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A brief History Of the Construction And Operation of the
Chicago Great Western Railway Company


  • A wreck at Hayfield in 1963
  • Chicago Great Western Railway
  • How the "Red Stack" nickname came into being
  • Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific Railway Company
  • The Winona & South Western Railway Company
  • The Duluth Red Wing and Southern Railroad
  • the Belchester line
  • CGW named passenger trains
  • The Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad Company
  • Wisconsin Iowa and Nebraska Railway
  • The Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railway
  • 1893 Acquisitions
  • The Chicago Great Western Railroad Company

    Chicago Great Western Railway

    The Chicago Great Western Railway had it's beginning with the charter issued on March 4, 1854, to the Minnesota and Northwestern Railway Company. No progress was made with this charter for thirty years, until Mr. A.B. Stickney acquired it and began the construction of a line from St. Paul to Lyle, Minnesota in September 1884. The line was completed October 2, 1885, placed into service and operation commenced. The although the located line passed through a sparsely settled section of the country, it tapped one of the most fertile agricultural regions of the middle west.

    The early construction projects, which comprised the former Chicago Great Western, encountered many of the same difficulties incident to all new enterprises, but the experience and aggressive character of its founder, Mr. A. B. Stickney, brought the road to a successful conclusion, and it expanded rapidly under his dominate leadership.

    Operation of the first unit of the road had barely begun before the company began the construction of the second line from Hayfield, Minnesota , to Aiken, Illinois, a distance of 146.65 miles. These units were completed in 1887.

    The Dubuque and Northwestern Railroad Company, was incorporated June 20 1883, in Iowa. The company constructed the line from Dubuque to a point near Thorpe, Iowa on the Eastern Division during 1885 and 1886. On November 30, 1886 it conveyed it's property to the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad Company of Minnesota. This gave the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad Company of Minnesota a complete line of railroad from St. Paul to Dubuque, the line from Hayfield to Lyle where it connected with the Illinois Central, and a line from Sumner west to Hampton, Iowa.

    During the spring of 1885, surveyors of the Dubuque and Northwestern staked out a line from Dubuque and passed five miles north of Dyersville. Their instructions were to secure a short route to the Twin Cities, to compete with the Minnesota and Northwestern building from St. Paul. The citizens of Dyersville watched their movements closely and deliberated over visions of the near future. The trade for a distance of fifteen miles moved to their markets. If cut off from this territory there would be a serious setback and depreciation in all classes of business and real estate. It was generally understood that in order to secure the new line, considerable influence and financial assistance were essential requirements. A delegation of businessmen were dispatched to Dubuque to consult with the management. Satisfactory arrangements were made at this meeting and a contract drawn up and signed. The railroad company was given right of way through the corporate limits of Dyersville, and three full blocks of lots for yard purposes. All of the residences located there were to be moved off by the town. Later a parallel street was also vacated for the building of another business track.

    Late in the summer of 1886, the first train westbound, passed through, laying steel. At this time through passenger trains commenced operation from St. Paul, and were handled from Dubuque over the Illinois Central Railway. At first to Chicago, but when the Chicago Division was completed to Freeport, connections were made there until the tunnel at Winston was finished. The line from Forest Park, Illinois to Aiken, Illinois, a distance of 146.65 miles was completed in 1887.

    The Winston tunnel was located one hundred and fifty two miles west of Chicago at a point known as Winston, Illinois. This was a brick lined tunnel, of small cross section, approximately one half mile in length and had a one per cent ascending grade toward the east.

    Several sections of Montana stock trains were run daily over the line from St. Paul to Chicago, and the cowboy attendants were usually strung along the tops of the cars. A newspaper article written at the time, states that these cowboys, in order to while away time, would engage in revolver practice picking off the telegraph glass insulators. Company linemen were kept busy repairing the damage.

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    How the "Red Stack" nickname came into being.

    The mogul locomotives in service during the construction period handled from 25 to 30 loaded cars of 40,000 lb. capacity. They were considered to be of large size and the trains were considered very long. The locomotive smoke stacks were painted red, and because of this the road was nicknamed "Red Stack," a name which it retained until later, when the color was changed to black.

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    The Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific Railway Company.

    On May 23, 1857, the Minnesota Central Railroad Company was incorporated under a special act of the territory of Minnesota. The Minnesota Central Railroad Company appears to be the first company that had anything to do with the construction of the Chicago Great Western branch lines, and for that reason it is mentioned first. It was apparently not active for some years, at least so far as building any of the Chicago Great Western lines in concerned. It's connection with the Chicago Great Western will appear later.

