The Nekoosa Line
Marshfield to Nekoosa, Wisconsin

by Keith Meacham
Part Seven

KEITH'S PRELIMINARY COMMENTS: Wayne Crueger (a.k.a, "W.J.") was a Conductor for the Soo Line, and was a Brakeman and Conductor on the Nekoosa Line. W.J. caught the Nekoosa Line job many times in his career, and he provided me with some great insights in to what went on with # 26 when they got to Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa.

A few things to mention before you read on:

  1. W.J. recalls my Dad at Port Edwards, but Dad became the Agent at Wisconsin Rapids in June of 1986, during Lake States, after Marshfield was closed.
  2. W.J.'s recollections are somewhat scattered over a period extending from 1961 when he hired out, to 1986. I did not try to rewrite them in proper period context. If any of you reading these posts have questions, feel free to post them on this list and I will answer them as best as I can.
  3. I apologise to those on this list for the frank mention of specific employees and their off-duty habits. I suppose I didn't need to keep them on here, but I would appreciate that you members don't go running off to some retired Soo trainman and show those comments to them. I did delete last names
  4. The "Tony" that was the C&NW Conductor was Tony Yakites (Pronounced YA-Kite-iss), mentioned in W.J.'s narrative, and his son, Dale, was my 9th Grade English Teacher. I also bowled against Dale when I still wasted my time in that sport.

That said, I now turn you to our special feature, Wayne Crueger's replies to my questions about Soo Line's operations on the Nekoosa Line...

----- Original Message -----

I hired out in the fall of '61. Herb Boyce was conductor, Rodney Krueger was one of the brakemen and Oliver Anderson was the engineer. The other two members of the crew I do not remember. Of course we had to drive to Marshfield from Point and Herb and Rodney each drove themselves which didn't sit well with the rest of the crew as they had to drive more times. No. 26 was usually made up on the mainline at Marshfield by the morning switch engine and when done the switch engine would couple onto the caboose. When the air test was completed the switch engine would start pulling and 26's engines would push the train back over the crossings. The head brakeman would drop off at the Nekoosa line junction switch and line up the switchs on the lead. After getting the OK from Herbie the train would start down and leave town. Over the years this procedure changed somewhat. The switch engine quit pulling the train back. The reason they were there to start with was to use their whistle over the crossings. Later they used the whistle on the back of the caboose. And sometimes they had 26 made up and pulled over the crossings before we got to work. This was to speed up the departure because train No. 27 usually had a hard time getting back to Marshfield under the hours of service law.

Back in the 60's and I don't remember when it stopped, we used to haul "lake pulp" during the summer. This came down from Ashland on train No. 28 (later train No. 18). This stuff was heavy because they floated it over on Lake Superior on rafts made up entirely of pulp wood. When we started with the first bunch of lake pulp we had to weigh ten cars out of the thirty or forty we hauled each trip. This was done on the scale at Wisconsin Rapids. Herbie usually weighed the cars for the agent Merle Curtis or his helper Paul Held unless he was mad at them for some reason. Then he made them come to the yard to weigh. Our depot was located on West Grand Ave. I don't remember if the NorthWestern had a office there or whether they were located across the street in a wooden structure. The Milwaukee Road of course had their own depot.

There were very few commercial businesses we serviced. Our biggest customer of course was Consolidated Papers. There was also a building called the "Addy" where they made containers out of paperboard. We would get a few loads out of there, but mostly we hauled paperboard scraps from their building back to the Consolidated yard for recycling.

The first thing we did upon our arrival at Rapids was set the empty box cars for the various paper mills over on the "scale track" where the section crew could clean them out. We would then interchange cars with the GB&W on the wye and cut off the engines and head uptown to get the switch list. That didn't usually amount to much, just which empties went in the "hole" The hole being the Consolidated. And of course a list of the cars we were going to pick up which was always incomplete because the mill switch engine kept throwing more cars on our pickup throughout the day. The GB&W provided the crew and switch engine for the mill. If we had pulp wood for the hole we would push it pass their yard office, cut it off and leave it. There was quite a big hump before you got to the yard office and they would have a hard time pushing the pulp wood into the wood yard with the engine they had, therefore we used to shove it back a ways to help them out. When we had lake pulp to deliver we would call them on the phone to let them know and they would go up to the wood yard and line up the switchs for delivery. Then they would wait by our main line until we pulled by and they would come out and couple into the pulpwood. The head brakeman would position himself where he could turn both angle cocks between the pulpwood and the other cars. Then with them pulling and us shoving we would go into the hole. When we got close to the yard office I would reach down and pull the pin and they would finish putting the pulpwood away themselves. We would pull the "the other cars" down a short distance and cut them off.That would be clay, chemicals, empties, etc. Later when they reconfigured the tracks in the city we would give the hole cars to the GB&W at the interchange site.

