Todd's Railfan Guide to

In General
Getting Here
Fire & Police


In General

About 10 miles north of Mason City, there is a junction between the UP and the Iowa Northern.  The track ends here in Manly at the former Rock Island yard, and no longer goes any further north into Minnesota.  The last business is a cement plant on the north side of Manly.

Iowa seems to be one of those under rated states for railfanning.  When I was travelling a lot for work back in the late 90's, I got to sample a fair portion of what Iowa has to offer, including Mason City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Waterloo, Iowa City, and the quad cities area with Davenport.  I was not disappointed, to say the least!!!

Getting Here

Interstate I-35 bi-sects the state of Iowa right down the middle.  This makes it easy to get to from the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul to the north, and Des Moines to the south. 

Manly is about 3 hours from the twin cities.

The easiest way to get here, if you're coming into the area via the interstate, I-35, is to take exit 203.  This puts you on IA 9, which brings you right into the middle of Manly as South Street.

From Mason City, take US 65 north to Manly.

To get to/from Nora Springs, you will have to zig-zag the back roads.

NOTE: While driving around here, a good portion of the roads are dirt roads.  If you are following another vehicle which is kicking up the dust, slow down and wait "till the dust clears"  :-)  This is important, as there could be a vehicle coming at you from the other direction, and you will never see it if you follow the one in front of you too closely.




All of the pictures here are from a trip I took to Minneapolis and St Paul back in 2006.

    1      Engine and Caboose on Display

Iowa Northern #2000 on static display where the IAN crosses South Street.

    2      Manly Junction RR Museum


Opened in the summer of 2012, it is a work in progress.  The following story was found here

An orange rail motorcar, weathered lanterns, signs, timetables and mural-size photographs are among the displays in the Manly Railroad Junction Museum, set to open to the public later this summer.  A project of Dan, Brad and Mark Sabin, descendants of Art Sabin, a former engineer for the Rock Island Railroad in Manly, the museum will be open weekends in August, said Brad Sabin, project manager for the Iowa Northern Railway Co., of Cedar Rapids.  It is housed in the former Oltman’s Grocery store at 101 E. Main St.  “We grew up in a railroad family and this was a railroad community,” Sabin, 50, said. “We wanted a museum for the community and for the people to enjoy and understand what the railroad used to be.”  The museum is a testament to the days when Manly was a hub for the Rock Island Railroad, the location of the Rock Island Terminal, Sabin said. In the early 1950s, as many as 14 passenger trains per day stopped at Manly, formerly known as Manly Junction.  The Sabins leased the grocery building in August 2010 and completely remodeled it, adding new carpeting, track lighting and a ticket office that features an iron grate from a depot in Texas.  Dramatic black-and-white photos dating from the late 1800s to modern times and 13 flat-screen TVs with separate slide shows help tell the story of the railroad days in Iowa and southern Minnesota, days that shouldn’t be forgotten, the Sabins said.  “It’s all of our heritage,” said Dan Sabin, 59, president and owner of the Iowa Northern Railway, which runs from Manly to Cedar Rapids. “Just about every town in Iowa was formulated by the railroads. Now I think people are realizing how important railroads are, particularly people who have lost theirs.”  He is especially excited about photos showing troop trains from World War II and the railway post office, Sabin said.  One photo shows a flag-draped Vietnam soldier’s coffin being unloaded from a train; another shows a middle-aged man receiving the body of his nephew killed in World War II in the 1940s.  “You can’t look at that without feeling the emotion of the human story,” Sabin said.  Depression-era photos of hobos and a family reduced to riding the rails, tug at the heart. An 1890s photo of women in long skirts pumping water at a railroad well presents a picture of life that few may remember.  Engineers lean out of their windows, a conductor holds up his lantern to signal the engineer.

