The Nekoosa Line
Marshfield to Nekoosa, Wisconsin

by Keith Meacham
Part Four

In 1937, the Soo Line and the Chicago & North Western signed an agreement and forwarded it to the ICC for approval, of each railroad getting rid of half of their parallel trackage between Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, and Marshfield, Wisconsin, and that the two would operate on each other's remaining track, owning exactly half of the line.

C&NW and the WC-Soo were in Bankruptcy at this time, C&NW staving it off until 1936. WC and Soo Line entered Bankruptcy in 1933. WC would record the longest bankruptcy and reorganization in US History, not emerging from Bankruptcy until 1953! Because both Soo and C&NW were in financial straits, the idea of getting rid of the paralleling trackage promised both roads some cash savings. Ironically, the idea of shedding the paralleling lines had surfaced as a suggestion from the ICC as early as 1925!

In my own worthless personal opinion, C&NW got the better end of this arrangement, since the C&NW ran far more trains than the Soo Line did over the Nekoosa Line. With Passenger Trains between Marshfield and Fond du Lac, the daily Freight between Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids, C&NW ran 3 trains each way per day, while the Soo Line ran one each way per day, nothing on Sunday.

On the surface, the agreement looked fair and equitable. BUT, wording was inserted that each railroad maintain their portion "to an acceptable standard" and if you're familiar with the C&NW's maintenance practices from the Depression onward, this created a lot of friction between the Soo and the C&NW, particularly in later years.

And it didn't take long for this clause to rear it's ugly head and come back to bite the Soo squarely in their corporate caboose.

Soo Line retained the Nekoosa Line to Milepost Ten, three miles south of Arpin. At this point, the C&NW used to cross the Soo Line to get on the west or south side of the Soo for the run in to Marshfield. Soo Line took up their former PECAN/M&S-E line from Milepost 10 south to 17th Street North/County Highway F on the then-outer edge of Wisconsin Rapids. C&NW removed their track from Milepost 10 north to Marshfield, leaving only a long stub at the south end of their New Yard, also built around the same time as the Soo's New Yard in Marshfield, 1936.

Connections were built for each road, "Eastmar" at MP 1 in Marshfield for the C&NW to get off the Soo and back on to their own trackage, and "Westrap" at 17th Avenue North in Wisconsin Rapids letting the Soo off the C&NW and back on to their own track.

"Eastmar" is the shortening of "EAST MARshfield", while "Westrap" is "WEST RAPids".

Eastmar was in a funny spot. It was a long angled cross-over from the Soo to the C&NW, but placed at MP 1, which put the connection on the WEST end of C&NW's New Yard. For some number of years, trains had to back in to or out of the C&NW's New Yard not unlike what the Soo had to do for # 26 and 27 departing or arriving.

I'm not certain when, but another connection was built for the C&NW at MP2 on the Nekoosa Line, almost directly behind the North Wood County Hospital---the local insane asylum. I always called this "New Eastmar", but C&NW and Soo Employee Timetables never acknowledged this connection. Eastmar was MP1, C&W trackage rights began there, so, that was that.

After all was said and done, C&NW connected to the Nekoosa Line in Marshfield 3 times, once at Palmetto Avenue, once at Eastmar, and again at MP2.

During the Depression, C&NW took off their Section Crew at Vesper, and appended that stretch to the Wisconsin Rapids section crew. Eastwards, C&NW got rid of the Section Crews at Kellner, Bancroft and Wild Rose. By the end of C&NW's Passenger Service in the early '50's, track speeds were down to 30 mph on everything between Vesper to Neshkoro, and by 1956, C&NW a appended a Yard Limits restriction on their line from Almond to Vesper, and between West Rosendale and Green Lake, allowing a maximum permissible speed of 20 mph.

Between N.E. Junction and Nekoosa, C&NW's track got so bad by 1961, that it was unusual for them NOT to derail at least once per week.

