The Nekoosa Line
Marshfield to Nekoosa, Wisconsin

by Keith Meacham
Part Eight

Changes to the track plan in Wisconsin Rapids began in 1973, something that wasn't really complete until 20 years later, coincident with the final expansion of Consolidated Papers in 1987, and the final relocation of Highway 34 to bring the track arrangement in Wisconsin Rapids to what it is today.

The first change began in 1950, when the C&NW moved their staff out of their classic Wisconsin Rapids Depot and in to the Soo's Brick edifice. The C&NW had done almost nothing to maintain their Depot from the time it was built, and by 1950, it was ready to fall down on it's own.

Come 1973, and terrific sweeping changes took place in Wisconsin Rapids, all of which effected the Soo and the C&NW. Milwaukee Road was mostly insulated from everything that happened, but did have to build a new depot and vacate their old structure. What replaced the original wooden depot was a sterile, three room brick structure without a bay window and without character.

I guess, looking back, the changes that took place were, in reality, the first phase of building the Riverview Expressway and Rapids Mall. Wisconsin Rapids got a brand-new City Hall building, which has been the envy of all the other communities around Rapids since.

Consolidated Papers expanded at this time, making it necessary for them to move Highway 34. In expanding, it shifted everything over to the west. About 98% of everything that took place was funded by the family that owned Consolidated Papers, so little was said.

Soo and C&NW were compelled to vacate the Soo Depot on West Grand Avenue, and the two moved in together in another sterile building mentioned by W.J. Crueger over on Durabeauty Lane. It really wasn't even close to the tracks, although the north leg of the Wye to the GB&W passed close to it.

Both the C&NW and Soo mains ended up snuggled in close to the Milwaukee Road. Hence, the reason Milwaukee had to build a new depot.

Technically, track moves only involved from south of the Milwaukee Road crossing to Chase Avenue, not quite a mile. Soo and C&NW swung back alongside the Milwaukee at that point so it wasn't like many miles of track were moved.

Soo and C&NW got 4-track yards to the north of the new Depot, where they had both had but two tracks a piece before. This was to "make up for" and replace the trackage lost around their depots when track was moved alongside the Milwaukee Road.

Also, the C&NW quit operating between N.E. Junction and West Bancroft after torrential rains washed out their trackage between those points, and C&NW let it be known they had no intention to repair it and were looking to be rid of everything from N.E. Junction to West Bancroft.

An idea sprouted in the minds of Wisconsin Rapids local politicians when they heard that. The Riverview Expressway was born not long after the C&NW had made it known they would abandon everything from N.E. Junction to West Bancroft.

The C&NW then tried to service Wisconsin Rapids "From The Back Door", via Merrillan to Marshfield, and from Eland to Marshfield. Then, for a time in late 1973 to April of 1974, C&NW shut off through service from Eland as well, and tried humping EVERYTHING through Merrillan for Marshfield and the Rapids area. Needless to say, this didn't work at all, and C&NW began losing business because it took 14 times longer to get cars to Rapids. Through service from Eland to Merrillan restarted in April 1974.

Even though the C&NW couldn't have cared less about anything else in Central Wisconsin, they DID care about their Paper Traffic, which had to be about the only thing, excepting the Roofing Granule Traffic from Wausau, Wis.

C&NW went to the ICC asking for trackage rights on the Milwaukee Road between Port Edwards and South Necedah, which was granted in 1975 (nothing like the speedy decisions of the ICC, is there?), about the same time the C&NW sought common ground with the Soo Line to use their trackage from Rapids to Port Edwards. Soo and C&NW reached agreement and ICC gave their approval for the C&NW to vacate their new line in Wisconsin Rapids in favor of running on the Soo Line from Rapids to Port Edwards.

Once the C&NW was able to run their local up from Adams through South Necedah, it rang the death knell for the C&NW in Marshfield. Through operations through Marshfield on the C&NW ended on September 30, 1976, and Marshfield was cut off from Merrillan and Eland, from the west by removing the Diamond with the M&T Spur, and from the North by removing two sections of rail north of the C&NW spur in to Wisconsin Homes. From 1976 until Abandonment in 1982, Marshfield was serviced from Wisconsin Rapids (although there was a brief, two-week period the C&NW tried servicing Marshfield from Wausau). Soo Line was compelled to retain three tricks of Operators in Marshfield until C&NW finally abandoned out of Marshfield because of the Interlocking Plant with the Eland Line, even though the only trains going over it now were the occasional trips out to Wisconsin Homes with one or two carloads of wallboard or lumber. Nothing moved on the Weekends at all.

