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Traction

In the parlance of model railroading, “traction” means two different kinds of running stock: trolleys (i.e., streetcars) and interurbans (something between a trolley and a train in size and service; as you might guess, they run between towns). The N.I.T.C. provided both levels of service; the NITC cars ran between Fort dodge and Cherokee — with the intent of pushing on toward Sioux City — while the Agincourt City Line traversed a lopsided figure-8. Both used the NITC depot at Broad and Louisa as a principal stop and interface for transfer.

When the company incorporated in 1909, its stock offering was quickly subscribed. But those were reasonably heady times; emigration was high and the gaps between the Midwest and Rockies were filling with farmers and ranchers, despite their incompatibility. In North Dakota, where I live, the western part of the state enjoyed the Second Dakota Boom. Frank Lloyd Wright “eloped” to Europe in 1909 with his inamorata Mrs Cheney, the wife of a client. Meanwhile in Agincourt, there was the fiftieth anniversary in 1907 of the city’s founding and the vacant county orphanage at the edge of town became Northwest Iowa Normal School, one of the state’s teacher colleges. The future seemed bright

I’m no historian of transit — though I can lay claim to having ridden the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee interurban on its last day of service on 20 January 1963 and I recall riding Chicago streetcars with my mother while they still ran and before she did. So the joys of transit are integral to who I am, even though I may know little about the actual history of the movement.

Designing the NITC depot was great fun, taking inspiration from postcard views of other similar stations and concluding that cars would not simply sidle up to the building; they would pierce it through a glazed greenhouse-tunnel. “A trolley runs through it!” It also afforded an opportunity to imagine the capitalist notion of making money: people using the station might like to snack while waiting for the next car; they could arrive weary and in need of accommodation; once refreshed, they could buy a newspaper or get a shave and haircut. A facility such as this would have served as a hub of activity from early morning until the last car at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. This would be one of Agincourt’s most diverse centers of activity, one I could have fun with.

For one of the exhibits I had optimistically believed a model could be built. But it’s a good thing it got postponed, because the one-eighth or one-quarter scale would have missed a wonderful opportunity to more fully understand the building and its multi-faceted purposes: why not include an actual piece of rolling stock? It was then I realized that HO model railroading is scaled 1:87 and, happily, that converts to one inch equalling 7’–3″, slightly larger than eighth scale and considerably smaller than quarter. The model, of course, would differ in that regard from any other models built for the project. So be it.

The N.I.T.C. depot at Broad and Louisa / built 1909 from the designs of Joachim & Perlmutter, Sioux city

Shopping for cars and track has been fun. It was also a time for learning: the 45-degree passageway allowed sufficient turning radius for the cars — I thought. But I’d failed to understand the implications of a long wheel base and now must do a recalculation: the opening may not be wide enough, which means redesigning either the building or the streets that flank it.

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