A Fond Look Back On The Marshfield & Texas Spur
By Keith A. Meacham
Having grown up with Railroad Tracks running past your home, writing about them takes on the task of writing an objective point of view about an Old Friend. Such is the Marshfield & Texas Spur (Known hereafter as the "M&T", pronounced "EMMANTEE") for me. This was my first real exposure to railroad on an Up-close basis. The M&T was hardly well-cared for, high speed "Main Line" trackage, but, rather, it was the last remaining remnant of the William H. Upham Logging empire, a Logging Railroad built to bring logs from "Out In The Woods" in to Upham's Sawmill & Furniture Factory in Marshfield, nothing else.
In fact, when you looked at this line, it hardly pretended to be anything else but a Logging Line, built, for the most part, on top of the ground, with little--or NO--sub-roadbed or substantial Roadbed grading. The rails were simply put down, spiked to hand-hewn ties (Many which were still in use until the Line as taken up), and laid, basically, atop the existing soil. By sheer happenstance, the Northerly first mile and a half of what had been a 7 mile logging line remained in service into almost the year 2000. (The M&T was taken up in September of 1998). Much of the line was 70-and 80 lb. rail yet, complete with Sharp Curves in two points along it that limited the successor to Original Owner Wm. H. Upham, the new owner becoming the Soo Line, to the use of Four Axle Locomotives in the Diesel Era. In Steam, the Soo first used trusty 4-4-0 types to negotiate this Line, later, 4-6-0 Ten Wheeler types. In the Diesel Years, the Soo used a variety of Switcher Types and four axled Roadswitching types, from Alco S-2 Switchers, to Alco RS-1 Roadswitchers, Electro-Motive SW-9 and SW-1200 Switchers to GP-7, GP-9, GP-30, GP-35, GP-40 and GP-38-2 Roadswitching Locomotives. The use of Larger, heavier Locomotives than the Alco S-2 or RS-1 types, or the EMD SW and GP-7 & GP-9 models, resulted in the Frail Rail of the M&T Snapping & Popping loudly at each rail joint as a locomotive passed over it!
Consequently, the M&T was swallowed up by Residential Marshfield as this City began to expand, basically uncheck or unplanned, after World War I. In the 1920's, Houses were constructed along the M&T, so closely, in fact, that Train Crew members could almost touch those same said homes, they were constructed so close to the Track!
Another consequence of being sequestered within Marshfield's Residential Area was that the M&T crossed SIXTEEN Streets at grade! Some were hidden behind a Home, some were not. In any case, the amount of streets the M&T had to contend with, coupled with poor track, limited Train Speeds to right about 6 mph. Any faster and the train would have the tendancy to derail!
As built in the late 1870's, the M&T was at the western edge of Marshfield's corporate Boundary in those very early years. Planning---or the resultant lack of it---in those days, possibly expected that Marshfield would grow no bigger than three blocks west of the Main Thoroughfare through Marshfield, and since, in those pre-WWI days, Upham's Sawmill and Furniture Factory dominated the Village, Marshfield was a true "Company Town", overshadowed by the Upham Lumber & Furniture Company. If the Sawmill & Furniture Factory should, inevitably, meet their demise, as most all operations like the Upham Mill eventually did, it was not expected that Marshfield would grow much bigger than 1,000 residents, even smaller, or, that it would shrink to a small unincorporated community, something along the Lines of a White Lake or Dunbar, Wisconsin. Such is not what happened. Marshfield grew by leaps and bounds after the Turn of the Century, both before and following World War I, and by the time Upham Interests sold the truncated M&T to the Soo Line in 1925 (Thereabouts) the Line was well inside Residential Marshfield.
Upham Furniture Factory ca 1899
This great era of expansion that put the M&T in the unenviable position of waddling it's way past Side & Back Yards, in some cases in close proximity to homes, was due to both the Expansion of the Marshfield Clinic and of Marshfield's Industrial Base. From a Chiefly Sawmill Town, Marshfield evolved in to a Small Manufacturing/Farming/Medical Community, with unpredicted, unchecked---and Unplanned---growth. Hence, the M&T---and some businesses it served---became very intermingled with Residential Life in that part of Marshfield it ran through.
