The Rock shutdown

Discussion in 'Freight Operations' started by Iantha_Branch, Jan 27, 2023.

  1. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Something I've been wondering about, the few months we had between the Rock shutdown and the BN take over, did the Frisco have any major changes in traffic to account for the loss in competition? All of the ETT's and ODS's I've seen predate the Rock shutdown, do I don't have anything to start the topic.
    Ozarktraveler likes this.
  2. mark

    mark Member


    In the time period you specified, 3/31/1980 - 11/21/1080, the simple answer is no.

    The Rock Island largely stopped operating in August 1979. At that time the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC) went on strike and other unions honored their picket lines. Management made an heroic effort to operate trains with reduced crews. However, during the fall they were only able to move about 30% of the pre-strike tonnage. Coupled with this was the long and slow decline in the physical plant and equipment that started in the late 1950s and accelerated after the 1965 merger application with the UP.

    This resulted in the vast majority of their former traffic moving to alternative markets (rail, inland waterway, truck) well before the start of 1980.

    Hope this helps.


    Iantha_Branch likes this.
  3. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Wife and I lived in Howe OK from Sept '79 to December of '83. (The Rock Island's "Choctaw Route" ran through Howe.)

    When we first moved in, there were no Rock Island trains. Once the courts appointed the Kansas City Terminal as the "Designated Operator" during the strike, after a few weeks I heard a Rock Island Nathan whistle off in the distance (definitely different sounding than the Leslies/etc of the KCS). Next thing I knew there was a Rock Island train rolling through town. From that point on until final abandonment in late March of '80, several trains per day passed through Howe.

    It was great being able to see the Rock Island rolling through town a couple blocks away from our kitchen window. I also enjoyed hearing the sounds of them as they went about switching the KCS interchange.

    I greatly miss the Rock Island. Though I tried to get out and take pics often during that time, I didn't take nearly enough. All to soon the rails were silent and devoid of trains.
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  4. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Excellent information as always Mark. I had heard about the strike, but I never realized how bad it actually was leading up to 3/31/80.

    Attempting to put 2 and 2 together here, that could explain why the Rock was already transferring so much traffic in 1976 at Kansas City.
    Sirfoldalot likes this.
  5. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    I did find one direct example of traffic changing due to The Rock imploding.

    I recently picked up a copy of Santa Fe Freight Train Symbol History 1968 to 1984 by John Carr. While looking through it, I found that the west bound Santa Fe - Frisco run through originally known as QSF, was changed to 679 in the early 70's. Then, in 1978 it was changed again to train 678. This coincides with the cancellation of the previous train 678, a run through between the Santa Fe and The Rock that carried Memphis traffic to Amarillo.

    I'm still looking through the book, but I haven't found an east bound counter part that would have The Rock carrying traffic from Amarillo to Memphis. The Frisco's east bound counter part to the QSF/678/679, was the 666 (876 in the ATSF schedule), appeared sometime around 75/76. Could be a correlation there, but not as strong as the west bound schedule.
    Sirfoldalot likes this.
  6. tmfrisco

    tmfrisco Member Supporter

    I don't know that it would have happened, but we were concerned in Tulsa that the Memphis/Amarillo traffic on the Frisco would have transferred to the RI because of a shorter more direct route than through Springfield and Tulsa. We humped the QLA in Tulsa, so that change may not have taken place, but I will say that we were relieved that the RI ceased to exist. There was an attempt made to upgrade the track after the shut down, but before it could happen, trackage was taken up for salvage. Thus the west coast traffic was not lost.
  7. Iantha_Branch

    Iantha_Branch Member

    Thanks for the insight as always Terry. I've started wondering here lately why the Santa Fe didn't buy up some of the Rock trackage to get direct access to Memphis and St. Louis. I'm guessing those lines were beyond repair by that point.
    Sirfoldalot likes this.
  8. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    There was a plan for the ATSF to get needed RI track that crossed TX/OK/AR to Memphis.

    However, the Trustee for the Rock Island/Rock wanted a totally unjustified price for it, so the ATSF declined, likely to play the waiting game and get it at a more reasonable price. Many of the legislature members of OK and AR got involved and devised a plan to purchase the lines in their respective states and then lease them to the ATSF, or something like that. In good faith, OK made a move first and inked a deal. However, the Arkansas legislatures began debating it, dragging their feet, and fussed it over on the legislature floors. Then eventually it was voted it down in AR. At that point the Trustee hastily severed the line from the Arkansas line to Danville ending any hope of another RR picking up the line.

    Later it was said that the Trustee acted thusly to prove his sincerity to either pay his price, or the rails get pulled, and thus other railroads coughed up the funds needed to obtain segments that were in their best interest to obtain. (Such as the SP into KC.)

    Also later it was rumored that Mop money was involved under the table to buy votes to get the Arkansas side of the deal to fall through.

    End result is there is no track between Howe, OK all the way to Danville, and OK had a bunch of lines on its hands to do something with. (Resulting in the A-OK railroad for instance.)

    The whole thing was a clustercluck that turned out badly for the state of OK and communities along the line in both OK and AR.

    HAD the ATSF deal gone through... I have no doubt in my mind that today that line would have heavy rail and ballast, and would be seeing many BNSF trains per day.

    BUT... it was not to be.
  9. tmfrisco

    tmfrisco Member Supporter

    We had three RI employees come to work in Tulsa after the RI shutdown. Two brothers from Duluth, Mn.--I never did understand how they came to Oklahoma to work on the RI in El Reno. They all three became switchmen with one of the brothers becoming an engineer and then going to work as an Amtrak engineer in Whitefish, Montana. The other brother became a conductor in Tulsa and both have since retired. The third RI employee was an old head conductor on the RI, and retired from the Frisco\BN not long after he came to Tulsa. He was a very nice man, and I really liked him. The thing I did not understand was that he was proud that the unions had struck the RI which hastened its demise. I wondered how having no job was better than giving some concessions and saving their jobs. As I stated earlier it was quite a relief to us in Tulsa when the track was taken up in Arkansas because that was the final nail in the coffin for the RI line Memphis/Amarillo. I appreciate the more detailed account from Coonskin because it confirmed that we did have a legitimate concern about losing the Memphis\Amarillo traffic.
  10. fredpavey

    fredpavey Member

    My dad worked as an engineer on the Frisco in Wichita operating a switch engine in the evenings and I remember when the Rock Island shut down the Frisco Wichita yards added a switch engine to service the Rock Island local business and the daily train leaving Wichita was much longer. I don't think it lasted very long but it was nice to see the increased activity.

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