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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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ICE TRAINS. Bizarre plan of winter transportation along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Announced on November 15, 1849, before railroads reached Chicago, two "Locomotive Ice Trains" were scheduled to link the MINING region around Galena, Illinois, and Dubuque, Iowa, with St. Paul, Minnesota.

Far more elaborate than STEAM SLEIGHS that featured the same type of locomotion, the trains were to consist of an "engine," tender and ten cars designed for travel over ice. Arrangements were made for meals and sleeping facilities. Passengers rode well behind the engine to reduce any risk of plunging through the ice.

According to the schedule, a train would leave Galena at 9:00 a.m. and make all the usual steamboat stops along the river. The trip to St. Paul and the Falls of St. Anthony was expected to take twenty-four hours. Each train would make two round trips per week as long as the ice was firm. The trains, named the “Icelander” and the “Gladiator,” were also to be used in delivering mail. The “Icelander” was to run on Mondays and Thursdays. The “Gladiator” operated over the same route on Tuesdays and Fridays. Freight schedules would be the same as those used by steamboats.

No train ever made the journey, and no explanation was ever given for the failure of the project. The concept was later carried on by Norman Wiard and his ICE BOAT.

An "ice train" as it was called was used to transport ice cut from Zollicoffer's Lake north of the city. It began its first run on February 3, 1878. (1)



1. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, February 5, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780205&printsec=frontpage&hl=en