By this point the C&NW and G&CU were interchange partners making them logical merger partners. Toward the end of the Civil War, Ogden eyed such a union, which was approved in 1865. The new C&NW became an instant 850+ mile system and one of the Midwest's most important. Ogden remained with the company until the summer of 1868. His phenomenal success had been largely due to quick thinking and an understanding that surrounding competitors like the future Milwaukee Road, Burlington, and Rock Island, would render his road obsolete, or merely a secondary operation, if he was not constantly expanding. He envisioned the C&NW as a major player and so, too, did his successors as the company continued its march across the Midwest. There were countless small companies gobbled up during the latter 19th century; names like the Chicago & Milwaukee, Winona & St. Peter, Iowa Midland Railway, and North Western Union Railway. There were even a handful of narrow-gauge operations such as the Crooked Creek Railway & Coal Company; Covington, Columbus & Black Hills Railroad (3-foot, 6-inch); Galena & Southern Wisconsin; and Chicago & Tomah. Many of these systems comprised its numerous secondary branches that a century later were an unwanted, money-losing nuisance. However, during a time when almost everything moved by rail they helped make the C&NW a prosperous carrier.
By 1880 the railroad maintained a 2,500-mile network and just a decade later blossomed into a 4,2000-mile behemoth. Two of the C&NW's most noteworthy acquisitions occurred during the final years of expansion; the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway ("The Omaha Road") and Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad. Historian, H. Roger Grant, offers an excellent background of the CStPM&O in his book, "Minnesota's Good Railroad: The Omaha Road." The system was formed in 1880/1881 when a group which controlled the North Wisconsin Railway, West Wisconsin Railway, and St. Paul & Sioux City Railroad merged the trio into the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha. Within a year of this transaction the C&NW gained stock control during November of 1882. The CStPM&O provided the North Western its main line from Chicago to the Twin Cities, connection to the ore docks at Duluth/Superior, a secondary route into Omaha, and a link to Sioux City, Iowa. At its peak, just prior to World War I, the Omaha Road boasted a 1,700-mile network. Interestingly, it remained a C&NW subsidiary until 1972.
Into The 20th Century
You can read much more about the FE&MV in the inset above entitled, "A History Of The Fabled 'Cowboy Line'." The railroad, formed in 1869, was acquired by the C&NW in 1884. It began a westward expansion that had reached western Wyoming at Lander by 1906. The North Western intended to reach the west coast but never reached beyond Lander. The railroad at this time was essentially in place maintaining a network of 7,450 miles that reached Chicago, Omaha, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Duluth/Superior, Rapid City, and across Wyoming. It would not see further growth until the post-World War II period witnessed a flurry of additional takeovers. As the below, 1969 map attests the North Western's spaghetti-like system was so thick in the state's of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that in some areas different branch lines were not separated by more than ten or twenty miles! As growth slowed the focus turned to upgrading the property; by 1902 the Council Bluffs-Chicago main line was double-tracked, signaling systems put into place, bridges rebuilt, and the infrastructure overhauled to support heavier and longer trains. Later, in 1929 it opened the massive Proviso Yard located in western Chicago which at the time was largest terminal of its type in the country.
The Great Depression, which hit the nation hard following the October 29, 1929 stock market crash was extremely taxing on the C&NW. It was not alone as most other carriers had felt the sharp business declines within a few years. The North Western fell into bankruptcy on January 27, 1935 and would not emerge until the great surge of traffic brought about by World War II, finally exiting from receivership on June 1, 1944. For the general public the railroad's most noteworthy change during the 1930's was the introduction of flashy, colorful, and fast streamliners. The C&NW, whether interested or not, was nevertheless caught up in the nationwide fervor. Union Pacific unveiled the first-ever such trainset in February of 1934 and wanted to launch a transcontinental service to Chicago and the two roads had long worked together between Omaha and the Windy City. In addition, the Burlington and Milwaukee Road were both gearing up for their own streamliners in the hotly contested Chicago-Twin Cities corridor. Following the CB&Q's debut of its Zephyr trainset in April of 1934 the railroad introduced regular streamlined service between the Twin Cities and Chicago in April of 1935. The very next month the Milwaukee unveiled its legendary Hiawatha along the same corridor.