The effect on the Soo was: Soo continued to keep their Nekoosa Line in fairly decent shape from East 4th Street in Marshfield to MP 10 section in very good shape. As long as steam remained, Soo kept their track at 30-35 mph. It dropped a bit to 25 mph by the mid 1960's, but the Soo was still taking care of their trackage. 25 is better than what came along later, a slovenly 10 mph. By the early 1970's, the C&NW lines coming in to Marshfield were rife with slow orders restricting speeds to 10 mph because of their track, including many, many locations between Vesper and Marshline Junction in Fond du Lac, including MP 10 to Westrap.

There had been a 10 mph speed restriction on the Nekoosa Line from the Junction Switch on the Main Line to East 4th Street, and I know not what year that restriction went in to effect. I gather it was put there because of all the switches the train had to cross in leaving or arriving, because right after leaving the Main Line, the Nekoosa Line was a Yard Ladder. It crossed the C&NW Eland Line after that; crossed a gravel drive between the Felker Oil Co. Quonset huts before the C&NW crossing; Crossed South Peach Avenue and the Beltline Switch; crossed the spurs in to Marshfield Farmers Coop and Wisconsin Pre-packaged Cheese Corp.; Crossed the C&NW spur that once led to the northeast onto Roddis/Weyerhaeuser property and also had a switch for a spur to the south side of Wisconsin Pre-packaged Cheese Corp.; it crossed through the intersection of East 2nd Street and South Palmetto Avenue, then immediately ran over the Palmetto Street Connection switch and the north switch in to Lower 1 and Lower 2, the Interchange tracks with the C&NW; crossed the switch for the south leg of the Wye; crossed the south switch to Lower 1 and Lower 2, then east 4th Street immediately after that, and then the switch that led in to Weyerhaeuser which the Silvaplex and Mudhole tracks came off of. Beyond the Weyerhaeuser switch came Eastmar and then the spur in to David Lumber-Automated Products.

Even with this, until the mid-'70's, this track looked good, except for the section between the Beltline Switch and Palmetto Avenue.

Section 120 out of Marshfield did everything they could as long as the Soo would let them to keep the track at 25 mph between Marshfield and MP10. It was at MP 10, where the Soo curved over to the east on to the C&NW, that problems began. Trains could make good time to or from MP 10, but the transition between the Soo and the C&NW tended to give both C&NW and Soo problems---the Soo moreso than C&NW.

I always joke about the fact that, it was a reliable indicator that Springtime had arrived in Wisconsin and the frost had come out of the ground, because # 26 would derail or wreck at around MP10, with the frost leaving, everything became SOFT. It also remains a never-ending source of wonderment to me that # 26 would end up on the ground or worse, and it happened AFTER the C&NW had been over the same stretch a hour or two before # 26 came rolling along!

This is not to make it seem that the C&NW portion of the Nekoosa Line caused all the problems. # 26 left 1/4 of their train behind one day in 1972 when a number of cars jumped the track at the Junction Switch. They tore up the Junction Switch, Coach Track Switch, Felker Oil Switch, and House 1 switch before the train hit emergency! I forget how many cars came off that time; in my mind's eye it seems like 10, but I think it was something like 5 cars that hit the ground and tore everything up.

Ironically, that was also the summer the Soo and the C&NW did away with kerosene Switch Lamps, and I still recall the switch stands leaning at crazy angles from getting torn up by those cars derailing complete with their lamps still attached and having the thought of stealing one. Too many section men and Carmen around to pull that one off, and Dad was there with me. DRAT.

I'm also cause to remember # 26's caboose derailing around the south side of the crossing with the GB&W as # 26 headed to Port Edwards. Dick Woods was the Conductor on # 26 at that time, and this was one of Soo's nearly-century-old, ex-Wisconsin Central long wooden hacks covered over with plywood sheathing. Dick Woods and his Rear Brakeman got one heck of a ride on the ties.........from the south side of the diamond with the GB&W right to West Grand Avenue, where the car jumped back on the track! Woods joked for years afterwards that He "knew we had hit the ground when the ride smoothed out!" In reality, Woods and his rear brakie got thrown all over inside their caboose on the 5 block exodus on the ties, and the caboose really jumped when it hit West Grand Avenue and ended up back on the rails!

