A Chicago Hub Railroad of the 1930's - 1940's
The Chicago and North Western Railway
Chicago St.Paul Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad


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The Chicago and North Western Railway was a large mid-western line that served the farming and ranching communities, and several large cities including Chicago, Milwaukee, Omaha, Minneapolis and St, Paul. It' lines extended into North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and as far west as Lander, Wyoming.
For many years the Chicago & North Western was one of the largest and most profitable of Midwestern railroads. By 1910 it had reached an apogee, which continued more or less through the 1920’s. It called itself the “Pioneer Railroad” because a predecessor, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad was the first railroad running out of Chicago (and all of Illinois), beginning in 1848. The C&NW also pioneered many “firsts” in railroad history. In 1935 the North Western initiated the "Twin Cities "400" starting with heavyweight equipment from Chicago to Minneapolis and St. Paul, making the 400 mile trip in 400 minutes. This started a wave of competition as the Burlington diesel-electric powered Zephyrs and the fast Hiawatha steam powered trains on the Milwaukee Road countered the 400. Both the Burlington and Milwaukee used new light weight equipment. In 1939 the 400's received lightweight equipment and diesels for this spirited competitive dash.
The C&NW had a double tracked direct line west to Council Bluffs (Omaha), and was noted as originator, in Chicago, of the Union Pacific streamlined diesel powered "City" trains, The City of Portland (1935), City of San Francisco and City of Los Angeles (1936). The City trains would join in setting a standard for long distant runs to the Pacific Coast cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. The Santa Fe

Chicago & North Western Chicago and
North Western
July 6, 1942

picked up this challenge with its fast Super Chief and El Capitan to Los Angeles. None of the other western headed roads, the Burlington, Milwaukee, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, or Rock Island, would provide the quick competition that the city trains and other UP/SP or Santa Fe trains offered to west coast destinations.
In 1955 the City trains had moved to the Milwaukee Road, which also had a Chicago-Omaha line, and the Northwestern had dropped out of the Omaha competition.
The left-handed operation of the C&NW set it apart from other railroads in the US. It is fairly certain that the stations along the predecessor G&CU were on the “wrong” side, and when a second track was laid into Chicago, left-handed running allowed inbound passengers to wait in the warm depot. Otherwise, the depots would have had to be rebuilt or moved.
The Chicago St. Paul Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad was a smaller railroad than the C&NW, and it lived in the shadow of the C&NW as a semi-independent line. Most of its trackage was in Wisconsin and Minnesota, with some in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Total trackage eventually reached about 1700 miles.
The Omaha road served the large cities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, Omaha, and Sioux City and smaller cities included Eau Claire, Ashland, St. James, Hudson, Le Mars, and Superior. Its finest passenger equipment was assigned to the St. Paul – Chicago route, with the connection to the C&NW at Elroy, Wisconsin. After 1911 many of the better trains ran between Chicago and the twin cities via Milwaukee and the “Adams Cutoff” on the C&NW.
The Omaha Road was a fairly successful subsidiary of the C&NW, and its traffic patterns were in sync with the patterns of the C&NW. For example, lumber, fish, and dairy products went down from northern Wisconsin to the markets on the C&NW, and industrial products and coal flowed north.
While the Omaha Road had many characteristics that observed it's independence, such as different officers, different style depots etc, it also was very similar to the North Western in many respects, such as the smooth flow of traffic between the roads, the similarities of paint schemes, and the use of the same timetables. The reporting marks remained different, CNW and CMO.(wik)
Short History of Chicago & North Western Railway

