The Nekoosa Line
Marshfield to Nekoosa, Wisconsin

by Keith Meacham
Part Six

Traffic on the Nekoosa Line in the early years going all the way back to 1901 was chiefly logs and pulpwood going to Wisconsin Rapids-Port Edwards and Nekoosa. To tell you the truth, I'm not up to speed on what chemicals moved in those early years, if any; many mills used to produce their own Sulfuric Acid using Limestone, and you do see gon loads (sometimes flat cars with side panels) of limestone in early photographs. Coal was a big mover in those early years, even Soo hauled it, both for Consolidated Papers, NEPCo., and the few Lumber Yards and Coal Dealers that existed along the Nekoosa Line. Soo Line serviced Wood County Farm Supply in Arpin, a Midland Coop franchise. Soo had no business I'm aware of in Vesper at the time. There had been sawmills of notable size in Arpin and Vesper, but how much traffic the Soo got is debatable.

What the Soo got back from the Mills in Rapids, Port and Nekoosa in those years is also lost on me. I gather from my research that the Soo was chiefly an outlet for bringing in logs for the remaining sawmills and furniture factories in the area, and Pulpwood for the Papermills.

The Paper Industry centered in Wisconsin Rapids was relatively "new", even though the paper industry at that time was not.

Changing technology and procedures in Papermaking effected the freight cars used, introducing more and more Tank Cars to the mix as paper making science found newer and newer ways of making pulpwood in to paper. The Consolidated mill in Rapids was attuned to making enameled paper for magazine printing, which is why they got in corn starch and clay.

Something that all four railroads in the Rapids area benefited from, early on, was the recovery process in turning pulpwood logs in to pulp slurry.

It's amazing how efficient Paper Mills are, and how little waste they actually make. When making pulpwood into pulp slurry before turning it in to actual paper, the Lignin, Turpentine, and Oil are removed and recovered. All three are recovered and used elsewhere. Lignin is the natural "glue" that holds wood fibers together. Turpentine is a natural chemical that occurs in wood, as it Oil, or "Tall Oil". Turpentine finds it's way in to uses as a solvent for stripping or as a paint thinner to name two. Oil or Tall Oil is refined in to petroleum uses.

I need to point out that, before the 1960's, a lot of what was recovered WAS flushed down the rivers, much to the detriment of the environment.

Kaolin Clay and Corn Starch have been used in Paper Making for a number of years, and if you look at old photographs sharp enough to be able to see the name on those early box cars, you will see names of Southern US railroads that hauled Kaolin. It used to be bagged, as was corn starch, and it used to be back-breaking, labor intensive work handling clay and corn starch at the mills. Salt was used at the Paper Mills in papermaking, but I can't tell you just what process it is involved in. This commodity moved in Box Cars as well, bagged in paper sacks.

Of course, Chlorine is a big ingredient in making paper, and Soo, C&NW and GB&W got loads of it via the carferries at Manitowoc and Kewaunee respectively. It was also some of the first traffic to leave the Carferries for all-rail routings via Chicago.

With all three mills located on the Nekoosa Line receiving all these components to make paper, there was more than enough traffic to keep all four roads happy. Soo Line was the underdog when it came to finished paper leaving the Rapids area; Mill Traffic Managers tended to give Eastbound paper traffic to the C&NW, Milwaukee and GB&W. Westbound paper traffic left via the Milwaukee Road and the GB&W. This more-or-less remained that way for a number of years, well in to the latter 1970's.

Soo Line did get many carloads of "Market Pulp", a commodity sold between mills and explained farther on. Around 1975, Soo Line also got most of the outbound loads of Lignin, Turpentine and Oil recovered during the pulping process from both Consolidated and NEPCo.

The one single commodity that swelled the size of Soo's # 26 and 27 was Pulpwood, specifically "Lake Pulp", pulpwood logged in North Minnesota under contract with Consolidated Papers, rafted across Lake Superior to Chewaumegon Bay to Ashland, Wis.

