The heritage and excursion railroad was begun in 1983 by a group of volunteers who wanted to preserve a scenic section of the former Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern Railroad (FDDMS). The original track was built in the 1890s and electrified in 1907. After massive flooding damaged the power plant (located at Fraser, Iowa) providing electricity to the line in 1954, the railroad soon turned to diesel equipment to pull its trains. The Chicago & North Western (CNW) purchased the entire FD|DMS system in 1968. Shortly after acquiring the line, the Chicago & North Western began to place portions of it up for abandonment. In 1983, an 11-mile (18 km) section of the line was purchased by the Boone Railroad Historical Society, and its 2254 charter members, for $50,000. The stretch of track winds through the Des Moines River Valley and across a 156-foot (47.5 m) tall bridge spanning Bass Point Creek, a tributary of the Des Moines River. The line runs from Boone, through the old coal mining town of Fraser, and ends at the site of the former junction with the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway at Wolf.
The railroad, an immediate success, has expanded regularly since its founding. A depot was dedicated in 1985. Today, more than 30,000 visitors take a ride on one of the regular or special event trains, including Thomas the Tank Engine (September), the Pumpkin Express (October), and Santa Express (weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas) that features a book written and illustrated especially for the trip. Dining cars are reserved for special dinner trains.
The James H. Andrew Railroad Museum and History Center was added to the existing depot and dedicated in 2012. It displays and preserves thousands of Iowa railroad artifacts and memorabilia such as track equipment, toy trains, dining car china, timetables, photos, lanterns, and telegraph equipment. The museum hosts special exhibitions, maintains a research library, and has a small theater/conference room.
The railroad owns numerous locomotives and dozens of cars.
One of the railroad's steam engines, former COER CLC 2-8-0 #17, is most widely known for holding the historic title as the last operating common carrier steam locomotive in America. Purchased on February 9, 1987 it currently sits on display and is still painted with the CO&E's classic pyramid logo.  Albeit in poor condition due to sitting outside.
In the late 1980s the railroad also acquired one of the last new 2-8-2 Mikado steam locomotives built in China ( China Railways JS number 8419, cost $335,000). The locomotive powers the museum's 1920's excursion trains on Saturdays, Memorial Day Weekend through October 31.
The railroad also runs a short trolley ride and has begun to do light freight switching at Boone industries in recent years. Its station is located just one block from the Union Pacific Railroad mainline.
- Railpictures.net Photograph CO&E Steam Locomotive #17 On Display
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