Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad - The Milwaukee Road
The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (often referred to as the Milwaukee Road) (reporting mark MILW), was a Class I railroad that operated in the Midwest and Northwest of the United States from 1847 until 1980, when its Pacific Extension was embargoed through the states of Montana, Idaho, and Washington. The eastern half of the system merged into the Soo Line Railroad on January 1, 1986. The company went through several official names and faced bankruptcy several times in that period. The railroad no longer exists as a separate entity, but much of its trackage continues to be used by its successor and other roads, and is commemorated in buildings like the historic Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis, Minnesota and in railroad hardware still maintained by railfans, such as the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive.
At the end of 1970 it operated 10,448 miles of road on 15,295 miles of track, not including subsidiary Washington Idaho & Montana. That year it carried 17,510 million ton-miles of revenue freight and 267 million passenger-miles.
The Milwaukee Road appeared as the Milwaukee and Waukesha Railroad when incorporated in 1847, but soon changed its name to Milwaukee and Mississippi. After three years, the first train ran from Milwaukee to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and the first passenger train ran on February 25, 1851. As a result of the financial panic of 1857, the M&M went into receivership in 1859, and was purchased by the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien in 1861. In 1867, Alexander Mitchell combined the M&PdC with the Milwaukee and St. Paul (formerly the LaCrosse and Milwaukee) under the name Milwaukee and St. Paul. Critical to the development and financing of the railroad was the acquisition of significant land grants. Prominent individual investors in the line included Alexander Mitchell, Russell Sage, Jeremiah Milbank and William Rockefeller. In 1874, the name was changed to Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul. By 1887, the railroad had lines running through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The corporate headquarters were moved from Milwaukee to the Rand McNally Building in Chicago, America's first all-steel framed skyscraper, in 1889 and 1890, with the car and locomotive shops staying in Milwaukee. The company General Offices were later located in Chicago's Railway Exchange building (built 1904) until 1924, at which time they moved to Chicago Union Station.
In the 1890s the Milwaukee's directors felt they had to extend the railroad to the Pacific in order to remain competitive with other roads. A survey in 1901 estimated costs to build to the Pacific Northwest as $45 million (equal to $1,275,660,000 today). In 1905 the board approved the Pacific Extension, now estimated at $60 million, equal to $1,574,888,889 today. The contract for the western part of the route was awarded to Horace Chapin Henry of Seattle. Construction began in 1906 and was completed in 1909. The route chosen was 18 miles shorter than the shortest competitor's, as well as better grades than some, but it was an expensive route, since the Milwaukee received few land grants and had to buy most of the land or acquire smaller railroads. The two main mountain ranges that had to be crossed (the Rockies and the Cascades) required major civil engineering works and additional locomotive power. The completion of 2,300 miles of railroad through some of the most varied topography in the nation in only three years was a major feat. Original company maps denote five mountain crossings: Belts, Rockies, Bitterroots, Saddles and Cascades. These are slight misnomers as the Belt Mountains and Bitterroots are part of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, the route did not cross over the Little Belts or Big Belts but over the Lenep-Loweth Ridge between the Castle Mountains and the Crazy Mountains.
Some historians question the choice of route, since it bypassed some population centers and passed through areas with limited local traffic potential. Much of the line paralleled the Northern Pacific Railway. It was primarily a long-haul route.
A Milwaukee Road Slideshow. Color photos by Roger Puta.
A Milwaukee Road "Little Joe" electric locomotive. Library of Congress
A set of modern EMD FT Diesel locomotives, circa 1945. Minneapolis Tribune
Passenger train service
The Milwaukee Road aggressively marketed passenger service through much of its history, maintaining a high quality of service until the end of private intercity passenger operations in 1971. The Milwaukee prided itself on its passenger operations, providing the nation with some of its most innovative and colorful trains. The railroad's home-built equipment was among some of the best passenger equipment ever run on any American railroad. The Milwaukee's reputation for high quality service was indeed a factor when UP shifted its service to the Milwaukee Road for its "City" streamliners in 1955.