Lake Pulp moved in the Summer Months, whereas "regular" pulpwood moved most during the winter months. 26 and 27 were, for about 10-12 years, hauling prodigious amounts of pulpwood all year 'round. 26 could get up to 40 cars of Lake Pulp at a time, but normally, up to 20 cars was more the norm. Lake Pulp was loaded off the downtown in Ashland next to the same pier used for unloading coal for the White Pine mine on the old DSS&A.

When the Soo was hauling Lake Pulp, 26 got stuck weighing each and every car when it got to Wisconsin Rapids before it was turned over to the GB&W. I do not know what, exactly, happened if a carload of Lake Pulp was found to be overloaded.

The lake pulp ceased after 1972, and this traffic found it's way on to the DM&IR, normally handed off to Burlington Northern at Superior for movement to East Winona to the GB&W. Soo, oddly enough, got the empty DM&IR gons back. Some of these loaded DM&IR gons moved on the Soo and on 26, but not much.

Other pulpwood moved only in the late October-Early April months until around 1976, when different logging equipment made logging possible all year 'round. Pulpwood always seemed to be a sticking point for the Soo. Granted, it was not a commodity that raked in huge profits, and the Soo was not bashful about telling the world about the narrow profit margin to be had hauling pulpwood.

Soo was quite proud of the centralized pulpwood loading points along the Sault Ste. Marie main line, where they claimed such centralized loading made the Pulpwood more profitable. Soo claimed that individual cars loaded elsewhere narrowed their profit margin to the point where haulage of 40-100 miles was where the profit was. Anything under or over that the Soo made no money or lost money on it.

Yet, Pulpwood was loaded on the Greenwood Line at Loyal and Greenwood, and the cars went the distances the Soo claimed made money, and the Soo put a stop to this traffic off the Greenwood Line saying the haul was too short. These cars, loaded at Loyal and Greenwood, came off the G-Line in 6-7 car cuts and went to Brokaw on the Milwaukee Road or to Nekoosa Papers on Nekoosa. Do the math: 17 miles to Loyal, 21 miles to Junction City, 40 miles to Brokaw. Or, 17 miles to Loyal, 33 miles to Nekoosa. In either case, the mileage is well within what the Soo stated was profitable, and got the haul for the cars riding the Milwaukee Road to Brokaw, yet they claimed the hauls were too short.

Speaking of that, Pulpwood came to the Nekoosa Line from far points on the ex-DSS&A line to Marquette and off the Old Soo main to Sault Ste. Marie, loaded in those 65' Pulpwood gons Soo built especially for Pulpwood, in one or two cars per train, but never made one lick of noise about profitability. I guess Consolidated Papers chose to pay through the nose for these cars, satisfying Soo's Accounting Department so nothing was said. I never understood their reasoning and never will.

Lake Pulp was, more-or-less, replaced by Woodchips. Woodchips were nothing new, really; Soo Line was hauling them in the late 1950's already, and had converted some ex-WC offset side triple hopper cars and some GS drop bottom gons to woodchip service by adding side and end extensions. To be honest, although I don't remember it, I think the Soo also used some of their steel underframed outside braced wood box cars to haul woodchips, and some of the steel 40' box cars may have been used to haul woodchips. Much of this traffic moved on the Old Soo main across the top of Wisconsin to the Paper Mill at Rhinelander and to Mead Papers at Groos, Michigan. Consolidated Papers in Wisconsin Rapids and NEPCo. in Port Edwards and Nekoosa were late converts to Woodchips; folks I've talked to that have worked for either paper company put the start of using woodchips around 1965 in the Rapids area. What the Soo hauled woodchips in to the Rapids area before 1972, when I became aware of it, I can not tell you.

Woodchips moved to Consolidated Papers in a cut of up to 30 cars per train, much of it coming off the Bessemer Line off the Ashland Line at Mellen. Woodchips were loaded at several smaller points along the Ashland Line, and at several points on the Superior Line. None were the volume of Bessemer Wood Products in Ironwood, Michigan, only a car or two here or there.

Later on, a chipper started up in Bemidji, Minnesota, which vomited out as much traffic as Bessemer Wood Products did, most of going to the Nekoosa Line.

For a time, woodchips were actually a growth industry for the Soo, but there was not enough growth to warrant the Soo buy new high-side woodchip gondola cars, either.

