Tag Archives: hiawatha

The Milwaukee Road

Chicago – Milwaukee – Saint Paul

1847 – 1986

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I had not heard the term Milwaukee Road in years.  I came across a plaque honoring the rail line when I was looking around Union Station in Chicago.

The railroad started in 1847 as the Milwaukee & Waukesha.  At the time, rail was needed between Milwaukee and the Mississippi River.  Changes came and went, the railroad went into receivership in 1859 and was purchased by another railroad and then combined with still another.  Out of the chaos emerged the Milwaukee and St Paul.  In 1874, the line absorbed the Chicago and Pacific Railroad Company.  The name changed once again to the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul: The Milwaukee Road.

The passenger train was the Hiawatha.  My grandmother told me stories of riding the Hiawatha from St. Paul to Chicago.  It must have been quite the ride for the details flowed smoothly.

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Hiawatha’s “Beavertail”

By the mid 1930’s the Hiawatha added the famed “Beaver Tail” cars.  The streamlined observation cars were a hit, and earned their nickname from the rail car’s shape.

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Milwaukee Road plaque: Union Station, Chicago

Expansion would begin with the Olympian Hiawatha, which ran out to Puget Sound; the Midwest Hiawatha, which ran between Chicago & Omaha; and the Southwest Limited: Chicago-Milwaukee-Kansas City.

There was a burst of ridership after WWII, and the railroad came out of the bankruptcy caused by the Great Depression.  Unfortunately, like much of the railroad industry, hard times returned again.  Between 1971-1974, Milwaukee Road lost $100 million.  After downsizing, selling of track and assets, Milwaukee Road was finally bought by two competitors: Soo Line and C&NW.  By 1986, the Milwaukee Road was on the route to memories.

Today, much of the abandoned Milwaukee Road is now Rails to Trails.