During pioneer times public travel was exclusively by stage. The journey was often long and wearisome. The sloughs were not bridged and in the spring it was no uncommon thing for a passenger on the stage to make his journey on foot and carry a rail with which to help pry the stage out of the mire. This was "high-toned " traveling and from this may be imagined what sort of a journey was that of a lone settler and an ox team.
A history of the county would not be complete without mention of the transportation company, which preceded the day of railroads. It was called the Western Stage Company. Among the prominent partners of this company were W. H. Sullivan, of Columbus, Ohio, president; E. S. Alvord, of Indianapolis; Kimball Porter, of Iowa City; Messrs. Shoemaker, D. Talmadge and Campbell of Ohio, and Col. E. F. Hooker of Des Moines.
The headquarters of the company were at the Everett House in Fort Des Moines; the office of the company being located there July 1, 1854, when A. Morris was the proprietor of the hotel. The general manager of the stage lines was Col. E. F. Hooker, whose residence and business office were located near the present site of If Arbach's furniture establishment. A gentleman of the name of Smith was the first agent of the company, and he was succeeded by W. H. McChesney, who died in 1858. The last agent was A. T. Johnson, who is now favorably known by the people of Des Moines and vicinity as proprietor of an omnibus line. E. B. Alvord, T. R Fletcher, E. W. Sparhawk and E. G. Sears were secretaries of the company at various times and resided in Des Moines.
The shops and barn of the company were located on the present site of Getchell's lumber yard, corner of Eighth and Vine streets. These shops were divided into five departments; in one of them the wood work was done, in another the iron work, in the third the painting, in the fourth the horse-shoeing, and in the other the harness making, all of which were for some time under the superintendency of A. B. Woodbury.
Col. E. F. Hooker retired from the superintendency of the company in 1866, and was succeeded by R. Lounsberry, who was the last one filling this office. H. B. Alvord settled up the affairs of the company at its close, with great profit to the corporation. To give some idea of the business of the company, it is proper to state in this connection that the receipts for one year on the line between Des Moines and Boone reached the extraordinary sum of $100,000. After the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad was completed to Council Bluffs, the Boone line fell into insignificance and the days of the Western Stage Company, as far as Iowa was concerned, were numbered. The stages of this corporation transported to Davenport, with all their personal equipments, the members of the Thirty-third and Thirty-ninth Iowa infantry, requiring just two days to take an entire regiment. In this way parts of the Second, Sixth, Tenth and Fifteenth regiments were taken to their rendezvous. On the day after the adjournment, in olden times, the members of the Legislature, living abroad were either at their homes or far on the way to their destination.
The last coach belonging to the company in Des Moines was sold to James Stephenson, of Omaha, in 1874. Mr. Johnson rode on the driver's seat from the stage barn to the freight depot of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, and as he left the old vehicle to take its journey westward on the cars, he bade it an affectionate farewell. The Western Stage Company was quite an important factor in all Central Iowa. It had two lines to Council Bluffs, one to Fort Dodge, by the way of Boonesboro, and other lines reaching out in all directions. They changed from semi-weekly to tri-weekly, and then to daily trips as the country settled up and business warranted it. It was the only means of conveyance for travelers and the mails, and many were the anxious ones who waited for news or friends by the old stage company. It was like all other human agencies, in that it was fallible, and complaints were made against it. It was some of these complaints which provoked the following newspaper article in 1858:
"We notice a number of our exchanges are raking down the Western Stage Company for the manner in which they convey passengers over their lines. A little reflection will doubtless show to those who are censuring the stage company that they are wrong in their censures. The company, we think, deserves the praise of the people of Iowa for its indomitable perseverance in ploughing through snow, rain, sleet and mud for the past eight months, imperiling the lives of their drivers and teams in crossing swollen streams to accommodate the traveling public and deliver the mails at the post-offices. But few persons would endure the privations and hardships which the company has passed through in Iowa during the past eight months for double the amount they receive. We believe the company has done more to forward the mails and passengers than the public could reasonably expect at their hands, taking into consideration the awful condition of the roads. A little more work on the highways and a little more patience on the part of passengers would be a good thing just at this time."
[The History of Polk County, Iowa, 1880, submitted by Cathy Danielson]