You can see, as time went on, why the Nekoosa Line local became so long. Add in Tank Cars carrying clay slurry and chemicals, covered hopper cars of corn starch, dry clay and lime, and empty cars, such as tank cars for oil, turpentine and lignin loading along with empty cars for the mills for paper loading, and you'll begin to see why # 26 could be a long train. By 1969, 26 was considered to be short if it had less than 80 cars on it. Normal was 115.

I can't possibly write about the Nekoosa Line and not take a swipe at the freight car equipment used by all the railroads involved in servicing Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa. Considering they all wanted a piece of the pie, they certainly managed to use some rolling stock that looked like it would have been better off in the scrapline.

Soo Line used their extensive fleet of 40' Drop Bottom GS Gons for hauling pulpwood and Lake Pulp, including some of the older composite sided cars, along with GS gons from NP, GN and, yes, Illinois Central. Some of the ex-DSS&A 40' steel gons found their way in to hauling lake pulp and pulpwood in general, and Soo had a number of 50' gons from their 8401-8499 series fitting with end stakes for hauling lake pulp and pulpwood. Soo used any foreign railroad gons to haul lake pulp and pulpwood it could lay it's hands on as well, and EJ&E, C&EI, NKP, C&O, AA, EL, UP, SP, CB&Q, GN, NP, BN, PRR, NYC, PC and P&LE cars were often included in the mix.

Pulpwood---lake pulp, too---was hard on cars, particularily was hard on the cars used to haul it, and I gather the loading was what literally killed the cars in this service. The GS gons suffered the worst, and they were physically pounded into pieces. It was not uncommon to see a Soo GS gon with the drop doors hanging open and the opening chains broken off, dragging along on the ground beside/underneath the car. In the early through mid-1970's, Soo rebuilt a number of their GS Gons without their floors and door opening mechanisms to make the cars "Self Clearing", i.e., twigs, dirt, and bark, would fall through to the rails below.

How true this is I do not know, but I was told that the Soo Line had purchased their GS Gons with the idea they could be used in the summer months to haul ballast and haul pulpwood in the winter. This worked well----for the first year or two, but after a winter of hauling pulpwood, it was necessary to run the car through the carshop for extensive repairs to make it worthy to haul ballast again.

Most of the gons used to haul pulpwood had their sides bulging outward, and the top rails and ends bashed beyond recognition. The older Composite Sided GS Gons had their wooden sides broken out in many spots. Some "War Emergency" 50' Composite Side gons found their way in to hauiling pulpwood, where the cars literally and physically DIED.

Milwaukee Road used their 40' Composite Side gons to haul pulpwood---but removed all the wood sides and wood floor rendering a steel skeleton. C&NW used their extensive fleet of high-sided 40' steel gons for hauling pulpwood, some receiving a rudimentary side stake arrangement and solid ends added atop the carside and ends, which was mostly knocked to pieces. C&NW cars in the 116000-116127 series were extensively rebuilt, losing their floor plates and gaining side stakes and one end with solid end and side additions for hauling pulpwood. I recall seeing some of these cars moving back through Marshfield empty on their way back to Spooner, Wis., with their side stakes bent at crazy angles from getting bashed with a cradle of clamp load of Pulpwood.

Woodchips and the cars that hauled them were another story. Soo used excess members of their 50' DD box car fleet to haul woodchips, where it seemed that once the cars were in this service, making repairs became a moot point. For whatever reason, Soo's 50 DD Box Cars clattered and crashed going over rail joints, sounding like the springs in the trucks were made from a case of Ball Glass Jars.

Originally, Woodchips were loaded in these cars and the door FORCED shut---not to mention they would have to be FORCED open later on. This led to deep gouges from Fork Truck Forks in the doors and in the side panels when a fork would pierce the door. This led the Soo to make an 6 ft opening and put 2 X 10 planking in the doorways, with a home-made "c" channel welded in the opening. The idea, how ever novel, was that, as chips were loaded in the car, a plank would be slid in as the level rose in the car until all 8 planks on the side being loaded were in place. I believe the inspiration for this was the time-honored and time-worn Grain Door. There were 16 planks per car---8 in each doorway. As the car was unloaded, the planks were supposed to be piled back inside the car. This worked for quite a while. Planks would get broken and replaced, but what killed it entirely was wanton pilferage of these planks. Cars came back missing one, two or three planks, and I'm guess that some paper mill employees in the Wisconsin Rapids-Port Edwards and Nekoosa areas have a shed or garage built out of 2 X 10 planking, marked with a 2" high SOO LINE in black, as the planks used in this service were ALL marked on both sides with that 2 " high Soo Line.

