The Wabash Railroad, Follow The Flag


While the Wabash Railroad was never a large carrier its legendary status far surpasses its size. The system was a Midwestern carrier connecting Buffalo, New York with cities such as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Omaha. At its peak it was only a little over 2,000 miles in length but its bridge line status, markets served, and high speed freight service made it a quite successful railroad, especially during its latter years. Eventually the Wabash was swept up in the merger mania beginning in the late 1950s and after a long stint of Pennsylvania Railroad ownership it eventually became part of the sprawling Norfolk & Western system in the 1960s.  Today, many of the railroad's principal main lines remain in use.

GP7 #475 wears the road's classic livery of two-tone grey and blue sporting the flag herald as it pulls a single caboose through the yard at Springfield, Illinois on August 15, 1965.

The Wabash Railroad had its beginnings dating all of the way back to the early 1830s when in 1834 when the Northern Cross Railroad was chartered to connect the towns of Danville and Quincy. The railroad itself never completed its original main line (only reaching Springfield) and was sold in 1847 being first renamed the Sangamon & Morgan Railroad and later in 1853 its name changed again to the Great Western Railroad. The railroad would finally reach Danville in late 1856, over 20 years after it was originally chartered.

Of course, the Great Western was not the only component of the historical Wabash. Two other railroads would also make up the railroad, which included the Toledo, Wabash & Western Railway and Toledo & Illinois. The TW&W was actually a merged railroad of two lines, the Toledo & Illinois and Lake Erie, Wabash & St. Louis, with the T&I building to connect Toledo with the Illinois/Ohio border and the LEW&StL building to connect Attica, Indiana with the Great Western. In 1856 the T&I and LEW&StL merged to form the TW&W and soon after included the Great Western. After the TW&W fell into receivership in the 1870s it emerged in 1877 as the Wabash Railway Company.

The final component of the classic Wabash included the North Missouri Railroad, which was chartered in 1851 to connect St. Louis with points west, eventually reaching Kansas City in the early 1870s. Unfortunately costs of construction were a heavy strain on the railroad and it fell into receivership being reorganized as the St. Louis, Kansas City & Northern in 1872. It was also during the 1870s that the system's future would come to be shaped by famed (or perhaps notorious, depending on your point of view) rail baron Jay Gould. Attempting to create a true transcontinental railroad, and already controlling the Union Pacific at the time, Gould gained a majority interest in both the Wabash and StLKC&N seeing both as the Midwestern link to his future “shore to shore” system, and renaming the new railroad the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific.

By the early 1880s Gould had built the Wabash into a formidable Midwestern system by reaching Chicago and Detroit with route miles surging to over 3,500. Alas, however, this is where Gould’s dream began to die. In 1884 the railroad was out of cash and fell into bankruptcy and Gould eventually lost all control of the company. While the railroad’s former lines began to be auctioned off a group of investors and shippers managed, in 1888, to hold together much of the original Wabash system and reorganizing it as the Wabash Railroad Company in the spring of 1889 (and which would become a recurring theme throughout the early 20th century).

By the 20th century the railroad began to rebound by improving operations and building new, more efficient, connections to a number of markets it already served. However, another setback occurred when the railroad was again reorganized in 1915 as the Wabash Railway. This reorganization was another result of a grand dream to build a true transcontinental, this time by Gould’s son, George, who attempted, and failed, to add the Wheeling & Lake Erie and Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway to the Wabash as part of his transcontinental plan (much of this failure was the result of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s opposition to the company’s entrance into Pittsburgh).

SW9 #368 pulls switching duties at the Kedzie and 79th Street yard in Chicago on April 9, 1965.

