Burt, IA, the junction of the line to Sanborn, MN with the Eagle Grove to Elmore Line. Courtesy of Digital Grinnell.
Here are two freight train conductor books from T.H. Keefe, who worked between Elmore, MN and Eagle Grove, IA. Each page records the consists of the train he was on, where the cars were set out and picked up, and the origin and destination of the cars. At the time, there were three scheduled freights in each direction, and unfortunately he worked a regular turn consisting of two trains, so his books only provide a partial picture of the freight traffic at the beginning of the 20th century on this line. But for those two trains the information is nearly complete.
Conductor Keefe appears to have been based in Elmore, and would begin his morning around 9am on train 50, the wayfreight from Elmore to Eagle Grove. This train was scheduled to depart Elmore at 9:30am and arrive at Eagle Grove at 4:00pm, and these times appear to have been pretty accurate. On some days he would handle greater than 30 cars, so quite a bit of work was done by this wayfreight. Several hours later, he would return on “accomodation” train 55 back to Elmore, arriving after midnight. While this train could carry passengers, it appears to have been primarily a freight train. After getting about eight hours of rest, the cycle would begin again.
If the 16 hour days weren’t tough enough, Conductor Keefe also worked 7 days a week. His regular trains were daily except Sunday, but on Sunday he worked two trains noted as “spl” which I’d guess stood for special. Holidays were no break either, although on holidays he would work the passenger train 12 south instead of his wayfreight, so it would be a lighter day.
As would be expected for a rural Iowa line, traffic was primarily agricultural based, as well as staples such as lumber and coal and some merchandise. The crew used the same engine in both directions for weeks at a time.
Here is a 1900 employee timetable to see the traffic scheduled on the line:
CNW Northern Iowa 90 9-30-1900