The North Western, in effort to keep up began upgrading its main line for high-speed service and made preparations for its own train. Called the '400,' as Mike Schafer notes in his book, "Classic American Railroads," its naming has an interesting backstory; the C&NW's Chicago-Twin Cities corridor was roughly 400 miles and the new service was scheduled to make the run in around 400 minutes. The only catch, it was not streamlined; due in part to its ongoing financial situation the railroad had to utilize a quartet of overhauled (non-shrouded) 4-6-2's (E-2a). To increase their speed the Pacific's were rebuilt to burn oil instead of coal, given larger driving wheels, and bigger tenders among other upgrades. In addition, heavyweight cars were likewise upgraded with improved suspensions and other perks. The '400' officially launched on January 2, 1935 and ultimately proved successful enough that new streamlined equipment and sleek Electro-Motive E3's were acquired in 1939. Eventually, an entire fleet of '400's' were unveiled across the Midwest. However, they were actually not the railroad's official introduction to streamliners. Union Pacific wasted no time in launching its own transcontinental service and trainsets from Electro-Motive/Pullman it had ordered began arriving as early as June of 1935. More conventional lightweight equipment followed through 1940's.
The Postwar Years And Expansion
The arrival of new diesels continued steadily until steam had been retired completely by 1956. Unfortunately, the postwar years began a long slide for the railroad. Its revenue ton-miles dropped by 1 billion in just seven years between 1946 and 1953 and with an overbuilt network that totaled more than 9,400 miles deferred maintenance was carried out in an attempt to cut costs. Employing such a tactic is never a sound, long-term business strategy. In short increments it can work but if carried out over many years will wind up costing more money than it saves due to increased derailments and slower running times. The railroad's declining physical plant caused Union Pacific to switch its Chicago connection for passenger services to the Milwaukee Road, effective October 30, 1955. In 1963 the C&NW discontinued its Twin Cities '400' and the '400' name had disappeared entirely y 1969. As bad as things were by 1956, when the railroad reported losses of more than $5 million, new management did help improve the situation under new president Ben Heineman. In just two years the railroad was again showing a profit although the heavy concentration of light density branches persisted.
For Heineman's successes he had little affect on reducing the secondary trackage. The problem was not entirely within his control. Prior to deregulation it was nearly impossible for railroads to successfully petition the Interstate Commerce Commission in abandoning excess capacity. However, in a way Heineman magnified the issue by acquiring a series of smaller systems beginning with the Litchfield & Madison in 1958. This small, 44-mile pike was actually a good investment providing the C&NW direct access into St. Louis. But in 1960 it acquired the nearly 1,400-mile Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway. The Peoria Gateway was essentially just a small granger, connecting Peoria with the Twin Cities, parts of Iowa, and stretching into South Dakota. Later that decade, in 1968, it picked up a road of about the same size, the Chicago Great Western. The Corn Belt Route was also a granger but did connect more noteworthy markets including the Twin Cities, Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City. That same year it also added a former interurban, the 110-mile Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern ("The Fort Dodge Line"), as well as the 36-mile Des Moines & Central Iowa Railway. With these many takeovers the C&NW ballooned into a 11,500+ mile network. Many have questioned the strategic nature of these moves; the railroad sold or abandoned much of each system afterwards and only the L&M and Great Western offered markets the railroad did not already serve (St. Louis and Kansas City).
The "Alco Line"
During the diesel era, Chicago & North Western's propensity to maintain first-generation models long after most others had retired theirs earned it the less-than-flattering title, "Cheap And Nothing Wasted." However, there was a method behind this madness. Not only was the C&NW able to extend the service lives of these locomotives, particularly Electro-Motive units, but the railroad also generally assigned blocks of the same builder's models to various divisions or regions. This insured that, while the mechanics and crews may not have always liked them (U30C's, for instance, were loathed), maintenance would be streamlined. For those who love Alco's, the secondary main line from Winona, Minnesota to Rapid City, South Dakota was the place to be in the 1970's. The so-called "Alco Line" was a paradise of Schenectady splendor; burbling, belching models like the RS11, RS3, RSD4, RSD5, C425, RS36, and others were a common sight here. Adding to their charm was their greasy, grimy appearance and the bucolic Midwestern settings in which they operated. Alas, the road eventually retired their Alco's and the "Huron Main" totaling 826 miles, including branches, was sold to new startup Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern in 1986.
