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Brief History of the Chippewa Valley Railroad

Chippewa Valley Railroad History – from Dave Mikelson's Scrapbook


 August 10, 1979.   The Milwaukee Road proposed a 5-year reorganization plan which would dispose of about two-thirds of its trackage and eliminate 40 percent of its employees.  The railroad also sought more than $200 million in federal funding, working up a "satisfactory agreement" with labor unions and getting court permission to stop service as soon as possible on some routes—known as a service embargo.


September.  A federal judge ordered a partial embargo of Milwaukee Road services on November 1 which included the 32 1/2 –mile stretch between Durand and Eau Claire.  The State of Wisconsin asked the Interstate Commerce Commission to direct another railroad to take over service on that line.


September.  Four major shippers on the line—Safeway Stores milk processing plant of Durand, Durand Canning Co., Durand Cooperative, and American Materials of Eau Claire met with the Wis. Dept. of Transportation and the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission to discuss possible alternatives.


October 31, 1979.  U.S. District Judge Thomas R. McMillen denied an ICC request to delay the shutdown of the Milwaukee Road until Nov. 6 to allow Congress time to work out a solution.  The order closed down over half of the Milwaukee Road.


November 2, 1979.   The Federal Government approved a multimillion-dollar load program to keep trains rolling on the Milwaukee Road.  The bill would keep freight rolling until at least Dec. 15 at which time a group of employees and shippers would have to be ready with a plan to take over the railroad. 

One alternative was that the Chicago and Northwestern RR or Soo Line RR could be ordered to provide service on the Category II line, which called for abandonment at a later date.  However, ICC regulations would allow another railroad to refuse to use its equipment on tracks that are not judged to be in Class I condition.

Shippers looked at truck rates which many times were 4-5 times as expensive as by rail.  The Burlington Northern looked at the cost of making an interchange at Trevino and serving the shippers but deemed it unfeasible.  NSP had purchased the trackage from Trevino to Tyrone for a possible power plant but would not comment on the company's plans.  An interesting possibility discussed was the formation of a transit group to operate a short line railroad.  However, a DOT representative advised against contacting a short line operator as "often major railroads do not like to drop off their cars for short line operators to handle."  A transportation planner for the MRRPC suggested that Durand shippers look at constructing a loading and unloading facility at Eau Claire and truck their products to that point.  American Materials shipped about 600 cars of gravel each year and received about 300 cars of coal for UW-Eau Claire and Northern Center at Chippewa Falls.


January 7, 1980.   The FRA and the trustee for the MR approved an agreement to a $30 million loan to the railroad.


January 24, 1980.   The DOT offered $8 million for 378 miles of MR lines in Wisconsin, including the 32.4 miles between Durand and Eau Claire.


January 24, 1980.   Clint Jones Jr. of Algoma, whose firm Trans Northern, Inc. operated a short line railroad between Brillion and Forest Junction, WI, expressed interest in operating the line.  Robert Fisher of the Mississippi River Regional indicated that before that could happen, the state would have to purchase the land, a local transit commission would have to be established and the commission would have to contract with the short line operator.  The state would furnish 80 percent of the purchase price with the remaining 20 percent coming from the local commission.  The state would own the land and the commission would own the rails, ties, and bridges.  Federal money would also be available for replacing some ties.


March 7, 1980.   An organizational meeting was held to form a Tri-County Study Committee on Railroads.  Representatives of Dunn, Eau Claire, and Pepin Counties met to discuss the formation of a Transit Commission to operate the line.  Clint Jones was the only short-line operator interested in operating the line.  The state offered $196,000 for the land.  The tracks, ties, bridges, and sheds had a salvage value of $96,280.  That cost would be shared with the state picking up 80 percent and the rest from local sources.  Northern States Power offered to pay the 20 percent matching share.  The estimated $100,000 local share for rehabilitation is expected to be paid by Jones, who would be reimbursed through a nominal surcharge assessed local shippers.  Members of the three counties appointed to the Study Commission were Roger Hones, John Furlong and Brian Gabriel from Dunn County; George Oncken, Jack Buchholtz and Herb Meshum from Pepin County; Russell Holten, Wayne Atkins and Mary Bishop from Eau Claire County.


March 15, 1980.   Clint Jones could start operating on the line as early as March 24 when the Milwaukee Road is scheduled to discontinue service.  Jones already had reached agreement with some shippers to move their freight for a surcharge of $35 a car and 3 percent of the total freight bill.


March 28, 1980.   BN proposed three 100-car coal trains weekly for the proposed Tyrone power plant.  Another proposal was for NSP to use CNW track from Minnesota to Eau Claire and Milwaukee track from Eau Claire to Tyrone.  The EC route would have included traffic through industrial, commercial, and residential areas, including 20 at grade, street, and highway crossings.  It would have required replacement of two bridges across the Chippewa River and construction of a new turnout and connector trackage.  Also evaluated was a route to EC via CNW bypassing the city, which would've required construction of one new bridge across the Chippewa River to link existing trackage to Tyrone.

The company has all but ruled out another proposal involving an overland belt conveyor from the BN mainline to Tyrone.


April 4, 1980.   Rail service to Durand and American Materials Corp. resumed.  Milwaukee Road service was halted last Saturday.  Clint Jones had his engine and equipment cars towed into Eau Claire late Thursday night via Soo Line from his headquarters in Algoma.  His headquarters will be at the former Milwaukee Road depot in Eau Claire.  The MR was operating through a financial extension from Congress but that funding expired last Sunday.


