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.
A parade of covered wagons led by F3A #107-A pull their freight train through Elmhurst, Illinois on June 26, 1966.
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.
GP7 #121 and its trailing caboose await their next assignment sitting at the siding in Ingalton, Illinois during the fall of 1966.
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.
The CGW mostly stuck with Electro-Motive diesels but occasionally purchased from other builders, such as Baldwin. Seen here is one of its ten DS-4-4-1000 switchers, #41, kicking cars around the yard at Saint Paul, Minnesota on June 2, 1964.
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. For more reading about the history of the CGW please click here.
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. For further reading about the railroad please click here.
A manufacturer's photo of new Chicago Great Western covered wagons featuring F7A #156 and what appears to be an F3B at Electro-Motive's plant in Illinois circa 1949.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
The Baldwin Locomotive Works
The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division
101A-115A, 101C-115C, 150-152
113B-116B, 108D-116D, 116E, 116F, 116G
CGW Class E7 4-6-0 #509 speeds out of St. Paul with a passenger train on August 31, 1946.
F3A #111-A rests in the yard at St. Paul with TR2A #61 on June 2, 1964.
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.