In the early part of this century, Iowa had an important coal-producing region. The need to move this coal provided the incentive to build railroads. Incorporated on February 16, 1906, the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railway grew to become the longest interurban in Iowa. Its 85-mile long mainline from Des Moines to Fort Dodge linked the coal and agricultural regions of western Iowa. Many branches increased the total route miles of electrified railroad to 147.
Interurbans were electric railways often built with local financing and managed by local people. The interurban lines became well known due to their longevity. Built to steam railroad standards, they could participate in interchange freight service. Freight revenues sustained passenger services as well as the railways themselves.
In Ames, The Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railroad acquired the Ames & College Railway on May 1, 1906. It suspended the steam Dinkey service in Ames during electrification and constructed a line between Ames and the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern main line at Kelley. The first electric interurban car arrived on June 29, 1907.
From the August 2, 1906 issue of the Ames Times:
The building of the interurban electric line between Des Moines and Ft. Dodge has been made absolutely sure by the Old Colony trust Company of Boston having just taken $2,150,000 worth of the 4 1/2 per cent twenty-five year bonds which are the foundation of the financial plan of the undertaking.
The actual construction has already been provided for in a contract with J.G. White and Co. Inc., of New York, at present engaged in the construction of the new government railways in the Philippine Islands, a $10,000,000 contract.
This company has the contract for electrifying the line of the Newton and Northwestern railway from a point near Kelley to a point near Gowrie, and the construction of the new lines consisting of branches from Des Moines to Kelley and from Fort Dodge to Gowrie. The branch electric line from Kelley to Ames is included in the construction contract.
There are two features in the plans for the Fort Dodge and Des Moines line that attract the attention of steam and electric railway engineers throughout the country and at the same time are interesting to the public.
The size of the cars is one feature. They will be fifty-three feet long and will have the full width of the standard steam railway coach, being the widest interurban railway cars ever constructed. They will weigh forty-five tons each, empty, and having four 75 horse power motors, or 300 horsepower, in all on each car, will be able to maintain a speed of forty-five to fifty miles per hour.
The present plans contemplate an hourly service between Des Moines and Ames and between Des Moines and Boone, and two hour service between Des Moines and Fort Dodge.
The other striking feature is that it is one of the first actual instances of the actual electrification of an existing steam railroad in the country. A great deal has been said on this subject and many arguments have been advanced as to the comparative merits of alternation the direct current for electrified steam railroads but little or nothing in the way of actual transformation from the use of steam to the use of electricity as a motive however has been accomplished.
This is rather remarkable considering the great number of electric railways in the country and is probably because of the natural disinclination of railway companies to discard millions of dollars worth of rolling stock which is still in good condition.
J.G. White & Co. have for the last fifteen years made a specialty of the design and construction of high speed electric railroads. They were, indeed, the builders of the electric railway from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, really the first example of the modern high speed electric railway in the United States, and the first in which the system now prevailing with a series of parallel controllers for the speed of the electric cars was used.
The experience of this company in electric rail road practice make doubly interesting the report of their engineers to the Newton and Northwestern Company, in which they advised the substitution of electricity for steam.
The total length of the electric railroad in the system is about ninety miles, all of which will be operated from a power house located at Fraser, which is almost exactly midway between the terminals. The mines near Fraser will afford fuel for the power house.
The power house will be brick and steel and will be of 3,000 horsepower. The electric generators will be driven by Westinghouse steam engines, this being the most modern practice. The electricity will be distributed at the high pressure of 20,000 volts, alternating current, to five substations where it will be transformed into a low voltage direct current, and supplied directly to the trolley.
The track and overhead construction will conform to the very best practice, and the road bed will be specially constructed for the high speed of the passenger trains and for the heavy freight traffic, which is anticipated.
The passenger cars will enter Des Moines over the city street railway system. At Fort Dodge, however, the company has secured a right of way into the heart of the city, where will be located both passenger and freight houses.
Men and equipment are being drawn from other construction contracts of J.G. White & Co. to the Fort Dodge and Des Moines railway, and the force will be rapidly increased until it is large enough to insure the completion of the contract by Jan. 1, 1907.
During the entire time that the interurban served the ISC campus, there were consistent citizen concerns: lack of adequate capacity on cars; lack of safety measures such as fenders; growing number of accidents and injuries; lack of adequate engine power; poor financial management of the railroad; and lack of control over the railroad operation by the Ames City Council. The interurban was saddled by rigid paths throughout the city and could not keep up with the continual expansion of Ames. Buses and automobiles replaced the interurban service in Ames.
In July 1929 the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railroad received permission to discontinue service during the summer and never resumed operation. The streetcar tracks were removed from Ames in August 1930. Passenger service from Ames to Des Moines and Ft. Dodge via the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern (FDDM&S) continued for many years before the depot was torn down in 1965 and the tracks removed in 1966.