The first and pioneer railroad through the Perry area, the Des Moines and Fort Dodge, operated until about April 1887, when it was taken over by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad — the Rock Island, for short.
One of the many small railroads of the times was the Minneapolis and St. Louis from Minneapolis. In 1869 work was started south but by early 1880s they had gotten no farther than Angus, then a thriving mining town northwest of Perry.
At first they planned to build southwestward to St. Louis through Stuart, which at that time was a division point on the Rock Island. They started grading work south of Angus and pilings were put in for a bridge across the Raccoon River, but word came one day to stop all work, and no more was ever done.
Back on July 22, 1876, some farmers and other local folk incorporated the Fort Dodge and Fort Ridgeley Railroad and Telegraph Co. to lay rails from Fort Dodge to the northern boundary of Webster County. Meantime, an M. & St. L.-sponsored road, called the Minnesota and Iowa Southern, was building south from Albert Lea, Minn., to meet the Fort Ridgeley line.
On April 20, 1881, both companies were finally merged into the M. & St. L., making a through line linking Albert Lea with Fort Dodge. The next year, the Louie built what was jocosely called the Mud Line from Fort Dodge to Angus. It was so named because the track was built right on the prairie with God’s brown earth as ballast. This line from Otho to Berkley was closed in 1936.
The M. & St. L. in Iowa began as the Fort Dodge and Fort Ridgeley Railroad and Telegraph Co., which was taken over by the Louie in 1881. That same year, the Minnesota and Iowa Southern was also merged into the M. & St. L. By 1900 M. & St. L. interests controlled the Iowa Central but did not own it, and in 1905 the Louie leased the Des Moines and Fort Dodge. In 1912 the M. & St. L. purchased the Iowa Central, and in 1915 the Des Moines and Fort Dodge was also bought.
The M.& St. L. ended up getting the right to run their trains on the Rock Island to Des Moines, and by 1905 they owned 59 percent of the common stock in that line. On Jan. 1, 1905, it became know as the M. & St. L. but did not pass into full possession till 1915.
Before 1905 train crews from both lines had made their headquarters in Angus, but the new arrangement moved them out, and Angus’ vision of being a railroad center was forever gone. After this the Rock Island ran freight on the M. & St. L. from Des Moines to Gowrie, where they had tracks.
During their hay day from 1905 to 1920, the M. & St. L. was running four passenger trains a day each way, two of which were through trains to the Twin Cities. The night train was a five-car train with a sleeper.
In 1930 they started using gas-electric motors for their passenger trains, but little by little the business fell off. In December 1956 as a last resort they put in use a single unit, 74 feet long and with a 275 horse power diesel engine. It hauled mail, express and 18 passengers, but after three years it, too, had to quit.
The railroad almost went under July 26, 1923, and was about to be dismembered, with eight companies prepared to take over various parts of it, but in 1935, Lucian Sprague became manager and in a short time had the railroad back on track. In fact, it became one of only a few with a bonded indebtedness.
The first stockyards in Perry were built one-quarter mile south of the M. & St. L. depot on the east side of the tracks. These were the only stockyards in Perry until the Milwaukee built theirs. This is the yard that Harvey Willis, Perry’s first stock buyer, used when he collected his stock for shipment. The original rails on the line were updated with larger rail in 1905.
The line has seen tragedies. On Sept. 19, 1921, Nels Christianson, his sister, Miss Della Christianson, and his nephew, Martin Nederhus, were killed when the car they were driving was hit by a northbound M. & St. L. passenger train. The accident happen at Kelly’s crossing about three miles south of Perry just after six o’clock.
The crossing is just south of the spot where in 1920 the Alborn family was killed on Thanksgiving day. The train was running about 40 when it hit the Ford sedan. The engineer, George Owens, was running the train but didn’t know he hit anything until wreckage was hurled past the cab as he was on the opposite side of the engine.
In 1921 Ray Paiste, who was on his way to work at the Milwaukee roundhouse, was killed when a southbound M. & St. L. passenger train number four ran through a Milwaukee freight train just west of the Milwaukee depot.
In the 1950s they started using a smaller depot just south of Willis, and the old depot was used for freight until 1961, when Fred Bailey bought it and took it down.
In March 1957 they did an inspection of the Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern Railway and the Des Moines and Central Iowa Railway. The inspection recommended combining these two small railroads with the M. & St. L. because some important revenues could be made, but lack of money stopped it.
Berkley served as a spur line from Angus, but on March 18, 1938, it was closed. The Angus agency was closed July 1, 1933, and the depot removed in 1938. The M. & St. L. was sold to the Northwestern in 1959.