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Blueberry Line under high water

Blueberry Line under high water

Being Springtime, this is a good story to remember.
But with the mild weather this year and no ice jams in the rivers, it might be hard to imagine this.
In the 1970's, I heard some of this story but didn't remember where and how long ago.
I pretty well forgot about it until seeing it fresh again.


In December of 2011, Arlyn C mentioned a newspaper article he noticed in the Eau Claire Leader archives.

Here's his email:

You might know there was (is) a crossing tower of the Omaha and Soo Line just south of Rice Lake. Well a couple of weeks ago I found that the original Soo Line (actually the Rice Lake, Dallas & Menomonie RR) went UNDER the Omaha trackage until 1901 when they made a crossing at grade level. Then, last night I found the attached article which confirms that and (to me) tells why they changed it to a diamond grade crossing.


Here's the text of the 1901article from the Eau Claire Telegram Leader newspaper:

. . . Had Troubles of Its Own.

A resident of the Rice Lake informs the Leader man that his city was of course in no danger of recent floods or from ice gorges, but at the same time adds that the good folk of that city are not well satisified with the entire overlooking by the press of the country, of the troubles and trials of the famous 'blueberry line', the Rice Lake Dallas, and Menomonie, of which M. P. Barry is the moving spirit.
The road runs daily and is eight miles long from Cameron to Rice Lake.
This is the road someone once remarked about that it was perhaps not so long, but was just as wide as some other lines.

The 'blueberry' runs under the Omaha road at one point, and this hollow, the recent rains, flooding a near-by creek filled up with water sufficiently deep to put out the fires of the engine, the only locomotive on the line.
It was desired to take six cars of lumber from Rice Lake to Cameron, but when the flooded track was reached the train was stalled and fire in the engine put out.
Then came ingenuity and hard work. With one car the engine was able to push through the water. A fresh fire was built, the engineer and fireman gathering material from the woods.
The one car was run to Cameron.
Back came the engine and hitched on to a second car.
Into the water again, and the again the fire went out.
More wood was gathered and a new fire lighted, and another car taken to its destination.
Again and again the same operation, until at length all the cars were gathered to.
But it took longer than one day to make the few miles of a trip.



The tower and grade crossing of the Omaha was built in 1901.
Before that, the two railroads crossed somewhere.
Here's my (Bruce's) map of Meadows Creek marked with my speculation
about the Blueberry line crossing under the Omaha before 1901.
The purple line would get them under the Omaha bridge (or trestle in that century?)
and avoid the expense of a manned tower.

But they would be real close to the water level of the creek.


In this century, here's some views of the existing bridge over Meadows Creek.
In the distance to the north is the tower of the grade crossing.


. . . . . .. . . .looking south in the picture below.
. . .. I would guess 14 feet from the Omaha railhead to the water.

. . .. . In the late 19th century, maybe the small rail cars of that era could squeak under there
. . . . . . if this was a trestle with thin beams, and the rail in the river bottom was laid almost in the water ?
. . . . . .And maybe more of this stretch had a trestle just a little higher to make just enough clearance ?
. . . . Although, if the Omaha was first through here, I don't imagine they gave an inch to help the Blueberry cross under.

. . . . . . This was still just Bruce's speculation in 2011

. . . . There's a lot of expense that is avoided if railroads don't have to cross at grade.


Here's some info from Arlyn about the history of this area:

If you read that article I sent you closely, it does say the RLD&M went UNDER the Omaha track.
I'm guessing there was a trestle there before it was 'filled in' later with the girder bridge.

About 2 weeks ago I walked up there to see if I could see the old right-of-way and couldn't tell anything.
But I saw a map at Stu Nelson's house that showed the track went right along Meadow Creek.

The original bridge and trestle system might have been higher and could have been lowered when the trestle work was filled in.
I've emailed Joe Piersen of the CNW archives to see if he could come up with something but haven't heard back.

This is pretty interesting stuff!!!



And in 2012, I see a message from Matt H of Spring, Texas, about some historic aerial photos of Wisconsin from 1939.
(It takes someone that far away to show us Badgers what we have.)

Using the Wisconsin Historic Aerial Image finder website, you can look up
and download aerial mapping photos from 1938 and 1939 covering the entire state of Wisconsin.

Navigate to the area, click the Select tool (near the right side of the menu bar on top of map)
and then click on the map to find what photos cover the area.
See the center of photo with a red number dot, view, download S or L (jpg) or XL (tif).

I did this for the Rice Lake area, and cropped this picture from an aerial photo:



There it is, the old R.O.W. is curving across the open area.
a few hundred feet south of the curve that was made east of the tower in 1901.
And there is a tree line to the southwest of the the Omaha and Meadows Creek.
(my speculation was fairly close, I should have drawn the straight line more southerly than southwest)

Arlyn and I have seen the actual location and there's nothing left to see on either side of the Omaha in this century.

But enough shows in the 1939 photo, about 38 years after the tracks were removed.

The latest Google maps have more detail and zoom in closer,
but modern views don't show evidence like this about the old R.O.W.
Time and nature has really reclaimed the area.

Look up your favorite town, and you might be surprised how easy some old tracks show up on the 1939 aerial photos.


This is a page from my Cd about Western Wisconsin Abandonned Rails.
I added the 1939 picture this month, and show this web page to keep this interesting story around.
Got to admire the hard work done in the 'good old days'.

Link back to my index page, Bruce's RailRoad Pictures

my best index page is on the TrainWeb site, as of January 2011.

Copyright 2012, for Arlyn Colby and the archives of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram.