The Nekoosa Line
Marshfield to Nekoosa, Wisconsin

by Keith Meacham
Part Nine

I suppose, to be fair and all-encompassing before I wrap this up, let me make mention of the final track changes that took place in the 1988-1991 period.

Consolidated Papers made expanded both mills starting in 1988. In so doing, they paid to have Highway 34 closed and moved two blocks farther west.

The only place anyone could see putting Highway 34 was right atop the Milwaukee Road for some distance, about two miles. In the interim, it was made to become the upper connection for the Riverview Expressway, which lies atop the C&NW right-of-way and is snuggled up closely to the former Soo Line and Milwaukee Road.

The Milwaukee coming up from Grand Avenue in Rapids was curved onto the Soo Line to cross the GB&W. The ex-Soo-now Wisconsin Central and C&NW Yards in Wisconsin Rapids were realigned to make it one large yard with one ladder, and I believe WC added trackspace. At the north end of the yard at what had been Westrap, an all-new line to Junction City was built for a short distance along County Highway ' F '. The new main line actually makes a broad ' S ' curve and heads northeast to rejoin the Milwaukee Main about two miles north of Wisconsin Rapids.

The Nekoosa Line exists in two short segments: Two miles are left within the city of Marshfield, and a half-miles segment remains in Wisconsin Rapids. In Marshfield, construction of Veteran's Memorial Parkway occupies and obliterates the C&NW r-o-w and is snuggled up as closely as possible to the ex-Soo Nekoosa Line. The Parkway slides over onto what had been Soo/WCL Nekoosa Line/House Tracks r-o-w, obliterating where these had been. WCL was compelled to build a new connection from the Main Line at Peach Avenue, almost atop the underpass constructed UNDER the tracks during the building of the Parkway, which makes a sharp ' S ' to reach the Nekoosa Line at Palmetto Avenue in front of the Former Weyerhaeuser Office building. This runs out to County ' A ' yet and stops not far beyond. The State paid for re-installing the former Spur N-283 track, a.k.a., to locals as the "Frisby", the track where the North Wood County Hospital used to get cars of coal for their boilers. Spur N-283 was rebuilt TOO HIGH, and is considered to be unusable. Rumor had it that it was going to have to be rebuilt at STATE expense, but nothing has come of it.

At Wisconsin Rapids, the Nekoosa Line is a part of a new Wye built where Westrap had been. Trains entering and leaving Wisconsin Rapids now traverse this segment to reach the connecting track through the West Side Industrial Park to access the former GB&W Whitehall Sub. Thiele Kaolin Corp. built a plant to the north of the Nekoosa Line that is accessed from the Nekoosa Line.

GB&W is abandoned from just west of 17th Ave. north to short of the wye connections from the Soo/WCL, and from those wyes to the ex-C&NW connection that had come up from the south alongside the Milwaukee Road.

The leg of the wye that had been the Soo Line connection to the GB&W that ran past the "New" Depot is stubbed in front of the Rapids Depot and used as an engine track.

That should bring everyone up to speed. Wisconsin Central Ltd. tore up the Nekoosa Line from County Trunk ' A ' in Marshfield to one half mile northwest of Wisconsin Rapids in 1991-1992.

Once the Soo Line acquired what was left of the Milwaukee Road, the Nekoosa Line became redundant. Of course, what I've written already, Soo Line considered the Nekoosa Line to be redundant for many years anyway. For C&NW, building to Marshfield was an afterthought, but the loss of their line between N.E. Junction and West Bancroft REALLY hurt. C&NW loved that eastbound paper traffic; apparently someone in Northwestern Station in Chicago became aware of that after profits looked very bad. Once the C&NW had been granted trackage right over the Milwaukee Road, then everything northwest of Rapids was redundant to them.

Hard to believe so much traffic moved over something considered so "redundant", but even I have to agree, there were better ways to serve the Rapids area, and the Nekoosa Line wasn't it when it all boils down.

The Nekoosa Line affected everything else on this part of what had been the Soo Line. Because of the Nekoosa Line, there was no such thing as a "Hot Shot" train. All of the Soo's hot Canadian-numbered trains, 937, 940, 941, 943, 944, 401, 402, 417 and 421 stopped in Marshfield to pick up and set out here. Trains # 2 and 5 were required to stop and set out and pick up. # 17 and 18, the Chicago-Park Falls Ashland Line trains, couldn't get past Marshfield without filling out with cars (or setting out as many as 40 if it were # 18 headed eastwards), mostly empty gons and woodchip cars, for movement to loading points on the Ashland Line.

When # 26 was embargoed off the Nekoosa Line and operating out of Stevens Point, that affected everything as well. Marshfield would go to one Switch Engine working 12 hours, and # 56 and 57 would go to work much earlier, sometimes as early as 9 a.m. When # 26 was operating out of Marshfield, then you had TWO yard Engines, a 1st trick and a second trick yard engine (prior to 1973 there were three tricks of yard engines 5 days a week) 5 days a week, AND a Switch Engine servicing the Soo's local customers. On weekends you had a Sunday Switch Engine; the "Saturday Tramp" switch job came off in 1973 (The Saturday Tramp came off more of a consequence of a downturn in local traffic).

Of course, traffic on the Nekoosa Line forced the Soo to build their New Yard (as it had for C&NW as well), and the location of that new yard affected this part of the Soo Line adversely, not to mention that # 26 affected Marshfield just as adversely.

There was nothing like watching # 26 making it's back-up move every morning.

When we first moved to Marshfield in 1967 from Manitowoc, the procedure was to build # 26 out on the Main Line. Of course, this denied the Dispatcher in Stevens Point use of the siding through Marshfield to make meets, and the 7 a.m.-to 11 a.m. time period was when most of the trains were moving.

If # 26 wasn't overly long and wouldn't hang out over the west power switch for the siding, it wasn't that much of a bother.

But, brother, what took place when # 26 was LONG.

It went like this, 8 a.m. any weekday (if the yard crew got # 26 together in any thing resembling early):





   OP: "Good Morning, Lyle. It looks as though we will need to ask permission for the Main Line West this morning to get # 26 backed up".

   DS: "Good Morning, Red. long is # 26 today?" (Lyle was still holding his temper)

   OP: "Oh, they have a short train today of 80 and 41 and the Footboard Yardmaster expects they'll hang out the west end by 10 cars."

   DS: "I see (you could hear the rising anger in Lyle's voice at this point). What time is the crew called for?"

   OP: "9 a.m."


With this fusillade, Gordy would look at the Dispatcher's phone and say (though not depressing the pedal under the desk): "Hey, it isn't MY fault! I just work here!"

Gordy turned to me, standing there (which I'll explain later on) and commented: "This place is just like it's crazy!"

Dad caught relief jobs in Marshfield many times before he had the 1st Operator Job in Marshfield in 1959. # 26 was built out on the Main Line in the 1940's already, and backed up over all 5 major grade crossings, the C&NW crossing of the Eland Line and the Depot to have the train out of the yard and standing west of Chestnut Avenue ready to depart. Dad never mentioned the use of coupling the Yard Engine to the caboose and pulling from the rear while # 26's regular engine (s) pushed (as mentioned in Wayne Crueger's narrative), but I did see this done when we first moved to Marshfield, and only once though I recall mention of the practice.

It happens I was at the Depot with Mother when # 26 came roaring backwards up the Main Line past the depot with an Alco S-2 switcher providing the pulling power on the caboose end. I can't tell you what S2 switcher it was, could've been 2106, 2109 or 2110, I just don't know. I recall the "Ruptured Goose" air horn of the S2, and two red & white F's pushing on the head end. After about 10 minutes, # 26 departed, and as the caboose rolled past the Depot, it was followed by that S2 about a carlength or two behind.

I'm not sure when the Soo put a stop to this practice, but I know it wasn't being done anymore by 1970. The reason the Soo put the Kibosh to it? I think this move entitled the Yard Crew to a 1/2 or full days extra pay for either helper or road service.

After that, getting # 26 backed up the Main Line in Marshfield became a CHORE on a good day.

In mid-1972 or 1973 (I don't quite remember which year), the Soo required Dad (who was Traveling Agent at this time) to haul the switchman that ride the caboose back over the crossings and the engineer back to the depot. The task nettled Dad to no end, and he could not leave to make his route until he had completed this task. On a "Normal" day, Dad might get delayed until 9 a.m. before he could leave. Then, Soo Line, trying very hard to compete in Wisconsin Rapids, got the idea that "Hot Cars" for the Nekoosa Line should be added to the train, even if it was already put together and ready to back up the main line.

If # 2 was at Owen at 8 a.m., and had "Hot" cars for # 26, # 26 wasn't going to be backing up until after 10:30 by the time all was said and done, and I rode with Dad on the job a numbers of times where this happened.

And it always seemed to happen when it was "Train Day" on the Greenwood Line and there were switching instructions to get from the customers and billing to pick up. It never failed. When Junction City was added to Dad's territory, that rankled him too, because he had to get to JO before # 17 did if there were cars on the West Wye coming to the Soo.

Add to this that added "Hot" cars might make the length of # 26 much longer and the Yard Crew would have fits trying to get it started back up.

You see, the Main Line through Marshfield going west is climbing a long grade from the middle of the New Yard to about Oak Avenue where it flattens out for a short distance before climbing upwards again, not really cresting until Spencer with many extra hills inserted to make an engineer's life much more happy. Two F units and a 12,000 ton train, starting backwards with most of the train standing on that uphill already was not the easiest thing to do.

In fact, it became downright impossible.

MANY were the times you'd look to see # 26's caboose getting larger in the distance towards Peach Avenue............but it never got any closer after 5 minutes because they had STALLED.

In the tight confines between the East Signals at the east end and Peach Avenue, they just didn't have the room to gain headway to get a "running" start backwards up that aforementioned hill. Eventually, everyone would have to risk the wrath of the Dispatcher and ask to occupy the main line east so they could pull about half of # 26 on to the grade leaving eastwards towards Hewitt on the Main Line.

Then they came backwards in one heck of a hurry. With momentum gained, those F's could gain footing and REALLY shove # 26 backwards, and to see # 26's caboose coming back past the Depot at about 30 per was as neat as it was frightening.

There it all was flashing past you at 30 mph; Covered Hopper Cars carrying lime (and so streaked with it you could barely read the reporting marks); numerous GS Gons in varying states of decay loaded high with pulpwood; 24' Olive Green BASF Wyandotte tank cars loaded with Chlorine; Black UTLX tank cars with yellow streaks denoting they were loaded with molten sulfur; Sterling Salt covered hopper cars; Soo's Woodchip Box Cars, with 2 X 10 planking in the doorways and a trail spilling out at every crossing.

Of course, by the time the engines got as far as the depot, they were down on their knees, screaming as only an F unit could do, to God and anyone listening that they intended to move their train backwards if it was the last thing they ever did, complete with side porthole glasses vibrating, side panels wavering, and a roar only an F unit could make, and ringed in dust blown out of the flangeways by the traction motor blowers at each crossing.

To tell the truth, I'd have paid the Soo Line to watch this every day.

Standing there, aired up and awaiting the signal from the Conductor to depart, west of Chestnut Avenue, # 26 gave the impression it was "alive", with two F units in a never-synchronized idle, air coursing through the air lines, leaking at an airhose connection, the sudden, unexplained creak of a brakeshoe tight against the wheels, or the thump of a brake rod. Even though the train looked as though it should have gone straight ahead instead of diverging at the Nekoosa Line Junction Switch and ran straight to Pielet Brothers, it was still an impressive looking appellation as it stood there.

There was a time where the Yard Crew RACED to get # 26 built and backed up the Main Line to avoid having to add more cars to the train. Yet, it was surprising how FAST they cut new cars into the train, something I doubt two man crews or RCO could do today. More, in some cases, was better than less.

# 26 wasn't 100 cars long or more every day; I recall after we had moved to Marshfield that # 26 was backed up over Chestnut and their caboose wasn't even close to the Oak Avenue underpass.

But, as the Soo fought for more and more traffic, and gained traffic because the C&NW was trying to move everything to Merrillan, # 26 got very, very big, and the Yard at Marshfield got very, very plugged, forcing the Soo to run # 26 as long as possible in all extremes of weather. I mentioned the use of three GP38-2's and four GP9's in extremely cold weather running trains as big as they could, and I recall riding with Dad on one snowy day with more snow on the way and slipping and sliding through Marshfield streets in the Soo auto to pick up the hindman from the caboose; # 26 had 135 cars that day and hung out over the west power switch for the siding by some 30 cars.

I'll never forget the image of the switchman slogging to the car, coming out of the snow like a ghost through a wall.

I'll also never forget the image of # 26 stretched taught across County Highway ' A " headed for Highway 10 and Nekoosa, a slow-moving, giant, multi-colored earthworm.