When we were through with the Rapids we would eat and then head for Port Edwards and Nekoosa. There were still main lines between Rapids and Nekoosa. We had the middle track, the NorthWestern the east track and the Milwaukee Road the west track. The speed limit was 10 MPH. The Milwaukee Road's must have been around 40, as they were always barreling along. The NorthWestern's track was so bad they would usually go in the ring (derail) about once a week. They finally abandoned their track and started using ours. I don't recall who the agents were when I first hired out, but I know your dad later was the agent at Port Edwards and Jerry Knock at Nekoosa. Merle Curtis retired and Knock became the traveling agent. I was the conductor on trains 26 and 27 on Oct 10th, 1987, the last day we owned the railroad. I then transferred to Portage, Wi. Running between Portage and the Cities until November 1995 when I took a buyout and early retirement after 34 years.

After a new yard was built for us during track re-alignment in the City of Rapids, they did install a spur into the industrial park. We rarely used it. We did no commercial work in the park. W.S.I. cars were given to the GB&W and they did the work. About the only thing we put on the spur were gravel cars. They would load ballast in them from a pit located in the park.

We did quite a business with the chemical plant located between Port Edwards and Nekoosa. We set out their cars in the Port Edward yard and the mill switch engine serviced them. They would then take the empties and loads to Nekoosa for the various railroads. We had a problem at one time hauling loaded chemical cars. It seemed we were having a more than usual "hot boxes" on them. A carman was sent over to Wyandotte Chemicals to see what was happening to the cars once in their possession. It seems when they used their track car to move the empty tank cars they would couple into them and then raise them to put weight on the track car drivers for traction. They raised them too high and the brass plates would become loose and slide around the journal. Once the problem was addressed the hot boxes stopped.

After the track re-alignment in the Rapids we lost the track to the hole and all the Consolidated cars were delivered to the GB&W. They built a new yard for the Soo and the C&NW by 10th street. We each went from two tracks apiece to four apiece. We also got a new depot shared by both roads. This was located on Hooker Street, renamed Dura Beauty Lane after the Consoweld Company. I guess the name Hooker didn't sit well with some people. I can't remember the name of the CNW brakeman, he lived in Wild Rose and drove to Rapids everyday. He would go to their caboose and eat lunch and I once took a walk alongside their tracks and it was unbelievable the amount of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans lying on the ground. The conductor was from Marshfield, his first name was Tony and he had a Greek name and I thing his son coached some sport team in Marshfield. He was a pretty nice guy. The C&NW got stuck in the snow just East of Hyway 10 leaving Marshfield and we cut off out engines and gave them a push. We did that three time between Marshfield and Rapids. Tony told the C&NW trainmasters "thank God for the Soo Line". That was before they got the bill from the Soo. Everytime we pushed them we turned in a days wages for each member of the crew. I wound up with 3 extra days pay. Not too shabby. The next time they needed help Tony was instructed to call his bosses for permission. One time they only wanted to pay four men, because they didn't have firemen on their trains but we did. Conductor Richard Woods told them to go to hell. We had five men and they would have to pay us all. They finally agreed. I think Dick Woods was probably the finest rail I ever worked with. He later encountered health problems and was quite bitter toward the end.

At one time everyone thought Herbie Boyce would probably retire from the railroad while he was still conductor on 26 and 27. That was before he got the "dream team" of brakemen consisting of Orv and Stan. Herb lasted longer than most thought, but finally these two bought him to his knees. Orv. He used to get so tanked up he sometimes didn't know where he was. When he became conductor on the job he never had the train written up on his arrival at Marshfield. His girlfriend used to come to the depot to help him write up the list, which was useless because he had no idea how the cars stood in the train. The switch crew was furious because once they switched out the train they would head for home. They had to wait for the yard clerk to walk the train and write up the list. Orv drove a big black Chrysler. Every now and then he would get a dent here and there and when asked what happen he would reply "hit a deer". He came to work once and his trunk was caved in. He gave the standard answer, "hit a deer". Nobody could figure out how he hit a deer with his trunk unless he was backing up at the time. There was only one Orv.

KEITH'S CONCLUDING NOTE: I can attest to the habits of "Orv". When Dad came back to Marshfield in 1967, Dad became the "Swing Man" operator, and this job required that you work Monday 7 a.m.-3 p.m. to provide relief for the 1st Operator. One Monday Morning, Orv arrived roaring drunk, and as the Caboose slowly passed the Depot allowing Orv and his rear brakeman to get on, Orc reached for the leading caboose step and MISSED---- rolling bodily down between the wheels and onto the ties and ballast in front of the Depot while Dad stood there watching in horror.

Orv later cleaned up his act, and was Conductor on Local # 56 and 57, the local that worked out on the Greenwood Line and up to Medford, from 1972 to 1978. In a sober state, Orv was a very good man to have as Conductor. After # 57 rolled over Caboose # 54 and three cars at Mohle with Orv and his brakeman in the Caboose on the Greenwood Line in the Spring of 1978, Orv returned to # 26 as Conductor and retired in 1983, I believe it was.


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