Tag Archives: Milwaukee Road

Take a ride on these rusty, weedy rails?

The ex Milwaukee Road line on west side of Chamberlian SD 9 29 2011
Photo by Tony Held.


The photograph above is the ex-Milwaukee Road route through Chamberlain, South Dakota, that is now owned by the state and operated by short line Dakota Southern.  This is how it looks on the west side of town as the line heads for the Missouri River and the majestic bridge that carries the line over it.

These rails do not look passable, do they?

Believe it or not, some intrepid speeder (aka track inspection) owners took a ride on this line recently as documented in this You Tube video. The only worrisome thing about the rails I saw was that a few seemed to be trying to get out of gauge on the line on the east side of the wide Missouri.

However, this line is slated for upgrading and further use. Speeders will not be the only thing you see on this line in the near future!

The old Milwaukee Road in Minnehaha Park

Looking north up former Milwaukee Road by Longfellow House Minnehaha Park 3 31 2013
Here we are looking north up the old Milwaukee Road from down by the pedestrian crossing leading into the Longfellow House replica. Minnehaha Parkway is in the distance. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Ex Milwaukee track in Minnehaha Park on north side of creek crossing 3 31 2013
Now we are looking south from the Longfellow House pedestrian crossing towards the bridge carrying the rusting rails across Minnehaha Creek. Note how well-preserved the track ties are here. A miracle given the total lack of maintenance the line has got in recent decades. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
MILW Minnehaha Creek bridge east side 4 8 2013
The old Milwaukee Road bridge over Minnehaha Creek as seen from the Minnehaha Avenue bridge. I loved to always look at this train bridge from the passenger window of our old Chevy when my family would take me to the park as a kid. It always told me the Princess Depot was not too far away! Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-8-2013.
MILW Minnehaha Creek bridge west side 4 8 2013
The old Milwaukee Road Minnehaha Creek stone arch bridge as viewed from the other side. The bridge now has attracted so many local “artists” the bridge is now a worthy heir to the long-gone Graffiti Bridge. May it not ever meet a similar fate. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-8-2013.
Ex Milwaukee track on south side of Minnehaha Creek crossing 3 31 2013
We are now on the south side of the Minnehaha Creek span looking north. Note the dense year-round overgrowth that has sprung up along the tracks here. To think this line once hosted not only a special visit by the Hiawatha in the 1930s but also the American Freedom Train in the 1970s!  Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Ex Milwaukee rails in Minnehaha Park looking towards Princess depot 3 31 2013
We are now looking south from the same vantage point. The end of the line is in view down by the Princess Depot. I miss the old team track that used to exist south of the depot. I always loved to play with the north switch there as a kid and proudly posed by it for photos the first day I worked the depot as a station agent back in 1998. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Minnehaha Depot looking north 3 31 2013
Behold the Princess Depot! Here we are looking at it from the southwest side. The metal box protects the lamp for the depot’s train order signal; the shutters protect the windows when the depot is not open. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Minnehaha Depot looking south 3 31 2013
Ah the Princess! Here we are looking southeast towards the historic station. Sure wish they did not have to move over Highway 55 and spoil some of the ambience the place had when I was a kid and later a teenage station agent. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Minnehaha Depot plaque 3 31 2013
The plaque Princess Depot owner Minnesota Historical Society put up by the north portico on the depot’s east side. I loved reading this when I was a kid. Such wonders of the rail world it spoke of to me! Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Minnehaha Depot station sign 3 31 2013
On the east and west sides of the depot is this station sign. This is the west one. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Minnehaha Depot 4 8 2013
Here is a view of the whole depot from looking west across from Minnehaha Avenue. When I was younger the road was much wider and (according to Minnehaha Depot guru Corbin Kidder) still had old streetcar rails buried in them. That all changed once the park got a makeover. Streetcars can be seen in front of the depot in a historic photo of the King and Queen of Sweden visiting the park. This picture is available for viewing inside the depot when it is open Sundays and holidays from Memorial to Labor Day. Man I love this place! Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-8-2013.

The old Milwaukee Road from 46th Street to Minnehaha Parkway

End of active rails north of 46th Street Mpls 3 31 2013
North of 46th Street this marker can be found which denotes the current end of active track on the old Milwaukee Road line into Minnehaha Park.   South of it the rails literally plunge under the pavement at 46th Street.   Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31 -2013.
Old MILW 46th St grade crossing Mpls 3 31 2013
The grade crossing along the old Milwaukee Road at 46th Street is paved over with nary a grade crossing sign to be found. However, the rails are still intact underneath the asphalt. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Former Milwaukee Road south of 46th St Mpls 3 31 2013
Here we are now looking south along the old Milwaukee Road from the south side of the 46th Avenue crossing. Here the rails resurface and continue on their way south.  Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Out of gauge rails north of Nawadaha Blvd Minneapolis 3 31 2013
Now we are along the old Milwaukee Road just north of Nawadaha Boulevard. Uh oh, looks like the left-hand rails are trying to come out of gauge. Fix this, somebody! Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Another view of switch remains on north side of Nawadaha Blvd Mpls 3 31 2013
An industry north of Nawadaha Blvd now served by truck once got rail service via the Milwaukee Road. Here is a southward-facing view of the gutted remains of the switch for the long-gone spur. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Switch remains along old Milwaukee Road on north side of Nawadaha Blvd 3 31 2013
In this northward-looking view of the gutted switch near Nawadaha, the business once served by the spur track off of here is visible in the background. Rotten shame it did not keep rail service; that way the line would still be active all the way to the park. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Looking north up old Milwaukee Road from Minnehaha Parkway 3 31 2013
We are on the north side of Minnehaha Parkway looking north towards Nawadaha Boulevard. Here the old Milwaukee Rails have sunk low into the earth and were partially submerged by snowmelt this day. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
Looking south along old Milwaukee at Minnehaha Parkway 3 31 2013
Now we are looking south across Minnehaha Parkway. The Longfellow House replica is visible in the right background. Parkway traffic has always kept the rails buffed and shiny here, and the cross bucks still stand with “Exempt” signs fixed beneath them. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-3