The Milwaukee Road's Pioneer Limited was one of the first named trains and its colorful Hiawatha trains were among the nation's finest streamliners. The post-World War II Hiawatha trains remain a high-water mark for passenger train industrial design.
Starting in November 1955 the Milwaukee Road assumed joint operation of the Union Pacific's City of Los Angeles, City of Portland, City of Denver, and Challenger trains as well as the UP/Southern Pacific City of San Francisco. After assuming operation of the UP's services, the Milwaukee Road gradually dropped its orange and maroon paint scheme in favor of UP's Armour yellow, grey, and red, finding the latter easier to keep clean.
The Milwaukee Road's streamlined passenger services were unique in that most of its equipment was built by the railroad at its Milwaukee Menomonee Valley shops including the four generations of Hiawatha equipment introduced in 1933-34, 1935, 1937–38, and 1947-48. Most striking were the "Beaver Tail" observation cars of the 1930s and the "Skytop Lounge" observation cars by industrial designer Brooks Stevens in the 1940s. Extended "Skytop Lounge" cars were also ordered from Pullman for Olympian Hiawatha service in 1951. The Olympian Hiawatha set, as well as some full-length "Super Domes" were later sold to the Canadian National Railway.
Relative success followed the war. The railroad dieselized in the mid-1950s, replacing most steam locomotives by 1955 and retiring the last in 1957. The railroad also began modernizing freight yards and other facilities. In association with the Union Pacific Railroad, the Milwaukee took over operations of the "Cities" – the City of Los Angeles, the City of San Francisco, the City of Denver, the City of Portland, as well as the all-coach Challenger from the Chicago and North Western Railway.
The whole railroad industry found itself in decline in the late 1950s and the 1960s, but the Milwaukee was hit particularly hard. The Midwest was overbuilt with too many competing roads, while the competition on the transcontinental routes to the Pacific was extremely tough as well. The premier transcontinental streamliner, the Olympian Hiawatha, despite the innovative scenic observation cars, was cancelled in 1961, becoming the first visible casualty. The resignation of President John P. Kiley in 1957 and his replacement with the fairly inexperienced William John Quinn was a pivotal moment; from that point onward, the road's management was fixated on merger with another railroad as the solution to the Milwaukee's problems.
Railroad mergers had to be approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission, however, and in 1969 the ICC effectively blocked the merger with the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) that the Milwaukee Road had counted on and had been planning for since 1964. The ICC asked for terms that the C&NW was not willing to agree to. The merger of the "Hill Lines"—the Northern Pacific, the Great Northern, and the Burlington Route, as well as the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway was approved at around the same time, and the merged Burlington Northern came into being on March 3, 1970, completely surrounding the Milwaukee Road.
Almost immediately after the BN merger, the owners of the C&NW offered to sell the railroad to the Milwaukee outright. The Milwaukee board rejected the offer, even though it would have given them what they had wanted throughout most of the previous decade, stating that they now believed only merger with a larger system — not a slightly smaller one — could save the railroad. Almost immediately, the road filed with the ICC to be included in the Union Pacific merger with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Nothing came of this, nor other attempts to force the Milwaukee into other mergers against the desires of the other participants.
Fortunately for the Milwaukee, the BN merger required opening more markets to competitors, and in 1971-73, the MILW's traffic on its Pacific Extension increased substantially, although the reverse was true on its Midwest lines. The railroad's foothold on transcontinental traffic leaving the Port of Seattle increased so exponentially that the Milwaukee Road held a staggering advantage over BN carrying nearly 80% of the originating traffic along with 50% of the total container traffic leaving the Puget Sound (prior to severe service declines after roughly 1974). The deferred maintenance on the railroad's physical plant, however, which had been building up all through the 1960s as the road attempted to polish its financial appearance for merger, was beginning to cause problems. The road's financial problems were exacerbated by their practice of improving its earnings during that period by selling off its wholly owned cars to financial institutions and leasing them back. The lease charges became steeper and steeper, and more and more cars needed to be sold off in order to pay for the lease payments. The railroad's fleet of cars was becoming older and older because more money was being spent on finance payments for the old cars than on buying new ones. This, in turn, contributed to car shortages that turned away business.