1836 - Galena and Chicago Union chartered, later to become part of C&NW.
1848 - The locomotive :Pioneer" pulled first train in Illinois on G&CU from Chicago to River Forest, Illinois
1853 - G&CU reaches Freeport
1855 - First telegraph in nation Chicago to Freeport
1855 - Double track and left handed operation started
1855 - Mississippi River reached at Fulton, Illinois
1858 - Sleeping car to Freeport
1858 - Chicago & North Western Railroad chartered by Wisconsin and Illinois
1862 - Leases of Iowa railroads begin extension west across Iowa
1864 - First RPO car on C&NW
1864 - G&CU merged into C&NW
1867 - Council Bluffs reached by lease of CR&MR
1868 - Lease brings C&NW to Milwaukee Wisconsin
1869 - Nebraska line (Cowboy Line) construction begins
1871 - The Great Chicago Fire devastates the city, and the railroad takes a heavy loss.
1881 - The new Wells St. depot opens in Chicago
1882 - The C&NW gets majority control of the CSt.PM&O (Omaha Road).
1891 - The C&NW adopts the ball and bar trademark
1893 - C&NW purchases MLS&W to get line to Ashland
1901 - The first R-1 is delivered to the C&NW, and the R-1 soon became the dominant, general-purpose steam locomotive
1903-1904 - The “New Line” to Milwaukee is opened
1906 - The first trains run to Lander, Wyoming
1911 - The Madison Street Station is opened
1911 - The “Adams Cutoff” gives trains a shortcut from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities
1926 - The first diesel on the C&NW is purchased for use in Chicago as an element of smoke control
1929 - Delivery of 35 Class H steam locomotives from Baldwin
1935-36 - C&NW, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific begin operating lightweight diesel-electric powered "City" trains to Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver. Northwestern hosting the Chicago-Omaha portion
1935 - C&NW starts "400" runs Chicago to Minneapolis with E2 class 4-6-2 steam locomotives.
1939 - EMD E unit diesel-electric locomotives on the "400" runs, Chicago and Minneapolis.
1957 - The C&NW leases the CStPM&O in order to gain total control and consolidate offices and operations.
1960 - City trains moved to Milwaukee Road for Chicago-Omaha run
1995 - The C&NW was merged into the UP system.

Short History of the Chicago St. Paul Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad
1865 - Minnesota Valley RR operates first trains
1867 - West Wisconsin RR acquires a weak predecessor
1870’s - Various others build lines in Nebraska
1870 - Tracks reach St. James, Minnesota
1870 - West Wisconsin RR reaches Eau Claire, WI.
1871 - West Wisconsin leases drawbridge over St. Croix River
1872 - First lines of North Wisconsin RR are built
1876 - Through trains are announced between St. Paul and Chicago, via Elroy, WI and the C&NW
1877 - West Wisconsin defaults on debt
1880 - The CSt.PM&O was formed as a corporation
1881 - Rails reach Elmore, MN allowing connection with the T&NW, a C&NW-controlled road. The St.P&SC (Sioux City) was absorbed by the CStPM&O.
1882 - The C&NW gets control of the CSt.PM&O (Omaha Road) by investing about $10.5 million. The move protected a vital connection from predatory moves by the Rock Island and other possible competitors. It gave the C&NW controlling interest in the company
1882–1909 - The “modern” CStPM&O acquires many short lines and expands trackage
1891–1892, 1901–1902 - The C&NW and the CStPM&O solidify another connection through Marshfield, WI and have joint facilities there.
1911 - The C&NW completes its “Adams Cutoff”, which provides a fast and direct route from Milwaukee to Wyeville, useful for trains going from Chicago to St. Paul. This route was the choice of the “400” in 1935, for example. The old route through Madison and Elroy was still used, but not for the Twin Cities 400.
1918–1923 - Government control of the railroad, under the USRA, took place as a WW I, wartime measure. Some of the functions of the Omaha Road were consolidated with the C&NW in the interests of efficiency.
1957 - The C&NW leases the CStPM&O in order to gain total control and consolidate offices and operations. This was the effective end of the Omaha Road, and it was merged out of existence. It was one of the first of many efficiency/economy moves made by the new administration of Ben Heineman of the C&NW.
1972 - The C&NW removes the CStPM&O as a paper entity. This had no practical implications: It was a paper transaction only. Thus the Omaha road came to an end on January 1, 1957.

C&NW Map


Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska
In the late 30's and the 40's the North Western had the nod on the Chicago to Omaha competition, primarily because it ran more trains than the Burlington, with its hosting of the UP City trains and other Pacific Coast trains. The Burlington was as fast with its Denver Zephyr with a slightly longer run. The RocK Island tried with its Rocky Mountain Rocket. All of the above were diesel-electric powered. The Milwaukee Road was an also ran and the Illinois Central didn't even try.