“The main thing we’re trying to show is the different workers and characters of the railroad,” Brad Sabin said.  Many of the photos were donated. But Dan Sabin also donated from his own sizeable personal photo collection. The photos have been blown up to poster size on a museum-quality printer.  Other exhibits feature memorabilia such as railroad watches, grips, uniforms and tools, donated by Manly residents and other interested individuals.  Globe lights in the front portion of the museum are from the old Manly depot.  There is still much work to be done.  Exhibits need to be labeled, the collection must be indexed and there are still many materials — including a map collection from the Chicago Northwestern Historical Society and archives from the Rock Island Technical Society — to sort and organize.  One portion of the building is being set aside for construction of a model railroad.

“It’s a slow process to do it right,” Dan Sabin said.  Construction of the museum would not have been possible without a $88,547 grant from the Worth County Development Authority in April 2011, Sabin said.  Earlier WCDA grants for $50,000, in April 2008, and a special grant of $10,000 in November 2007, were also used toward the project, including for the purchase of 10 acres of land on the north side of town.  An adjoining seven-acre parcel was donated by Lois Thompo, Brad Sabin said.  The Sabins hope in the not too distant future to build a permanent structure to house the railroad museum and a community center for the citizens of Manly to enjoy.  “I’ve been collecting since I was a little kid,” Dan Sabin said. “It’s an opportunity to share this. We’re really hopeful that people will have artifacts and photographs that we can use.”  Anyone wishing to donate railroad memorabilia or photos to the new Manly Junction Railroad Museum is asked to call Brad Sabin at 641-425-6104.

The following excerpt from July 2007 was found here

Plans are being unveiled to build a ten-million dollar railroad museum in the northern Iowa town of Manly. Dan Sabin, president of the non-profit Iowa Northern Railway, says they’re just completing the purchase of two historic locomotives that would be restored and housed at the planned museum.

Sabin says it’s still in the development stage but they’ve bought two rare Rock Island Lines passenger locomotives. They want to display them but also want to have them be operated on the grounds so it would be a "live museum." Sabin says the group would like to see the museum developed into a great place for rail fans, tourists and researchers to visit.

They want to integrate commercial development, including restaurants and shops, with modern facilities but in a 1920s appearance, along with a vintage railroad station. Sabin says there are also plans for a storehouse of pictures and other information about railroads so the museum could also become a railroad research facility for scholars, writers and historians. Manly is just north of Mason City in Worth County. Sabin says the town used to be a hub for rail activity, decades ago, so he sees it as an appropriate distinction that railroads could again put Manly on the map.

Sabin says the group wants to see that Manly celebrates its railroad heritage with such a museum. Sabin and his family members are also partners in the Manly Terminal, an ethanol warehouse operation that is currently being constructed north of Manly. He says that project combined with the museum idea could also make Manly a railroad town of the future. Anyone interested in contributing money or memorabilia to the project can contact Sabin at (319) 297-6000 or by e-mailing him at dsabin@iowanorthern.com.

    3      The Yard

What's left of the Rock Island yard... not much...


We chased this train from Nora Springs.  On the way we passed by bunches of old out of service searchlight signals



The signals are for a UP siding south of the junction.  The siding is a little over 8000 feet long, judging from a satellite view.



Fire and Police

    4      Manly Police and Fire Station


And finally, me by a street sign with my name on it.


Historical USGS Maps

Courtesy of the University of Texas Library, click here for their index page.

For Iowa back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the USGS did not have much of the state mapped out, so, this is the only thing I could find: the 1925 index map for Iowa.


I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.  My webpages are an attempt at putting everything I can find of the subject in one convenient place.  There are plenty of other good websites to help me in this effort, and they are listed in the links section on my indexa page, or as needed on individual pages.  Please do not write to me about something that may be incorrect, and then hound the heck out of me if I do not respond to you in the manner you would like.  I operate on the "Golden Rule Principle", and if you are not familiar with it, please acquaint yourself with how to treat people by reading Mathew 7:12 (among others, the principle exists in almost every religion).  If you contact me (like some do, hi Paul) and try to make it a "non-fun" thing and start with the name calling, your name will go into my spambox list! :-)

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in, especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names.  Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations.  I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words", and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the railfan over a simple text description of the area.  Since the main focus of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  Since most of us railheads don't have just trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other significant historical or geographical feature.  While some may feel they shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the 1830's!!!  

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

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