In February 1973, against the advice of studies conducted by both the railroad and independent groups, the Milwaukee decided to scrap its electrification scheme. The board of directors considered the electrification scheme an impediment to its merger and consolidation plans, and that the money required to maintain it would be better spent elsewhere. The high copper prices of the time, and the $10 million the railroad estimated it would get for selling off the overhead copper wire (equal to $53,125,937 today), contributed to the decision.
The surveys had found that an investment of $39 million (equal to $207,000,000 today) could have closed the "gap" between the two electrified districts, bought new locomotives, and upgraded the electrical equipment all along the line. Furthermore, the displaced diesel locomotives could have been used elsewhere and thus reduced the requirement to purchase new ones, reducing the true cost of the plan to only $18 million. General Electric even proposed underwriting the financing because of the railroad's financial position.
Rejecting this, the railroad dismantled its electrification just as the 1973 oil crisis took hold. By 1974, when the electrification was shut down, the electric locomotives could have operated at half the cost of the diesels that replaced them. Worse, the railroad had to spend $39 million, as much as the GE-sponsored revitalization plan, to buy more diesel locomotives to replace the electrics, and only received $5 million for the copper scrap since prices had fallen. The badly-maintained track, which was the part of the system most in need of renewal, was never touched.
Circumstances did not get much better after the electrification was dismantled. By 1977, much of the Pacific Extension was under slow orders due to the condition of the track, and transit times had almost tripled. Cars needing repair were being sidelined for lack of money, and locomotives needing major service were being parked. The road voluntarily entered bankruptcy for the third time on December 19, 1977. The bankruptcy resulted in the Milwaukee abandoning the Pacific Extension completely in 1980 and restructuring as a small regional line which was eventually bought by the Soo Line Railroad in 1985.
The ICC's auditors discovered (too late, as it were) that for some reason the Pacific Extension's expenses had been double-entered during most of the 1970s. Far from the unprofitable line the railroad and the bankruptcy trustees said it was, the ICC's Office of Rail Public Counsel found that the Pacific Extension had been returning a profit to the railroad that, according to ICC consultant David F. Miller, totaled $12.7 million in 1976, $11 million in 1977 and $2.5 million in 1978.
In Washington State the Milwaukee Road right-of-way was acquired by the state through a quitclaim deed, and is used as a non-motorized recreational trail called the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. It is currently managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The corridor is effectively "railbanked" under state legislation that allows for the potential reversion to rail usage in the future along with the creation of an alternative route for a cross-state non-motorized recreational trail.
In the Bitterroot Mountains between Loop Creek, Idaho and East Portal, Montana, a 14.5-mile section of the right-of-way was purchased by the USDA Forest Service (see Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company Historic District). It was made into a bike trail, known as the Route of the Hiawatha Trail.
Regional railroad, 1981–85
The restructured Milwaukee Road proved no more profitable than the previous, losing money every year. Competition by other, larger railroads for control of the Great Lakes area attracted a bidding war for purchase of the railroad in 1984, with the C&NW and the Soo bidding up the prices. On February 21, 1985, railroad operations were sold to the Soo Line Corporation, which reorganized the property as The Milwaukee Road, Inc., and on January 1, 1986, the company was merged into the Soo Line Railroad. As of 2012, a few locomotives transferred as part of the sale to the Soo Line remain in the Milwaukee's paint scheme, with Milwaukee Road logos removed and all lettering painted over. On many of these locomotives (known as "Bandits"), weathering has caused Milwaukee Road markings to once again become visible.
The successor-in-interest to what remained of the Milwaukee Road after the Soo Line sale was its holding company, the Chicago Milwaukee Corporation (CMC). This Corporation's primary function was now to dispose of Milwaukee Road rolling stock and real estate not sold to the Soo Line, primarily former urban rail yard locations in cities such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis. These properties were developed into big-box retail or industrial sites. The CMC itself was beset with legal and financial woes, filing for bankruptcy (under its new name CMC Heartland Partners) as a result of environmental cleanup costs and liabilities at former Milwaukee Road sites.