    Another company which had much to do with the forming of the Chicago Great Western was the Cannon River Improvement Company. Incorporated in the state of Minnesota on the 16th of February, 1865, with the intent of to constructing canals, locks, dams and generally to construct slack water navigation from the Mississippi River via the Cannon River and the lakes connected; then via lake Elysian to the Minnesota River near Mankato, with the privilege of extending the same over and along such waters as connect with the improvements. This was a very ambitious project for those times. Like so many waterway schemes it was not practical, and as there was already a navigable waterway to Mankato via the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, the people of Minnesota evidently concluded that a railroad would be cheaper and better. On February 28, 1872, the articles of incorporation were amended to read "and also to construct and operate a railroad under title 1 of chapter 34 to the general statutes of the state of Minnesota of 1866."

    Both the Cannon River Improvement Company and the Minnesota Central Railroad Company had been given land grants. On March 10, 1873, the legislature of the state passed and approved a special act providing for the consolidation of the franchises and land grants of the Cannon River Improvement Company with the franchises and land grants of the Minnesota Central Railroad Company. The consolidation was affected December 3, 1878, and the Minnesota Central then built the line from Red Wing to Waterville, a distance of 66 miles. This was completed in 1882 and formed the first link in the chain making up the Wisconsin Minnesota & Pacific Railroad. The line was operated from January 1, 1883 until June 30 1884, as the Cannon Valley Division of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway.

    By an amendment to the special act to incorporate the Minnesota Central Railroad Company, it's name was changed on August 14, 1883 to the Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific Railway Company. The companies next act was to extend a line from Waterville to Mankato Minnesota, a distance of 28 miles. This was completed in May, 1887, the line ended at a small frame passenger station near where the Chicago Great Western engine house was later built.

    The Wisconsin Minnesota & Pacific Railway was also active at other points, for in 1883 and 1884 it constructed a line 121.7 miles long from Morton, Minnesota to Watertown, junction, Dakota, which was operated under a joint traffic agreement with the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway until January 20, 1899. Then the company went into receivership and the property was sold under foreclosure April 4, 1894, to R.R. Cable, W.H. Trusedale, and A.E. Clark, trustees. The land grants of this company were consolidated with the Wisconsin Minnesota & Pacific Railway company on October 27, 1897.

    While the events noted above were taking place in the Cannon river valley, there was activity elsewhere along what was to become the Chicago Great Western. Now we will take a detour to see what these activities were.

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    The Winona & South Western Railway Company

    February 25, 1856, the Winona and LaCrosse Railroad Company was incorporated under a special act of the territory of Minnesota. Do to financial difficulties caused by the panic of 1857, it was impossible to raise money for the construction of the line and it was not able to develop beyond a paper railroad. The name of the company was changed on February 29, 1872 to the Winona and Southwestern Railway.

    On April 9, 1872, the city of Winona held a special election and voted $150,000 in bonds to aid the construction of the road. Other towns, including Chatfield, in Winona and Fillmore counties also voted liberal bonuses to the road. Later that year $100,000 of the bonds were re-directed to the aide of the Green Bay, Winona, and St. Paul Railroad which was to be completed later that year. April 16, 1872 at a incorporators meeting officers were elected, and the purchase of maps and surveys was commissioned. In April 1873, the directors issued stock in the amount of $67,500. At least two surveys were made, but the panic of 1873 prevented the start of construction.

    The Winona and Southwestern Railroad charter was extended by the Minnesota legislature in part due to the surveys done by that time. Nothing much happened until 1887 when the company re-organized. Winona granted another $100,000 bonus, an engineer was hired and another survey was made. The money to build the line was borrowed from the Farmers Loan and Trust Company of New York.

    On August 11, 1888 the company that acquired the right of way and built the railroad from Winona around the south and west sides of Lake Winona and up the valley of Rollingstone Creek, a distance of 21 miles, to a point in Bear Creek valley. A depot was constructed in Minnesota City, and a grain elevator one half mile from Rolling Stone.

    The in 1889, the Winona and Southwestern Railway Company then extended the line through a pair of large wooden trestles over the Bear creek valley on through Altura, Bethany and on to East Utica. Depots were built in Altura and Bethany, and a large trestle was built just south of Bethany. (The Bethany trestle was removed in 1962 under the supervision of D.M. Tolstead.)

