A bridge over the Mississippi River was never built at Ste Genevieve. Therefore, when the Illinois Southern Railway wanted to move rail traffic westward to Bismarck, MO, the sole option was to route trains through the congested traffic of East St Louis, over the river and then through St Louis. This slowed deliveries down considerably, so the IS Rwy opted for a railcar ferry across the river from Kellogg, Illinois, to a point just north of Ste Genevieve called Little Rock Landing (named after a prominent rock outcropping into the river). The IS Rwy drove the first spike into the track leading to the incline in 1901.

Tucked into a small valley, a wye was used to turn engines. An engine house was built, along with coal and cinder facilities, as well as a small yard and water tower. Traffic sped through to Bismarck and the railcar ferry operation saw increasing amounts of traffic, requiring ever larger barges and ferries.

Within a few years, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad (SLSF or Frisco) ran its River sub mainline across the M-I tracks. An interlock tower protected the trains at grade level and the M-I was the senior line.

In 1918 disaster struck when a ferry loaded with cars sank in the river. This ultimately ended the IS Rwy; when the M-I was constituted with IS assets, a new boat was ordered: a 286′ long steel-hulled, side wheeler named the SS Ste. Genevieve.

Once MoPac assumed control of the M-I, Little Rock Landing was renamed due to confusion with Little Rock, Arkansas, an important point on the MoPac. The new name honored F.J. Thomure, an M-I executive (from the MR&BT side). To this day, many folks in Ste Genevieve refer to this area as “Little Rock”.

In the early years, two crews worked the river transfers at Thomure. A typical day for the first incline crew started at 7:00 am with the second crew arriving an hour later. These two crews worked the boat in tandem – as one pulled a cut of cars off the boat and up the incline, the second made its way down the incline to shove cars on. Upon boat departure for Illinois, one crew would run 18 cars down to Middle Yard and return with another 18 cars for the next boat trip. A typical day saw 5 ferry trips each way.

SS Ste Genevieve overnighted in Thomure and crews worked 6 days a week, taking Sundays off. As the last cars were pulled from the boat on Saturday, 2 loads of coal would be cut; leaving one on each side track next to the boiler doors for unloading on Sunday. Operation of the ferry ceased in 1961 when the transfers were abandoned and trains routed south through Illinois to cross the river below Cape Girardeau and run back north to Ste Genevieve using the Frisco right-of-way.

Early map of Little Rock Landing (Thomure) when the incline still had 2 tracks. Later, the incline was reduced to a single track. Map drawn by Bill Hoss.
1940 ILHAP aerial photo showing car ferry and incline with an engine house, boat yard and a wye tucked into the small valley.
HO scale model of the ferry boat and incline displayed at the Ste. Genevieve Museum.
Builder’s photo of the Ste Genevieve II. An earlier boat struck a half sunken piling and was destroyed in 1918. This newer boat had 3 parallel tracks, each holding up to 6 railcars.
Image from an early color movie of the boat being unloaded. Photo credit unknown.
The end of the incline had a cradle riding on wheel sets which could be moved up and down the incline to adjust for the river level. During the many spring floods, ferry boat operations halted. Photo credit unknown.
Engine house and shops at Thomure in the 1920’s. Lindell Marler Collection.
Idler (spacer) car M-I 1600 at Thomure in 1949. This and a second car (assigned to Kellogg, IL) were built by the Mount Vernon Car Company in 1926 to keep engine weight off of the apron connecting the incline to the boat. Pauley Collection.
View of the boat from the doorway of the idler car. Notice that the boat is carrying an Alco RS3 in the middle track on this trip. Photo by Joe Collias, MPHS Collection.

Layout adaptation…

At 1:48, the 286′ long SS Ste Genevieve would scale to nearly 72″ in length. Modeler’s license reduced this to a manageable 52″ long by 20″ wide. Although shorter, the 3 parallel tracks remain, each holding 4 typical freight cars (40′) for a total of 12 cars per trip. Turning engines is accomplished with a turntable rather than a space-eating wye.

Car transfers from Thomure to Middle Yard are also handled differently. The Thomure yard literally sits adjacent to Middle Yard tracks; however, crews must remain within separate yards whilst performing their normal duties. Once a cut of cars is ready to transfer to Middle Yard, the incline crew can pull them for classification by the yard crew.

Thomure’s interlock plant protected the crossing to the incline once the SLSF built their River Subdivision. Photo by Joe Collias, MPHS Collection.

Like the prototype, an interlock tower protects the mainline crossing at the top of the incline. Don’t expect to see a lot of Frisco traffic – the M-I main line out of Ste Genevieve crosses here. Mainline crews must stop and phone the tower operator to request a clear signal.

Typical traffic & shipments…

Being the northern terminus of the Ste Genevieve subdivision, Thomure handles every type of car and shipment.