The Nekoosa Line
Marshfield to Nekoosa, Wisconsin

by Keith Meacham
Part One

I've never written too much about the Nekoosa Line, simply because I never quite understood what it was the train did once it got to places like Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa itself. My exposure to it was mostly Marshfield in nature, and what went on with the departure of # 26 every morning and the arrival of # 27 each night made it worth watching on the Marshfield end.

My exposure to the Nekoosa Line was watching the 1st trick Yard Crew in Marshfield get the Nekoosa Line local, # 26, put together out on the Twin Cities-Chicago Main Line, listening to the trials and tribulations of the Marshfield Operator ask the Dispatcher in Stevens Point for permission to occupy the main line beyond the west power switch when # 26 was very long and would hang out over the west power switch from anywhere from a few feet to 50 cars.

Of watching the westbound counterpart, # 27, returning home each night (or as often as I chose to darken the Soo depot in Marshfield with my presence).

Of burning cabooses, throbbing F Units, watching the train depart, or the Switch Engine switching the South Side of Weyerhaeuser which the Nekoosa Line passed, or watching the Switch Engine head out to the Industrial Park to do their work with cars on both ends of the engine.

I have no intention to tell the early history other than to bring you up to speed as best and briefly as I can.

The Nekoosa Line was originally the main line of the Port Edwards, Centralia & Northern, or "PECAN". The PECAN was started in 1889 and built by Port Edwards-Nekoosa- Grand Rapids interests (Wisconsin Rapids used to be called "Grand Rapids" AND Centralia --- Grand Rapids was the East Side of the Wisconsin River and Centralia was the West Side. The two merged to become one Grand Rapids in 1900, and, supposedly, it was the US Post Office that demanded a change, due to mix-ups in Mail delivery with Grand Rapids, Michigan, so sometime after WWI, Grand Rapids emerged to become today's Wisconsin Rapids. Soo's brick Depot retained it's "Grand Rapids" name STONES on the front of the building over the Operator's Bay Window until it was torn down in the early 1970's)---a strictly homegrown affair---to build a line from Nekoosa to Marshfield. The idea was to get logs in for the sawmills in the area, and to the newborn paper industry starting up in the region, and to make connections in Marshfield with the Wisconsin Central.

The PECAN was short-lived, however, and was reorganized two steps ahead of the Sheriff to became the Marshfield & South-Eastern in 1896. That same year, the M&S-E built their line to Nekoosa.

The PECAN built astride the Milwaukee Road headed to Wisconsin Rapids from Port Edwards until it broke off and headed north-northwest towards Marshfield. The PECAN Arrived in Marshfield in 1890-something and built a small terminal that later became the Soo's first Yard and House Tracks in Marshfield; the original PECAN/M&S-E Depot/Freight House served as WC's and later Soo Line's Freight House in Marshfield until 1916 when the New, 250-foot long brick Marshfield Freight House was built. Where the Nekoosa Line left the Main Line was the original PECAN Agency-Freight House, a wooden two story affair. The PECAN/M&S-E had a Turntable and single-stall enginehouse built at the foot of Vine Avenue in Marshfield, just short of the crossing with the MLS&W/C&NW Line northwards to Eland.

Once the PECAN began operations, almost immediately, it was being courted by the C&NW. C&NW had built to Wisconsin Rapids, sending their survey crews into the area south and east of Wisconsin Rapids in 1899-1901. Speculation at the time could not decide if the crews were C&NW --- intent on connecting Wisconsin Rapids to the C&NW line at Princeton --- or Wisconsin Central, looking to shorten the Main Line to Chicago. For the C&NW, Marshfield was already a Division Point, the meeting of the Merrillan-Marshfield branch of the C.St.P.M.&O and the Ashland Division, formerly the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western's attempt to add the "& Western" name by building to St. Paul from Eland. In some ways, the move made sense; The Omaha brought down logs from it's own lines "Up North" above Eau Claire, and C&NW brought in logs from points north of Eland, all of it destined for Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa.

WC might have had survey crews out working in the same area at the time, but it was the C&NW that let it be known publicly that it had filed incorporation articles for the "Princeton & North Western Railway Company". There was no doubt who owned the P&NW from the beginning. In it's charter, the railway made very specific mention it was to "construct a railway in the interest of the Chicago & North Western Railway Company" between Princeton and Marshfield, 66 miles.

This line extension made sense. The C&NW already had it's line to Princeton from Fond du Lac, itself a remnant of an earlier enterprise started in 1871 by Sheboygan interests, the Sheboygan & Fond du Lac Railroad Company, to build from Sheboygan to the Mississippi River via Plymouth, Sheboygan Falls, Peebles, and Taycheeda into Fond du Lac; then westwards to Ripon, Green Lake and to Princeton where the whole affair stopped and eventually found it's way in to C&NW hands by 1880-something. (Original thinking had the Princeton line continuing straight westwards to connect to the Omaha near Wyeville, Wisconsin, another still-born idea that never came to into being.)

C&NW eyed gaining control of the PECAN/M&S-E from the very beginning as it's way to get to Marshfield from Wisconsin Rapids without having to build the final 26 miles between the two points. C&NW officials toured the PECAN/M&S-E in a C&NW Business Car in 1900 while land was being acquired to build the Princeton-Wisconsin Rapids extension, seemingly confirming a sale of the PECAN/M&S-E to the C&NW.

C&NW had offered the M&S-E $10,000 per mile, along with a threat of building astride the M&S-E if they did not sell to the C&NW. The PECAN/M&S-E was supposedly asking $20,000 per mile for their road. Either way, observers felt a deal would eventually be struck between the C&NW and the M&S-E. Evidence seemed to confirm this union in October with the previously mentioned tour of the M&S-E by C&NW Officials. Negotiations between the two companies continued for 5 months. C&NW sent out Survey Crews between Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids, purchased some land options, but little else was done. Things stayed in virtual limbo while C&NW and the PECAN/M&S-E negotiated a sale price.

Imagine everyone's surprise, and the C&NW's HORROR, when, without warning, Local Newspapers announced the sale of the PECAN/M&S-E to the Wisconsin Central on May 2, 1901!!! Apparently, WC quietly outbid the C&NW for the PECAN/M&S-E, the WC paying close to $14,000 per mile for the PECAN/M&S-E; WC reported the amount let for Mortgage Bonds for the acquisition of the M&S-E at $13,799 per mile.

That move prompted the C&NW to build their own line from Wisconsin Rapids parallel to the former PECAN/M&S-E (now WC) Nekoosa Line the entire distance from Wisconsin Rapids to Marshfield.

And, what a Railroad the WC got --- and Chicago & North Western built parallel to. C&NW didn't build some high-speed, flat main line, but followed the PECAN/M&S-E foot for foot, up for up and down for down all the way to Marshfield from Wisconsin Rapids. The grades were nearly perfectly level for both r-o-w's, over hill and over dale.

The Nekoosa Line presents a very rough, saw-tooth profile from the Junction Switch in Marshfield all the way to a point the Soo called "Nekoosa-Edwards", the site of a BASF Wyandotte (now Vulcan Chemical) chlorine plant. This area was known to the Milwaukee Road as Nekoosa Junction, and the Milwaukee had a wye there, still in use today by Canadian National. Grades were long, often bottoming out and immediately climbing back up again, a consequence of crossing the drainage pattern leading in to the Wisconsin River Watershed and crossing it at an acute angle.


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