    The costs were much higher than anticipated, the estimates were revised to $35,000 per mile. The Minneapolis construction firm was unable to complete it's contract, and the Winona South Western Improvement Company was formed to take its place. Before the end of construction in the 1889-90 season an interchange was installed with the Winona & St. Peter Railroad at Utica.

    In February of 1890, the directors considered extension via one of two possible routes. The southern route would have hone through Saratoga, Chatfield, and Spring Valley. But, the northern route prevailed due to the fact that the towns voted more money to aid the construction of the railroad. In June of 1890, the construction resumed from East Utica, to St. Charles where it crossed the Winona & St. Peter Railroad. Depots were built a Utica and St. Charles. The line then continued west to Dover, where a depot was built. Then the line went on to Laird, Planks's Crossing and a crossing of the C&NW RR Eyota Junction to Chatfield branch, through Horton, Predmore, and on to Simpson where a depot was built.

    By November, the track laying had progressed to Judge, and then with a slight delay for grading on to Stewartville where a boxcar depot was installed. The line then continued on at a 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 mile per day pace south through Racine and reached Spring Valley in late December 1890. On December 30, 1890, the road went into operation from Winona to Spring Valley, where a depot was constructed.

    During 1891 the line was laid south south westerly to Ostrander, on to LeRoy, McIntire, David, Little Cedar, Bucknam's Crossing, and finally to Osage, Iowa and a connection with the Illinois Central Railroad.

    The Winona and Southwestern Railway Company acquired the property of the Winona Osage and Southwestern Railroad Company on October 20, 1891. The Winona Osage and Southwestern Railroad Company had attempted the construction of a line from Osage in a southwesterly direction, the line was 1.37 miles long, lying partly within the village of Osage, this track was constructed in 1891, but never operated and has since been taken up and abandoned. The grade is still in existence.

    In 1900 a new depot was built at Stewartville, Minnesota to replace the converted box car that was used there initially. This depot later burned to the ground in 1915, and was replaced in 1916. The 1916 depot stood until it was torn down in 1972.

    The Winona and Southwestern Railway Company being in receivers hands, the Winona and Western Railway Company was incorporated on October 27, 1894, and they purchased the 114 miles of main line and the seven mile branch to Rochester.

    In late August, 1901 the 130 mile long Winona and Western Railroad Company was Acquired by the Chicago Great Western Railroad Company. At 12 midnight, September 12, 1901, the Winona And Western Railroad Company ceased to exist, and was replaced by the Wisconsin, Minnisota, and Pacific Railroad Company, A Chicago Great Western subsidiary. The Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pacific Railroad Company was in turn brought under the control of the Chicago Great Western later in 1901, and subsequently absorbed in 1920.

    One of the first actions of the Chicago Great Western was to build a bridge over the Zumbro river in Rochester, and build a extension line to interchange with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, this was completed in 1902. Also, in the same year a line was built from Rochester to Zumbrota to link up with the recently acquired Duluth, Red Wing, and Southern. This completed the Minnesota division's WM&P branch line from Randolph to McIntire, Iowa.

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    The Duluth Red Wing and Southern Railroad

    The Duluth, Red Wing and Southern Railroad was incorporated in the state of Minnesota on November 2, 1886, and organized January 15, 1887. The Duluth, Red Wing and Southern Railroad constructed the line from Red Wing south to Zumbrota, approximately 25 miles., with a three mile long branch line to the deposits of sewer pipe and pottery clay near the village of Claybank. The Duluth, Red Wing and Southern Railroad, as it's name would indicate, made extensive surveys for a railroad from Red Wing to Duluth along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers, but the only line actually built was the line from Red Wing through Claybank, Goodhue, and on to Zumbrota. This line then connected with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company at Zumbrota. Through traffic arrangements with that road were such that trains were operated through Red Wing to Rochester.

    When the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific Railway Company (which you will recall was a new name for the Cannon Valley Line) went into receiver's hands, a new company called the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company was incorporated October 27, 1897. This company purchased the property of the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific Railway Company (aka. Cannon Valley Line) on April 30, 1901. On July 5, 1901, the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company acquired the property of the Duluth, Red Wing and Southern Railroad and on September 10, 1901, acquired all of the property of the Winona and Western Railway Company. On December 1, 1902, the Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pacific Railroad granted the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul trackage rights over it's line from Benning and Mankato and on the same date contract was made for the joint tracks through Mankato and the construction of freight and passenger terminals.

