Two years ago, seeing all the steam power that gathered at Train Festival 2009 in Owosso, MI, was an incredible amount of fun. So, when the organizers announced that it would be held in Rock Island, IL, in 2011 - just minutes from my home town of Walcott, IA - I couldn't resist taking the week off to go.
Train Festival is an event celebrating railroading oriented at the general public as well as more hard-core railfans. It includes a combination of merchandise vendors, models, full-sized equipment, and various trips over the host railroads. TF 2011 featured equipment such as NKP Berkshire 765, the Iowa Interstate QJ 2-10-2s, ATSF 3751 (which didn't make it), CPRR 63 "Leviathan", Flagg Coal 75, Lehigh Coal 126, Viscose 6, and IAIS 513 (the RI heritage unit). Late in the cycle, the surprise announcement came that the Illinois Railway Museum would be adding the Nebraska Zephyr to the mix. The NZ, a 1936 Budd-built streamliner with an EMD E5 for power, very rarely leaves the museum grounds. The chance to see it on long distance runs - and the opportunity to ride over the road on it - was an extremely rare opportunity. In addition, the IRM also brought CB&Q SW7 9255 and CNW F7A 411, and BNSF kicked in ES44C4 6688.
All four days of the official Festival - Thursday the 21st through Sunday the 24th - offered visitors the chance to visit the exhibits in downtown Rock Island between 0900h and 1800h. In addition, each day featured a long distance train trip and two local steam-powered turns from Rock Island to Walcott and back. Thursday's run was an Amtrak-operated passenger special from Chicago to Rock Island to bring the excursion cars into town. On Friday, NKP 765 powered a trip to Bureau and back. Saturday took a different direction, with IAIS QJ 6988 taking passengers west into Iowa, turning around at Yocum (just outside Homestead, IA). Sunday actually had two trips - one on the CB&Q Nebraska Zephyr to Bureau and back on the IAIS, and an Amtrak special south to Muscatine in combination with the Celebration Belle riverboat, allowing passengers to travel one way on each mode of transportation. After the Festival ended, the passenger cars and Amtrak P42s returned to Chicago on a one-way revenue run.
What follows is my week of chasing the official trips, riding the Friday 765 trip, and chasing various other freight and ferrying moves in the days before the event. Enjoy!