On Friday, 21-Apr-2006, Railroad Development Corporation of Pittsburgh made the startling announcement that they'd purchased two Chinese 2-10-2 Class QJ steam locomotives, with an option to purchase three additional units. The two units would arrive in the US and make their way to the Midwest - to RDC's own Iowa Interstate, where they would be reassembled and certified for operation on US rails. RDC intended to sell these units to American tourist haulers that were looking for reliable, modern steam at a bargain price. Consequently, most of us Iowa Interstate enthusiasts assumed they'd only see minor service - just enough to work the bugs out, get their FRA certification, and demonstrate their functionality to prospective buyers.
In late June, shortly after the arrival of the QJs on Iowa Interstate, solid rumors began to circulate that the two would be involved in a few excursions in the fall. On the 12th of July, the official news finally broke via Trains Magazine's online news, amongst other sites. In conjunction with RiverWay 2006 - celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first railroad bridge over the Mississippi (more history) - the two QJs would pull a number of excursions out of the Quad Cities, using personnel and equipment provided by the Friends of 261. Four trips would be run - a short dinner train run on Thursday night, 14-Sep-2006; a day-long run from Rock Island to Yocum Connecction (near Homestead, IA); a day-long run east from Rock Island to Bureau, IL; and finally, a combined train / riverboat trip on Sunday between Rock Island and Muscatine, IA.
My parents actually had their tickets booked before I did. I didn't come to my senses until a couple days after the announcement, when I promptly got my act together and booked passage on Friday's run out to Yocum Connection. I figured that would give me the chance to both ride and support the event financially, as well as chase the next day and hopefully net a few good shots. After all, what were the odds I'd ever see anything like this again?
Saturday's run to Bureau proved to be an even more unique event, since Milwaukee 261 was also added to the point, making the only mainline steam triple-header in nearly fifteen years. Also, after the festivities were over, IAIS and the QJs provided one last railfan must-see - an all-steam IAIS freight train, running west from Rock Island to Iowa City on Monday morning, 18-Sep-2006. After that, the units made their way to Newton, where their fires were dropped. They'll remain there until a buyer is found, or another excursion comes up.
In this trip report, you'll see coverage of all four runs. Unique amongst my trip reports, however, the coverage is not all from me. In addition to my photographs, quite a few that follow were taken by my father, Danny Holmes. He's not exactly a railfan - more just a photographer - but he's had to put up with me long enough I think the bug's bitten him a little. Thanks to him, I have photos from both Sunday's run to Muscatine and Monday's steam freight. Plus, he provided a few from the Saturday chase, as well as providing navigation around the backroads of Illinois. Any photos with (DJH Photo) are his work.
Anyway, without further note, enjoy a look at Chinese Steam in the Heartland.