How is this all related to the Nekoosa Line? Well, remember, the C&NW was a part of the Nekoosa Line because of their part ownership in it, which they retained until they sold their MP 10-to Westrap portion to the Soo Line in early 1983.

It just so happens that when changes took place in Wisconsin Rapids, the C&NW was changing at the same time. Their business outlook for everything west of Wausau, North of Rapids, and east of Merrillan, took hold and the C&NW took steps to follow their plan of abandonment without losing the business on the Nekoosa Line. C&NW was "Retrenching" from Central Wisconsin, plans of which had been made public in mid-1974. These also included abandoning the C&NW lines to Ashland via Eland, Eagle River, and to Laona. The "Ridge Runner" branch lines west from Madison were also in the scheme of Abandonment's.

C&NW service to Marshfield after through service was cut was daily at first, which lasted about two months. Then, C&NW cut service to three days per week-----and you were lucky to catch their train in Marshfield, for it ran in the late afternoon-early evening. C&NW still had business in Marshfield, most of it centered in the Industrial Park, and still had business in Vesper, Beatrice Foods, which got in 4-5 tank cars of Corn Syrup per week. I believe the Vesper Lumber Company was still an active customer at that time yet for C&NW as well.

Marshfield's Municipal Power Plant was still receiving Southern Illinois Coal, part of which moved on the C&NW to Marshfield, and C&NW was still getting carloads from the Weyerhaeuser Plant in Marshfield, and needed to come to Marshfield to effect interchange with the Soo Line.

The economic recession the nation suffered under the Carter Administration helped the C&NW realize their plans to get out of Central Wisconsin. Wick Building Systems Frame Shop in the Marshfield Industrial Park was closed in 1978. C&NW had 99% of the inbound steel traffic for this customer, and their loss hurt. Phillips Industries, a Mobile Home Manufacturer Supplier, went out of Business, and they had been a long-time C&NW Customer, originally starting up in the old Marshfield Brewery on the line to Eland. Loss of these two customers gave the C&NW reason to apply for Abandonment of their share of the Nekoosa Line in 1979.

What of Soo's # 26? # 26 and 27 kept the faith, running 6 days a week as they always had, although since 1974 they could only go 10 mph on the Nekoosa Line. Soo simply put nothing in to the Nekoosa Line, mostly because the C&NW refused to do anything with their half of the line, so it fell in to disrepair. Although the Nekoosa Line's track didn't look as bad as the Greenwood Line, it wasn't good for 20 mph, either.

It never fails to be a bit of an embarrassment to remember the size of the trains that were being handled on the Nekoosa Line by both the Soo and the C&NW, and the trains crawled along at a slovenly 10 mph. Brother, if you got stuck at a crossing for # 26, from engines throughout the entire train, you SAT.

Soo's business in the 1976-1980 period remained stable. Soo handling Consolidated Papers coal traffic would swell the size of # 26 and 27, otherwise the size of # 26 held at around 100 cars average. # 27 was often around 60-80 cars coming home each night.

Soo's tired F Units began disappearing in ever-increasing numbers so that by the end of 1978, it became rare to see paired F units on any train, # 26 and 27 included. GP38-2's and GP9's became more common, until only Geeps were used by 1979. Often pairings were 2 Geeps, GP7-GP7, GP9-GP9, GP7-GP9, GP7/9-GP38-2, GP7/9-GP30 or GP7/9-GP35. Pairings of GP38-2's, GP30's or GP35's didn't happen until the Soo had invested big $$$$$ to rehab the ex-C&NW portion of the Nekoosa Line from MP 10 to Westrap.

Prior to that, only the C&NW used paired GP30's on their # 962 and 963. I mentioned to Dad that the C&NW was using a pair of GP30's on their train to Nekoosa and his reaction was, "Ye Gods! Northwestern must have faith in their track!" Soo would never assign more than one GP30, GP35, GP38-2 or GP40 paired with an F or a GP7/9, to # 26 and 27 for fear of putting too much weight over the track.

