The Missouri Pacific Historical Society pays tribute to a unique short line with the September release of Missouri-Illinois Railroad: Missouri Pacific’s Route through the Lead Belt and Little Egypt, a 376-page hardback that traces the railroad’s colorful past.
The Missouri-Illinois operated 146 miles of track, connected by the Mississippi River, in Missouri and Illinois. It ran through the “Lead Belt” in Southeast Missouri, which contained the largest concentration of lead deposits in the world. The land between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in Illinois was thought to resemble Egypt’s Nile Delta and became known as Little Egypt in the early 1800s. A city in the region was named Cairo.
The M-I was unique because one of its predecessor roads was built as a three-foot narrow-gauge line, which was unusual in the Midwest. Also, the M-I operated a car ferry across the Missouri River for five decades, and it had the only switchback between the Allegheny and Rocky mountains.
Like many short lines, the M-I depended on second-hand locomotives and rolling stock.
The railroad’s roots trace to the narrow-gauge St. Joseph and Deslodge Railway, which operated on 13 miles of main line from Bonne Terre to Summit, MO. Over the years, several other railroads, including the Mississippi River & Bonne Terre Railway, would lay tracks that eventually became part of the M-I network.