Soo went to the two 2 X 4 and heavy cardboard "Doorway" beginning in the late 1970's, and started removing the right hand door on the DD cars. Soo was forced to stencil the cars "MISSING DOOR IS STANDARD TO CAR" not very long after removing the hand door, lest the GB&W bad order the cars and replace the door and charge the Soo Line for repairs!

C&NW didn't even go that far, they used 40' and 50' box cars to haul woodchips. The sum majority of these cars came in a wide variety of lettering schemes, and in one fell swoop you could have a cut of C&NW cars sporting every slogan they used over the years, from "Overland Route" to "Route Of the 400 And the STREAMLINERS" as well as the billboard "C&NW". These cars looking well-worn and, considering they were property of the C&NW, WERE. The 50' cars were interesting animals in their own right, originally delivered with 6' wide doors, C&NW added 2' Superior Panel extensions to them to make an 8' wide door opening. C&NW used the heavy cardboard doorway, but insisted on the doors being closed.....often settling for as far closed as they could get them.

Most woodchip loads on the C&NW were marked---there was a paper placard stapled to the tackboard that told what kind of woodchips the car carried, i.e., "CHERRY", "POPPLE", "PINE", "HARDWOOD" and "SOFTWOOD"-- -leaving no doubt what was in the car.

Milwaukee Road used a number of their 40' Combo door cars to haul Woodchips in Wisconsin, and I always laughed at that because, out on Milwaukee's Lines West, Milwaukee had invested in a large fleet of 70' high side woodchip gons. That wasn't how the Milwaukee decided to haul Woodchips in Wisconsin, however.

High-sided woodchip gons did, eventually, find their way to hauling woodchips to the mills in Wisconsin, first broached by cars leased by the Algoma Central, and, later, cars from GN, NP and BN made forays to the Rapids for Consolidated. The Algoma Central cars were far more common and 6-8 of these cars would be sandwiched in with Soo's less-than-perfect, timeworn 50' DD box Cars going to Consolidated Papers.

Soo, C&NW and Milwaukee each had assigned covered hoppers to haul the lime the Paper Mills needed. Soo had taken at least three of their Pullman-Standard 4427 low-sided Covered Hopper Cars, and three of their short 4650 Cubic Feet ACF Center Flo Covered Hopper Cars, and put them to work hauling lime. Milwaukee Road and C&NW also used similar PS 4427 cars. The net effect was: The cars got so streaked with lime that you could not read the reporting marks or see the billboard lettering on the sides, and this applied to Milwaukee Road and C&NW cars hauling lime as well. Milwaukee had at least two cars once painted yellow hauling lime to the paper mills in the Rapids area. I say "Once Painted Yellow" because you could BARELY tell it. Missouri Pacific-Texas & Pacific-KO&G early cylindrical covered hopper cars showed up hauling lime to the mills here, and these cars were in just as weathered condition as the Soo, Milwaukee and C&NW cars were.

Taking in to account these less-than perfect cars used to haul the raw material to the paper mills, it was never a wonder to me to see Soo's # 26 standing on the Main Line west of Chestnut Avenue in Marshfield, aired up and awaiting departure for Nekoosa, thinking that the train could have taken off straight to Chicago and right to Pielet Brothers Scrapyard across from Electro-Motive in La Grange, IL., for reclamation, engines right to Caboose, and this statement also applies to the trains operated by C&NW and the Milwaukee Road.

Soo Line seemed to be the preferred road to bring in Kaolin Clay for a number of years, and # 26 would be lousy with Tank Cars of clay slurry or covered hopper cars of dry clay. Seaboard Coast Line, Sandersville and Monon box cars equipped with roof hatches also appeared hauling dry kaolin clay in bulk.

Kaolin cars looked as bad as the cars hauling lime.

