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The Rock Island Lives Again!

May 9, 2008

A few months ago, a railroad was reborn. The Idea behind it not unusual. However, how well it was executed certianly was. One Dream, one altered railroad history, and one great and offical site:

I wanted to look deeper into what motivated Eric Miller into taking what would seem a casual pastime into a really enthralling alternate history…if the Chicago, Rock Island& Pacific was saved from the jaws of defeat, and realistically rebound in the coming decades into a huge western railroad, eventually merging with the struggling Southern Pacific to create an imposing Class 1 railroad empire.

 The rest of this article will be a one-on-one interview on the threory behind his idea, how it relates to us as modelers, and to the internet with its professional looking site, and top notch modeling. So join us as we gain pointers into creating a “rock solid” freelanced future based on a prototype railroad. A renaissance in miniature, one could say.

The Interview with Eric Miller

-Was it you who came up with the idea for resurrecting the Rock Island?


Well I came up with this version of the Rock Island; I am sure there are others who have chosen other concepts so I can’t take full credit.

-Why the Rock Island?  


The Rock is in my blood – I remember it from growing up in Omaha, although it was already abandoned, traces still existed and it has always been my favorite railroad.  The Road of Planned Progress was a contender and never gave up the fight.  You can never forget the Rockets, 4-8-4s, and the consistently inconsistent paint schemes!


-Do you plan to keep it up-to-date, like Eric B’s UTAH BELT?  


That was my original intention; however, as I conduct more research and dig deeper into my own soul, I find myself wanting to stick to a certain era.  The late 90s brings so many good railfanning and modeling memories to me that I am planning a layout for that time period.  The momentum behind keeping up with the times is intriguing, but I can’t help thinking “will I like what railroading brings in the future?”  This decision seems safer to me and is a way to recall the “good old days.”


-How did you develop your paint scheme? It’s striking.

It was an evolution that began when I first started painting custom locomotives.  One of my favorite schemes was the SPSF Kodachrome, so I painted a few “modern” locomotives in that scheme, which gave me experience on custom painting.  I realized that it is difficult to paint a scheme with 3 colors with stripes and weird angles.  Therefore, the Rock Island scheme had to be simple to paint and maintain; something real railroads consider.  Second, I have always liked the BNSF Heritage I scheme – the simplicity of the yellow stripe and the separation of the dark top and bottom with a brighter, bolder midsection.  It makes so much sense for dealing with the effects of weathering.  Finally, I drew from my favorite Rock Island paint scheme: the black, red, and white introduced on their first diesels – FAs, F7s, and GP7s.  Reintroducing silver trucks was also important.  I then designed a way to balance those colors on a modern diesel, added the herald in front and the highly visible “speed lettering” on the flanks, and there you go.


-Do you believe that you have more or less freedom as a proto-freelancer?
Definitely more freedom – I can say that it is my own railroad so I can make decisions as I like – I can run my favorite locomotives, decide how many of each they should have and the reasoning behind it, etc.  However, I still have to stay within the laws of railroading and follow real market trends and FRA regulations, which enhances the realism.









-How do you plan to incorporate the previous (acutal) history into your alternate scale modeled world?

Basically, my “altered” history of the Rock Island is the exact same right up until March, 1980 – but I have taken some liberties.  For example, a big assumption is that the Rock Island would have spent more capital over the years to ensure remaining solvent – this means better signalization, more double track and longer sidings, heavier rail, and an overall better maintenance program.  There are also a few changes in rolling stock history, like fulfilling the rumored order of Alco C430s.  I also added an important merger with the Chicago & Alton, which increases the Rock Island’s trackage in Missouri and Illinois, provides a better route between KC and St. Louis, and the shortest and fastest route between St. Louis and Chicago. 

The turning point of my alternate railroad is the early 80s, when the Rock turns away from its original plan to reduce its size to a core system and instead slides out of bankruptcy from selling off old equipment and some branch lines, partnering more with the Southern Pacific, and beginning to run more coal and chemical traffic to diversify its freight.  Then comes the official merger with the SP in mid-90s and the new system is totally solvent.


-What clues of the past from the (actual) company exist on your layout that hint or solidify the new alternate reality of this great company?






Mostly locomotives like the U30C, GP7, GP38, and C415.  Since a railroad cannot repaint its rolling stock overnight, there is still quite a bit of “Route Rock” blue and white out there, especially considering how much was built and rebuilt for the capital rebuild program.  There is also evidence from stations, like University Place Station, which is still painted in the white scheme with blue trim.

Your Website is very well done, and to the untrained eye, can easily fool somebody into thinking this is an actual company. (More so when you first launched it) This was obviously intentional, what gave you the idea? 


