago. Other traffic included grain, fertilizer, lumber, flour, and scrap metal.

Bridge conditions meant the maximum weight limit on the line was 177,000 pounds (70-ton cars). Trains were typically powered by a single Geep, often a Paducah-rebuilt GP10. Grain was shipped in 40-foot boxcars. To get a sampling of what trains looked like, check out Matt Demuth’s “ICG Sioux Falls District – Late 1970s” photo album on the RR Picture Archives website.

During a recent vacation to Sioux Falls to visit my parents, my family and I followed a portion of the line from Rock Rapids, Iowa, to Sioux Falls. In this photo gallery I’ll share some of the highlights from my trip.

If you have additional information (photos, operations, etc.) on the ICG Sioux Falls District between 1972 and 1981, please let me know. Send an email to cgrivno@kalmbach.com.

Buildings framing former railroad right-of-way
I selected Rock Rapids, Iowa, as the starting point of our journey in hopes of photographing the 16 x 44-foot Type A depot, a circa 1942 building with a brick veneer. Online reports in August 2021 indicated the structure was slated for demolition unless someone purchased it. When I asked an employee at the nearby Rock Rapids Utilities building about the depot, she informed me it was razed in April 2022. My consolation prize was a north-facing photo of the former right-of-way. As you can see, utility lines and businesses are starting to fill in where the Illinois Central Gulf once ran. Cody Grivno photograph
Buildings framing former railroad right-of-way
Small gray shed next to farm field
After Rock Rapids we drove to Steen, Minn. On Railway Avenue, along the former right-of-way, I found this section house. The metal roof is new, and the garage door may be a post-railroad addition, but otherwise the building looked to be in mostly original condition. Cody Grivno photograph
Small gray shed next to farm field
Two metal corn cribs with trees in background
The Illinois Central Gulf crossed the Burlington Northern at grade in Hills, Minn. A siding on the east end of town is where 40-foot boxcars were spotted to be loaded with grain and corn via an auger. Though the tracks are long gone, two corn cribs to the south of the main line are still standing. The cribs are partially visible in this 1979 photoCody Grivno photograph
Two metal corn cribs with trees in background
Weather-beaten depot now used as garage
An Illinois Central Type B depot, now being used a garage at a private residence, is located on the south side of West 1st St. in Hills, Minn. Websites conflict on the origins of the structure. One site states the depot is from Steen, Minn. Another website says it might be from Rowena, S.D. Here’s what the other side looked like in 2009 before trees grew up around the building. Cody Grivno photograph
Weather-beaten depot now used as garage
Grain elevator, bins, and corn crib
The Quaker Oats grain elevator was the lone rail-served customer in the unincorporated community of Ben Clare, S.D. The two grain bins in front of the structure were added after the ICG abandoned the line. Cody Grivno photograph
Grain elevator, bins, and corn crib
Grassy area with trees and antenna in background
The most intact railroad stretch of right-of-way I was able to find on my trip was between Ben Clare and Rowena, S.D., along South Dakota Highway 42. Though overgrown now, it’s easy to see where the ICG Sioux Falls District once ran. Cody Grivno photograph
Grassy area with trees and antenna in background
Concrete culvert with water and grass
Not to be overlooked were right-of-way details, such as this concrete culvert west of Rowena, S.D. More grass-covered right-of-way is visible above the culvert. Cody Grivno photograph
Concrete culvert with water and grass
Bridge pier with grass in foreground and trees in background
A Platt through truss bride over the Big Sioux River in East Sioux Falls, S.D., was one of the more spectacular sights on the line. All that remains today are two stone piers, one of which is shown here. The piers can be viewed from a public lot on South Riverview Avenue off South Dakota Highway 42 on the west side of the river. Cody Grivno photograph
Bridge pier with grass in foreground and trees in background
Wood bridge with tree growing in front
Continuing west toward Sioux Falls on South Dakota Highway 42, we encountered this timber pile trestle. On the other side of the trestle is the 7th hole at the Willow Run golf course. Cody Grivno photograph
Wood bridge with tree growing in front
Wood debris with tractors, pickups, and new apartments in scene
One thing this trip reminded me of was to photograph things when you have the chance. About a mile west of the trestle was a pile of discarded bents at a construction site. These are most likely bents from a bridge that had been taken out after the line was abandoned. Cody Grivno photograph
Wood debris with tractors, pickups, and new apartments in scene
Converted roundhouse with vehicles in front
In 2015, architecture and interior design firm Perspective purchased and renovated the former Illinois Central Gulf roundhouse in Sioux Falls. The building is located on North Weber Ave., just southeast of Falls Park. The former IC depot now occupied by the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, stands two blocks to the southwest on East 8th St. Cody Grivno photograph
Converted roundhouse with vehicles in front
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