The ex-Minneapolis & St. Louis between Cedar Lake Junction and Bass Lake yard

Today nothing much remains of the former main line of the Minneapolis & St. Louis in either Minnesota, Iowa, or Illinois.    This photo essay focuses on one of the bits that remains stretching from Cedar Lake Junction in Minneapolis on the former main line of the Great Northern (now the BNSF Wayzata sub) to where it is spliced into the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific transcontinental main line by Bass Lake in St. Louis Park.   Sadly, this bit of track is on borrowed time, for while it is operated by short line Twin Cities & Western, the corridor it occupies is slated to become the Southwest Corridor light rail line.   While rails will still grace the right-of-way, heavy freight will no longer rumble along it like in the glory days of the “Tootin’ Louie.”

In this photo essay we will tour the line.



Cedar Lake Junction as viewed on a partly sunny April 3rd, 2009. Interstate 394/Highway 12 looms in the background behind the signals and “Cedar Lake” sign. Once this was the site of the Cedar Lake yard and shops of the Louie plus a neighboring Great Northern yard. Now only these two tracks remain, with the jointed rail of the Louie on borrowed time. Photo by the author.


Despite the temporary routing of TC&W trains over the corridor, sights like these are for sore eyes indeed! Also taken on April 3rd, 2009, here we see the TC&W St. Paul Turn tip-toeing along the line at 10 MPH across the 21st Street West grade crossing. In lead is ILSX GP39-2 1389 with two more GP39-2s behind it, TC&W 2301 and 2300. Photo by the author.
The Saint Paul Turn heads down the old Louie past the sight of another yard, Kenwood. Currently the Kenilworth Trail occupies the site. Burnham Road crosses the bridge in the distance. Photo by the author.


The next set of photos was taken on November 5th, 2011. Here we are looking up the Louie main from the Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing. Kenilworth Trail is to the right. Photo by the author.
The Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing looking east.   How will it look once heavy rail is out and light rail is in?  Photo by the author.
Even the trail along Cedar Lake Parkway has its own grade crossing. Photo by the author.


This signal stands proud on the south side of the Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing. It must date back to the days of the North Western if not the Louie. Photo by the author.


A view south along the Louie from the Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing reveals the concrete base of a signal mast that once faced north as well as an old telephone box. Photo by the author.


Here is where the rails of the Louie are spliced into those of the Milwaukee Road in what once was the Milwaukee’s Bass Lake yard in St. Louis Park. The Southwest LRT trail takes over the Louie at this point. Photo by the author.



The ex-Chicago Great Western trackage in Faribault

The Chicago Great Western Red Wing-Mankato line passed through Faribault once upon a time. Today, after abandonments in 1973 and 1975 that clipped the route north and west of town, 1.4 miles of track remain in operation on the city’s northern side thanks to CGW successor Chicago & North Western finding traffic to and from Faribault to be so profitable that when deferred maintenance on the CGW between Northfield and Faribault made the line impassible by 1975, the C&NW arranged for trackage rights on neighboring Milwaukee Road, moved its Faribault traffic over to its rails, and promptly abandoned the CGW between the two points, resulting in the remaining CGW track becoming an industrial spur. The trackage rights arrangement remained in place when the Milwaukee Road gave way to the Soo Line in 1985 and the C&NW to the Union Pacific in 1995. Today Progressive Rail operates the line after assuming operations on it and UP’s former CGW Northfield-Cannon Falls line (another Red Wing-Mankato route survivor) in November of 2004 via a lease.

In this photo essay we will explore these surviving CGW rails.



Looking west down the former Chicago Great Western from Franklin Avenue. The Hulet Avenue grade crossing is in the distance. Beyond Hulet the line finally ends at Lyndale Avenue S. Past Lyndale the right-of-way is used by the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail on the portion of the route abandoned west of Faribault in 1973.  Note the switch in the foreground for the connecting track to the outside rail world. Photo by the author.