ICC granted the C&NW permission to abandon Marshfield-Merrillan, Marshfield-Stratford (Stratford-Wausau came the next year), and Marshfield-Westrap in late 1981. I believe the abandonment application specifically stated "Arpin-Wisconsin Rapids", which was MP10 to Westrap. C&NW service to Marshfield had become "As Needed" by 1981, and you often had no indication the C&NW was in Marshfield at all, nor did one know when they were here. Railroad Customers in Arpin and Vesper, Wood County Coop and Beatrice Foods respectively, looked to the Soo Line as their savior, although Wood County Coop was a Soo customer anyway, but the way the story was written that appeared in the local newspaper, it was made to sound as though the C&NW was getting rid of EVERYTHING from Marshfield to Wisconsin Rapids.

Soo Line was offered the MP10-Westrap portion by the C&NW at a ridiculous price, which made the Soo hesitate. Soo Line refused to make comment on what they planned to do, buy the MP10 to Westrap portion or not, or seek another route (READ: GB&W from Plover) to service Wisconsin Rapids. In fact, Soo was so closed-mouthed about their plans, Wood County Coop feared the worst, and built a brand-new Fertilizer Plant along the Soo in Auburndale. The Coop had inquired of the Soo what the future of the Nekoosa Line through Arpin was, and the answer seemed to give the impression that the Soo would not oppose the C&NW abandonment. To take that at face value, it sounds, at first, that the Soo planned on abandoning Marshfield to MP 10 at the same time the C&NW got rid of MP10 to Westrap.

I think the Soo Line may have had plans to get off the Nekoosa Line concurrent with the C&NW abandoning their section of the line. I know not if the Soo Line was even trying to find an alternative to running the Nekoosa Line. The Soo's attention was focused on the Rock Island liquidation, and not long into the future, Soo would become locked in a bidding war over the Rock Island St. Paul-Kansas City "Spine Line" with the C&NW.

In any case, beginning in the fall of 1982, scrappers began taking up the Marshfield-Merrillan segment and Marshfield-Stratford segment of the C&NW. Soo Line gave no indication they were even remotely interested in the Nekoosa Line. Then, in an "11th Hour" dramatic announcement, a press release to the local newspapers made mention of the fact that the Soo Line HAD purchased the "Marshfield-Wisconsin Rapids" Line from the Chicago & North Western. In reality, Soo Line only purchased MP to Westrap, but the local newspapers had no inkling of what Joint Track was and how that effected the Nekoosa Line.

C&NW RAPED the Soo Line for the roughly 11-mile section of the line the Soo did buy. I forget the price, which was quoted in the Newspapers, but the ENTIRE Nekoosa Line wasn't worth that much as a whole.

Included with this sale announcement was the statement that the Soo Line planned on rehabilitating the ENTIRE Nekoosa Line, eventually upgrading the line to 40 mph!

Rehab did take place on the MP10-Westrap portion. Soo Line dropped in new Dresser Trap Rock Ballast and (gasp!!) 110 pound ribbon rail, replacing the old 90 and 100 pound C&NW rail, in the fall of 1983.

Yet, as far as I can remember, the 10 mph speed restriction was never lifted over the entire line.

Then, Soo Line's attention was focused on their bidding war with C&NW over the RI Spine Line. Anything further the Soo planned on doing was put on hold. Nothing further was done on the Nekoosa Line. Some ballast was dropped here and there and some tamping work done, but nothing enough to raise the speed limit back above the 10 mph speed restriction.

Soo's attention was so focused on their bidding war, that Minneapolis did not seem to realize they were losing traffic on the Nekoosa Line at the same time. # 26 started getting shorter, and service on Saturday was abolished in late 1983. I recall seeing a Saturday # 26 leaving Marshfield one morning: two GP9's, 5 cars and Caboose. It wasn't long after that, that Soo Line scotched service on Saturday.

Minneapolis did make mention, not very long after the abandonment of the Greenwood Line in 1982, that the Soo wasn't making very much money off the Nekoosa Line, either, and that the Soo would be rationalizing their marginal branch lines in the near future. When that statement was made, # 26 was still dragging 80+ cars to Wisconsin Rapids, Port Edwards and Nekoosa six days per week.

