The Marquette's direct competitor was the Chicago & North Western's Minnesota "400" and both trains often ran neck and neck carrying similar levels of patronage and running nearly identical schedules. During this time it received some streamlining in the form of handed down equipment from the crack Hiawathas. The Marquette maintained its strong ridership through World War II but faced stiff competition via the automobile soon after the conflict was over. As a result the Milwaukee elected to truncate its schedule to a Madison-Chicago corridor during April of 1951. This also brought about a new name as the Varsity (and changed to #117 westbound and #118 eastbound) since the train served the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus. The westbound train would depart Chicago after 9 AM in the morning while the eastbound leg would leave Madison sometime around 5:30 PM in the evening.
(The below Varsity timetable is dated effective December 7, 1969.)
|Read Down Time/Leave (Train #117)
Time/Arrive (Train #118)
|9:30 AM (Dp)||0||Chicago, IL (Union Station)||8:45 PM (Ar)|
|9:52 AM||17||Glenview, IL||8:18 PM|
|10:27 AM||50||Fox Lake, IL||7:41 PM|
|10:54 AM||74||Walworth, WI||7:16 PM|
|F 11:11 AM||89||Avalon, WI|
|11:27 AM||99||Janesville, WI||6:42 PM|
|11:50 AM||115||Edgerton, WI||6:13 PM|
|12:04 PM||124||Stoughton, WI||6:02 PM|
|F 12:15 PM||133||McFarland, WI||F 5:52 PM|
|12:25 PM (Ar)||140||Madison, WI||5:45 PM (Dp)|
By the late 1940s diesels were already replacing steam in the form of
handed down power bumped to less glamorous assignments such as
Electro-Motive E6As, Alco DL-109s, and even Fairbanks Morse Erie-Builts
that had not proved their worth heading the premier transcontinental Olympian Hiawatha.
These were followed by FP7s, E7As, and E9s during the 1950s. In the
postwar era the train continued carrying a consist similar to its more prosperous days sporting coaches, an RPO/express car, and a rear Beaver Tail
parlor-observation from the original 1935 Twin Cities Hiawathas (the Beaver Tails survived only until the fall of 1951 when they were replaced by a parlor-diner and tap-diner). This consist normally sufficed through much of the year.
However, according to William Middleton's, "The Noon Milwaukee," from a 1975 issue of Rail Classics Magazine it sometimes carried a whopping 18 to 20 extra cars out of Chicago for Wisconsin University football games at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Operationally, the Varsity utilized one of the most unique stretches of line anywhere on the Milwaukee's system. At Madison the railroad crossed the Chicago & North Western at a diamond located within Lake Monona along its southwestern corner near the downtown area. The location was protected by MX Tower (or Monona Tower) and offered a fascinating look at railroad engineering tackling a difficult geographical problem. Until the mid-1960s the Varsity remained a relatively unchanged train.
In the spring of 1964 its parlor-diner was downgraded to a tap-grill car
although later that year received a Super Dome from the canceled Olympian Hiawatha.
By then the train was experiencing rapidly declining patronage in the
wake of new interstate construction such as I-90 and the Illinois
Turnpike. With the completion of these freeways Mr. Middleton notes in his article that one could drive, or take a bus, faster to Chicago than by train. In the spring of 1965 the Varsity carried services no greater than the diminutive coach and when the U.S. mail contracts were canceled in 1967 the Milwaukee Road had no further incentive to continue the train. It had only partial success in this regard when the Interstate Commerce Commission granted permission to reduce service to weekend/holiday running. The train limped along mostly empty for the last few years until Amtrak took over intercity operations on May 1, 1971.
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