The Beaver Tails were constructed in three distinct batches, corresponding to the introduction of the Hiawatha in 1934 and its first two re-equippings in 1936 and 1938. In total eight cars were built, all in the Milwaukee Road's own shops. The first generation seated 24 in the rear area, plus separate men's and women's lounges. In the 1936 edition the lounges were replaced by "small toilet rooms"; there was lounge-style seating for 26 plus seating for 12 in the rear (dubbed the "solarium"). The final version, built in 1938, was designed by the renowned Otto Kuhler. While retaining most aspects of the original design, Kuhler added ribbing along the sides and fins in the back. In another innovation Kuhler added an exterior-facing sofa to the solarium portion of the car. Seating capacity increased to 28 in the lounge area and 17 in the solarium.
The cars, like the rest of the Hiawatha equipment set, were painted in orange, maroon, and gray. The name derived from the distinctive flat, sloped rear of the car. The Milwaukee Road coined the name itself and used it in publicity beginning in February 1935, three months before the Hiawatha debuted.
The first two Beaver Tail cars, the Nokomis and Wenonah, entered service on the original Hiawatha in 1935. After the Hiawatha was re-equipped in 1936, the Beaver Tails moved to the North Woods Hiawatha, and then finally to the Chippewa-Hiawatha in 1938. The Milwaukee Road removed the Beaver Tails in September 1951; the two cars were converted to storage cars the following year.
The second two cars, the Omeme and Opeche, were completed in 1936 and entered service on the Hiawatha. Like the cars they displaced, they were replaced after two years when in 1938 the Hiawathas were again reequipped. The cars later saw service on the Midwest Hiawatha before being retired in 1952.
The third and final batch comprised four cars: the Earling, Merrill, Miller, and Mitchell. The four cars permitted the introduction of a second daily Hiawatha between Chicago and the Twin Cities, leading to the creation of the Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas. After the arrival of the Skytop Lounges in 1948 the Beaver Tails saw service on the Midwest Hiawatha and Chippewa-Hiawatha. All were out of service by 1961.
In 1935, the Milwaukee Road introduced the original Hiawatha between Chicago and the Twin Cities to great acclaim. The new trains covered the 420 miles in 7 hours. Their equipment included the popular "Tip-Top-Tavern" and the distinctive "Beaver Tail" lounge observation cars. From the beginning the Hiawathas were known for speed and stylish design. Such was the success of the train that the Milwaukee Road would introduce new equipment again in 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1942.
The Second World War prevented additional improvements, but by 1947 the Milwaukee Road was looking to improve its services. For the next and as it turned out final equipment set for the Twin Cities Hiawatha the Milwaukee Road turned to Brooks Stevens, an industrial designer and Milwaukee native. Beyond the Twin Cities Hiawathas, the Milwaukee Road planned to relaunch the transcontinental Olympian with new streamlined equipment, a new schedule, and a new name: the Olympian Hiawatha.
Breaking with the "Beaver Tail" design, the rear of the Skytop Lounge was 90% glass, with multiple rows of windows reaching up to form the ceiling. In the four parlor-lounges this "solarium" contained 12 seats, with an additional 24 seats in the interior of the car. At the front of the car was a four-seat drawing room. The interior featured wood paneling, characteristic of Milwaukee Road designs. The Milwaukee Road contracted with Pullman-Standard for six sleeping cars based on the parlor-lounge design. The sleeping cars featured reduced seating in the solarium to make room for eight double bedrooms. Pullman-Standard did not adopt wood paneling for its interiors.
The parlor-lounge Skytop Lounges entered service on the Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas on May 29, 1948. The Milwaukee Road touted the lounges as "the finishing touch to a perfect train." On April 1, 1969 the Milwaukee Road removed the lounges from the Morning Hiawatha. Skytop Lounges continued to operate on the Afternoon Hiawatha. The Milwaukee Road discontinued the Afternoon Hiawatha on January 23, 1970, ending the use of Skytop Lounges by the Milwaukee Road.
