The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad is a heritage and freight line located in central Iowa. It has been in operation since the early 1980s and is somewhat unique by utilizing trackage originally owned by an interurban, the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern. Also known as the "Fort Dodge Line" the FDDM&S was relatively rare in its financial success when most interurbans struggled and went under prior to World War II. The system later became part of the much larger Chicago & North Western (C&NW) in the late 1960s, which promptly set about abandoning most of its network. A group of volunteers, hoping to save a section of the property, acquired a section in the 1980s forming today's railroad.
Referring to itself as "The Scenic Line," in reference to its heritage, the Boone & Scenic Valley dates to 1983 when it acquired 11.3 miles of the old Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern from the C&NW. Unfortunately, the 'North Western was not kind to many of its acquired properties and the FDDM&S was no different as much of the network was subsequently abandoned or sold. This particular segment ran from roughly the midway point of the FDDM&S system at Boone, where a connection was made with the C&NW (now Union Pacific), and ran northwesterly to the small town of Wolf, via Fraser. The section included the breathtaking 156' tall "High Bridge which spans Bass Point Creek outside of Boone.
The history of the FDDM&S is quite interesting as it was a rare exception for interurbans, developing into a successful freight hauler. The earliest beginnings were of the narrow-gauge Crooked Creek Railroad, chartered in 1875 to open an 8-mile line from Judd (near Fort Dodge) to a connection with the Illinois Central at Lehigh. In 1885 it converted the line to standard-gauge (4 feet, 8 1/2 inches) but operated independently for only a few years when purchased by the Webster City & Southwestern Railroad in 1892. The WC&S was another coal hauler, connecting to the CCR and running 14 miles east to Webster City. These two railroads essentially made up the northern lines of what would later become the FDDM&S. To the south, in 1893, another predecessor was chartered, the Boone Valley Coal & Railway Company.
This system also hauled coal running from Fraser to nearby Fraser Junction and a connection with the much larger Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway. In 1899, the owners of the BVC&R chartered the Marshalltown & Dakota Railway as an additional coal route with high aspirations of pushing this system from Newton (east of Des Moines) to Sibley, Iowa in the state's northwest corner. Along the way the line would pass through towns such as Fraser, Story City, Gowerie, and Rockwell City. In 1901 it was renamed as the Boone, Rockwell City & Northwestern Railway, and again in 1902 as the Newton & Northwestern. By 1905 the line was opened from Newton to Rockwell City and also had a branch to Colfax. While over 100 miles in length it never made it any further towards Sibley. New owners acquired the N&NW in 1905 and again renamed property, this time as the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railroad.
The movement of freight was always important and explains whey the FDDM&S long-outlived the interurban industry, which largely declined and disappeared after World War I. Its transformation into an interurban began soon after new management had acquired the property; they proposed electrifying part of the system and purchased the Ames & College Street Railway to serve that town. In addition, in November of 1907 it opened service between Hope and Fort Dodge. Ultimately, without considerable freight tonnage along the entire route the company only electrified the main line between Hope and Midvale at 1,200-volt, DC.
While the Newton segment was abandoned in 1911 the railroad did go on to electrify many of its secondary lines as well. Things remained relatively unchanged until severe flooding across the Des Moines River Valley damaged the railroad's network and crippled its power plant in Fraser. Company officials elected to discontinue electrified operations and switch to diesels, acquiring predominantly General Electric switchers in the form of 70 and 44-ton models (it also purchased one 65-ton version manufactured by the Plymouth Locomotive Works). In 1955 the railroad was purchased by the Salzburg family, which owned a number of shortlines including the Louisiana & North West and Wellsville, Addison & Galeton
The now-family owned line only remained so for a little over a decade when it was sold to the Chicago & North Western in 1968. Had it not been for individuals stepping in and purchasing segments the entire FDDM&S would likely have been abandoned under the C&NW such as the Boone Railroad Historical Society acquiring its segment in 1983. Since then the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad has steadily grown in popularity and today hosts a wide variety of excursions. In 2002 Union Pacific sold its last remaining FDDM&S segment, consisting of about 1.7 miles, to the B&SV, allowing to also offer some freight service. To learn more about the railroad and planning a ride please visit their website.