The website was built to show what the Rock Island looks like today and anyone that wants to know about my fictional system has a resource to go to, which in turn adds to the legitimacy of my concept.  Any major corporate institution in the modern world has a motivating website and I felt my concept could be further supported by it.  My website really got off the ground with the help of my friend Matt Faruolo and his concept for the modern New York Central System’s website.

-What’s your favorite section of the site? 


Probably the history section because that is what I find most intriguing about the Rock Island and this section helps people understand what would have happened for the Rock to transcend bankruptcy and survive today.

-Any plans for website expansion?  


After learning about how many people are “tricked” by my website, I would like to add more subtle hints that this is an HO Scale railroad.  Therefore, I would like to add a section explaining my concept and another section in the “About Us” that shows what the Rock would look like today and include a sample photo of virtually every piece of rolling stock on the modern Rock Island.

-What trends are you seeing in the real roads that you plan to incorporate into your ROCK ISLAND?

The major trend in railroading today is that there is not enough capacity to meet shipper and passenger demands.  By keeping the Rock Island alive, in addition to the two other western railroads that exist in my modern scheme (BN and UP), there is more railroad mileage and therefore more capacity.

A specific trend in the routes that are still around is increasing the capacity and upgrading rolling stock.  The Rock Island will become a passenger corridor again when service begins from the Quad Cities to Chicago and is extended further west.  The Iowa Interstate Railroad shortline is buying new ES44AC locomotives to provide better service.  Union Pacific continues to upgrade the “Spine Line” between Minneapolis and KC and the “Cotton Rock” line between LA and Chicago.

-To the trained observer, what details from the past come forth into today? (A good example would be the SP light packages and how long they survived)
The six-digit freight car numbering system started in the mid-70s is mostly intact, with some obvious additions (coal cars and well cars for example).  However, the ROCK reporting marks have reverted back to R.I. but both share the same numbering system.  Some of the hot trains are still running, like the famous Train 57 and the hot intermodal train between Denver and Chicago.  








-Does your railroad have plans to invest in passenger service either for commuter or intercity routes?
The public perception of railroads is built on its passenger service; therefore, we play enormous roles from helping to finance improvements to passenger corridors that also help freight movement to simply cooperating with public agencies that run passenger trains on our track.  This includes a purchase-of-service agreement with many regional transit authorities like Metra.  There are some instances where we will help a community in its commuter rail planning by adjusting freight schedules or even considering capital investments.  This make commuter rail feasible in communities where it is not as likely to happen in real life, like the Omaha-Lincoln, Nebraska commuter rail corridor.


There is also an ongoing effort between my fictional Rock Island and Amtrak to expand service on our lines, which increases the mobility of the nation while increasing community awareness on our lines and helps safety campaigns such as Operation Lifesaver.  Such routes include the “Corn Belt Rocket” service between Lincoln, NE and Chicago and the “Rocky Mountain Rocket” daytime service between Denver and Chicago.  The extension of the flyer north from Oklahoma City to Minneapolis/St. Paul via Kansas City is also included in assumed new services.  It also is possible to introduce a new transcontinental passenger route bypassing Chicago between New York/Washington, DC and Los Angeles via Little Rock and Oklahoma on the “Choctaw Rocket” route.

-What is your favorite thing about your new, revitalized railroad?
Above all, I can model an inspiring railroad.  Let’s face it; railroads today aspire to be corporate conglomerates with acronyms unbeknown to the average citizen.  Class I railroads today are, for the most part, not interested in their image and what that means to their heritage.  When I began to get seriously involved in model railroading, I was most interested in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe because it took one of my favorite railroads, the BN, and combined it with the Santa Fe, another legendary railroad.  Then with paint scheme changes and logo changes, the potential of that concept was ruined.  With the Rock Island, I take complete pride in the railroad I model.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2008 4:43 pm

    Great work. I like what you’re doing. I’m living in denial over BNSF — asserting that there’s no such thing. I’m even the self-appointed “Informatio Minister” of the Isle of Denial where the flags never fell. I’m still contemplating which current locomotives would be good candidates for the ATSF Blue/Yellow freight scheme.

  2. January 8, 2009 3:29 pm

    I love your website. I must say you had me fooled until I saw the models! I have your website linked to mine! Great job!


  3. Gregor Sjostrom permalink
    January 21, 2013 8:07 pm

    I have been a fan of Rock Island since childhood, you have done that memory great honor here. I also model Rock Island HO scale, in my case Rock Island bought Illinois Central, GMO and CNW, made quite an Empire, has its eyes on Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern.
    Once again great work, thanks

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