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Ardon, Iowa

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you went to grade school back before we tossed out all those Greek myths, you'll remember Sisyphus, who was condemned in Hades to roll a heavy stone up a hill, only to have it roll down, over and over for all eternity. That's exactly what happened in the sequel to "the Little Engine that Could." Only the little engine to Ardon, Iowa, instead of Hades.

The sequel begins in 1903. Just west of Muscatine, Iowa, the Mississippi River bluffs forced the Milwaukee Railroad up the steepest grade a train ever had to travel. The railroad came up with a unique solution. They contracted with John Downer and Conrad Schwinn to found a town and build a store high up on the bluff. The two men named the town Ardon. The little engine that could was permanently stationed there. Every day at 8 in the morning and at 8 in the evening, the little engine went down the hill to meet the train from Chicago, hooked onto the train, and pulled it up the grade to Ardon. Over and over and over. "I think I can, I think I can," it said.

The little engine brought prosperity to Ardon. Soon, there was a railroad depot, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a post office and a church.

The little engine might still be pulling trains up the bluff today, were it not for one big difference between Hades and Ardon. In Hades, no one ever introduced the automobile. In Ardon's world, by 1920, the automobile was there, and so were trucks and highways, and soon the trains from the east stopped arriving at the bluff.

Bit by bit, Ardon disappeared. Sparks from a passing train burned the town hall down in 1917. Two months later, the railroad depot met a similar fate. The original store, the Ardon Mercantile Company, burned in 1931. By the early 1950s, the train tracks were abandoned. The churches closed, one by one, then the post office, the hotel, and the store. All that is left today is a weathered sign and a single, lonely house.

No one knows for sure what happened to the little engine that could. Perhaps he's on his way to Hades. Sisyphus could use some help.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.