Rock Island In Arkansas

An ad for the Rock Island, perhaps from the 1950s, featuring a map of the communities served by the railroad. Click to enlarge.

I’ve been researching the Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas off and on since 1988, recording interviews with former employees, traveling the state looking for relics of the once grand railroad, and just working to learn as much as I can about its operations. I’ve shared much of that material here, with interviews that you can listen to and see photos that I’ve taken or collected.

The bankrupt railroad was shut down by a federal judge in March 1980 at the urging of creditors, namely Henry Crown, who felt it was worth more dead than alive, with all of its assets liquidated. In Arkansas, most of its tracks were taken up, except for a few stretches now operated by other railroads. It was a major loss in many ways.

I plan to debut a podcast series soon looking at the railroad in Arkansas featuring interviews I’ve recorded with more than two dozen people, most former employees of the Rock Island.

Effort To Save Former Rock Island Depot At Perry, Arkansas From Demolition

The former Rock Island depot at Perry, which still features many remnants of its earlier days.

Unless it can be moved by the end of 2017, the century-old Rock Island passenger station at Perry, Arkansas will be torn down. That’s according to managers of the shortline Little Rock & Western Railway, which now owns the property. They want to get rid of the dilapidated structure, but have been working with local preservationists .

In August I was allowed inside the depot to take photographs and spoke with everyone involved in this, which you can see here. With the deadline near, in mid-December I checked back in with everyone for a status update. While there is nothing definite to report yet, things are looking promising for the depot’s survival. You can read about that here.

My Book: Rock Island Railroad In Arkansas

The cover of Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas, released April 4, 2017.

As part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of Rail series, my book Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas was released in April 2017. It’s a collection of mostly historic photos from locations around the state. I knew it would be a challenge finding high resolution images, then writing and assembling the book, but it was a rewarding process that allowed me to connect with many people about the railroad.

I’ve taken part in several events talking about the book, some of which were recorded and can be watched on the link. My first lecture, which came the day after the book’s release, was appropriately enough held at the Clinton School of Public Service, which is housed in the 118-year-old building that was once the Rock Island’s Little Rock passenger station. I also spoke about the railroad on the Arkansas Educational Television Network. READ MORE.


Oral Histories Of Working For The Rock Island

L.T. Walker, one of those I’ve interviewed, and his crew in this 1969 photo.

Over the years I’ve recorded interviews with several former Rock Island employees in Arkansas to document their experiences and learn more about what it was like working for this once great railroad. Hearing first-hand accounts of things that happened is extremely interesting. Some have incredible stories, experiences and occasionally even near death experiences. You can listen to audio of some of those interviews here. I’ve interviewed nearly two dozen people and hope to get more of these posted in the future. READ MORE.





In recent years as news director for NPR station KUAR-FM 89.1 in Little Rock I’ve done a few stories related to the Rock Island, which you can read on the links.

Sign Celebrates Railroad Past Of Little Rock’s Historic Choctaw Building
Aug. 29, 2016 – Former employees of the Rock Island Railroad joined officials from the Clinton Foundation and Clinton School of Public Service Monday, August 29, to unveil a vintage sign attached to the brick facade of what was the railroad’s longtime Little Rock passenger station. Today the two organizations, aligned with Bill Clinton’s neighboring presidential library, have offices in the restored building.

Hundreds Turn Out For Dedication Of Clinton Presidential Park Bridge
Sept. 30, 2011 – Former President Bill Clinton led a dedication ceremony Friday in Little Rock for a new $10.5 million pedestrian and cycling pathway over the Arkansas River, which was built inside an old railroad bridge. He was joined by his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea, and the mayors of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Ceremony To Begin Renovations Of Former Rock Island Bridge Over Arkansas River
May 28, 2010 – Work is finally getting underway to renovate the 111-year-old Rock Island Bridge adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. Former President Bill Clinton is to lead a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning at the bridge, which at one time was slated to be torn down.

Fight Over Whether To Turn Former Railroad Bed Into Highway
May 7, 2009 – A battle is brewing in Saline County between community leaders who want to build a highway over an abandoned railroad bed and homeowners who say it would encroach on their property.  It would provide another route connecting Benton and Little Rock. Walking on a clear path where tracks once carried the trains of the Rock Island Railroad, Irene Thompson said, “Looking at it, it’s unbelievable isn’t it?” But she and her husband Tommy dread the thought of a highway being constructed on their property.

I’ve been hosting a section looking at the Rock Island in Arkansas since 2003, but right now am in the middle of rebuilding my website so that it is more modern and works on different platforms, including mobile devices. I’ll continue adding more of my material in the future.