I need to further explain the movement of coal: Consolidated Papers built their New Kraft Mill/Sulfite Mill north of the GB&W along the Wisconsin River in 1973. Included was a new power house that used a LOT of coal. The new boilers used in the new mill were set up to use Western Coal. Before the second (or, was it third?) expansion of this mill, Milwaukee Road got the nod to install the spur into the power plant end of this new mill. Milwaukee serviced the new pulpwood yard as well, alongside the GB&W.

Consolidated Papers let it be known to all five (yes, FIVE, counting BN as GB&W's connection) that it was going to look at the railroads servicing it very hard to see which road could do the best job hauling their coal to them, for a not-too-far-off-in-the-future plans expansion would require that Consolidated get a Unit Train of coal every week. With that carrot dangling, Consolidated then gave each road coal traffic for 4 months a year until 1984. I've already made mention of how this affected Soo's # 26, and it effected C&NW # 962 the same way.

Since I have broached the subject of "Market Pulp", allow me to tell this tale of how well ICC regulations worked.

First, what is Market Pulp? Essentially, it's NOT Pulpwood, which is actually referred to as "Pulp", but paper pulp before it is machined into actual paper. It is a messy substance in any form---either made in to "boards" as described earlier, or left in it's "Wet Lap" form.

Think of soaked toilet paper. That's what "Wet Lap" is. It is loaded with a fork truck, palletized as much as possible and banded/wrapped as much as possible to keep it from slopping all over.

It also comes in damp bales. Either way, cars assigned to carry Paper Pulp are not used for anything else, much along the lines of cars used to haul animal hides or "Tankage"---guts, folks. Paper Pulp is about as messy as the animal remains though it doesn't carry the stink of death with it.

Sorry to be so graphic.

By 1980, Soo Line was using the cars they bought in 1962, the first cars to be painted Red and White, the 50' SD box cars built by the Soo at North Fond du Lac, to haul Market Pulp. A number of the 40' Box Cars Soo built to PS-1 specs and some of the PS1 types the Soo purchased new from Pullman also gravitated in to hauling Market Pulp.

There are mills across the United States that do NOT make roll or finished paper but only produce paper pulp for sale to larger mills. Even the larger mills dabble in Market Pulp to a certain degree.

Tomahawk Pulp & Paper, on the MT&W in Tomahawk was a Market Pulp mill.

So, this foundation laid, allow me to tell you this true tale of moving a carload of Market Pulp from Nekoosa to Green Bay.

We'll say that a carload of market pulp gets billed out from NEPCo. at Nekoosa to the Soo Line. The Soo Line Agent must figure out who gets the car.

Common sense would tell you the car should be hauled to Wisconsin Rapids and interchanged to the GB&W there, right?


If you said that, go to the back of the room and sit on your head.

Prior to, I believe, 1980, GB&W did not have a rate to haul market pulp between Rapids and Green Bay, so they cannot accept the car, nor can they haul it legally under ICC published rates.

So, that leaves you with 3 options:

  1. C&NW Rapids-to-Fond du Lac, or an option to be discussed farther on,
  2. Milwaukee Road, south to New Lisbon, thence eastwards to Milwaukee, then northwards to Green Bay,
  3. Soo Line, back-hauled to Marshfield, then ascertain how it goes to Green Bay from there.

If you picked Option 1,


Go to the back of the room and sit on your head.

C&NW did not have the rate to haul market pulp between N.E. Junction in Wisconsin Rapids and Marshline Junction in Fond du Lac.

HOWEVER, C&NW DID have the rate to haul market pulp to Green Bay, but via Marshfield, then northwards through Wausau, Eland, Bowler, Pulaski and thence into Green Bay. C&NW did have the rate to Haul Market Pulp on their Fox Valley Sub, but could not haul it between N.E, Junction and Fond du Lac (I always found that strange).

If you picked Option 2, the Milwaukee Road .............. well, why do you want to take the long way to get the car to Green Bay? Aren't you a Company Person?

Option 3, backhauling to Marshfield, is the one you choose.