Three things seem to have led the Soo to begin losing business it's employees fought so hard for:

  1. Soo Line Management's new focus on getting to Kansas City and exploring new markets (a.k.a., turning their back on their "traditional" customers),
  2. C&NW and GB&W had become the preferred routings out of the Wisconsin Rapids area,
  3. A society with an "instant gratification" attitude--I want it YESTERDAY which extended in to Business.

It still amazes me how fast the C&NW began stealing away the Soo's and the Milwaukee's business from them in the Rapids area as soon as they began operating in to the Rapids from South Necedah.

Milwaukee Road may have been "reorganizing" after their 1977 bankruptcy, but news that Grand Trunk Western was courting the Milwaukee for eventual merger certainly helped turn off numerous traffic managers in the mills and caused them to shift their traffic to other roads and to trucks. Our society was changing at that time; "Just In Time" stocking had a new meaning and many firms chose to order their wares by noon on any day and receive it by 7 a.m. the next morning, and railroads simply could not compete, and still cannot, in that kind of time-specific/sensitive market.

For an example of point no. 1, Soo Line turned their back on the loggers that needed empty gons to load pulpwood. Many are the stories I have heard of Soo Line trains running right past loggers standing at their siding awaiting empty gons promised to them by the local or Traveling Agent the Soo never provided. News of this got back to the respective paper mills, Consolidated and NEPCo., and didn't make them very happy. Mostly, it spawned an attitude by the mills that "If the Soo doesn't want to haul our raw materials that we need, then they must not want any of our business, period."

Soo Line was hardly ever a serious alternative for outbound finished paper traffic going either direction, which I think was the reason the Soo Line had announced at the purchase of the MP10-Westrap portion of the Nekoosa Line that they intended to rehab the entire line to 40 mph.

C&NW simply kept their mouth shut and did business and got tremendous rewards. By 1985, when the Milwaukee Road was awarded to the Soo Line, C&NW needed THREE units on most days to bring their train in to Wisconsin Rapids. Bumbling moves by the Soo and the Milwaukee helped increase the size of C&NW's trains as well. When Dad became the Agent in Wisconsin Rapids for the Soo/Lake States in June 1986, C&NW was moving trains of 115+ cars daily. Dad made the statement: "That Northwestern is something else. All they own for track are four bumpy yard tracks in Rapids, nothing else. They run on everybody else's track and have the most business".

Well, with no overhead to speak of (track), C&NW could undercut the rates of everyone else. They became a larger version of the Illinois Terminal, another road that had very little track of it's own, ran on everyone else's track, and had most of the business. This lack of owning trackage in the Rapids area was the linchpin that helped the C&NW secure a long-term contract for hauling two unit coal trains of Western Coal for Consolidated Papers. Adams yard by this time was not what it had been in the 1970's, and LOTS of empty track space helped the C&NW to provide the kind of service Consolidated wanted, which was 15 cars per day. C&NW was glad to oblige, and able to give a charge on service that no one else could match.

Soo's unexpected acquisition of the Milwaukee Road after a bitter bidding war with C&NW for most of 1984, was not well received by the paper mills along the Wisconsin River and only seemed to hurt the Soo's sagging business even more. A business attitude adopted by Lake States that seemed to be more in keeping with getting crews down to three men and saving as much money as possible instead of paying attention to local traffic didn't help matters any, either. When the final train out of Marshfield traversed the Nekoosa Line in March 1985, it consisted of a GP30, GP9 and three cars of Pulpwood, that was it. Thereafter, Soo switched to using the Milwaukee Roads Valley Line from Junction City, backing the train around the west wye and then heading south to the Rapids area.



Hit Counter

The content on this page was collected and/or created by Keith Meacham, and he retains the copyright.
All photographs are from the collection of Keith Meacham.
All rights reserved.
Created on December 25, 2005.
Last changed on December 25, 2005.

NOTE: In an effort to thwart the work of those automated "spiders" that roam
the internet harvesting e-mail addresses, to which their masters later direct mass
quantities of Spam, I have inserted the words "AT" and "DOT" in the link below.
When using the link below to contact the WebMaster, please replace those words
with the equivalent symbol, and remove any spaces, before sending the message.
It won't work unless you do. Hopefully your e-mail proggie will alert you.

Contact the WebMaster

Index to more Meacham drivel
Visit Ron's Rec Room