By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
In our travels, we have found many depots. They have been in use, restored and repurposed, or abandoned.
But several have been unique in that they are tiny. So tiny in fact, that I wasn’t sure if they really had been depots.
One of these is located in La Rue, Wisconsin. I’m not sure when the depot was built, but the town of La Rue was developed around iron mining in the area in the early 1900’s.
This mining proved unsuccessful, and by 1914, the mines were abandoned. At the height of mining, the town of La Rue probably had no more than 50 inhabitants, but it did have a hotel, lumberyard, church, general store, and two saloons.
By 1925, only two buildings remained – the tiny depot and the La Rue tavern, both of which still survive today. In checking the Railroad Station Historical Society, it does list this tiny little building as a passenger depot.
This small depot is associated with the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, which passes it towards the end of its route.
Another tiny depot is in the Mississippi River town of Port Byron, Illinois. On a trip to Davenport, Iowa, we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois and captured this depot as we traveled home along the river.
The railroad arrived in Port Byron in 1861 and still has occasional freight trains passing through today. Before the Rock Island Line came to Port Byron, two railroads approached town; one from the north and one from the south. They did not join, and passengers and shippers had to use wagons to get through town to the other railroad.
For a time, the Milwaukee Road operated a gasoline powered train through Port Byron. The train was only two cars. The lead car was the engine car with baggage and passenger compartments and the second car was a passenger coach. The train was smelly and annoying to passengers, and service was discontinued in 1932.
Then, in 2015, on the way to Missouri, we visited the tiny town of Hooppole, Illinois. The HY&T (Hooppole, Yorktown and Tampico) Railroad depot sits restored next to a farmers field.
In 1908, a railroad promoter came to town selling stock in a railroad that would run from Tampico to Galesburg. The proposed line would connect the Burlington Railroad to the north with the Rock Island Railroad to the south.
After 14 miles of track were built between Tampico and Hooppole, the project to continue on to Galesburg was abandoned. The HY&T Railroad got an engine on loan from the Burlington Railroad, a couple of boxcars, and a bright red caboose. On April 4, 1909, the first train left Tampico for Hooppole. The engineer operated the train, as well as fired the boilers and the passengers road in the caboose.
The train was nicknamed “The Dummy.” There was no roundhouse at the end of the line, so the train ran forward on the way to Hooppole, then the engine was switched by hand and the train ran backwards back to Tampico.
In 1943, the railroad ran out of money, but one man took on the line’s debt and kept the train running until 1954, when “The Dummy” made its last run. And with that, “The Dummy” was history.