Now, how to get the car to Green Bay once it's in Marshfield. You've ruled out the C&NW going north from Marshfield, so that leaves you to look at Neenah and Fond du Lac. You've established you can't give the car to the GB&W at all, so Black Creek and Amherst Junction are out. GB&W CAN take the car in interchange in Green Bay because they have the switching rate for it since they do the work at the mill the car is destined for. Now, how to get it there?

At Neenah, Soo has their line to Manitowoc, which connects with the Milwaukee at Hilbert Junction. Soo interchanges with the C&NW in Neenah as well. The car is set to go as far as Neenah, but what to do with it after that?

Well, if you're a company person, you'll take the car to Hilbert Junction on the Manitowoc Line to keep it in Soo Line hands as long as possible. Remember: The longer the haul, the more $$$$$$$$$$ the company earns.

Why not give it to Milwaukee Road at Neenah?

Because it gets backhauled to Hilbert Junction anyway. As stated, Soo will have the car juuuuust a little longer and manage to wring out extra charges for handling the car.

So, the car goes to Neenah in Soo train # 18, where it is set out in the yard, then shuffled into a cut of cars going to Manitowoc.

In the days when the Manitowoc Line train operated every day between Neenah and Manitowoc, the car would not sit for very long in Neenah. 12 hours, tops. Later on, when the Manitowoc Line train resorted to every -other-day operation, over one day, back the next, the car could sit in Neenah for 36 hours.

For the sake of some simplicity, let's say the Manitowoc Line Train is still running every day. The car of market pulp leaves Neenah within 16 hours headed for Hilbert Junction.

The car is Interchanged to the Milwaukee Road at Hilbert Jct., and sits for 8 hours before the job that worked out of Hilbert to Appleton and Neenah-Menasha picks it off the interchange and places it in the Milwaukee's Hilbert Yard.

The car will now sit for another 8-12 hours waiting for the North Milwaukee-Green Bay Patrol to pick it up for movement to Green Bay.

Once in Green Bay, the car goes to Milwaukee Road's Oakland Avenue Yard; it gets switched out for transfer to the GB&W within 6 hours of arrival, but does not get interchanged to the GB&W for another 6 hours.

GB&W gets the car from Milwaukee Road. It goes to Norwood, where the car is eventually switched in to a cut of cars going to one of the Green Bay Switch Jobs that will switch the mill that purchased this carload of market pulp. Of course, this job is already out working, so the car won't get switched until the NEXT day, another 12 hours later.

Total elapsed time:

  • Movement to Marshfield: 3 hours
  • Switch out in to a cut of "East" cars for pick-up at Marshfield: 3 hours
  • Standing in cut of East cars in Marshfield Yard: up to 10 hours
  • Movement to Stevens Point: 1 hour.
  • Switch out of Train # 18 at Stevens Point, crew and Engine Change: 5 hours
  • Movement to Neenah: 7 hours
  • Switch in to Manitowoc Line Train: 3 hours
  • Standing in Neenah Yard waiting for Movement to Hilbert Junction: 12 hours
  • Movement to Hilbert Junction on Manitowoc Line Train: 2 hours.
  • Standing on interchange connection waiting for pick-up by Milwaukee Road: 8 hours
  • Standing in cut of cars going north to Green Bay waiting to be picked up by the Green Bay Patrol: 12 hours
  • Movement to Green Bay: 3 hours
  • Switch out in Green Bay: 6 hours
  • Standing in Milwaukee Yard in Green Bay awaiting delivery to GB&W: 6 hours
  • Delivered to GB&W, standing in Norwood Yard: 12 Hours
  • Delivery to mill: elapsed time, 3 hours.

Total time from loading to spotting: 93 hours, which translates in to almost FOUR days to move the car from Nekoosa to Green Bay.

Mind you, this was the infinite wisdom of the ICC that comes up with this kind of BS.

And you wonder why Trucks have made such inroads in rail traffic.

This scenario was described to me by my late Father, a 43-year career man with the Soo Line. As an Operator/Clerk, he was VERY familiar with billing and rates and had relieved at many Wisconsin Stations in his day and was familiar with car movements. In fact, the story I related was a daily situation on the Nekoosa Line faced by the Agent/Operators/Clerks.

When I asked Dad why the GB&W didn't get the car, Dad's reply was, "That would make too much sense".


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