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!
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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 …)
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.