Railroad Train and Name Hours Miles
North Western 486
1-101-103 Cities of S.F., Portland, L.A. 7:36
111 - City of Denver 7:41
49 - Forty Niner 9:50
21 - Pacific Limited 11:25
27-17-7 SF Overland Lm,Port.Rose,LA Lim 11:35
717- L.A. Challenger 11:35
87 - S.F. Challenger 11:40
11 - Corn King 12:55
15 - Columbine 16:20
Burlington 496
1 - Denver Zephyr 7:40
39 - Exposition Flyer 9:20
15 - Fast Mail 11:15
5 - Ak-Sar-Ben 12:45
3 - 3 19:05
Rock Island 503
7 - Rocky Mountain Rocket 9:00
43-23 - 43-23 12:20
5 - 5 13:10
Milwaukee Road 487.7
107 - Southwest Limited 12:00
103 - 103 24:50

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Chicago to Omaha - North Western Speeds

The Chicago and North Western had its own mini-speed track from Chicago to Omaha with it's City trains, diesel-electric powered. Here is a list of runs of 60 or more mph in 1940.
Train#From CityTo CityMilesMin.mph
City of Denver 111 Marshalltown Ames 37.6 33 68.4
City of Denver 112 Ames Marshalltown 37.5 33 68.2
City of Denver 111 Boone Council Bluffs 144.9 129 67.4
City of San Francisco 102 Clinton Chicago 138.1 123 67.4
City of Denver 112 Council Bluffs Boone 144.9 130 66.9
City of Denver 112 Clinton Chicago 138.1 125 66.3
City of Portland* 1 Chicago Clinton 138.1 127 65.2
City of Denver 111 Chicago Clinton 138 127 65.2
City of Portland** 2 Ames Cedar Rapids 107.3 100 64.4
City of San Francisco 102 Ames Cedar Rapids 107.3 100 64.4
City of Denver 111 Cedar Rapids Marshalltown 69.7 65 64.3
City of Portland* 1 Clinton Cedar Rapids 80.3 75 64.2
City of Portland* 1 Cedar Rapids Boone 120.8 113 64.1
City of Portland* 1 Boone Omaha 147.7 140 63.3
City of San Francisco 102 Omaha Boone 147.7 140 63.3
City of Portland** 2 Cedar Rapids Clinton 80.3 77 62.6
City of San Francisco 102 Cedar Rapids Clinton 80.3 77 62.6
City of Denver 112 Cedar Rapids Clinton 80.3 77 62.6
City of Denver 112 Marshalltown Cedar Rapids 69.7 67 62.4
City of Denver 112 Boone Ames 13.5 13 62.3
City of Denver 111 Clinton Cedar Rapids 80.3 78 61.8
City of Portland** 2 Boone Ames 13.3 13 61.4
City of San Francisco 102 Boone Ames 13.3 13 61.4
City of Portland** 2 Clinton Chicago 138.1 135 61.4
Average Speed 2267.1 2110 64.5
*not daily - shared with City of L.A.(103 and City of S.F,(101) also not daily
**not daily - shared with City of L.A.(104) also not daily

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Chicago to St. Paul - North Western Speeds

The Chicago and North Western also had a mini-speed track from Chicago to St. Paul with the "400"'s competing with the Hiawatha's and the Zephyrs. By 1940 Northwestern "400" trains to the twin cities were diesel powered.
Train#From CityTo CityMilesMin.mph
400 401 Evanston Racine 49.9 40 74.9
400 400 Milwaukee Evanston 73.0 60 73.0
400 400 Adams "T" South Beaver Dam 61.5 51 72.4
400 401 Wyeville Eau Claire 84.2 72 70.2
400 400 South Beaver Dam Milwaukee 63.0 55 68.7
400 401 Milwaukee South Beaver Dam 63.0 57 66.3
400 401 South Beaver Dam Adams "T" 61.5 57 64.7
400 400 St. Paul Eau Claire 85.5 84 61.1
400 400 Eau Claire Wyeville 84.2 83 60.9
400 401 Adams "T" Wyeville 29.4 29 60.8
400 401 Eau Claire St. Paul 85.5 85 60.4
400 401 Racine Milwaukee 23.1 23 60.3
401 400 Chicago Evanston 12.0 12 60.0
Average Speed 775.8 708 65.7


Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- April 1940
C&NW Historical Society
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Richard Parks

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Web Page Written and Maintained by Richard Parks
Copyright © Richard Parks, November 17, 2008, revised April 24, 2011