Todd's Railfan Guide to
along with Nora Springs and Manly

In General
Getting Here

Nora Springs


In General

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.  So Mason City will kick off my Iowa section.....

Mason City, it's a great little town.... it should be on every railfans list of places to visit!

The number one attraction to Mason City is the venerable Iowa Traction.  IATR is the only railroad left in the United States that uses traction power for it's freight operation.  Probably because the owner is much a railfan as anyone else.  If he has the time when you stop by for a visit, he will tell you as much as you want to listen to.

Thanks to John Richards for sending in a bunch of good information to update the page!

One place on the internet extolling the virtues of railfanning for Mason City, said that there wasn't anything else in town worth looking at besides the Iowa Traction, which I strongly disagree with.  A I say this because......

-- You have a couple of nice diamonds, which for the signal fan, is a real treat.

-- You have two nicely maintained depots, one is privately owned, the other is used by the IC&E.

-- You have a Union Pacific yard on the north side.

-- You have a bunch of semaphores along the Iowa Tractions right of way, even though they are not operational, plus,
-- There are additional semaphores outside of town on the eastside on the IC&E.

-- There are two buildings in town designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, one is a private home, the Dr GC Stockman house,
-- And the other is the Park Inn Hotel, one of six hotels he designed, and the only one still standing.

-- The Mason City airport is where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper took off from on their fateful flight of February 3rd, 1959, after a concert at the Surf Ballroom, in nearby Clear Lake.  The event is often referred to as "the Day the Music Died"

-- A fellow by the name of Meredith Wilson, born in Mason City, wrote the musical Music Man, which was a big Broadway hit.

-- And, FYI, Jello has a facility here that makes all of it's refrigerated ready-to-eat Jello brand snacks for the entire U.S.  :-)

So you see, Mason City has enough to keep you busy for a long June 21st summer day!

Altho out of the target area for this railfan guide, the Iowa Interstate has a railfan guide for their lines from Chicago to Council Bluffs:

Of the map services Google, Bing, and Mapquest, Bing probably does the best job with Mason City because it has the birds eye view available, as seen below.  The two maps are available HERE and HERE as a PDF.

Here's a couple of cool links provided by Jim Mihalek:
Info on Manly: http://www.cashgroth.com/towns/manly.html

Stuff on Mason City: http://www.cashgroth.com/depots/depmasoncity.html and http://www.cashgroth.com/towns/masoncity.html
Maps from the CNW Historical Society: http://www.cnwhs.org/archives_maps.htm

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. 

Mason City is about 3 hours from the twin cities.

I would probably take exit 193, 255th Street/19th St SW, state highway 106.  Take it east into Mason City.  Taking this route, you will pass by Iowa Traction.  Once into Mason City, you can use my map below to get around.


The two maps are available HERE and HERE as a PDF.

This is the only vintage map I could find of the area.... a USGS index map from roughly 1920


Iowa Traction
the Union Pacific Yard
the ex CNW Depot
the ex MILW Depot
the ex M&StL Depot
the IC&E Yard
Diamond - Clear Lake Junction
Diamond - Bear Trap Junction
the Stockman House
the Park Inn Hotel

     1          Iowa Traction

          Coming from the IC&E interchange.

              Along 19th St.

            Scenes around the shops.


Below, a couple of Bing shots of the IATR yard, the insert on the map is taken from the top one.

Barely visible in front of the green trees is one of the IATR fixed semaphores, this one at 19th and Monroe.

     2          The Union Pacific Yard

Couple shots of the lower part of the yard on the left, the 12th St overpass at the throat of the yard, and the entrance to the yard off 15th St.


     3          The ex CNW Depot

This station is on 1st St NW, between the tracks and North Monroe Ave.


     4          The ex MILW Depot

Located where South Pennsylvania dead ends at the yard, just off 8th Street SE, 2 blocks east of South Federal Ave.

     5         The ex M&StL RR Depot

One of these buildings is the former M&StL depot.  When I find out, I will zero in on it :-)

     6         The IC&E Yard


     7          The UP / IATR Diamond - Clear Lake Junction
Located along 19th Street SW (where Olive Street use to intersect), but an overpass should be finished by now over the UP tracks.

  UP Freight on the south side of 19th, waiting to head into the yard.

      Another NB UP freight crossing 19th St.

    Close-ups of the construction work


    A 2 color, color light signal for southbound UP traffic crossing the diamond.

  US&S manual crossing gate switch at signal 1.



A US&S searchlight signal for UP traffic continuing north after the diamond.


Looking north and south on the UP towards signals 1 and 2.


Looking across at signals 1 and 2.

  Battery box next to signal 2.


Signal 3 - A 2 color, color light signal for westbound IATR traffic.

Looking east on the IATR towards signal 3.


Signal 4 - A 2 color, color light signal for eastbound IATR traffic.

Manual switch box (and a little corn) on signal 4 - Manufactured by Griswold.


Signal 5 - A 3 color, color light signal for southbound UP traffic before going into the small yard.


A 2 color, color light signal for northbound UP traffic crossing the diamond.

Signals 5 and 6.

    Old (probably not used) relay cabinets adjacent to signal 6.


    UP's relay cabinets on 19th street.

    Well placed electric cables for the IATR.

     8          The UP / IC&E Diamond - Bear Trap Junction
Easiest place for access to this diamond is on the south leg of Jackson Ave, off S Van Buren and 8th St SW.


A two head color light signal for westbound IC&E traffic, same as signal 9.


A two head, color light signal for southbound UP traffic crossing the UP/ICE diamond.


A two head color light signal for westbound IC&E traffic.


A single head color light signal for northbound UP traffic, and an abandoned line runs off to the left... notice the one signal is to the left side of the track.

  The relay cabinet for Bear Trap Junction.

     9          Frank Lloyd Wright's Stockman House


     10          Frank Lloyd Wright's Park Inn Hotel


Railroad Floobydust

The IC&E / IATR interchange.

Just south of the CNW depot (#3 in the above map), going over 4th St, is this pair of bridges, one of which hasn't seen trains for years.

Ex CGW/M&StL right-of-way crossing 5th St SE

Ex CGW/M&StL right-of-way crossing 13th St NE, interesting layout, I guess there was a split here....

Ex CGW/M&StL right-of-way crossing Elm Drive on the diaganol

A couple of abandoned crossings on the M&StL line.

The M&StL "junction" on the north side by 310th St, the two lines ran parallel to each other.  A power line now runs where the tracks once stood.

The M&StL junction on the south side of town below 245th St.  Some of the ex M&StL line north of the junction is used for siding access.




10 miles to the east of Mason City is Nora Springs where the IC&E services a few local industries.  Just east of here is a distant semaphore.  This train, where the head end was east of "downtown", was in the process of dropping off a couple of cars in Nora Springs.




About 10 miles north of Mason City is a junction between the UP and the Iowa Northern, the signals are for a UP siding south of the junction.  The track ends here in Manly at the former Rock Island yard, and no longer goes any further north into Minnesota.

Since working on this page, I have done a guide page just for Manly, located here

     The police station and a static display in Manly.



We chased this train from Nora Springs, and it passes by bunches of old out of service searchlight signals

What's left of the Rock Island yard... not much... and me by a street sign with my name on it

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