Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

January 18, 2007

Mines on Interurban Railroad to Albia

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the last few weeks, I have written about the Interurban Railroad to Mystic, installed in 1910 of which passenger service was discontinued in 1933 because of competition with the automobile. Later the railroad was dismantled in stages beginning in 1944 with another section in 1958 and abandonment in 1964.

Now, switching our attention to the electric interurban to Albia, the beginning was on January 1914 when the Centerville Light and Traction Co. purchased  the Centerville, Albia and Moravia Railroad.  The existing  steam powered railroad was converted to electric operation that same year for passenger service to begin.

In the process of electrification of the railroad, the source was the 34.5 Kv transmission line, already in place between Centerville and Albia.  It was necessary to install electric converters at each of the Centerville, Moravia and Albia Substations to change the alternating current power to direct current power and transform  the voltage down  to 600 volts.  Long brackets were installed under the main circuit on the transmission line poles to support a 600 volt d.c. power  line centered above the railroad track to carry electric power to the rail cars.  The power circuit was a heavy copper cable, maybe 1 1/2 inch.  The cable had to be quite large to prevent the voltage drop from being excessive in the between the electric converters at the various substations.

The d.c. motors on the trolley cars were energized from the 600 volt differential between the trolley wire suspended above the track  and the grounded track rails.  The current would pass from the trolley wire through an under-running wheel or shoe, carried at the end of a swiveling metal pole mounted on the car roof, to drive the propulsion motors on each car and would finally pass through the axles and wheels to the track rails, which form the return circuit.  There were two long trolley arms on each car, one going forward and one going backward.  If the car changed direction, the alternate trolley arm would be hooked up.

In August 1914 two passenger cars powered by 40 horsepower motors began providing electric passenger service.  They made seven trips between Centerville and Albia each day with a running time of one hour and 25 minutes. 

Freight service was launched in May 1915.  Pictured here is ISU No. 400, one of the 50 ton locomotives purchased in 1923 for use with the coal hauling.

In 1916 the Centerville Light and Traction changed its name to Iowa Southern Utilities Company and, by 1926, acquired electric utility systems all over southern Iowa including Newton, Ottumwa and Burlington.

After the railroad to Albia was electirified as part of the Interurban system in 1914, there were a couple of large coal mines developed south of Forbush, to utilize the rail line and Centerville Powerplant market.  They were the Empire Mine (1930-41) and the Sunshine Mine No. 4 (1944-62)

The Empire Coal Mine was located just south of the entrance to the Golf and Country Club and has been a landmark for years.  Since this was one of the later mines, it had one of the last available shale dumps still standing in later years.  The dump was purchased by the county in 1967 for shale to surface secondary roads.

At the time, Dick Hamm said there was only one other shale dump left, that being the Sunshine No. 4 dump.  He also said that during the height of the coal mining operation in Appanoose County, there were 128 mines open and doing business. This was eventually reduced to only one active mine, the new Gladstone.  Now there are none.

Sunshine Mine No. 4 was the last of the big Sunshine mines.  It was built in 1944 and was owned by Sam Carpenter and Dick Hamm.  It was located in the east central part of Section 23 and required a rail spur about a half mile long from the McConville North Mine to service it.  It had a 140 foot shaft and mined 100 acres before it finally closed in 1967.

Rudee Blozovich took me in his pickup to drive a quarter mile east from 205th St. on a very rough trail in the woods and fields to find this mine.  I thought he would jostle our teeth out.  There are shale dumps everywhere in the midst of a wilderness of trees that have grown up since it closed.  Much of the shale has been removed.  I took a picture of the remains of a 20 foot high shale pile near the mine tipple.