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Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum and more 5/26/2022

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I arrived Oelwein and waiting for us was Ed Raye, our host.

Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum information

The objectives of the Hub City Heritage Corporation are to encourage and promote the preservation and restoration of railroad memorabilia as pertinent to the Oelwein area. To establish, furnish and maintain a railway museum for the education and enjoyment of the general public.

The town of Oelwein was laid out in a cornfield purchased from G .A. Oelwein in 1872 on the coming of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad. It was later called the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad usually referred to as the Rock Island.

Hub City Heritage was formed in early 1987 and opened the railway museum on June 14, 1987 and by 1989 we first acquired the Railway Express building. Hub City Heritage later acquired the two-story yard office building and the 75-foot dispatchers' tower, which is the last of the CGW dispatchers' towers and the last tower in the State of Iowa.

On a continually basis Hub City Heritage acquires railroad equipment. Some of the largest railroad rolling stock that has been preserved a Chicago, St Paul Minneapolis & Omaha SW1 #55 switch engine with its cast steel frame built in 1940, an Chicago Great Western EMD FP7 “F-unit” locomotive repainted in its original factory Chicago Great Western EMD colors, a 40' CGW steel box car built in 1944, a CGW covered hopper plus other rolling stock. The Rock Island 17958 caboose was built in 1914, the CGW 637 bay window caboose was built in 1963. Our latest motive power acquisition is the Minnesota Transfer 62 S1 diesel switcher locomotive built in 1941.

The Railway Express building was originally the home of Wells Fargo and Company Express in 1912. Shortly after WWI in 1918 the structure was acquired by the American Express Company and in 1930 became the Railway Express Agency. The original building was one-half of what it is now and the cost to build it was $4,146.56.

History of the Chicago Great Western

The Stickney Years

Alpheus Beede Stickney was a lawyer-turned-railroad magnate who had found work in management of several railroads before striking out on his own.

In 1854, the Legislature of the Territory of Minnesota had chartered the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad (M&NW) to be built between Lake Superior, Minneapolis and Dubuque, Iowa. However, it stayed dormant until purchased by Stickney and another investor in 1883. Immediately, the railroad began building, and by 1886 had constructed a line between St. Paul, Minnesota and Dubuque.

By 1888, not only had the railroad changed its name to the Chicago, St. Paul and Kansas City Railroad (CStP&KC), it had finished a continuous line all the way across Illinois to Forest Park, Illinois, except for trackage rights with the Illinois Central across the Mississippi River. At Forest Park, the railroad made a connection with the ancestor of the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal for the last nine miles into Chicago's Grand Central Station. The new construction included Illinois' longest railway bore, the Winston Tunnel, south of Galena.

Through merger and construction, the CStP&KC then added lines between Oelwein, Iowa, on the Chicago-to-St. Paul mainline, and Kansas City, Missouri, by 1891, and between Oelwein and Omaha, Nebraska by 1903. Thus, Oelwein became the hub of the railroad, and its main locomotive repair shops were soon located there. The mammoth facility was said to have inspired Walter Chrysler, who worked as the supervisor of the shops between 1904 and 1910.

The Great Western also expanded its assortment of feeder branch lines in Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, but plans to continue expanding the railroad north to Duluth, Minnesota, west to Sioux City, Iowa or Denver, Colorado, or south into Mexico, never came to fruition.

The Felton Years

The railroad survived the Panic of 1893 to become the Chicago Great Western, and with Stickney at the helm soon developed a reputation for being an innovative and progressive competitor for traffic between the terminals it served. However, the Panic of 1907 forced it into bankruptcy, and the road was purchased by financial interests connected to J. P. Morgan. One of the first casualties of the buyout was Stickney, who was forced out and replaced by Samuel Morse Felton, Jr. in 1909. Felton realized that the railroad could not survive in the fiercely competitive markets it served without an ambitious and sustained effort to innovate and modernize. New rails, new locomotives including several Mallet locomotives (which set a precedent for the railroad acquiring huge locomotives with huge horsepower) pulled ever-longer freight trains over the system, and gasoline-powered motorcars to replace steam power on the lightly used passenger trains, were hallmarks of this rehabilitation.

