Wandering Around Fort Madison: Pens, Trains And Automobiles

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Labor Day weekend was a major car show weekend for me. Friday, right after work, I headed out to Iowa City to meet up with my Uncle Dave, cousin Sara and her new daughter Taylee (Tyson, the dad, was in Missouri camping out with high school friends). After a hearty dinner at Hamburg Inn #2, we attended the show. Sunday was the Grape Festival car show in Nauvoo, and Labor Day itself was the annual car show in McCausland, IA. But it was on the way home from Nauvoo that I saw this cool old train in Fort Madison–home of the (State) Pen and (formerly) the Pens–Sheaffer Pens, to be exact.

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I usually take Highway 61 from the Quad Cities, which necessitates taking the Santa Fe Swing Span Bridge to get back to Illinois. This bridge was opened to traffic in 1927.

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One interesting fact about the bridge is that only Illinois-bound traffic is charged a toll; on my return trip, there was no charge to get back into leave the Land of Lincoln.

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The Mississipp’ is very broad at this point. Views while waiting to pay the toll were quite picturesque.

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Too bad no boating was on the schedule of events for the day, the weather was perfect for it. And indeed, I saw several pleasure craft taking advantage.

The above pictures were taken as I was heading to Nauvoo for the Labor Day parade and the car show. But I wanted pictures of the bridge, so later that evening I actually headed downtown to get some shots.

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I have always loved old bridges, and this one is a good one. I think it is amazing that such old bridges can still be in daily use. It shows that the engineers and crews who designed and built this bridge really knew their stuff. But if you were to take a 180° turn from this view of the bridge, you would see another big part of Fort Madison history.

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This. As alluded to in the opening paragraph, Fort Madison was the home of Sheaffer Pens for many years. The main administration building were right at the river’s edge–until 2008.

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As has been oft repeated throughout the country over the last decade or so, the home base of Sheaffer was unceremonoiusly shuttered in spring of ’08 to–guess where?–Asia, of course (courtesy of Bic, their current owner). The announcement to close was made in 2003. My cousin’s husband’s relatives, who live in nearby Mt. Pleasant, had worked there for years–I believe his grandmother retired from there a few years before the closure. It’s a shame, but this is CC and I won’t dwell on it. But their former headquarters is most interesting for people like me, who love mid-century architecture.

sheaffer-plant-2image: rickconner.net

Here’s how the place looked when still open. This pic, and an interesting story about the final Sheaffer tour and other Sheaffer landmarks in Fort Madison, can be found here. I love the sign on the roof; I am sure it lit up at night, making it even cooler.

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Here’s the lobby, with plenty of now-empty display cases. You can get a slight sense of how impressive this building was in 1952 when first opened.

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Here’s the loading bays at the other end of the complex. According to my uncle, a Sheaffer pen was a common graduation gift in the ’60s and ’70s, and Iowans were proud that such a well-regarded company as Sheaffer was in their very own state. Of course, Sheaffer is still around, and I’m sure their Chinese-made pens are just fine. But I don’t really have any desire to get one. I feel sorry for this building.

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This appears to be the employee entrance. Lots of cool Jet Age design fillips here. I would have liked to have toured the building before it closed, and seen it in its prime.

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Hopefully many of you CCers find old building and bridges as interesting as I do; if not, never fear! For just down the road, there was a genuine Trackside Classic: A Baldwin 4-8-4 locomotive and tender, built in 1944.

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It is quite impressive in person. Unfortunately there was a fence around it. Too bad, I would have loved to have climbed those steps and checked out the cab!

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According to the sign, this locomotive was donated to the City of Fort Madison in 1960, after being retired in late 1955.

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Zooming in on the cab, you can see a myriad of gears and levers. I’m sure it was no easy task to run one of these things, and can only imagine how one sounded when under way.

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The Baldwin is just sitting feet away from the main line running near the river, and appears to be on permanent display. Honestly, who doesn’t love an old train?

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I should have parked my wagon in front of this for perspective, but suffice it to say that this thing is BIG! I think if I lined the nose of my V50 even with the front of the 4-8-4, the rear bumper would be about even with the middle of the first big wheel. For you numbers guys, this unit is 120 feet, 10 inches long.

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Sitting within spitting distance of the main line, I’m sure if this engine could think, it would be reminiscing about its glory days in the ’40s and early ’50s, before diesel engines took over.

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However, I’m sure the nearby businesses are thankful that their buildings are no longer coated in coal dust.

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Finally, I spotted a genuine Curbside Classic just a few blocks from the river. And in true CC fashion, it was a B-body. Perfect.

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A ’78 Delta 88 Royale in two-tone blue, no less. This one was quite sharp with its paint, no vinyl top and Super Stock wheels with the “starfish” hubcaps. Rest assured, a full CC will appear on this car at some point in the future, but I couldn’t resist giving you all a sneak peak.

And with that, I got back on Highway 61 and went home.

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