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HISTORY OF THE ROCHELLE RAILROAD PARK

Welcome to the Rochelle Railroad Park
(The first park in the nation built just for visitors to see operating trains)

The story of railroads in Rochelle begins in 1854 when the Air Line Railroad was completed between Chicago and the town of Lane (Lane was the first name of Rochelle). The railroad later became the Chicago and North Western and today is owned by the Union Pacific (UP).

Sixteen years later the Chicago & Iowa Railroad was built through Rochelle in 1870 and it crossed over the Air Line Railroad between 11th Street and 12th Street. The railroad was later called the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy before becoming the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). In January of 2005 another name change took place, and even though the holding company name remains the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the introduction of the new rail subsidiary name and logo took place. The railroad is now identified as the BNSF. The present BNSF depot on Main Street was built in 1921 when it replaced the original 1890 Depot. For many years both railroads had daily passenger service to Chicago or the West Coast, but the last passenger service in Rochelle ended in 1971.

Today these two railroads daily haul millions of tons of merchandise on at least 80 to 90 trains a day through Rochelle in a 24 hour period. This has made Rochelle a "hot spot" for train watching, drawing visitors from every state in the nation and world wide. Because of the number of visitors Rochelle acquired the land in 1995 and constructed a park just for train watching. The park, which was dedicated August 30, 1998, includes a handicapped accessible observation pavilion with various vantage sites for the best visitor viewing and photography. Visitors can see locomotives from many different railroad companies pass through Rochelle. They include the Union Pacific and the BNSF. Other units from railroads of the Eastern United States, Mexico, and Canada also pass through from time to time. One will also see engines wearing their color schemes from past mergers, mixed within the power of a passing freight. The radio transmissions that you are listening to are actual railroad communications from the dispatcher to the train crews and track workers. We monitor both main lines through Rochelle for the UP and the BNSF. Dispatching originates for the UP in Omaha Nebraska, and out of Fort Worth Texas for the BNSF.


Things to see at the park!

Whitcomb Locomotive
The 7 ton Whitcomb locomotive cost $3,100 in 1928 when it was purchased by Connor Brothers, Brooklyn, NY. At the timeWhitcomb workers received $25 per week for a 5 day week. Over 500 of this size were built armor plated for switch work during World War I. The locomotive was restored and donated to a museum in St. Mary's PA, where they were going to re-gage it to "two foot" gage and run the locomotive at their railroad park. They decided to sell it to Rochelle and let it return to its hometown. In addition to the 7 ton locomotive, a 50 ton locomotive, also produced in Rochelle, was donated to the park and installed in the spring of 2005. Whitcomb locomotives were produced for over 40 years in Rochelle at what is today a pre-stressed concrete plant on east 5th Ave. Over 5,312 locomotives were built and shipped all over the world. In 1906 Whitcomb produced the first successful gasoline locomotive in the world and they were shipped to southern Illinois coal mines where they operated for two years before switching to electric engines. The firm later produced 2,054 diesel locomotives ending production in Rochelle in 1946. The firm also manufactured the Partin-Palmer automobile from 1915 to 1919 in Rochelle. The City has acquired a 1915 model that is on display in the City and Town Hall museum.

Hobo Jungle
Hobos were not homeless people but were able bodied men and women who traveled and worked. They were the first campers and spent their nights under railroad overpasses and thickly wooded out-of-the-way camps. There were three Hobo Jungles in the Rochelle area through the years. One was located under the (BNSF) bridge over the Kyte River on First Ave. and the other was under the railroad bridge east of Rochelle on the UP. There was also one where the present park is now standing. A recreated hobo jungle, is modeled after the BNSF location, has been reproduced in the park to be viewed by visitors and is a place where children can play. The original hobos were 98 percent veterans returning from the Civil War and rode the rails looking for work. After World War I and especially during the depression, hobos started riding the rails looking for work again. Rochelle drew many hobos looking for work during the summer canning season when Stokely Van Camp and Del Monte were canning. Some of the many vegetables grown and canned in Rochelle during those years include asparagus, corn, green beans, pumpkins, pickles, lima beans, white potatoes, carrots, and sauerkraut. Hobos also stopped at residents back doors asking for food and would work in exchange for the food.

Hobo Signs
Throughout the park you will see Hobo Signs that were called the "Code of the Road". The Great Depression created a new man in America - the HOBO. He was a wanderer, a down-and-outer, who crisscrossed the land searching for good luck and fortune during a time when none existed. Hitchhiking and hopping freights, eastbound and westbound begging a little here and borrowing a little there, he was a man welcomed only at the strange gatherings of other hobos at a thousand nameless railroad sidings and trestles. In the hobo jungle, over Mulligan's stew and re-brewed coffee he would exchange tales of the hard times and strengthen his commitment to the "Code of the Road." The signs you will see around the park are examples of the code used by gypsies and hobos the world over. Usually they appeared written in chalk or coal on a fence, building, sidewalk, etc. to make a fellow traveler aware of what he could expect in the area where the symbol appeared.

Original 1854 Air Line Railroad
Over the Hobo jungle you will see a re-created section of the original Strap Rail railroad laid down on the 14th of January 1854 connecting Hickory Grove (Rochelle) and Chicago. Many of the early railroads, including the Air Line Railroad through Rochelle, were constructed of strap rail. The trains ran on a ribbon of steel installed over a wood rail. Steam locomotives ran on strap rail for two years at which time this style of track was reconstructed out of I-beam type rail.

Electric Generators
The diesel electric generators in the plant on the east side of the park are the same types of engines in the locomotives leading the trains through town. The locomotive engines generate electricity via a generator attached to the diesel engine commonly called the prime mover. The created electricity is transferred though cables to an electric motor over the axel on each wheel. Rochelle's engines generate electricity for the use of the town.