The Joyce Years

Felton retired in 1929 due to failing health. At the time he stepped down, investors friendly with Patrick H. Joyce had purchased a controlling interest in the Great Western from J. P. Morgan and had placed him in charge of the Great Western. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 threatened these financial interests, so Joyce and his friends, along with the Van Sweringen brothers, embarked on a stock-manipulation scheme to keep the price of CGW stock high. The inevitable happened in 1935, when the railroad declared bankruptcy once again. It was reorganized and re-emerged in 1941.

Even as the CGW was being mismanaged, Joyce continued the modernization and innovation of his predecessors. The Great Western trimmed passenger service, which was never particularly profitable on the lightly-populated lines, abandoned branch lines and refurbished main lines, and continued acquisition of huge locomotives, this time 2-10-4 Texas-types, which pulled enormous trains, sometimes one-hundred cars long and longer. However, the most important innovation was the so-called "Piggyback Service", the forerunner of modern intermodal freight transport, which the Great Western introduced in 1936 by moving several hundred truck trailers on specially modified flat cars. The Great Western was also an early proponent of dieselization. It purchased its first diesel-electric locomotive, an 800-horsepower yard switcher from Westinghouse, in 1934, and was completely dieselized by 1950.

The Deramus Years

As it had happened in 1929, a group of businessmen friendly to William N. Deramus, Jr., president of the Kansas City Southern, had been purchasing up a controlling share of Great Western stock, and by 1949, this group appointed Deramus' son, William N. Deramus III, to head the railroad. He continued, even more aggressively than his predecessors, the modernization and cost-trimming that had become the hallmarks of the corporate culture of the CGW. Under Deramus, passenger service was almost entirely eliminated, and the railroad's offices, spread out in Chicago and throughout the system, were consolidated in Oelwein. Even longer trains than before, pulled by sets of five or more EMD F-units, became standard operating procedure, which hurt service but increased efficiency.

In 1946, the first proposal to merge the Great Western with other railroads, this time with the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Investors balked and the CGW stayed independent, but even as the Great Western survived and thrived during the 1950s, it was becoming increasingly clear that the American railroad climate was changing. Railroads were merging, changing traffic patterns and threatening the delicate economic balance in which railroads of similar size and stability to the CGW could exist. By the time Deramus stepped down from the CGW in 1957 to take the presidency at the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, the era of the railroad super-merger had begun.

The Merger Decade

Upon his resignation, Deramus was replaced by Edward T. Reidy. As before, innovations continued to keep the company profitable. Second-generation diesel locomotives such as the EMD GP30 and EMD SD40, the largest and most powerful the CGW ever owned, found their way into the system, and the Oelwein shops stayed busy repairing and maintaining the now-aged F-units long after many other railroads had replaced theirs. Passenger service, reduced to two St. Paul to Omaha trains, was gone by 1962. Labor costs were trimmed, branch lines abandoned, as the Great Western tried to stay fiscally viable enough to be a suitable merger partner.

Upon the failure of a merger offer from the Soo Line Railroad in 1963, the board of the Great Western grew increasingly anxious about its continued viability in a consolidating railroad market. Testifying before the Interstate Commerce Commission in Chicago, President Reidy claimed, "The simple fact is that there is just too much transportation available between the principal cities we serve. The Great Western cannot long survive as an independent carried under these conditions."

The CGW, therefore, was open to a merger bid with the Chicago and North Western Railway (CNW), first proposed in 1964. After a long period of regulatory wrangling, on July 1, 1968, the Chicago Great Western merged with Chicago and North Western. The CNW maintained the facilities at Oelwein for several years, but ultimately abandoned the yard and shops. Within a decade, most of the CGW right-of-way had been abandoned by the CNW.

Our Visit

Ed took us into the yard office to start the tour.

The first attraction was a large model railroad.

Railroad memorabelia in this museum.

The Chicago Great western yard assignment board for its employees.

Trains along the ceiling plus the great model railroad below.

More views of the model railroad.

Patches of current and fallen flag railroads throughout the country. Ed led us upstairs to see much more.

Early 20th century drawing of Chicago Great Western Railway Oelwein track and roundhouse layout.

Chronology of the Chicago Great Western Railway and Workin' on the Railroad.

Recognize Anybody? and Memories display boards.

Oelwein Yards and a Chicago Great Western Railway history.

Chicago Great Western Railway steam engines and more history.

Steam engines built between 1912 and 1918.

Chicago Great Western steam engines.

