More Zumbrota Branch Archeology

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.

 

The beginning of the Zumbrota branch grade on the west side of Highway 56 in Kenyon, MN. For a stretch west of here the roadbed has had a bite taken out of it down by a local business. Photo by the author.

 

Just west of Highway 56 the grade has eroded to the point it cannot be walked on. We are by a local business in this shot. Photo by the author.

 

Looking towards Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon along the grade of the Zumbrota branch. Photo by the author.

 

 

Looking east up Zumbrota branch grade from Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon. Photo by the author.

 

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.

 

The start of the Zumbrota branch grade on the east side of Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon. Note the leftover wooden bridge abutment.  Photo by the author.

 

 

A close up of the wooden bridge abutment on the east side of the former crossing of the Zumbrota branch over Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon. Photo by the author

 

Looking west across where the Red Wing Avenue bridge used to stand. The chunk of grade on the other side is but an island in the sea of post-abandonment development. Photo by the author.

 

Nothing much is left west of Red Wing Avenue save for a small chunk on what is now residential property.

 

The fragment of grade from the Zumbrota branch on the west side of Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon, some of which now is framed by a wood rail fence put up by the owner of the property it is on. Photo by the author.

 

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.

 

The Faribault trail which occupies some of the Zumbrota branch. It starts on the east side of 9th Avenue south down by the Kwik Trip. Photo by the author.

 

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.

The Remains Of Bridge S-844B

The southern Minnesota town of Kenyon, Minnesota, once was host to two railroads -the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific, and the Chicago Great Western.   The Milwaukee Road in the form of the Faribault-Zumbrota branch and the CGW in the form of their north-south Twin Cities to Iowa main line.

The CGW gave way to the Chicago and North Western in 1968, but Kenyon stayed a two-railroad town until 1979, when the third time bankrupt Milwaukee pruned the Zumbrota branch from its system.   By 1984, the old CGW was gone too thanks to the C&NW buying the nearby north-south “Spine Line” of the bankrupt and liquidated Rock Island.

An old abutment marks the eastern end of where bridge S-844B once carried the Zumbrota branch of the Milwaukee Road over the Chicago Great Western main line (today the unruly strip of land between the fence and “Welcome to Kenyon” sign.)  Highway 56 is road in foreground.  Photo by the author.

 

The Milwaukee Road crossed the CGW via a bridge known on the company books as S-844.   Incredibly, much of this span remains intact decades after the last train crossed it!

A closer look at the leftover abutment from the portion of bridge S-844B which spanned the CGW main at Kenyon. Note the leftover bits of trestle posts behind it. Photo by the author.

 

A side view of the remaining abutment for the section of S-844B which spanned the CGW main. Note again the remaining trestle piles. Photo by the author.

S-844B was originally one long trestle.  The span east of the CGW crossing was later replaced almost entirely by the large embankment that remains visible today, but the farmer who owned the land on both sides of the Zumbrota branch at this location demanded access to both sides of his land, so a portion of the bridge was retained.

 

Despite the loss of some bridge decking, the remaining portion of bridge S-844B is still imposing-looking even today. Photo by the author.
The surviving part of S-844B is so well preserved even the bridge’s concrete footings remain in good shape. Photo by the author.

 

 

It obviously was because of lack of money that the Milwaukee Road left most of S-844B standing and in private ownership.   (An imposing steel span over the Straight River several miles to the west -Bridge S-808- was also left standing after abandonment; alas, the span eventually fell to the scrapper’s torch and only the concrete abutments and piers remain.)  Today the bridge remains as a monument to the glory days when every mile of track in southern Minnesota was deemed important for local commerce.

 

The Field Of Telegraph Poles

Photo by the author.

 

The grounds of a business park nestled at the interstate of Highway 55 and Mendota Heights Road in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, used to be bisected by the rails of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific’s “I&M” Division linking the Twin Cities with Austin, Minnesota, and points south into Iowa.   Originally built in the mid 1860’s by a predecessor road -the Minnesota Central- the route originally climbed out of the Minnesota River valley after crossing the Minnesota River below the battlements of Fort Snelling.   When that stretch of track and bridges were abandoned in the 1950s, Milwaukee Road trains continued to access the tracks on the south side via a connection off the Chicago and North Western-owned Chicago, St. Paul, and Omaha railroad (later absorbed entirely into CNW).   But in 1994, the rails were torn up from Cliff Junction up across the bridge spanning Interstate 494 on the Mendota Heights/Eagan border to an industrial park just off of 35E in Eagan, the decision of Milwaukee Road successor Soo Line, which originally kept sending traffic south to Austin after its 1985 purchase of and 1986 merger with the Milwaukee but then ceased operating them; local trains were the last to pass through on this stretch of the I&M.  From Cliff Junction to where the line once crossed Highway 13, the route is now occupied by the Big Rivers Regional Trail.   From Highway 13 to the business park in Eagan is unkempt (but mostly walkable) roadbed.

But when the track removal crews came something odd happened: a lot of railroad-related items were left behind ranging from ties with tie plates attached, ties left behind in the roadbed and a whole plethora of telegraph poles, most notably the bunch pictured above.   And that office park inherited the whole shebang … and decided to keep it all.   Why, I have no clue; but by leaving them standing the owners of that park created a scene best described as the field of telegraph poles.

 

Another view of the field of telegraph poles from looking up the former Milwaukee Road I & M from the south side of the former grade crossing on Mendota Heights Road. Photo by the author.

 

Another view of the field of telegraph poles, this time from looking north-northeast down the grassy, tree dotted grade bisecting the office complex’s front yard. Photo by the author.