During the years 1979-1991, a steady job with plenty of overtime and lack of too many personal commitments allowed me to invest two weeks each summer in some serious exploring, courtesy of Greyhound's Ameripasses (Amtrak got some business where it fit, too). I'd pack one suitcase and hit the road, shipping some additions to my rail library home and reminding myself that the real America was a lot different from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
My journey in August of 1991 took me west to Denver, up to Billings via Casper and Sheridan, west to Seattle, down to Los Angeles via I-5, then home via El Paso and a TNM&O connection through Roswell, NM. But I set a little time aside in Des Moines for a side trip via Jefferson to Iowa Falls.
I'd first been made aware of Mills Tower's existence through TRAINS' all-Iowa issue in the spring of 1986, and a back issue acquainted me with the late Phil Hastings' ride on IC's "meat train" CC-6 some 27 years before. Those colorful Rath reefers were, of course, long gone, but I decided to invest a few hours and see what was left.
The town of Iowa Falls is nestled around a gorge in which its namesake has sustained a small-scale hydroelectric plant for over a century. Arriving in town, I made my way north to the former IC, by then Chicago Central and Pacific, then followed the line east to the crossing with the former Rock Island "spine line" (now a Union Pacific property) at Mills Tower.
Although badly in need of a coat of paint at the time, the tower was a delight in every other way. A friendly op familiarized me with the GRS over-&-under pistol-grip interlocking machine, its hardwood levers worn smooth by ninety years of use, but surely "state of the art" and probably an experiment encouraged by the availability of reliable hydropower in 1902.
The lower-quadrant train-order signal had been taken out of service by the time of my visit, but a king-size crowbar and maul used for spiking switches were perfectly preserved. The board had, of course, been considerbly downsized after the removal of a Rock Island branch some years before. I was not to encounter any CC&P moves that evening, but the UP was kept plenty busy, reportedly averaging about 20 freights per day.
About 9:30, I made may way back into town to catch the Jefferson back to Des Moines, forced to sit in the entry stairwell by a full bus. I can recall a pleasant conversation with the driver on Iowans' predisposition to build to last.
As evidenced by the link below:
"Happiness is never experienced, only remembered." (Oscar Levant)