The Final Years
The 1960's also began focused discussions with the transcontinental Milwaukee Road concerning merger. The two had talked about the subject since the 1930's but had never seriously considered the proposition before that time. Ultimately, the latest talks ended once more without the two roads went their separate ways. The 1970's proved the beginning of a new era for the North Western. Many railroads then were creating holding companies under which the actual railroad, ironically, became a subsidiary. The point was to boast earnings by acquiring companies in other markets/industries and in the process escape ICC oversight. For the C&NW it became a division of Northwest Industries. Before long, NWI wanted out of the high cost/low profit and general cyclic nature of the railroad business. A plan was then hatched to have C&NW employees themselves own the company. On Jun 1, 1972 the Chicago & North Western Transportation Company was born and acquired the railroad's assets. It then began a campaign of selling or abandoning thousands of miles of light density lines, increase earnings, and find a way to lower the phenomenally high operating ratio which hovered at around 90%. The company also upgraded its most important routes and worked to enter Wyoming's growing Powder River Basin coal seams. As the above, inset article notes the C&NW's own Cowboy Line lay directly within the heart of this lucrative natural resource. However, the corridor had been so badly neglected over the years and could never handle the required tonnage. To sidestep the needed millions in property upgrading the trackage the C&NW worked with Union Pacific to build a new connector from the UP to western end of the Cowboy Line. As coal became an increasingly important business model the roads worked ever-closer together.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
|S2||1003-1015, 1025-1035, 1083-1092||1942-1950||34|
|S1||1200-1205, 1213, 1223-1229, 1232-1236, 1247-1258||1941-1948||31|
|RS3||1551-1555, 1613-1618, 1621-1624||1951-1953||15|
The Baldwin Locomotive Works
|S12||1073-1076, 1106-1109, 1117-1121, 1126-1128||1951-1954||16|
The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division
|E6A||LA4, SF4, 5005A-5006A, 5005B-5006B||1941||6|
|SW1||55, 1207-1212,1214-1215, 1268-1279||1940-1953||21|
|GP7||151-161, 1518-1550, 1556-1559, 1562-1603, 1625-1659||1949-1953||123|
|E7A||907A, 927A, 5008A-5020A, 5007B-5019B||1945-1949||28|
|TR2||2000A-2001A, 2000B-2001B (Calfs)||1949||4|
|F3A||4051C-4055C, 4055A-4066A, 4056C-4066C||1947||28|
|F7A||4067A-4102A, 4067C-4102C, 6500A-6505A, 6500C-6505C||1949-1950||84|
|E8A||5019B, 5021A-5031A, 5021B-5030B ||1950-1953||23|
|H10-44||1036, 1048-1065, 1070, 1082||1944-1950||21|
|H16-66 (Baby Trainmaster)||1510-1514, 1605-1612, 1668-1683, 1691-1700, 1901-1906||1951-1956||45|
|Erie Built||6001A-6002A, 6001B-6002B||1947||4|
Steam Locomotive Roster
|A Through A-5||American||4-4-0|
|B Through B-4||American||4-4-0|
|C Through C-6||American||4-4-0|
|D-1 Through D-1b||American||4-4-0|
|D-12 Through D-14||Ten-Wheeler||4-6-0|
|E Through E-2||Pacific||4-6-2|
|K Through K-5||Switcher||0-6-0, 0-4-0|
|M Through M-4||Switcher||0-6-0, 0-8-0|
|Q, R, S (Various)||Ten-Wheeler||4-6-0|
In the meantime the C&NW continued shedding hundreds of miles through the early 1990's at which time, according to Michael Blaszak's article, "Chicago & North Western: Evolution Of A Survivor," from the April, 1994 issue of Trains Magazine, it maintained a network of just 4,323 route miles. In a move not surprising to many, Union Pacific acquired control of the Chicago & North Western during April of 1995. The end of the North Western closed the book on one of America's most fascinating railroads, the classic granger. While one can still witness railroads serving the Heartland's agriculture industry names like the Milwaukee Road, Burlington, Rock Island, and Chicago & North Western have all disappeared through either merger, liquidation, or buyout. Today, C&NW's key routes continue to serve as important arteries under the UP banner, especially its Powder River coal basin line. Union Pacific also recently paid homage to its predecessor by painting one of its new EMD SD70ACe locomotives into a version of the railroad’s famous green and yellow company livery, given number 1995 after the year the railroad was acquired.
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Chicago & North Western