Oelwein Railroad Yard and Oelwein Community Pride.

Crash and Oelwein shop workers.

Oelwein Shop Workers and Diesel Electric Locomotives.

Model railroad cars and commemorative china plates.

Pictures and paintings showing Chicago Great Western Railway history through the years.

More pictures of Chicago Great Western Railway History.

The yard office.

Yet more Chicago Great Western Railway History.

Iowa Division Bulletin Board.

A sign of the Minneapolis Northfield and Southern Railroad.

Two signal overlap signs.

Station one mile sign.

Model of Chicago and North Western steam engine 2905.

Chicago and North Western memorabelia.

Texas type steam engine and lanterns.

Oelwein Shop clothing.

Ed next took us into a room for a most unique and singular display of hand-carved steam engines made from walnut shells. They were absolutely incredible.

More of the locomotives made from walnut shells.

George Whalen display case.

Tim Maize display case.

Chicago Great Western Safety News magazines.

Chicago Great Western Railway timetables and rules books.

Display of shop workers. We next went into the Railway Express Building to continue the tour.

Chicago Great Western Railway baggage carts.

Chicago Great Western hand car.

Chicago Great Western Railway track speeder.

Two of the great railroad emblems.

Various signs on display in this fantastic railroad museum.

Rules must be obeyed.

Tools of the steam shop workers.

Bicentennial locomotive and Chicago and North Western engine pictures.

The controls from a Milwaukee Road locomotive.

Chicago Great Western Railway emblem. We then went outside to see the equipment.

Minnesota Transfer S-1 62 built in 1951. Minnesota Transfer Railway Company, a Minnesota Corporation, was a transfer, terminal and industrial switching railroad in the Twin Cities. It was equally owned by nine railroads in the Twin Cities. The Chicago Great Western Railway Co and Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company each had a one-ninth interest in the railway. In 1955 the company operated 103 miles of yard tracks and sidings, as well as terminal facilities, in St. Paul, Minneapolis, New Brighton and Fridley. Portions of the trackage still exists today but is now called the Minnesota Commercial Railway.

Conrail hopper car 443005, formerly Penn Central.

Chicago and North Western box car X251394.

Minneapolis & St. Louis bulkhead flat car 16209.

The Railway Express Building from the rear.

Yard office building.

Rock Island wooden caboose 17958 built in 1913.

Great Western Caboose Railway bay window caboose 637 which had been numbered 10536 at some point.

Interior of Great Western Railway caboose 637.

Chicago Great Western Railway covered hopper 7230 built in 1966.

Chicago Great Western Railway 40 foot boxcar 92105 built in 1945.

Minneapolis & St. Louis flat car 16209 built in 1958.

Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha SW-1 55 built in 1940 which later became Chicago and North Western 1207 and 616.

Chicago Great Western Railway FP7A 116A built in 1950.

Museum scene.

The yard tower here in Oelwein. We all walked into the engine room then into the cab of Chicago Great Western FP7A 116A

View from the cab.

One of the electrical cabinets in this unit. After a good look around, we exited the locomotive.

Switch stand display.

The Railway Express Building froom the front.

The museum's sign on the Railway Express Building.

The Chicago Great Western Railway Corn Belt Route emblem on the building. Next we walked over to the passenger station.

Chicago Great Western Railway Oelwein station, now City Hall. Elizabeth went in to see if they had a municipal pin but alas they did not.

A museum view. We thanked our host Ed for a great visit to his museum then drove to outside of Fayette.

Milwaukee Road Fayette station built in 1874. Next I drove us to Fort Atkinson for our next station and a most unexpected use for it. Here we found the station cut in half.

This part is used for Straw.

This part is for Hay. Both parts are from the Milwaukee Road Fort Atkinson station. After we had a good laugh, Elizabeth directed me to Calmar as she was doing all the navigating.

Milwaukee Road Calmar Station built in 1915.

A mural in Calmar. We then drove to Decorah for our final two stations of the day.

The Milwaukee Road Decorah station built in 1884.

Rock Island Decorah station. We went to Culver's for dinner, for our first time, where Elizabeth had a Halibut Basket with a side salad and I had a chicken sandwich since neither of us were in the mood for a large meal. We then checked into the Quality Inn and I wrote the Rochelle story which Elizabeth then proofed after doing her things on the Internet before we called it a night.