No. 64: Modeling the Marshall Canning Company of Ackley, Iowa, Part 2

Recently my friend Doug Harding traveled up to Ackley, Iowa to visit the Ackley Heritage Center, which is located in the former Illinois Central depot in the bustling metropolis of downtown Ackley.  The Center had several dozen photos of the Marshall Canning Co. and other industries in Ackley and they were happy to share with Doug.  Doug scanned them and sent them to me the next day.  

The best photo I have of the Heritage Center is below, taken on my one-and-only visit to Ackley in 2015.  One of my daughters took this one.  I guess I forgot to follow up with a good “roster shot”. 

Wonder why the flag was at half mast?

IMG_1550Doug is a Methodist pastor and a wonderful guy but he didn’t go Ackley to do research just for me.  Doug has a large basement layout and models a portion of the old Iowa Central lines during the M&StL era, which includes Ackley.  We have shared a lot of research material over the years.  The photos reveal a lot of detail that Doug and I—and a lot of other guys interested in the M&StL lines—have been looking for.  My thanks to the Center for giving me permission to post a few of the photos here.


A recurring conversation among modelers is How much information do I need before I can begin building a prototype model?  For some, this indecision induces “Analysis Paralysis”, which means a guy won’t build anything until he has photos and blueprints and a complete understanding of the prototype and its operations.  Personally I think a lot of guys use analysis paralysis as an excuse to stay online and avoid building anything. 

Certainly there is some risk involved in building a model without all the answers but I prefer to get building NOW and when more information comes to light, adapt and continue forward.  I have built two nearly-complete versions of Marshall Canning for two layouts, and with this new information I can’t wait to built a more accurate version. 

Just this week Tony Koester wrote an article on Analysis Paralysis for Eric Hansmann’s Resin Car Works blog.  It’s a great read and it can be found at This is a great blog and Tony’s article is very insightful.  

I don’t have any regrets building a model without all the answers.  These new photos give me–and a lot of other modelers—information to build more accurate railroad prototype models.  This is what we do!


1 - 1952

Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.

This photo, circa 1952, is the most important photo for me because it is nearest to my target era of Summer 1950.  My model looks nothing like this.  A major concession I made during construction was using windows with exterior sashes and frames, not the correct type of windows which were inset in the brick.  I thought that cutting 40 precision holes for inset windows would take too long.  Now I wish I would’ve taken the extra time to do it.  I also don’t have room to model the three-story addition so I simply ignored it.

The biggest problem with my model is that I ignored the lean-to building behind the main building which included part of the coal-fired plant.  You can see the new addition in the proto photo-it is built separately and behind the coal plant, not next to it as I have modeled.  So that will need to be fixed.  My loading doors are all wrong too.  There are things I can add, like the fire escape and the loading door in the front, and the flagpole, and I can also clean up my building a lot.  No tall weeds on the property either!

THE “1950s” PHOTO


Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.

This photo was so-named because we don’t know when it was made.  Doug’s notes indicate that in 1952 a dry pack operation was added which included a new warehouse and enclosed loading dock on to the north end of the warehouse (north of the boiler room).  Maybe the car can help date the photo.

My new model, below, doesn’t look like the real one very much…


Things to notice about the real building:

  • Coal smoke!
  • Loading doors are on ground level, so some sort of conveyor device was used to load cars
  • There are now two warehouses north of the original building
  • The conveyors and equipment for the coal plant are prominent
  • Note the railroad right or way-we’re not talking PRR mainline track here

Doug writes:

I have been examining the area between the original building and the warehouse addition.  There is a steel structure located there and I wonder what it is. We speculate this may have been the location for the plant to receive coal. The smoke and smoke stacks tell us the power plant is just north of the original building.  There is a lift mechanism, looks like the type seen at ash pits, perhaps used for dumping ashes into gons, or for lifting coal.  There also appears to be an A-frame conveyor between the old building new warehouse.  I wonder if this is how they moved finished product up and over the boilers.  My photos from 2007 show a continuous wall, but upon closer examination, the white sheet metal covers the gap between buildings.  A closer look shows what appears to be gas meters or regulators. That tells me the plant converted from coal to natural gas sometime after 1970, i.e. probably when the boiler room was replaced in 1984. I assume at the time of conversion, or soon after, the smoke stacks, conveyors, etc. were all removed as no longer needed.

Doug also sent along a number of photos like this one below.  While there is not much modeling value to these photos, I enjoy studying them.  I like to look at the faces, shoes, clothes and hair, and expressions, and wonder what life was like 80, 90 or 100 years ago.


Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.


3 - 1957

Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.

The 1957 photo above shows a lot of changes from the “1950s” view:

  • Coal smoke, indicating a coal-operated power plant
  • Building additions
  • The parking lot on the site of the old cattle pen
  • The tool house on the railroad
  • The track looks a lot better!

Doug also copied this photo, below, which was obviously taken from the top of the concrete grain elevator which was built in 1957.  Here’s the original.  The photo below it is cropped a little. 

4 - 1957 Aerial View

Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.

4 - 1957 Aerial View - Copy

Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.



Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.

5 - 1970 Aerial View

Photo Courtesy of the Ackley Heritage Society of Ackley, Iowa.

The 1970 aerial view shows a lot more detail.  Neat things I noticed include:

  • Additional buildings have been added since the 1957 view
  • The coal plant has been converted to burn gas
  • The office building has been added at the front of the building
  • The loading door at the front of the building can clearly be seen


Above.  The original Marshall Canning Co. on my layout in Illinois didn’t look very much like the real thing either. 


Well, it’s freight car month so I’m not doing anything other than working on rolling stock.  This old Red Caboose car, which was seen in an issue of The Keystone Modeler about ten years ago, got some work recently, along with a bunch of other models.  


Meanwhile…my model of Marshall canning adequately performs its intended function.  Right now I’ll plan to complete the rest of the layout and when that’s done I’ll rebuild the cannery.  I’ll keep the current building and use it for other scenarios, like when I want to run B&O or NYC or Milwaukee Road equipment.

Doug also sent a number of vintage photos of the Ackley interlocking tower.  I’ll post those later when it’s time to build the model.  That’ll be a fun project when the time comes

Blessings to you and your families!

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Corinthians, 15:58

3 thoughts on “No. 64: Modeling the Marshall Canning Company of Ackley, Iowa, Part 2

  1. Reference the September 30th blog. The second photo is older than the first photo: the white building to the left of the brick building still has windows, the Jack Sprat sign is not finished and the automobile appears to be a 48-49 Dodge sedan.
    Larry Buell


    • Thanks Larry. I’ll talk it over with Doug. In looking at the photos in detail after your comment, I realized that in some of the photos the building says Marshall Canning Co., and in some of the photos the building says Ackley Food Processors. Food Processors came after Marshall Canning so the pictures are definitely out of order. Thanks for the eagle eyes!


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