The Wisconsin Central Railway, by then a part of the Soo Line by the signing of a 99-year lease of the WC in 1909, bought the 1 1/2 mile spur that ran from the Connection with the WC/Soo between Central and Chestnut Avenues to the Municipal Power Plant around 1925. This transaction took place at the same time Upham sold the aforementioned Power Plant and a large share of the land his Furniture Factory and Sawmill had sat on to the City of Marshfield, in a quiet, under-the-table deal.
Upham, though, was as wiley a Railroad Operator as he was a Promoter. In operating the M&T, Upham both Located his Main Business, the Sawmill & Furniture Factory, on the M&T, but also coaxed other Marshfield Businessmen to do the same, thereby ensuring the Life of this Railroad to remain far beyond other mostly Logging Trackage.
Upham Banner Mill ca 1899
Power Plant 1920
Beyond the Power Plant, the M&T made a more-or-less straight line southward to the middle of what is today's North Wood County Park, or "Richfield Park" as it is known to locals. This area has been variously shown as "Camp 7" or "Camp 20" or, just plain, "End Of Track" depending upon the source of your information. Upham Crews removed all of this trackage from the End Of Track to the Power Plant, and, today, the hurried, "Put 'em Down & Pick 'em Up" type of Construction used in building the M&T, coupled with the fact the track essentially lay atop mostly ungraded right-of-way, makes it extremely hard to find at ground level. In fact, about the only way to find the M&T to the south of Marshfield is to take an Airplane Trip in a Piper Cub after the first snowfall; that makes the M&T easy to find beyond Marshfield's southern City Limit.
Perhaps the M&T was planned to go farther, but Upham preferred to abandon his attack on virgin timber south of Marshfield and expand his search farther North, near Athens, and, for a time, to the West off of the Soo's line to Greenwood. After 1902, the M&T was mostly a Switching line. WC/Soo would bring in Carloads of Logs for the Sawmill, Car Loads of Coal for the Power Plants (There were two; the Operation that provided Power & Steam for the Sawmill & Furniture Factory, still standing as of this writing, 3-10-01, and the Plant farther south which became the Municipal Power Plant) WC/Soo provided Empty Cars for Upham's Railroad, as did the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha, which the M&T connected with via the "Buttertub" track.
That brings up the Corporate Name of the Railroad itself: Marshfield & Texas. I cannot say I have ever found one shred of evidence that there was an actual Railroad chartered and operated as the "Marshfield & Texas Railroad". The name itself was a misnomer; someone in the Press had asked Upham where he intended his railroad would go, while it was in the era of following the Trees southwards out of Marshfield, and Upham quipped, "From Marshfield...to Texas" and the name stuck. I have seen this trackage shown variously as "The Marshfield & Southeastern" or "The Marshfield & Southwestern" which it was not in either case. Upham never believed in lettering what equipment he did have, preferring an odd numbering system, except on the first locomotive he purchased second hand from the New York Central Railroad, an inside-connected 4-4-0 Standard he nicknamed, "Old Vanderbilt" in commemoration of Commodore Vanderbilt, the curmudgeonly, robber-baron that Built, Expanded and Exploited the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad---the very Company Upham bought this locomotive from! "Old Van", as the engine became known, was thoroughly worn out by the time Upham bought it, and I'm not clear on how much service this rather-odd locomotive put in before it was replaced by an ex-C.St. P. M & O 4-4-0 renumbered "999" in commemoration of the NYC Engine that holds title to the fastest run made by a Steam Locomotive at the time.
But, no where on any old photos of Upham's equipment, do you see any distinguishable markings claiming what Railroad this is. Many resources refer to the M&T as, "The Upham Logging Railroad" and nothing else.
