‘Speed Train’ sculpture to honor Perry’s railroad past

Allison Ullmann - Staff
Richard Judd’s father, Corwin Judd, poses on the headlight with the day crew at the Perry roundhouse in 1926. PHOTO COURTESY OF RICHARD JUDD

The train whistles and cars clicking on the tracks used to be common sounds throughout the City of Perry.

Those sounds are no longer heard. The Milwaukee Railroad ceased operations in Perry in the late 1970s.

“If it wasn’t for the railroad, there wouldn’t have been Perry,” Richard “Dick” Judd, 91, said.

The old train yard, he said, was located where the McCreary Center is today. The roundhouse was located where the Perry Community Schools are today.

Bob Laborde added that Perry wasn’t just a through railroad town.

“Perry was a crew change point. It wasn’t just a town that the railroad went through. The railroad would pull in there and stop and a new crew would get on and then they’d go on their way,” he said.

The newest sculpture placed on Willis Avenue was designed as a tribute to the railroad and Perry’s connection to it. The sculpture is the third one of four to be placed on Willis Avenue through Art on the Prairie.

“Speed Train,” designed by artist Jim Russell, came with a price tag of around $30,000. It was paid for through grants from the Dallas County Foundation and Bock Family Foundation, along with other funds.

Judd was happy to hear a railroad-themed sculpture would be featured in Perry.

“Every time I see it, it’ll bring back a lot of memories,” Judd added.

Those memories, he joked, would be enough to fill a book. Judd, of Perry, hired on with the Milwaukee Railroad in 1946. He worked as an engineer for the Des Moines division of the company.

The job was hard work, especially when he was just getting started.

“Everything we had down there was hand-fired steam engines. We had one that went from Des Moines to Spirit Lake and came back the same day and it was all hand-fired,” Judd said. “You talk about a backache when you come home.”

The work was hot work in the summer or in the winter. Judd said the engineer typically had his window open even during the winter.

“The poor engineer was over there with an old bar he had to throw back and forth, get down and put in the fire to keep the steam pressure up. Them were the days that you worked your fanny off,” he said.

The pay though made the hard work worth it.

Laborde said a day’s pay was 100 miles. Judd added that if you took a long job and traveled 250 miles, you got paid for 2 ½ days. A round trip would equal 4 ½ days.

“Those long jobs you had, you worked nine days a month. You made a terrific living,” Judd said.

Though Laborde said it took you awhile to get seniority for those long jobs. He hired out with the Chicago and North Western Railroad in 1975. He worked 20 years for C&NW before working for 20 years for Union Pacific.

“My last 20 years, I wasn’t on call, I had regular days off,” Laborde said. “The first 20 years probably put 10 years on my life from being on call, not eating right, working all different hours.”

When Judd first started with the Milwaukee Railroad, he caught a night job to Madrid and Boone. Every night when he came into the roundhouse, the foreman told him he was going to be on that job again that night. He went home, got some rest and came back the next day.

“I worked 30 straight days on that job. My first paycheck was $300 and some dollars and I was the richest guy in Des Moines,” Judd said.

His time with the railroad was a lot different from Laborde’s.

“It’s funny because he went from hand-firing engines to me when I retired, I was running an engine with a remote control. I wasn’t even on the engine. It was like running a drone,” Laborde said.

Both though came to the railroad through family connections. Judd’s uncle talked him into applying for a position with the Milwaukee Railroad in the Des Moines division.

Laborde’s father, Kenneth Laborde, worked for the Milwaukee Railroad until he retired. His grandfather, Harry Laborde, also worked for the railroad, as did his uncle, Don Holseid.

Laborde said it’s important that the “Speed Train” sculpture will showcase Perry’s railroad history.

“A lot of people don’t have any idea that there was ever a railroad here. There’s no evidence of it,” he said.

The “Speed Train” sculpture will help to fix that problem as it sits on the corner of 1st Avenue and Willis Avenue. A public unveiling for the sculpture is set for 7-9 p.m. Monday, July 9 in the Caboose Park.