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CGW's Legionnaire


Last revised: May 8, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The Legionnaire, originally known as the Great Western Limited, was Chicago Great Western's top service on its primary main line between the Windy City and Twin Cities. 

At one time the fabled Corn Belt Route offered a bevy of passenger services in the Midwest which rivaled that of its neighboring competitors such as the Milwaukee Road, Burlington, and Chicago & North Western. 

However, the CGW was also quick to recognize its disadvantages in the market as well as the public's shift to automobiles and airlines. 

As a result the Legionnaire, which was later renamed as the Minnesotan, saw its services cutback in the postwar years.  It eventually became a nameless train that was finally canceled in the 1950s.

One of the CGW's longest running notable passenger trains was the Great Western Limited, inaugurated during 1898.  It ran on an overnight, limited-stop schedule between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul via Oelwein, Iowa. 

According to the company's 1906 timetable northbound #1 departed Chicago's Grand Central Station at 6:30 PM and arrived at the Twin Cities just under 14 hours later at 8:00 AM. 

Conversely, southbound #2 left Minneapolis at 8:00 PM and arrived in the Windy City the next morning at 8:45 AM.  Such a schedule made the Limited convenient for those on business with arrivals and departures coinciding with the end and beginning of workdays. 

Additionally, fine accommodations such as diners, parlors, lounges, and sleepers also made the train appealing.

The Limited was powered by CGW's fleet of Class K 4-6-2s, the first of which went into service in 1910. 

The Pacifics would prove the mainstay for the company's passenger operations until diesels began arriving after World War II. 

Beginning in 1924 the train was reequipped with heavyweight, steel cars and a new Pacific that carried a semi-streamlined appearance that evoked thoughts of a English designs. 

The accommodations then offered, according to H. Roger Grant's book, "The Corn Belt Route," included open-section sleepers, a club car, diner, coaches, and an observation-lounge. 

Around that time the railroad held a contest to rename the Great Western Limited, predominantly as a means of showcasing new passenger equipment (train naming contests during those days was actually quite common).

The eventual winner was the Legionnaire, which the railroad stated would "honor the millions of men who brought glorious victory to our colors in the late World War." 

The CGW also operated a number of other notable trains such as:

  • The opulent Red Bird between the Twin Cities and Rochester (which even boasted semi-streamlining and a unique red livery)

  • Mills Cities Limited (Kansas City - Twin Cities)

  •  Bob-O-Link (Chicago - Rochester) among others

However, the Great Depression years of the 1930s, which began with the stock market crash during October 1929, hit the CGW hard, particularly its passenger operations. 

Since the railroad was only regional in nature with main lines a few hundred miles in length it did not provide any lucrative long-distance services.  It also operated in a region already well covered by competing roads.

(The below Great Western Limited timetable is dated effective 1909.)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #1)
Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #2)
6:30 PM (Dp)0
Chicago, IL (Grand Central Station) (CT)
8:45 AM (Ar)
St. Charles, IL
7:40 AM
8:00 PM52
Sycamore, IL
7:10 AM
8:50 PM83
Byron, IL
6:18 AM
9:17 PM102
South Freeport, IL
5:48 AM
9:58 PM126
Stockton, IL
5:17 AM
11:20 PM167
Dubuque, IA
4:00 AM
12:20 AM197
Dyersville, IA
2:59 AM
1:45 AM240
Oelwein, IA
2:00 AM
2:13 AM256
Sumner, IA
1:25 AM
2:46 AM274
New Hampton, IA
12:54 AM
3:15 AM289
Elma, IA
12:28 AM
3:33 AM299
Riceville, IA
12:10 AM
F 3:45 AM305
McIntire, IA
12:01 AM
4:55 AM339
Hayfield, MN
11:07 PM
5:11 AM348
Dodge Center, MN
10:45 PM
5:46 AM367
Kenyon, MN
10:14 PM
6:21 AM388
Randolph, MN
9:39 PM
7:20 AM420
St. Paul, MN
8:35 PM
8:00 AM (Ar)430
Minneapolis, MN (CT)
8:00 PM (Dp)

With patronage dying the CGW spent much of the 1930s focused on growing its freight business;

  • Implementing the first-ever trailer-on-flat-car (piggyback) service in the summer of 1935.

  • Tailored efforts towards expanding its agriculture business.

  • Tested newfangled welded rail on a section of main line through Iowa in 1938.

Alas, however, the decade was largely wrought with mismanagement.

By 1936, the long, lean years of the depression forced the road into bankruptcy, where it stayed until early 1941 when it was reorganized as the Chicago Great Western Railway Company; later that year traffic surged, brought on by World War II. 

Passenger services were severely cutback and only a few named trains survived to see the 1940s.  The Legionnaire's name was changed to simply the Minnesotan

Interestingly, the CGW never seriously considered delving into the world of streamlining that hit the nation in the 1930s despite fielding equipment that certainly looked the part as early as the 1920s. 

The closest the road ever came was its acquisition of new Electro-Motive F3s beginning in 1947 (and later F7s) that wore a gorgeous livery of maroon and red with yellow pinstriping. 

It also repainted much of its passenger equipment into this scheme.  At that time the Minnesotan offered accommodations that included only coaches, a club-lounge, and a single Pullman sleeper to Rochester along with considerable head-end mail/express. 

After World War II more cutbacks came to CGW's passenger fleet and the Minnesotan lost its name, becoming merely #1-23 northbound and #24-2 southbound.


Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives. 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!