Esentially, after Upham's Crews tore up the southerly 5 1/2 miles of the Line, the M&T became a Switching line, as it remained from the Soo's acquisition until it's abandonment by Soo Line's successor, Wisconsin Central Ltd., in 1998. Switching Movements of zero to 10 cars were commonplace on the M&T in the period from 1903 to 1998. The Biggest Customer in the Period 1925 to 1948 would have been a tie between the Power Plant and the Banner Mills. The Banner Mills was sold sometime before Upham disposed of the rest of his holdings, including the M&T, to the Sparr Cereal Company, who ran it in to the 1930's before selling it to Prince Koenig, who began what became today's Prince Corporation. Under Mr. Koenig, this operation became the Marshfield Milling Company.
This area, located just west of South Chestnut Avenue, became very busy for Rail Switching Movements, due to the amount of traffic the Soo had for Marshfield Milling Company. Marshfield Milling Company, at first, was a Daily Switch. As the Company's Business expanded, the Soo was switching the Milling Company up to THREE times per day! It is a favorite Memory of mine watching as the Soo performed their Switching moves at the Milling Company, and how the Engine & trailing cars would foul Chestnut Avenue as the Train Crew made their Switching moves, spotting cars at the Milling Company. The M&T, as it comes down from the Level of the Main Line to the West First Street Crossing behind the Marshfield Milling Co., crossed the Spur which came off of the Main Line some 4 blocks to the west and ran in to Hub City Jobbing Company. M&T & the Hub City Spur crossed each other at a more-or-less 45 degree crossing just off the West Sidewalk on South Chestnut Avenue. The M&T wandered "All Over" at this point, a consequence of the Upham interests merely moving the track to accommodate other buildings. After crossing the Spur to Hub City, the track curved gently to the South. After the Spur in to the UBC Lumber yard, the Line took a sharp turn Southwest, followed along about a Block on this routing, passing behind the Old Power House for the Upham Sawmill/Furniture Factory operation, which later became Johnson Garment Company, then swung a hard left to the Southeast on the western corner of the ex-Power House, which brought the M&T along the western side of Spruce Avenue, crossing through the Intersection of West Second Street and South Spruce.
The land where Upham's Furniture Factory had stood was sold as mentioned to the City of Marshfield. From what I can deduce, this land sat empty, with Spur Tracks running to now non-existent Buildings. In 1933, the City of Marshfield convinced the Albert H. Weinbrenner Shoe Company to locate in Marshfield and build a Factory on the spot of the former Furniture Factory. The City leases this land to the Weinbrenner Company for a small sum to keep this factory located in Marshfield to provide jobs, as was the Intent in the Depression-era 1930's.
Wienbenner Shoe 1935
Where Upham's Sawmill was Located, the City erected it's Municipal Garage. For a time, the City got in Tank Car Loads of Asphalt via the Soo Line. The Portable Boiler used to heat the Asphalt in the Tank Cars, stood, for a number of years, unused, in the rear of the Municipal Garage Yard. The spur where the City used to receive these Tank Cars had been the Track for receiving rough saw logs for the Sawmill. Also Located on this very same track was Booth & Campbell Lumber Company, later Gateway Lumber Company, which occupied a long covered Lumber Shed. This business passed on to Marshfield Lumber Co. by the 1960's, and then to United Building Centers by 1970. Notable was the long coal shed that stood next to the spur, built with divided bunkers for several different types of coal for home heating. A portion of this coal shed stood in to the late 1970's before UBC finished dismantling it, a process that, from photographs, apparently went on for many years.
Farther along, was the Blodgett Cheese & Egg Plant. A relatively successful Hatching operation was carried on by both Blodgett, and, later, Armour & Co. The entire Plant was converted over to Cheese processing & Storage during the Great Depression, whereupon the Company that occupied this building became known as, "The Mid-State Cheese Co." Two spurs serviced this Building, and gave rise to the track called, "The Run Around." After swinging out of the Sharp Curve that brought the M&T alongside South Spruce Street, the Line had a short tangent of straight rail, then split off to form two sets of tracks from West 3rd Street to West Fourth Street. Off of the "Run Around", the spur that serviced the two covered unloading docks of the Weinbrenner Shoe Company diverged to the Northeast. This spur originally serviced the Upham Furniture Factory on this side, and was the only other spur left in by the Soo after taking the M&T over in 1925.