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    the Bellechester line

    A 6.43 mile long spur known as the Belchester line was built in 1910, from Belchester junction to approximately one mile east of the village of Belchester to reach additional clay deposits. The Belchester line was removed in aproximately 1936. As of 1995, traces of the old roadbed could still be seen in the area of Bellechester.

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    CGW named passenger trains

    During the 20's, the Chicago Great Western established three new named passenger trains. They were the "Red Bird", the "Blue Bird", and the "Legionaire."

    The "Red Bird" made it's first run on July 15, 1923. It had a red "English styled" pacific steam locomotive on the point, with the rest of the train painted red with gold trim. The "Red Bird" incorporated a unique pullman car intended to carry up to four patients in stretchers to the Mayo clinic in Rochester.

    The "Legionnaire" made its frist run on Janurary 16, 1925. This was an overnight train from Minneapolis / St. Paul through Rochester to Chicago. The "Legionnaire" consisted of standard equipment with pullman service. In 1930 it was re-named the "Minnesotan."

    The "Blue Bird" has been said to be the first of the streamlined trains. It consisted of three McKeen motor cars that were re-built in the Oelwein shops. They were painted blue with gold trim. The lead car was a 300 horse power gas-electric powered combine car re-numbered M-1000. This car was rebuilt in 1958 at Oelwein into a 41 ft. switcher, which spent the remaining years as the yard switcher in Winona, Minnesota. The second car was a trailer fitted out as a day coach. The third car was a combination parlor, club, lounge, buffet, and sleeper, complete with a porter.

    By 1921, there were eight passenger trains a day passing through Rochester on the WMP branch of the Chicago Great Western. Two each way between Rochester and Kansas City; Chicago, Dodge Center , Omaha and the Twin Cities. Pullman sleepers were available in Rochester for Chicago and Kansas City.

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    The Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad Company

    The first railroad company that had anything to do with the construction of the Mason City & Fort Dodge Railroad Company was the Iowa Pacific Railroad Company, incorporated in Iowa, October 25, 1870. The Iowa Pacific Railroad Company purchased right of way and built the grade for a railroad from Fayette Junction through Bremer, Butler and Franklin Counties to Belmond in Wright County, a distance of 94 miles. The ties and rails were also laid for about 13 miles. On June 23, 1875 the Iowa Pacific Railroad Company conveyed it's broken parcels of right of way and grading which lay between Belmond and Fort Dodge to J.F. Duncombe and the remainder of the property was sold to Platt, Smith and Company.

    On June 1, 1882, Duncombe and Platt, Smith and Company, conveyed all the property extending from Belmond to Ft. dodge to the Mason City & Fort Dodge Railroad Company. We do not understand that there was any railroad track on this property at that time.

    April 11, 1878, the Dubuque and Dakota Railroad Company incorporated, and acquired the unfinished railroad of the Iowa Pacific Railroad Company between Fayette Junction and Belmond, in 1878 and 1879 the railroad from Waverly to Hampton was completed. In 1880 the line between Sumner and Waverly was constructed. On January 19, 1887 the line from Sumner to Hampton was deeded to the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad Company. On April 18, 1905 the line from Waverly to Hampton became a part of the Mason City & Fort Dodge Railroad Company.

    The Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad was incorporated in Iowa, June 10, 1881 and organized June 14, 1881. It acquired from J.F. Duncombe and Platt, Smith and Company the right of way (as much as they held) from Belmond to Ft. Dodge on June 1, 1882 also the broken parcels of right of way owned by the Iowa and Minnesota Railroad Company between the same points. The purchased or acquired the remaining right of way necessary and built the line from Mason City to Fort Dodge, and from Fort Dodge to Lehigh in 1886. The also acquired on June 28, 1886, the property of the Fort Dodge Coal Company, including right of way and railroad extending from Carbon Junction, to Coalville (afterward abandoned.)

    The connection between Manly Junction and Mason City was constructed in 1901 and 1902. This was part of a plan to build from the Twin Cities to Omaha. Then came the larger expansion. The line from Fort Dodge to Council Bluffs, a distance of 132.91 miles was started in August 1901, completed November 1903 and put into operation January 1, 1904. In the meantime, the connection between Hampton and Clarion was built in 1902.

