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Railroad Roundhouse Photo

Date: c. 1920


Description: This is a photo of a roundhouse owned and operated by the Chicago North Western Transportation Company, a railroad company known more simply as the Chicago North Western. This was one of the biggest railroad companies in the nation at the time this was taken, and they had a terminal line with this roundhouse here in Sioux City. Roundhouses like this were used to service and repair locomotives. The history of railroads, though extremely vital to the growth and development in Sioux City, is unfortunately quite complicated, as it depends on the business decisions of those involved in the different lines, and lines often merged together or were simply never completed. The Chicago North Western, for example, absorbed several different lines that had once been independent in the city. Please note that only a few of Sioux City’s railroad lines are covered in this collection.


In 1862, the United States government issued the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 that provided several land grants to railroad companies to make tracks connecting communities on the Missouri River to the main branch of the Union Pacific Railroad to the south. Most lines in Sioux City were constructed because of this act. The first line of railroad track that came into Sioux City was the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad in 1868, connecting Sioux City to the Union Pacific. It became part of Chicago North Western. Next was the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad in 1870, a trans-Iowa line that became part of the much larger Illinois Central System. The line shared track with the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad in 1872, which became part of the Omaha Road and later Chicago North Western. In its time this railroad line was the primary connection to the Union Pacific, connecting at Omaha, Nebraska. Dakota Southern Railroad also ran through Sioux City and was the first road into Dakota Territory in 1872. It later became part of the Milwaukee Road. Sioux City and Northern Railroad was built in 1890 from the city to Duluth, Minnesota, and it became part of the larger Great Northern System. Then, in 1906, the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad came through Sioux City, another major line to the east.


In the early days the most important cargo for trains were passengers, though freight and livestock shipping were just as important for Sioux City’s growth. Today almost all of the lines around Sioux City are operated by only three companies: the Union Pacific (which bought the Chicago North Western in 1995, along with several other lines), Canadian National, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The primary cargo for these trains today are agricultural products like grain, soybean oil, and ethanol, as well as coal.


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