April 8, 1980.   A Tri-County Railroad Study Committee has authorized the state Department of Transportation to accept an offer from shippers to advertise for a short-line operator to run the MR line between Durand and Eau Claire.  Although a railroad transit commission has not yet been formed to succeed the state as administrator of the line, committee members agreed Monday that proposals must be sought before the current interim operator's agreement with the state expires June 30.  Jones reported the Chippewa River Railroad made its first round trip from EC to Durand on Saturday, only a week after the MR halted service.  Jones said current plans call for three round trips per week to Durand.  Two other businesses—Martin Trucking Inc. of Mondovi and G.W. Peterson Inc. of St. Paul expressed interest in operating the line.


April 17, 1980.  Last Wednesday two cars derailed near Tarrant Park.  Volunteers from Durand Canning Co., Safeway Foods, and elsewhere assisted in making repairs.


April 29, 1980.   Marty Beekman of DOT reported 13 responses from 8 states were received from potential operators of the short line.


May 15, 1980.   The state purchased the spur line March 14 for $100,000.  By law, the state cannot operate the line beyond June 30.  American Materials shipped a unique type of sand all over the country and also stock-piled coal used to heat UW-Eau Claire.


May 21, 1980.   The EC County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night agreed to contract with Dunn and Pepin Counties to establish the Western Wisconsin Tri-County Transit Commission.  If approved by the other county boards, the commission would be organized by May 29 and take over the state's interim operation of the railroad by the end of June.  Under the agreement, each county's annual fiscal responsibility would be limited to $15,000, including an immediate $5,000 for administrative costs.  The state will share 80 percent of the costs of rehabilitating and operating the railroad.  NSP agreed to pay up to $30,000 of the local share to purchase the line at a cost of about $100,000.


June 18, 1980.   A closed session meeting of the WWTTC was held to discuss the operation of the line.  In attendance were Clint Jones, representatives of the CNW railroad, and officials of Marten Transport Ltd. of  Mondovi, all seeking to be operator of the line.


June 18, 1980.   NSP said the plant would require 1.8 million tons of coal which means an average of 3.2 coal trains of 100-110 cars per week.  Loaded trains speeds would be 45 mph and empty train speeds will be 50 mph.  The DNR attempted to acquire the railroad right-of-way, but the ICC gave NSP the first chance at purchase when the line was abandoned.


July 1, 1980.   Clint Jones was unanimously selected by the Tri-County Transit Commission Monday night to operate the line.  He made his first trip on the line on April 5.


September 12, 1980.   Car size is limited to 75,000 pounds.  American Materials has about 500 outbound cars of sand and gravel and about 100 inbound cars containing cement and coal.


October 14, 1980.   A DOT survey rates the two river bridges as fair to poor condition.  The survey calls for load restrictions and empty cars spaced between full cars of trains passing over the bridges to evenly distribute weight on the structures.


December 16, 1980.   The cost of bringing the railroad up to Class I standards far exceeds earlier estimates--$3.7 million over two years.  The study said almost all the tracks and ties should be replaced.  Earlier estimates were less than $400,000.


January 13, 1981.   Clint Jones said his final run could be tomorrow.  Gopher Engineering said two 100-year old EC bridges had deteriorated so much that they would not support 190,000-pound cars.  An empty car weighs 70,000 pounds and an engine weighs 240,000 pounds.  A structural engineer said each bridge would cost 2-3 million dollars to repair.  Work would include putting a pier in the Chippewa River and replacing seven trusses and eight spans.  Spans cost $800,000 each.

NSP agreed to pay $26,121 of the local costs of track rehab with the understanding that if a coal-fired generating plant were built in Tyrone, NSP would be allowed to use the tracks to haul coal.


March.  The WWTCTC pursued getting another short line operator to run the railroad but that failed.


March 25, 1981.  The WWTCTC dissolved.


Summer, 1985.  The Happ Construction Co. of Chicago paid the state $60,000 for salvage rights on the line between Durand Mile Post 19 and Eau Claire. WI Mile Post 49.

Eau Claire, WI

Clint Jones headquarters at the former Milwaukee Road depot on the Chippewa Valley Line.
Eau Claire, WI 06-1980
Mile Post 49

Eau Claire, WI

Clint Jones headquarters at the former Milwaukee Road depot on the Chippewa Valley Line.
Eau Claire, WI 06-1980
Mile Post 49

Durand Depot

Last Run on the

Chippewa Valley Line.
Durand, WI 01-16-1981
Mile Post 19

Eau Claire, WI

Clint Jones headquarters at the former Milwaukee Road depot on the Chippewa Valley Line. 

Eau Claire, WI 03-1981

Mile Post 49

Eau Claire, WI

Clint Jones headquarters at the former Milwaukee Road depot on the Chippewa Valley Line. 

Eau Claire, WI 08-1981

Mile Post 49

Chippewa River Railroad Video 

A filmed segment in two parts shot in 1979. This short line ran between Durand and Eau Claire, Wisconsin on former Milwaukee Road tracks. It was abandoned in 1980 and is now the Chippewa River bike trail.

The Chippewa River Railroad 1979 (Part 1)

The Chippewa River Railroad 1979 (Part 2)

Chippewa Valley Line

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