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This write-up covers many of the negatives of the Rock Island (poor management, eventual liquidation, etc.) but fails to mention a couple of historic “firsts.” The Rock Island was the first railroad to utilize a diesel locomotive in Arkansas, when diesel switchers were assigned to the Little Rock passenger station and adjacent “city” yard. Also, the Rock Island was the first railroad to operate a diesel-powered streamliner through Arkansas, with the inauguration of the Choctaw Rocket in November 1940. It’s a paradox that a railroad sufficiently advanced to be first in these rail industry watershed events would find itself largely liquidated forty years later.
The Arkansas Democrat of July 27, 1938, carried a photograph and short article about Rock Island diesel switcher #523, one of two such diesels which had just been placed in service in Little Rock. This operation predated the Missouri Pacific's first diesel switchers in Arkansas by approximately 18 months. The Rock Island inaugurated the streamlined, diesel-powered passenger train Choctaw Rocket on November 17, 1940, with newspaper coverage in both Little Rock papers during the few days prior and subsequent to that date. This was the first diesel streamliner to serve Arkansas. Missouri Pacific's first diesel streamliner in Arkansas, the Delta Eagle (on an unlikely Memphis-Helena-Tallulah, LA route) began service May 11, 1941.

Bill Pollard
Conway, AR