The Dinkey has long history at Iowa State


Courtesy Photo

Douglas Biggs, together with his wife gloria betcher, researched the Dinky steam engine, which brought supplies to Iowa State University from 1891-1907, will present their research on “Iowa State College in the 1890s: a Visual History” on Mar. 11, 8:00pm in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

Makayla Tendall

“The 1890s was the ‘greatest decade’ in Iowa State’s history,” said Douglas Biggs.

A lecture focusing on the visual history of ISU, especially in the 1890s, will take place at 8 p.m. Monday, March 11, 2013, in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

“There’s this huge transformation that took place in that decade,” Biggs said.

The presentation will be given by Biggs, associate dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and an associate professor of history. Biggs is an ISU alumnus who grew up exploring Iowa State as a child when his father was a professor at the college.

Biggs’ interest in Iowa State was renewed when his wife, Gloria Betcher, was the chair of the Ames Historic Preservation Commission. Betcher, associate professor of English, was doing her own research on historical aspects of Ames.

Monday’s lecture details many of the historical aspects of ISU from the 1890’s for a reason.

Not only will the lecture focus on the Ames at the turn of the century, but it will focus on an iconic symbol of ISU: The Dinkey.

The Dinkey was a small, two-car steam engine that ran from downtown Ames to campus every hour with a fare of one nickel. It was the only means of rapid transit at the time. The tiny train mostly carried passengers, but it also impacted ISU by transporting construction materials onto campus.

“From 1891 to 1907, the only other way to get to campus from town [besides riding the steam engine] was to go down an undrained dirt track,” Biggs said.

That dirt track is what we now recognize as Lincoln Way.

“The railroad provided a means for students to get off of campus and for others to get on campus, and without that bridge, Ames in the 1880s was a really difficult place to be,” Biggs said.

Biggs and Betcher note that this connection between the city of Ames and the college became essential in order to advance the city.

“Because of the line of communication that’s created by the railroad, the two communities start to become much more mixed and you then get an official annexation of the college by the town,” Betcher said.

After the annexation, the students in the college were also counted as residents of Ames, bumping the population up to 2,000 people. Betcher said that it was then feasible for the city to have a more efficient mode of transportation. This new bridge between the city of Ames and Iowa State allowed both to develop quickly.

“Having a link between those two communities…[allowed] an interchange not only of ideas, but people,” Betcher said.

Iowa State, a small agricultural school at the time, was able to host different educational communities, exhibits and sporting events. The new visitors of Ames were able to stay downtown, which created a growing economy. The student population increased as well; more students were able to live off campus.

The Dinkey quickly became a symbol of the connection and increase in opportunities that Ames and Iowa State continue to share.

According to Biggs, “The Dinkey” is in fact a nickname given by the students which may have arisen from the size of the train, or because of the type of engine the trained used, called a “donkey engine.”

“It was often called the Motor Line,” Betcher said.

However, the informal name is still remembered today.

Betcher said, “If you go downtown you will see on one of the brick peers that show Ames history, it will have ‘The Dinkey’ on it,” not The Motor Line as it was officially known.

Biggs said that The Dinkey is still represented around campus today. There are pictures of The Dinkey in The Hub, which is named after one of the train’s stops on campus.

There are also pictures of The Dinkey hanging in Olde Main Brewing Co., a restaurant in historic Ames. There are even representations in the stain glass windows in the Memorial Union.

“It has a mythology all its own. It’s its own legend,” Biggs said.

Learning about the history of their university will provide the students with a sense of belonging and gratitude for all of those students who came before them. Both Betcher and Biggs believe it is important for future generations to understand and preserve the history of Iowa State.

Betcher said students should attend Monday’s lecture because “It’s important for students to understand their place in a continuum.”