At the time it was built, the Milwaukee Road’s Zumbrota branch was a good addition to the system. But what had once been a viable line which linked Faribault with Wabasha (as well as the Milwaukee’s I&M and River divisions) had become a truncated red ink factory to Zumbrota by the 1970s, with poor track and light traffic the norm. In 1979, the Milwaukee pruned the line from its system and it faded into history. However, traces of the line remain today. Most notably in the form of the remarkably intact bridge S-844B in Kenyon discussed in a recent blog post.
Aside from the large chunk of grade encompassing Bridge S-844B on the southeast side of Kenyon, the only other remnant of the branch still recognizable in town is between Highway 56 and Red Wing Avenue, though some of it has eroded to the point it is impossible to walk on it entirely.
On the east side of the grade at Red Wing Avenue is a wooden abutment for a long-gone bridge carrying the branch across the street.
Nothing much is left west of Red Wing Avenue save for a small chunk on what is now residential property.
Alas, such scenes of complete annihilation are commonplace along the Zumbrota branch today. While chunks of grade remain here and there, the farmer’s plow and developers in towns such as Kenyon and Faribault have cut up the line to the extent that the branch will not ever be rebuilt. Nor indeed is there any economical need for rebuilding even if all grades and bridges remained intact. The only chance for any of it to have remained in operation would have been a major industry locating along the route at some point before 1979 which would have reversed the tide of red ink.
Happily, one portion of the line has seen a form of revival in the manner of a rail trail located along a portion of the Zumbrota branch in the city of Faribault. Here one can walk, jog, roller blade, or bicycle along a portion of the route where steam engines once chuffed and chugged, and orange and black RSD-5s, SW-1s, SD-7s, and SD-9s hummed and growled.
Note: My sources for the background information contained in this and the post about Bridge S-844B primarily comes from John C. Luecke’s books Dreams, Disasters, and Demise: The Milwaukee Road In Minnesota, and More Milwaukee Road In Minnesota. The latter of which is still in print, and can be bought via his website “Como Shops” at: http://www.comoshops.com/ Google and Bing Maps satellite and birds eye view images helped fill in my personal observations as to the current state of the Zumbrota branch.