    In the meantime the Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad Company was incorporated June 13, 1902 for the purpose of holding title temporarily to the properties purchased from the Chicago Great Western Railway Company, which extended from Hampton to Waveryly and from Hayfield to Manly Junction. This company also constructed the connection between Oelwein and Waverly in 1902 and 1903. The conveyance of the Hayfield-Manly line and the Oelwein-Hamptom line, 118.31 miles, was made to the Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad Company on April 13, 1905.

    The Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad acquired the lands in Omaha and completed it's freight terminals there in 1903, 1904, and 1905. Construction of the extension from Oelwein to Waterloo, 26.49 miles, was completed in 1887.

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    Wisconsin Iowa and Nebraska Railway

    Construction of the Wisconsin Iowa and Nebraska Railway, (known as "The Old Diagonal") was begun in 1882 and completed in 1884. This line extended from Waterloo to East Des Moines, 104.23 miles, and from Cedar Falls Junction to Cedar Falls, 7.49 miles. In 1887, work was begun on the line from Des Moines to St. Joseph, Missouri, 159.10 miles, and completed in 1889.

    April 11, 1878, the Dubuque and Dakota Railroad Company incorporated, and acquired the unfinished railroad of the Iowa Pacific Railroad Company between Fayette Junction and Belmond, in 1878 and 1879 the railroad from Waverly to Hampton was completed. In 1880 the line between Sumner and Waverly was constructed. On January 19, 1887 the line from Sumner to Hampton was deeded to the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad Company. On April 18, 1905 the line from Waverly to Hampton became a part of the Mason City & Fort Dodge Railroad Company.

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    The Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railway

    The Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad was incorporated in Iowa, June 10, 1881 and organized June 14, 1881. It acquired from J.F. Duncombe and Platt, Smith and Company the right of way (as much as they held) from Belmond to Ft. Dodge on June 1, 1882 also the broken parcels of right of way owned by the Iowa and Minnesota Railroad Company between the same points. The purchased or acquired the remaining right of way necessary and built the line from Mason City to Fort Dodge, and from Fort Dodge to Lehigh in 1886. The also acquired on June 28, 1886, the property of the Fort Dodge Coal Company, including right of way and railroad extending from Carbon Junction, to Coalville (afterward abandoned.)

    With these projects in progress the Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railway was organized, and acquired by merger, the Wisconsin Iowa and Nebraska Railway in 1886. In 1887, these lines were further augmented by acquiring the Minnesota and Northwestern Railway.

    The connection between Manly Junction and Mason City was constructed in 1901 and 1902. This was part of a plan to build from the Twin Cities to Omaha. Then came the larger expansion. The line from Fort Dodge to Council Bluffs, a distance of 132.91 miles was started in August 1901, completed November 1903 and put into operation January 1, 1904. In the meantime, the connection between Hampton and Clarion was built in 1902.

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    1893 Acquisitions

    In 1893, the Chicago Great Western Railway Company (afterward called the "Maple Leaf" route) acquired the following:

    • Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railway and the following lines, to gain entrance to Kansas City, Missouri.
    • The City Terminal Railway Company with 9.90 miles of main and yard tracks between Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.
    • The Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad acquired the lands in Omaha and completed it's freight terminals there in 1903, 1904, and 1905.
    • The Leavenworth and St. Joseph Railway Company with 23 miles between Bee Creek Junction, Missouri and Beverly, Missouri constructed in 1890.


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    The Chicago Great Western Railroad Company

    The Chicago Great Western Railroad Company was organized August 11, 1909 for the sole purpose of acquiring the properties of the Chicago Great Western Railway Company (The name was later changed back to the Chicago Great Western Railway Company).

    The Chicago Great Western Railway Company served a most productive territory, the most fertile of it's size the world has ever seen. It lies in the heart of the North American continent and herein is the world's greatest food basket. It served directly the states of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and Nebraska. The Chicago Great Western Railway Company had terminals at Minneapolis, St. Paul, Omaha, Chicago, St. Joseph, Kansas City, and Des Moines. It was unusually well situated to serve the vast territory beyond it's rails. It touched such important cities as Dubuque, Waterloo, Marshalltown, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Mason City, Council Bluffs, Iowa, St. Joseph, Missouri, Leavenworth, Kansas, and Rochester, Minnesota.

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    HomeCopyright 1998,99 Tom Tolstead

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