The Chicago Great Western Railway, The Corn Belt Route

The Chicago Great Western Railway is one of the lesser-recognized fallen flags because of its small size and the fact that among most of the other granger roads it was a David among Goliaths. Altogether the railroad consisted of less than 1,500 miles of trackage serving Chicago and points northwest and southwest including St. Paul/Minneapolis, Omaha, and Kansas City. However, what the railroad lacked in size it more than made up for in customer service. Always the innovator the CGW was constantly looking to streamline operations and not only find new customers but also retain the ones it already served.   

Alas, however, the railroad would succumb to the economics of a region so overpopulated with railroad tracks that by the 1960s demand was no longer able to support supply and the CGW merged with the Chicago & North Western Railway in the late 1960s to save itself from a gloomy fate, such as what would happen with neighbor Rock Island roughly ten years later.  The CGW has its beginnings with the Minnesota & North Western, which began building south out of St. Paul, Minnesota in 1884. The rapidly expanding Chicago, St. Paul & Kansas City, would later acquire the M&NW in 1887, and from that point would begin expanding south, southwest and east connecting the cities of Omaha, Nebraska and Kansas City by the 1890s.   

Other Classic "Granger" Lines

The Milwaukee Road

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, "Everywhere West"

Chicago & North Western, "Route Of The '400'"

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, "Route Of The Rockets"

Illinois Central, "The Main Line Of Mid-America" 

The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, "The Katy"

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, "Ship It On The Frisco!" 

Chicago Great Western's Notable Passenger Trains

Blue Bird: (Twin Cities - Rochester)

Bob-O-Link: (Chicago - Rochester)

Great Western Limited: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Legionnaire: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Mills Cities Limited: (Kansas City - Twin Cities)

Minnesotan: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Nebraska Limited: (Twin Cities - Omaha)

Omaha Express: (Twin Cities - Omaha)

Omaha Limited: (Twin Cities - Omaha)

Rochester Special: (Twin Cities - Rochester)

Red Bird: (Twin Cities - Rochester)

Twin Cities Express: (Twin Cities - Omaha)

Twin Cities Limited: (Omaha - Twin Cities)

This was the decade the railroad would also be given its now-classic name, the Chicago Great Western when the CStP&KC was reorganized.  Like all granger roads the CGW first and foremost served the farmlands, the territory which it operated through and it did this successfully for over 70 years.  However, unlike many other railroads it did not embrace the streamliner concept and only kept a modest passenger train fleet before it finally gave up on the business altogether in the mid-1960s when competition from the highways and other railroads made the company realize that it was fruitless to continue the money-losing operation.

Prior to this, however, the railroad realized the mediocrity of the passenger business. As early as the 1920s it was looking for innovative and cheaper methods of carrying about its passenger operations, especially on light branch lines that made little, if any, revenue at all hauling people. It did this by purchasing a number of gas-electric motorcars, which were typically single car operations that were powered by conventional gasoline engines and could handle the job much more cheaply than a steam/diesel locomotive and coaches. 

Because of the railroad’s frugal attitude it was quick to adopt the diesel-electric concept and the efficiencies which could be gained from it. The Chicago Great Western so embraced diesels that it was one of the very first Class Is to entirely dieselize, completing the transformation prior to 1950, in 1949 (many railroads were still operating vast steam fleets at that time)! Another concept the railroad was famous for by means of cost savings, included very long freight trains, sometimes nearing 200 cars in length.  For the CGW’s small size the railroad interestingly had the future TOFC (Trailer-On-Flat-Car) innovation (also known as "piggyback") to its credit by being one of the first to pioneer the concept in the 1930s as a means to combat the ever-increasing truck traffic threat, especially when the new interstate highways were being constructed in the 1950s. 

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
NW216-31, 421948-194917
TR258A-66A, 58B-66B1948-194918
F3A101A-115A, 101C-115C, 150-1521947-194933
F3B101B-112B, 101D-104D1947-194916
F7B113B-116B, 108D-116D, 116E, 116F, 116G1949-195116

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
B-3 Through B-8Switcher0-6-0
C-8 Through C-14American4-4-0
D-1 Through D-4Mogul2-6-0
E-1 Through E-7Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
F-2 Through F-7bPrairie2-6-2
G-1 Through G-4Consolidation2-8-0
H-1, J-2 Through J-2sSwitcher0-8-0
K-1 Through K-6Pacific4-6-2
L-1 Through L-3Mikado2-8-2
M-1Santa Fe2-10-2
T-1 Through T-3Texas2-10-4

Despite the railroad’s attempt to remain as efficient as possible by the 1960s traffic was just drying up. It was not the only railroad suffering, however, as many of the granger roads were also facing traffic crises, as America’s Heartland region could simply no longer support so many railroads. The railroad had talked with many neighboring railroads over the years about possible mergers but none allowed for much in the way of savings. Eventually the CGW would find a partner in the way of the Chicago & North Western and the merger took place in 1968. While the merger with the C&NW signaled the end of the CGW the railroad likely had no other alternative as traffic was simply no longer able to support the railroad and it likely would have fallen into another bankruptcy. The CGW was certainly one of the more interesting granger roads that will forever be remembered for its innovation and commitment to not only itself but also the customers which it served.

Related Reading You May Enjoy

Share Your Thoughts

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below. Please note that while I strive to present the information as accurately as possible I am aware that there may be errors. If you have potential corrections the help is greatly appreciated.

Top Of Page

› Chicago Great Western