By 1974, Soo Line simply gave up trying to maintain their track on their section of the Nekoosa Line and the entire line, from the Junction Switch on the Main Line in Marshfield to Westrap was 10 mph, which it stayed until operations ceased in 1985.

I should intone at this point that, by the early 1970's, Soo Line, even though blessed with large amounts of business for the Nekoosa Line, was chafing under the strain of having to service a line it derived much revenue from, from Marshfield, when Stevens Point was only a short distance away and could be accessed via the short remnant of the Portage Line to Plover.

Now, I don't recall ever hearing of how C&NW and the Soo would detour their trains if there was a wreck or derailment between Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids prior to my memories of the Nekoosa Line. From 1972 onwards, Soo Line would get Detouring Rights over the GB&W from Plover to Wisconsin Rapids. Soo already accessed Plover by utilizing right they had and retained from the days of the Portage Line; Soo swung hard west to connect with the GB&W Stevens Point Branch at Whiting. At Whiting was a connector that put the Soo on to the GB&W Stevens Point Branch which the Soo used to go to Plover, and interchange with the GB&W in their rudimentary yard in Plover. It was a simple thing to put # 26 and 27 operating out of Stevens Point and down what had been the "P-Line" onto the GB&W at Plover, then westwards to Wisconsin Rapids. Soo could stop in the GB&W Rapids Yard and effect Interchange with the GB&W there, then pull west to the connector tracks west of the Milwaukee Road and shove their train around the connector back on to the Soo.

This worked so well, that the Soo would slap on an embargo on the Eastmar-MP 10 portion, and overstay their detour welcome on the GB&W. C&NW would be the only tenant operating between Marshfield and Westrap, and the Soo would STILL have to maintain their portion of the Nekoosa Line as per agreement! One year, April 1975, I believe, # 26 went on the ground on the C&NW at MP 11, well on to the C&NW trackage, and Soo resorted to running over the GB&W from Whiting to Wisconsin Rapids, not returning to operating the Nekoosa Line out of Marshfield until early August that year. 1975 was the year the Soo vigorously sought to get trackage rights over the GB&W from Plover to Wisconsin Rapids made PERMANENT and avoid ever having to come back to operating the Nekoosa Line out of Marshfield.

I can understand the Soo's idea. Interestingly, when the Soo would be operating over the GB&W using "Emergency Detour" rules, they would get carloads of outbound eastbound finished paper traffic in ever-increasing numbers of carloads. Soo and C&NW didn't get a lot of this business, because, all you have to do is look at a map to see that in hauling the cars to Marshfield, they were going Westwards, or backwards, before they headed east, and would invariably end up tied up in Stevens Point for hours before actually heading for Chicago. With C&NW, they caught much of the Eastbound Paper Traffic because of their line from N.E. Junction to Marshline Junction in Fond du Lac, and the perception of the Mill Traffic Managers was that Milwaukee Road, C&NW and GB&W could move it faster and directly (GB&W via the carferries at Kewaunee) than the Soo backhauling it to Marshfield.

Put # 26 operating out of Stevens Point down the P-Line to Plover and over the GB&W to Wisconsin Rapids, and, suddenly, the Soo became a viable competitor! This actually cut in to Milwaukee's, C&NW's, and GB&W's eastbound finished paper traffic business much to all's dislike, particularly the GB&W, since it was insultingly hauled over their rails!

To be honest, when the rumors went rampant about the future of the Nekoosa Line in 1975 never being operated out of Marshfield again, early on one could believe it. In fact, one could side with the Soo's want to operate to Rapids out of Stevens Point.