I'll also never forget # 26 backing up while still using wooden cabooses yet. I never knew of a "Caboose Whistle" until # 26 was assigned one of Soo's newer Wide Vision Steel cabooses. In the days of the wooden cars, the Yard crew simply stuck a lit Fusee in the casting hole in the coupler knuckle and backed up, oftentimes with no one riding the rear platform.

# 26 had it's share of problems with grade crossing accidents---oddly enough, when the train was going FORWARDS (I don't ever recall # 26 making their back-up move and hitting an auto). The line never had much crossing signaling outside of the crossings in the cities of Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids, something I'm sure, if it was still in and in daily use, would serve to tighten the colon of Wisconsin's addled State Railroad Commissioner Rodney Kruenen. Highway 186 and Highway 10 are the only two crossings I know of that had signals before 1970. Later on, County HH in Vesper got them, but all the rest---and there were quite a few crossings with county and township roads----had bare crossbucks. Arpin, if I recall, might have had crossing signals where the line crossed their main street.

Once, in a pea-soup fog, a motorist was stopped at the Highway 10 crossing awaiting # 26 to clear. I remember that day; I walked to school and couldn't see FIVE FEET beyond. A semi couldn't see that motorist until it was too late, and rear-ended that car and pushed it into the middle of # 26. Had the wreckage not knocked an air hose apart 10 cars later, the train crew would have never known that had sliced an auto completely to ribbons---including the driver.

On another occasion, # 27 was heading in-bound and struck a car, killing the driver, at Highway 10. The train crew ran afoul of the hours of service law and ran out of time waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. So, with no C&NW train following, # 27 was left standing out on the Nekoosa Line until the next morning, when the Loco and Car Foreman could inspect the train and the morning yard engine could pull the train in after building # 26 for that day.

The L&C Foreman at that time was Don Ingraham. Thinking of getting a leg up on his work, he stoked the caboose stove and got a fire going. This way, the caboose would be warm when # 26's crew boarded it later on.

The Yard Engine brought in # 27's train and caboose from the fateful night before, intending to push it in to the yard via the Beltline.

A Switchman was stationed at the Beltline switch, and was giving car counts over the radio to the engineer as he watched for the caboose. The end of the night before # 27 came ambling up the track....................along with a LOT of smoke....too much smoke in fact.

As the caboose came in to view, there was a nice, 10 foot diameter HOLE in the side of the caboose along with flames licking around making it bigger.

Something Don Ingrahm never noticed was that there was no heat shield around the caboose stove, and those old Soo Line wooden cabooses were tinder-dry. It didn't take long for that dry wood to catch fire without the heat shield; that plywood used to recover the sides of the car took off quite nicely because of the space-age glue between the boards! Marshfield Fire Department brought over Engine No. 1 and duly soaked the caboose...........which was carted off to Stevens Point and dismantled. The Firemen got a good laugh!

# 27 coming home every night wasn't the spectacle of # 26 leaving in the morning. With far less traffic, and a Yard Crew that wanted to get tied up and go home with an early quit, # 27 only pulled up to clear the Nekoosa Line Junction Switch with it's caboose, then the train would back down the main in to the yard. But watching the train return, watching #26 & 27's head-end crew climb off while moving while the Yard Crew Engineer climbed on (who said you can't block out a dead man's pedal!??), seeing the F's clumping over the House track switches at 10 mph, with the F's making a sound I can only describe as "Snuffling", a sound F's made when not working hard but in about notch 2 on the throttle,as they picked their way up to the main line. As soon as the lead truck hit the Main Line, the Engineer widened out on the throttle and those F's CAME TO LIFE in a ROAR and a cloud of exhaust from their stacks! Whistling for each crossing with both F's in notch 8, everything looked---and SOUNDED---a lot like Main Line operations..............for a time. Then, whatever speed the train had gain slowly dissipated as the caboose got closer until the train came to a halt with their caboose in the clear; in the momentary quite all you heard was air coursing through the air lines and the bells of the crossing signals at Maple and Central Avenues.

This part of the backing process was always interesting; some engineers could reverse and all you got was a "CLANK" of the couplers and groan of the cars as # 27 started backwards down the main line. Othertimes, you could hear a rolling boom coming until the cars in front of you EXPLODED as they went from 0-15 mph in a nano-second, with the car directly in front of you physically LEAPING 3 inches into the air when the slack ran in.

When the engines rolled past, they were at idle since they were rolling downgrade and the engineer was working the air.

That's it, folks.


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