The Tabor and Northern Railroad
With the rapid growth of a national railroad system in the 1870s, Tabor found itself isolated from major rail lines operating several miles away to the north and west. Tabor was a vibrant agricultural and commercial center as well as being home to Tabor College, and reliable transportation was seen as an important component in the town’s continued growth and prosperity. The solution was found in the construction of a small line connecting Tabor with Malvern, nine miles northeast, where connections could be made with the Burlington Line which linked Southwest Iowa to Omaha, St. Louis, Chicago and points beyond.
The T&N Railroad depot in Tabor, around 1910
After raising the necessary funds through tax levies and bond sales, the Tabor and Northern Railway (T&N) was born, beginning operation in 1890 with two passenger cars and one baggage and freight car. The twice-daily roundtrip to Malvern was an immediate and profitable success with a steady exchange of passengers between the towns to attend social and sporting activities. Typical was an event on January 12th, 1899, where the T&N carried skaters to Malvern's cold storage plant for 35 cents, round trip, for a day on the ice. The linking of Malvern and Tabor socially was important, but the underlying commercial benefit of the tiny railroad was the opening of markets for local merchants and farmers wishing access to livestock markets in Omaha and Chicago. As recounted in Sidney Newlon’s book Train Time, “as many as twenty carloads of cattle and hogs went out of Tabor a day (with a peak of 28 in the early 1890s).” But the little train carried other commodities as well. In 1895 the T&N reported that there had been 452 carload shipments in and out of Tabor that year which included “137 carloads of hogs, three cars of iron rails, one car of brick, eight of apples, six of wheat, one of potatoes, 114 cars of cattle, three of household goods, two of oats, one of rye and two of baled hay.” Other items moved by the railroad included the U.S. Mail, lumber, bridge iron, coal, concrete, stone, lime, salt and oil.
The T&N would meet and surmount the challenges of blizzards, derailments, worn tracks and much more during its 39 years of service, but it was never able to overcome the advent of automobiles and the highways that were constructed to support them. The mid 1920s saw a steep decline in revenues due to the increased use of trucks to haul freight—passenger traffic had earlier experienced a notable decline prompting the removal of the single passenger coach. In the summer of 1919, Otha D. Wearin, a student at Tabor College, remembers being “provided a box for a seat in the freight car, with a pot bellied coal stove for heat in the winter.” Although a coach was later put back into service on a part-time basis, it wasn't enough to save the line. One further indignity remained: The last assignment for the T&N was hauling sand and gravel for the construction of Highway 275, in 1929.
An 1891 Bill of Lading for a calf purchased by Alfred T. Wilkins, owner of a farm one mile north of Tabor
To learn more about the history of the T&N, copies of Sidney Newlon's book are available for $10.00 from the Tabor Historical Society. Write to P.O. Box 584, Tabor, Iowa, 51653. Please include $2.00 for postage.