In fact, in the Open Area today where the City of Marshfield has erected a New Baseball diamond at Tax Payer's expense (A consequence of the Coming Construction of Marshfield's "Boulevard" roadway which partly takes off a portion of the "Old" Baseball Field just to the North of the New and neatly creates a "North Marshfield" and a "South Marshfield"), this area once contained the Lath Piles for the Furniture Factory. A Spur originally came off at the beginning of the Curve over Second and Spruce and ran in amongst the Lath Piles; a Second came off at about the location of the M&T's Crossing with West 3rd Street, and also ran in to the Lath Piles, forming a sort of "Wye" track. Both of these spurs into the Lath Piles crossed a horse-drawn wooden tram railway that ran in among the Lath and over to the Furniture Factory and to the Sawmill.
The "Run Around" came back to meet the M&T just after both tracks crossed West 4th Street, and not quite to the West 5th Street Crossing was the Spur that serviced the Western Side of the Mid-State Cheese Co. diverged off. The spur had a sharp ' S ' in it to bring the track over to the west side of this building. Just before this Spur crossed West Fourth Street, a second track diverged and ran alongside the first all the way to the foot of West 3rd Street. At one time, Blodgett Interests Maintained and Operated an Ice House along this Spur.
3 1/2 blocks farther south was the O&N Lumber Company at the Corner of Walnut Avenue and West Seventh Street, and a short (possibly 3 car lengths) spur from 6th Street back to 7th street. The M&T served this Lumber Yard with a Spur that came in from behind, crossing South Spruce Avenue and West Seventh Street. This Spur remained even after the O&N Lumber Co, folded up business in the early 1950's. When the entire Block was bought up by the City for an elderly housing Apartment Building, this spur stayed in and the building's materials were shipping by rail. The spur was not removed until late 1966. When Mother & I moved to Marshfield from Manitowoc to Join Father here in 1967, the Soo Line was still hauling in carloads of Brick for this Building Project, but spotting these cars right on the M&T, across Spruce Ave., to unload. A short spur between 6th & 7th streets served a small Warehouse once used by the Trierweiler Construction Company. From conversations with residents that live in this area, it didn't sound like the Trierweiler's got in all that much, but David Lumber Company unloaded cars of Lumber here. This short spur was pulled out in the early 1960's, although the ties still remain, a part of the Lawn on the East Side of the House that was moved in after Trierweiler's sold the small building and the land on this corner parcel.
From West Seventh Street the M&T wound up and over a short, but steep hill between Magee Street and South Pine Avenue. Here the M&T skirted Back Yards of Residential homes. Once the M&T crossed Park Street (Only a few feet south of Pine Avenue) the M&T was out of Marshfield in the Period from the mid-1920's until the 1960's. The Line dove in to a stand of trees, then made a Sharp turn southeast (the Second Restricting Curve on the M&T) then Crossed the Merrillan Line of the Chicago & North Western (Originally the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha) and was now right next to South Oak Avenue for the run to West 14th Street, some 6 blocks. (A great way to watch the Train when it was Switching here!) There was no elaborate Interlocking or Signals here; rather, the C&NW & The Soo operated this crossing on "A Gentleman's Agreement", whereby Both Railroads Stopped, blew two long Whistle Signals and waited for a reply. If there was none, the Train could proceed. Soo marked this Diamond with a Warning Sign "JUNCTION 200 FEET" on each side of the Diamond, with a regular Vehicular "STOP" Sign about 150 feet father from the Junction Sign. On the C&NW, the Crossing was marked, "STOP SOUND WHISTLE BEFORE PROCEEDING". This rather informal Crossing procedure worked alright for both Railroads---so long as neither was operating long, heavy trains. This procedure tended to get overlooked as train weights overshadowed the Tonnage Rating for the Locomotives involved!! Rather than Stop entirely, both the C&NW & Soo Line Operating types simply slowed down to a near-crawl, Blew the Warning, but kept on moving, very slowly, giving them time to Stop the train in case there was a reply. There were no near incidents that I was ever aware of; both C&NW & Soo Line Employees knew each other's operating schedules well enough there were no accidents.