The sleeping cars spent even less time in Milwaukee service. Pullman-Standard delivered the cars between December 1948 and January 1949 for use on the Olympian Hiawatha, which operated between Chicago and Tacoma, Washington. The Milwaukee Road discontinued the Olympian Hiawatha on May 22, 1961, in the face of mounting passenger losses. In 1964 the Milwaukee Road sold all six to the Canadian National Railway (along with six of the Super Domes), which dubbed them "Skyview" lounges and put them into service on the Ocean. The Canadian National Railway took them out of service in the early 1970s and disposed of them in 1977. Two of the sleeping cars later became part of the SS Lansdowne, a floating restaurant in Detroit, Michigan. After that venture failed the remains of the cars were purchased by the Milwaukee Road Historical Association in 2009 and shipped to a museum in Montevideo, Minnesota.
Several of the Skytops were preserved. Former parlor-lounge No. 186, the Cedar Rapids, belongs to the Friends of the 261 and is used on charter trips and excursions. Former parlor-lounge No. 188, the Dell Rapids, is on display at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, Florida.
The first successful dome design in the United States was the "Vista Dome." The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad ("CB&Q") rebuilt a stainless steel Budd-built coach in their shops in Aurora, Illinois, with the Vista Dome design imagined and sketched by Cyrus Osborn. The dome area featured seats positioned lengthwise in the cabin facing double-pane windows which were designed to improve insulation. On July 23, 1945, the car was tested in the consist of the Twin Cities Zephyr. No fewer than five Budd-built domes would be found in each equipment set of the new California Zephyr when it debuted in 1949. Not to be outdone, Pullman delivered its first four domes, which it dubbed "Astra Liners", in 1947 for use on the Union Pacific Railroad.
The dome seating area in the Vista Dome was comparatively limited: 24, with an additional 46 standard seats on the lower level. In the early 1950s Pullman developed a "full-length" design, with the dome seating area stretching the length of the car. This design posed several challenges. The full-length glass roof (625-square-foot) necessitated a new, powerful air-conditioning system from a dedicated diesel motor. The massive weight of the car, 224,000 pounds, required reinforced three-axle trucks from General Steel Castings. Much of this weight was concentrated in the glass dome, which meant new framing techniques to support the second level above the first. The result was an 80-foot-long dome level which could seat 68, nearly three times that of the Vista Dome. The lounge area beneath seated 28 in booths.
The Milwaukee Road began taking delivery of the Super Domes in late 1952. They were numbered #50-#59. The name was chosen via an employee naming contest; rejected suggestions included Master Dome, Ultra Dome, and Panorama Dome. The domes were used on the daytime Twin Cities Hiawatha and the transcontinental Olympian Hiawatha. The Super Domes were the first and only cars on a daytime Hiawatha train built by a third party; all other Hiawatha equipment (such as the distinctive Beaver Tail and Skytop lounges) were built by the Milwaukee Road in its own shops.
The Super Domes were not a complete success in Milwaukee Road service. The heavy cars gave a rough ride, and the seats in the dome area gave an inferior view because they lay too low compared to the dome's supporting bulkheads. Still, the fame of having the first full-length dome car was good publicity for the railroad. After the discontinuance of the Olympian Hiawatha in 1961 Super Domes were seen on some of the services the Milwaukee Road operated with the Union Pacific, including the City of Denver. In 1964 the Milwaukee Road sold six of the domes to the Canadian National Railway, along with the sleeper-lounge Skytop Lounges. The remaining four domes continued on the Twin Cities Hiawatha.
The Canadian National Railway (CN) purchased six Super Domes from the Milwaukee Road in 1964. The CN dubbed these "Sceneramic" cars and placed them in service on the Super Continental. VIA Rail inherited all six and used them into the early 1980s, when they were sold off to private owners.