GB&W and Soo supposedly (I say "supposedly" because I have no concrete evidence to back this part of the story up, only "Roundhouse Rumors") ended up before the ICC with the Soo asking for trackage rights to become granted to the Soo permanently from Plover to Wisconsin Rapids. Soo and GB&W were already eyeing each other with contempt at this point; GB&W wanted the Soo OFF their track and was charging the Soo what the Soo thought was an excessively high wheel charge for operating over the GB&W from Plover to Wisconsin Rapids. Soo was only supposed to be on the GB&W for a short time, but this dragged on, first from weeks, to months. GB&W wanted the Soo Line OFF because they had overstayed their Welcome!

Imagine the Soo's shock and dismay when the ICC sided with the GB&W and DENIED their Trackage Rights application AND evicted the Soo from the GB&W.

Once again, much to the discomfort to the Soo, # 26 was back operating out of Marshfield.

This was the only attempt I have been aware of, of Soo Line trying to make the switch to running # 26 and 27 out of Stevens Point. Usually, before this and afterward, Soo would become to the GB&W not unlike the worthless relative that came to your house to stay "A Coupla Days" and is still there two months later. This went on each year from 1972 to 1978. In the end, I think it became a sort of "game" for the Soo to see how long they could get away with overstaying and overextending their detour rights over the Green Bay & Western, and I recall hearing officials giggling amongst themselves over "how we pulled one on the Green Bay!" by overstaying their welcome with the detour.

However, I need to point out, that, as large as the Yard in Stevens Point might have seemed/looked under Soo auspices, adding # 26 and 27 to the traffic mix in Stevens Point only served to plug up Stevens Point Yard so effectively that NOTHING moved. Stevens Point really wasn't meant to hold the kind of car load capacity # 26 demanded---and neither was Marshfield, either, but Stevens Point became not unlike a plugged-tight sinus with # 26 and 27 running out of there.

The Traffic from the Nekoosa Line, when it was heavy, would overload the Marshfield Yard so badly that Trains setting out cars in Marshfield would resort to leaving them on any open track they could find: The Greenwood Line, the Ice House Track, The Stock Yard Track, in the Uptown Yard, even on the M&T! In 1969 when Dad was still on Operator yet, all the outlets to set out on were filled, and the only place left to put incoming cars was ............. on the east end of the siding, between the east power switch and the Peach Street Crossover!

In early 1976, C&NW put their Nekoosa Train, number 962 by this time, all over the countryside. This on the eve of their cutting through service from Eland to Merrillan (C&NW had already cut service between N.E. Junction and West Bancroft in mid 1973 after torrential rains had washed out sections of the C&NW between their Wisconsin River Bridge in Wisconsin Rapids and West Bancroft). In the only case I have ever heard of or witnessed in person, C&NW ran their trains to Nekoosa, # 962 and 963, over the Soo Line from Marshfield to Stevens Point, then down the P-Line to Plover, and over the GB&W to Wisconsin Rapids. It was FUN to see two C&NW GP30's "Scorching The High Iron" through very obviously Soo Line towns on their Twin Cities- Chicago Main Line, like Auburndale, Milladore and Junction City; it was FUN to see C&NW engines SCREECHING along at Soo's 45 mph track speed instead of the usual 10 mph!

And there was a C&NW Bay Window Caboose, # 10925, hanging on for dear life bringing up the rear end.

Although these memories are fun, getting the C&NW trains into and out of the New Yard in Marshfield entailed a frightening back-up move in both directions. As 962, the C&NW crew would assembled their train in their yard, then BACK it up on their main line towards the C&NW Depot downtown to clear Eastmar, then pull this entire production forward onto the Soo. When the Caboose cleared, then it was time to back the whole production up the Nekoosa Line to the Junction Switch on the Soo Main Line until the Engines Cleared, then everything was a "go" to head towards Stevens Point. It was a back up move made with fingers, toes, eyes, legs and arms crossed, and rear ends pinched tightly in hopes nothing would hit the ground. You could feel the tension in the air when this backup move was being made, but, it only lasted one week, and the C&NW was back running the Nekoosa Line out of Marshfield to Westrap again.


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