From the Crossing with the C&NW, the M&T dropped sharply down, then climbed back up over 11th Street. This "sag" took place in the space of two Blocks! With heavier sized trains, a Locomotive Engineer had all he could do to maintain the slow track speed AND climb the Nob over 11th Street! At the top of this Nob, was the Spur that ran Northeasterly into the Buildings of the Blum Brothers Box Company.
Blum Bros. ca 1950
About one car length in on this Spur, another Spur diverged off and took a sharp curve to the East-Southeast to Service the Blodgett Lumber Company. This spur ended on four giant Concrete Bridge Piers at the foot of South Spruce Avenue, all four of which still stand there today (3-5-01) sans the trackage on top, originally this was the Coal Unloading Trestle for home heating coal. The trackage that serviced Blum Bros. Box Co. and it's attendant spurs in to other out buildings of the Box Company was simply referred to by the Soo Line as, "The Buttertub", for the Wisconsin Buttertub Company which was well down to the east of Blum Bros. buildings. (The Wisconsin Buttertub building is owned and still used by Mall Furniture today) There were two spurs into Blum Bros. buildings off of "the Buttertub", one spur ran in between a three story Building with Slatted Window openings and the Boiler House/Main Building, both connected by an overhead open steel walkway, the other was a short spur that left the "Buttertub" a little farther along and ran alongside what would have been the Building where logs were stripped down into Veneer. (Blum Brothers specialized in Veneer Cheese Boxes). At this point on the Buttertub Track, Blum Brothers had a "Jill Poke" to knock saw logs off of Flat Cars and on to a track going in to the Building. It appears this in-bound Log Traffic was the Sole Responsibility of the C&NW; in all my research, and in conversation with long-time residents, no one remembers, nor was it documented, of the Soo Line hauling carloads of Logs on the M&T after the Upham Complex expired.
Once the Buttertub wound it's way past this second spur, it made connection with the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha. At this point, Two More tracks left the Buttertub and ran along behind Blum Brothers Office/Warehouse, Marshfield Bedding Company, and, then, finally, Wisconsin Buttertub Company, where the second track rejoined the trackage behind the Buildings mentioned. After Wisconsin Buttertub, there was a small Ice House, then Dohm Oil Co., and, Finally, Standard Oil and it's Bulk Plant. The Buttertub Track at its end, at the foot of South Central Avenue, was some 9 feet lower than the Street and sidewalk above!
When the M&T was an "Independent" Logging Carrier, the Buttertub was the M&T's connection with the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha, a Chicago & North Western-wholly-owned affiliate.
Coming back out to the M&T, in 1948, the F.F. Mengel Ready Mix Concrete Company erected a Concrete Mixing Plant along the M&T, the Driveway to said plant ran across the M&T at the Buttertub Track switch. The Spur that serviced the Mengel Plant was located 4 car lengths north of the Grade Crossing with the M&T and West 14th Street. Mengels, in the Construction Season, would receive up to 18 mixed loaded cars of Sand, Pea ("Gravel", if you prefer), Stone & Rock, as well as Carloads of Bulk Cement, at this Plant, making it one of the Busier Customers on the line. The Raw Material came from the Mengel-owned & operated Pit at Custer, Wisconsin. The Sheer volume of the traffic shipped to Mengel's Marshfield Ready Mix plant far outweighed any shortcomings in revenue for the Soo Line due to the short distance between the two points. Right at the Crossing of the M&T with West Fourteenth, was a D-X Gas Station, that received Tank Car loads of Gasoline at one time; even thought the M&T is now gone, the concrete base that held the Unloading piping for the Gas Station still remains next to the ROW.
