…that cross N. Galena Road near Gardner Lane in Peoria Heights?
They’ve been there for what may seem like forever, disconnected from the mainline, which runs parallel to Galena Road out of Peoria. I’ve wondered about the businesses served by those tracks, and when they quit using them. More on that later.
Construction of the building at right was announced by Muirson Label Co. in February 1930. Although a rail spur was built from the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad line across N. Galena Road into the site in May of that year, the onset of the Great Depression delayed construction of the 30,000 sq. ft. building until March 1931. The building was completed in December 1931, but production did not start for two years.
The building at left was built by Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. Construction of the 200′ x 350′ structure began in July 1938. A rail spur from the Rock Island RR was probably completed shortly thereafter. Minneapolis-Moline moved in from its S. Washington Street location in November that year. I believe this facility functioned as a warehouse, as M-M manufacturing plants were located in Des Moines, in Hopkins (MN) and on Lake Street in Minneapolis, and in Moline.
A major change came in March 1961 when Muirson Label Co., by then a division of International Paper Co., moved to a new 360′ x 300′ plant on N. University Street at Pioneer Industrial Park. Muirson’s paper rollstock came from the south so the Pioneer Park location, and construction of a spur from the Chicago & North Western, promised better service and railcar supply.
Muirson’s move left the N. Galena Road plant vacant until May 1964 when Champion Furnace Pipe Company moved in after its Washington, Illinois plant burned. A PJS article from May 26, 1964 mentions that rail access was a factor in Champion’s decision to locate there. Champion probably used rail for inbound packaging materials (cardboard boxes) and/or shipping furnace pipe to customers throughout the Midwest.
The next change occurred when Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. was acquired by White Farm Equipment Co. in 1963. The final Peoria City Directory listing for M-M at the N. Galena Road location was in 1969. In October 1970, Peoria Paper House relocated from downtown Peoria to the former M-M facility.
The original owners of both rail-served N. Galena Road facilities were gone, but successors used rail as well.
RAIL SERVICE ENDS
A local rail enthusiast once told me he recalled waiting on a Rock Island freight train switching one of these industries about 1976. But rail service probably ended a short time later. That’s because the ILLINOIS RAIL PLAN 1980 notes 1978 traffic on the Rock Island’s Bureau – Peoria mainline was generated by five industries at Henry, one at Mossville and seven at Peoria. Nothing at Peoria Heights, or “San Koty,” the official station location of Champion Furnace Pipe Co. and Peoria Paper House.
Until recently, I had no real confirmation that one or both industries were using rail in the 1970s. Then the Peoria Journal Star carried a captioned photo in its January 3, 1975 edition entitled, Rock Island Box Car Burns.
Peoria Fire Engineer Dale Grafelman remove smoldering cardboard packing from a boxcar ablaze on Rock Island railroad tracks adjacent to Galena Rd. just north of Gardner Ln. The boxcar, which caught fire about 4:45 p.m. yesterday, was extinguished about 8 p.m. Rock Island Trainmaster R. M. Jolly said the cardboard cargo was destroyed and the boxcar was heavily damaged in the fire, which he blamed on vandalism. Traffic on Galena Rd. was slowed for several hours because of the fire.
The photo shows not a Rock Island boxcar, but a Norfolk & Western one, 40-foot NW 645574 to be exact. And note the car was “on Rock Island railroad tracks adjacent to Galena Rd. just north of Gardner Ln.” It wasn’t on a moving train.
The reference to “cardboard packing” could be corrugated boxes needed by Champion Furnace Pipe Co. for shipping its product, or baled scrap cardboard from Peoria Paper House that was ready for shipment when the fire occurred. I’m leaning toward it being the latter. The N&W-marked car might indicate origin for the former (a corrugated box plant) and a destination for the latter (a re-pulping mill, which might include two local firms – Bemis and Quaker Oats), but in this pre-deregulated era, such a car could be used about anywhere if unassigned, or empty enroute to its home road (N&W).
An uncertain future following Rock Island’s March 17, 1975 bankruptcy filing spooked a lot of smaller-volume shippers into making arrangements with truck lines. Thus why 1978 data in the ILLINOIS RAIL PLAN 1980 contains no apparent reference to industries at the Champion and Peoria Paper House location.
It’s possible that successors to the Rock Island here (Elgin Joliet & Eastern, April 1-May 31, 1980), Burlington Northern, June 3, 1980-January 31, 1982 and the Peoria & Pekin Union, February 15, 1982-???)* tried to lure both industries back to rail, but were unsuccessful.
I’d guess the switches connecting both spurs to the old Rock Island mainline were removed no later than the late 1980s as part of rehabilitation following purchase by the Lincoln & Southern Railroad and contract operation by the Iowa Interstate Railroad, which now owns the line.
Peoria Paper House eventually became ProSource and relocated to Morton about 2001. Caterpillar contract processor Supply Chain Services Inc. (SCSI) moved in, but has since closed. Champion Furnace Pipe Co. closed at the end of 2011. Both buildings are now vacant.
Perhaps an industry needing rail service could be lured to one or both buildings (a scrap paper recycler would be a good fit). I’m sure the Iowa Interstate would be happy to provide service. The connection with the mainline would need to be restored, and I’m sure automatic flashers would be needed to protect motorists on Galena Rd./Route 29.
– David P. Jordan
*The P&PU is believed to have quit running on the former Rock Island north of the Peoria Water Works following a July 1985 derailment that nearly sent a locomotive into the Illinois River. However, an article appearing in the Peoria Journal Star on October 1, 1985 says P&PU was still operating up to Mossville at that time. The Iowa Interstate RR ran its first revenue train on June 22, 1987.