The company never had an extensive passenger fleet although it did provide high-quality service with names like the Banner Blue Limited and Midnight Special. Most legendary, however, was the Wabash Cannon Ball, which operated between Detroit and St. Louis. The train's status was so popular with the general public that it survived right up until Amtrak in 1971 after the N&W attempted to discontinue it in the 1960s!   Following its latest grand dreams going awry and the Great Depression, which found the railroad once again (and for a final time) reorganized as the Wabash Railroad Company, the system became known as a high-speed Midwestern rail artery with a highly diversified traffic base ranging from auto parts to produce, a trait that many continue to remember it for even today.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
C424B900-B90619647
HH-660100, 1501939-19402
S1151-1591941-19489
S2310-3211942-194912
S4322-32419533
C4251000-1006 (Became N&W property before delivery.)19647
PA-11020-1021, 1020A-1021A19494
FA-11200-1204, 1200A-1204A194910
FB-11200B-1204B19495

The Baldwin Locomotive Works/Lima Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-66020019411
DS-4-4-660201-20219472
VO-1000300-3031942-19464
DS-4-4-100030419491
S12305-3091952-19535
LS-1200401-411195011

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
SW1101-103, 105-1111939-194910
SW8120-121, 125-126, 128-1321950-19539
NW2350-3521946-19493
SW7355-36219508
SW9363-3741951-195312
SW1200375-3791954-19575
GP7450-4831950-195334
GP9484-4951954-195612
GP35540-54719648
E7A1000 (First), 1001-1001A, 10021946-19494
E8A1000 (Second), 1003-10151949-195314
F7A1100-1108, 1100A-1108A, 1140-1154, 1140A-1154A, 1165-1188, 1165A-1188A1949-195396
F7B1100B-1108B1949-19509
F9A1141A19591

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H10-44380-3831946-19494
H12-44384-38619533
H24-66 (Train Master)550-557, 600-6081954-195617

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
43-Tonner5119391
U25B500-514196215

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
A (Various)Switcher0-4-0/T
B-2 Through B-8Switcher0-6-0
C (Various)Switcher0-8-0
D (Various)American4-4-0
E1 Through E4Atlantic4-4-2
F-1 Through F-7Mogul2-6-0
G-1/sPrairie2-6-2
H (Various)Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
I-1 Through I-6Consolidation2-8-0
J-1/s, J-2Pacific4-6-2
K-1 Through K-5Mikado2-8-2
L-1Santa Fe2-10-2
M-1Mountain4-8-2
O-1Northern4-8-4
P-1Hudson4-6-4

Notable Passenger Trains

Banner Blue: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Blue Bird:  (Chicago - St. Louis)

City of Kansas City: (St. Louis - Kansas City)

City of St. Louis: (St. Louis - Denver - Cheyenne - Los Angeles)

Des Moines Limited: (St. Louis - Des Moines)

Detroit Arrow: (Chicago - Detroit)

Detroit Limited: (St. Louis - Detroit)

Kansas City Express: (St. Louis - Kansas City)

Midnight Limited: (St. Louis - Kansas City)

Omaha Limited: (St. Louis - Omaha)

Pacific Coast Special: (St. Louis - Pacific Coast)

Red Bird: (Chicago - Detroit)

St. Louis Limited: (Detroit - St. Louis)

St. Louis Limited: (Des Moines/Omaha - St. Louis)

St. Louis Special: (Kansas City - St. Louis)

The Midnight: (Chicago - St. Louis)

"Wabash Cannon Ball": (St. Louis - Detroit)



Two cabooses, #2720 and #2772, sit at the 75th and Western Street yard in Chicago on April 9, 1965.

During the mid-20th century, the company was under PRR control for over 30 years beginning in 1932. However, the Pennsy was ordered to relinquish its majority stock ownership in the 1960s when it planned to merge with the New York Central. With the Norfolk & Western and Nickel Plate already in serious merger discussions it was decided to allow the Wabash to be included with the N&W and NKP. In 1964 the Wabash and Nickel Plate became new divisions of the N&W and the Wabash-controlled Ann Arbor Railroad was handed over to the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton. Today the railroad continues to live as its former main lines remain an important artery for operator Norfolk Southern.

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