On the South side of West 14th Street is Superior Gas, an LP Dealer that located there about 1958 or so. When we first located to Marshfield in 1967, Superior did no business with the railroad. It wasn't until the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970's that Superior started using Rail Transport of LP Gas. They remained a somewhat steady, though sporadic, Customer into 1980. Superior got their last carload of Fuel, a Tank Car of Butane, in the First Full year of Today's Wisconsin Central Limited, in 1987. It was the very last car Superior ever received.
After crossing West Fourteenth Street, the M&T started downgrade to the Power Plant. Between West 14th Street and West 17th Street, the M&T descended yet another short yet steep grade. Later, I will inform you how this grade assisted in Switching Movements.
Just before Crossing West 17th Street was the Spur that lead off to almost exact north behind the Marshfield Canning Company. The Canning Co. began operating right around the time the Soo/WC took possession of the M&T, in 1925, and were a good, steady, though seasonal, Customer, almost right up to the end of the Canning Company's existence. Although the Canning Company had a long spur, one seldomly saw more than two cars on it for the Canning Co. at a time.
Once the M&T crossed West 17th Street, the line skirted a small triangle of land formed by West 17th & South Central Avenue. Once across Central, the M&T was at the Municipal Power Plant. At the Foot of South Central Avenue, the M&T once again Split, forming another short passing track, although the Switch Crews I watched never used it to get the locomotives around their train, being especially careful to keep the Locomotive off of Power Plant Property, for whatever reason. The two tracks came back together next to the Power Plant itself, and ran back along the Building on to a tail track set atop an embankment.
From maps, it looks as though the track arrangement at the Power Plant changed several times over the years as need for more & more carloads of coal made it harder to switch cars at this end in the endeavor to get the Locomotive on the "Right" end of the train heading back "Uptown".
And, of course, this led to Interesting Switching moves---sometimes a LOT of them---on the Southerly end of the M&T. I'll get in to that later.
In 1967 when our Family moved to Marshfield, everything I have described was mostly in place. The Second Track that served the Ice House next to Mid-State Cheese was gone, as was the Ice House, the O&N Lumber Company & the Track that served it was gone, as was the Short Spur that serviced Trierweiler Construction. C&NW had removed a portion of rail from the Spur that had serviced the Blodgett Lumber Co. from off of the Buttertub Track, so from 1967 until 1982 when the C&NW abandoned out of Marshfield, no cars were ever put in on this track. At the end of where the Spur that serviced the Blodgett Lumber Co. the Four Concrete bridge piers that formed the coal unloading trestle still remain, too expensive to tear down. So long as I have lived in Marshfield, there was never a track atop those piers. Blum Brothers Box Co. went out of Business sometime before we moved to Marshfield, to become the First Home of Mall Furniture. Wisconsin Buttertub became Modern of Marshfield Furniture. In an odd swap, effected sometime about 1974 or ' 75, Mall Furniture moved in to the old Buttertub Building (Where they still reside) and Modern of Marshfield took over the Blum Bros. Building, where they also still reside. The Blum Bros. Factory Complex still looks mostly like Photographs taken of it in the Late 1940's.
Modern of Marshfield was never much of a Rail Customer, getting about 4 carloads of Lumber between 1975 and 1980. Mall Furniture, once relocated in their old Buttertub Building, got in one carload of Furniture per month, but via the Chicago & North Western right up until the C&NW left Marshfield forever in 1982.
As mentioned previously, when we moved to Marshfield in 1967 the M&T required the Switch Engine to go to the Power Plant ("Water Works" in Soo Line Parlance) Three times per day, five days per week, and once on Saturday and on Sunday. During Construction Season, F.F. Mengel's required that they, too, be Switched three times per day. When the Canning Season geared up in late June at the Marshfield Canning Company, they, too, looked for the Soo Line to switch them up to three times per day. No matter how bad the Soo Line let the Track deteriorate, Trains were still making trips to the "Water Works"; Marshfield needed the Coal to fire the Boilers there!