Amtrak leased the Milwaukee Road's four remaining Super Domes on its inception in 1971, later purchasing them outright. They saw service on numerous routes, including the San Francisco Zephyr and Coast Starlight. Amtrak sold all four in the late 1970s. Amtrak acquired three cars from Tour Alaska in 1990 and operated them through 1995.:188 The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) acquired former No. 53 in 1996 and used it on the Piedmont before selling it in 2005.
Several Super Domes remain in operation, mostly with heritage railways. One noteworthy example is #52, which after decades on the Milwaukee, Canadian National, VIA Rail, and various private operators, has been part of the Napa Valley Wine Train since 1995 (although the company refers to it as a "Vista Dome"). Another is #53, which usually travels behind Milwaukee Road 261.
In popular culture
The 1930 film Danger Lights was filmed in the Milwaukee Road's yard and shop at Miles City, Montana and on the main line.
The Wausau, Wisconsin depot was used as the logo of Employers Insurance of Wausau (now part of Liberty Mutual Insurance). The logo itself was a combination of the downtown depot, with a backdrop of the community's skyline.
On August 26, 1999, the United States Postal Service issued the 33-cent All Aboard! 20th Century American Trains commemorative stamps featuring five celebrated American passenger trains from the 1930s and 1940s. One of the five stamps featured an image of the Hiawatha, known as "Fastest Train in America", as it traveled over 100 miles per hour.
In the closing pages of The Great Gatsby, fictional narrator Nick Carraway recalls "coming back west from prep school and later from college at Christmas time." He describes riding the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul from Chicago to his unnamed hometown. The hometown of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the novel's author, was St. Paul.
A Skytop observation/lounge car that ran on the Hiawatha named trains of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. These cars went into service in 1948, and were painted in the Union Pacific color scheme in 1955. Pictured is the Priest Rapids car, No. 189, at the Milwaukee depot in Milwaukee in 1968.
An Otto Kuhler-designed streamlined F7 Class steam locomotive.
By Otto Kuhler photo (Dr.H.Lessing, donated by Renaldo Kuhler) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
A Class A streamlined steam locomotive, circa 1942.
Classic Streamliners - TRAINCYCLOPEDIA
The Milwaukee soon found that operation of steam locomotives over the mountain passes was difficult, with winter temperatures that reached −40 °F. Electrification seemed to be the answer, especially with abundant hydroelectric power in the mountains and a ready source of copper on-line at Anaconda, Montana. In 1914, electrification began between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho. The first electric train ran in 1915 between Three Forks and Deer Lodge, Montana. The system used a 3,000 volt direct-current (DC) overhead line.
In 1917, the board approved the construction of a separate electrified district between Othello and Tacoma, Washington, extended to Seattle in 1927. The two electrified districts were never connected, but a total of 656 route-miles of railroad were electrified, making it the largest electrified railroad in the US.Former Milwaukee Road depot in Madison, WI.
The electrification was successful from an engineering and operational standpoint, but building the Puget Sound Extension and electrification had cost $257 million (equal to $3,490,000,000 today), not the $45 million the road had originally budgeted for reaching the Pacific. The debt load and reduced revenues brought the road to bankruptcy in 1925.
In 1927, the road launched its second edition of the Olympian as a premier luxury limited passenger train and opened its first railroad-owned tourist hotel, The Gallatin Gateway Inn in Montana. The railroad was re-organized as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company in January 1928 and officially adopted the familiar trade name The Milwaukee Road.
The company had hardly a chance to make anything of its fresh start before the Great Depression hit. Despite innovations such as the famous Hiawatha high-speed trains that reached speeds of over 100 mph, the road again filed for bankruptcy in 1935. The Milwaukee operated under trusteeship until December 1, 1945.
A postcard photo of the Milwaukee Road's "Afternoon Hiawatha".
Text: wikipedia.org. Images: Public Domain; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (unless otherwise specified) and 17 U.S. Code § 107 fair use. References: Lewis, Robert G. The Handbook of American Railroads. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1951, 2nd Edition 1956. Site Map Contact webmaster HERE.
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