The last of the interurbans #2 – Mason City, Iowa: Iowa Traction Railroad


The following is from Jon Bell’s web site. Jon Bell is an Associate Professor Department of Physics and Computer Science Presbyterian College Clinton, South Carolina 29325 USA


Although the Iowa Traction Railroad (IATR) hasn’t carried passengers since 1936, I’ve included it on this site because it is a link to a mode of electric passenger transport that was once common in the United States, especially in the Midwest (basically the region extending from Ohio westward to Iowa). The IATR is one of the last surviving electric interurban railroads in the U. S., and the only one that still uses electric locomotives to haul freight in regular service. (The East Troy Electric Railroad in Wisconsin also hauls freight, but only occasionally, on demand.)

The IATR extends about ten miles from Mason City westward to Clear Lake, running mostly as a single-track line next to the north side of Cerro Gordo county road B35 (19th Street SW in Mason City). A half-mile branch in Mason City connects it to the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad which runs parallel to the north. It also connects to the Union Pacific Railroad via a short interchange track at a crossing with that railroad. The IATR’s office and shops are at the hamlet of Emery, about halfway between Mason City and Clear Lake on road B35.

The IATR began life as the Mason City & Clear Lake Railway on 4 July 1897. At first, it did good business carrying passengers to the resort town of Clear Lake, who arrived in Mason City on steam railroads. It even carried passenger cars switched from those railroads, to provide a one-seat ride. As automobiles became common, this traffic decreased, and passenger service ended in 1936.


However, like several other Iowa interurbans (and unlike most interurbans elsewhere), the MC&CL had a solid base of freight traffic, switching carload freight between steam (later diesel) railroads and online customers. In 1950, new owners changed the name from “Railway” to “Railroad.” In 1961, the line changed hands again and was renamed the Iowa Terminal Railroad (ITR). The ITR acquired another nearby interurban, the Charles City Western Railway, which ended electric operations in 1968 after a tornado destroyed much of the overhead wire, and was abandoned completely some years later. Finally, in 1987 the remaining ex-MC&CL line was sold one more time, to David Johnson, its present owner, who gave it its present name.

The current working equipment consists of four small electric “steeplecab” locomotives built 1917-1923 by the Baldwin-Westinghouse partnership. The IATR’s predecessors acquired them secondhand from other interurban railroads. I think these are the only locomotives of their type that still “work for a living,” and are not part of a museum operation.


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One Response to “The last of the interurbans #2 – Mason City, Iowa: Iowa Traction Railroad”

  1. Justin Davis Says:

    Wow that’s neat… great article. Where did you get those pictures from, of the engines?

    Justin Davis

    Zweisystem replies: The link to the website is posted at the end of the article.

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