Looking east now up the former CGW, we now see in full the connecting track to the former Milwaukee Road I&M Division north-south main line which the CGW crosses in the far distance; the connection is made up in part of a surviving piece of a spur that once belonged to the Milwaukee that went west to the now long-gone Sheffield Flour Mill.  The switch itself was not installed until well after the passing of the Great Western.  At first when successor Chicago & North Western assumed trackage rights over the Milwaukee from Northfiled to Faribault, their trains took a routing around the south and east sides of town via a combination of Milwaukee/ex-CGW track that took trains past the Milwaukee Road depot to the south of this location on what was dubbed the “Grand tour of Faribault.” Finally, this switch was installed in 1976, eliminating the 6.5 mile, nearly hour-long “grand tour” for C&NW trains bound for the industries on Faribault’s northeast side. Photo by the author.


A short ways east of the Milwaukee/CGW connection, the old Great Western line borders South Alexander Park and crosses 7th Avenue Northwest. Photo by the author.


A view east up the CGW from the 7th Avenue NW grade crossing. The first on-line industry is accessed by the switch seen in the distance. Photo by the author.


Despite this bit of track now being on its fourth operator, Union Pacific signs adorn the cross bucks posts at the 7th Avenue NW grade crossing since technically Progressive Rail  leases but does not own the tracks. Photo by the author.
But the UP signage is not alone on the 7th Street NW cross bucks; C&NW US Department of Transportation plates also are present. Photo by the author.


Moving beyond West 7th Street NW, we are now looking west down the old CGW from near 2nd Avenue NW.  Note the blue Progressive Rail boxcars parked in the distance.  Photo by the author.


The old CGW crosses 2nd Avenue NW and into Faribault Foods, the customer at the end of the line. Photo by the author.
Another view of the grade crossing at 2nd St NW by Faribault Foods. Photo by the author.
The old CGW curves into Faribault Foods, the industry at the line’s end. Trail on left is the City of Faribault’s Straight River trail. Photo by the author.


Looking east towards 2nd Avenue NW by Faribault Foods. A track leading to the CGW’s yard and depot in downtown Faribault used to exist here; perhaps the city trail on the right occupies the right-of-way at least in part? CGW rails once stretched across the background sweeping north to Dundas and Northfield. Photo by the author.



The CGW crossed the Cannon River near its junction with the Straight River on a pair of wooden trestles, both of which remain today and are used as part of a city trail. This is the one closest to Faribault Foods. Rails last graced the trestle in 1978 when they were finally pulled up after the Faribault-Northfield part of the line was officially abandoned in 1975.  Photo by the author.



Facts in this article are from the book More Chicago Great Western in Minnesota, and More Milwaukee Road in Minnesota, both by John C. Luecke, and the Union Pacific’s webpage on Progressive Rail’s Cannon Valley line:


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.



UP Steam At Last!

The Union Pacific’s purchase of the Chicago and North Western in 1995 saddened me deeply, but I knew that cloud had a silver lining: the UP’s steam program!   Surely they would send either their 4-8-4 Northern number 844 or their 4-6-6-4 Challenger 3985 up to Minneapolis/St. Paul?   For years I waited with nothing happening on that front.   Then in 2002 the 3985 arrived in South Saint Paul … but I couldn’t make it.   Fast forward to 2008:  on the memorable date of September 26th, a remarkably sunny, warm (and breezy) Friday in the early fall, I caught Union Pacific’s 4-6-6-4 Challenger-class steam engine number 3985 as it passed through Rosemount, MN on its way to Saint Paul, MN.

UP 3985 passes railfans and railroaders gathered by the Progressive Rail depot in Rosemount, MN.  Photo by the author.


UP 3985 chugs north through Rosemount beckoned on by a green signal on the UP’s “Spine Line.” Photo by the author.


UP open platform obs Saint Louis brings up the markers on the UP steam train to Saint Paul passing through Rosemount, MN, on September 26th, 2008. Photo by the author.


At last I had caught a UP steam train running on track not only once run by the CNW, but the Rock Island/Milwaukee Road before that (this stretch of “Spine Line” was joint track for the RI/MILW from Rosemount to the junction at Comus, MN).

I’ve always wondered why the 3985 was emitting such a clean exhaust that day.   Had somebody mixed in a little diesel fuel oil with the steam fuel oil?  (Hey, a guy who worked for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy once told me they did just that for some of their steam fan trips …)

The 261 On A Sunday Evening

Photo by the author.


Once upon a time on a Sunday evening in June, 2008, the uncompleted Highway 12 bypass in Long Lake lay devoid of cars beneath the warm sun as it waited to be tied off at both ends thanks to unstable soil at its western end that dictated a “land bridge” solution money was slow in coming for.

The BNSF had its new alignment of its Wayzata subdivision up and running long before now, though, and darn did the uncompleted bypass make a great place to railfan from, especially now, with North Star Rail’s Alco Class S-3 4-8-4 Milwaukee Road 261 approaching with the westbound BNSF Employee Appreciation Special to Howard Lake and return.

After a westbound freight passed, here she came, beautiful and dramatic as ever.  Out of the photos I took of her that evening, this one is my favorite.  I especially like how I got her smoke plume, one of the westbound signals, and  a bird flying right overhead, all captured in decent light.

Viva the Milwaukee Road 261!   I look forward to taking more such pictures of her when she returns to the rails from her overhaul.