Early Interest in Geology

By 1874, five railroads had spread across the Iowa countryside. Distant farms and small towns were now connected by miles of timber and track, bringing with it new jobs, new products, and new markets for harvests and livestock. For a curious and enterprising Bertie Hoover, the railroad tracks east of Downey Street brought something else: a fascination with geology.

In his memoirs, published in 1951, Herbert Hoover wrote:

"I have mentioned the Burlington track. It was an aspiring place. It was ballasted with glacial gravels where, by hard search, you discovered gems of agate and fossil coral, which could, with infinite backaches, be polished on the grindstone. Their fine points came out wonderfully when wet, and you had to lick them with your tongue before each exhibit."

The railroad no longer rumbles through West Branch, but a few of those semi-precious rocks may still be found along the tracks that once inspired and encouraged the dreams of a future president.


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