Soo Line Switch Crews has a certain "Schedule" they followed in Switching the Industries located along the M&T. The Shoe Company & the Milling Company were in one "Zone", to be switched at a different time in a differing way from the Other Industries on the M&T. Usually, the "Switch Engine", as the job that did the Industry Switching in Marshfield was called by Soo Line Employees, would make the First Switch of the day of the Shoe Company & the Milling Company about 10:30 a.m. This would be after having made the First "Run" to Mengel's & the "Water Works", as Soo Line Employee's called the Power Plant.
The Mid-State Cheese Co. was in "Zone" 2. If the Switch Crew knew in advance that they would have far more traffic for the Water Works & Mengels, than they could comfortably fit between crossings. the Cheese Factory would be Worked before the Switch Engine headed down to the Water Works. In our first two Years living in Marshfield, the Owners of the Mid-State Cheese Company practiced "Tax-Evasion" by employing the Soo Line to bring in as many Refrigerator Cars as fast as the Soo Line could, in order for the Cheese Company to clean out Every Cooler within the Building to claim "Everything Is In Transit" thereby saving on taxes! It is a fond memory of mine, seeing Iced Refrigerator Cars standing on the Spur Track, packed in between the Fouling Point of the Spur with the M&T and the Sidewalk of West 4th Street, as Mid-State employees worked as fast and as hard as they were capable humping out as much Barrel Cheese as they could to get it out of the Building before Tax Time!
It was almost as big a fiasco watching the Soo Line put the cars back in to unload as fast as they had had to remove the cars!
Everything south of the C&NW Crossing was considered to be "Zone 3", the Buttertub, Mengels, Superior Gas, Marshfield Canning Co., and the Water Works. In the "Busy" Season, April to November, this was the end of the Line that generated some long train lengths....well, as long as the Train Crews dared get away with. Train Lengths were dictated by Spur Length....and not necessarily going by how long the spurs were in TOTAL Length. At Mengels, for example, total number of cars that could be put in on their Track as dictated by how many cars would fit between the Rear Property Fence (Where the Mengel Spur Ended) and the "Crossing" behind the Mixing Building; it amounted to about 6 cars. Same thing at the Water Works: The Two Tracks out front of the Power Plant Generating Building would hold 6 cars each. When operating, the Power Plant Employees that had the dirty task of emptying the Loaded Coal Hoppers would have 6 cars dragged back beyond the between-the-track unloading chutes, one track out front filled with Emptied Cars and one track empty of cars. Incoming cars would simply be shoved in the empty track, and the track with the standing empty cars would be pulled back Uptown. It sounds simple, doesn't it?
Well....most of the time it could have been considered to be that simple. There are, always, other "Intangibles" that get thrown in.
Switching the South End was a fairly Straight-forward task. The Switch Crew would "Pre-Block" their Train, that is, Switch the cars in the Order they needed to be in beforehand, e.g., F.F. Mengel's 6 cars first, followed by the Cars for the Water Works. If it was the right time of the year, then one or two cars would be inserted in between the Mengel's and Water Works cars for the Canning Company; if it fell in the period where Superior Gas was receiving Tank Car loads of LP Gas, that Tank Car would follow on the Very End of the Water Works cars.
The Switch Crew would assemble this "Train", such as it was, on the Old "House Tracks", so named because two of the three remaining tracks the Switch Engine used whilest going about their daily ritual of Switching Marshfield's industries had serviced the Soo's Marshfield Freight House, Pump Air through the Train, and head off over the M&T's Crooked, Worn, Frail out-of-line trackage to the F.F. Mengel's Spur. The ENTIRE Train would be pulled clear of Mengel's Switch; once Lined into Mengel's, the Train would reverse, coupling on to the Cars sitting Empty, which were rolled down short of the Derail as they were unloaded. Backing Continued until all the Couplings had been made on the cars sitting empty; once it was determined all the cars were coupled, the Engine would drag EVERYTHING out of Mengel's. Once the Last Empty Mengel's car cleared the Track Switch, the Engine would reverse, pushing it's burden upgrade all the way back until the Last Car of the incoming Mengel's Cars cleared West 11th Street. There the train was uncoupled, the inbound loads for Mengel's pulled down clear to Mengel's Switch, and the New Loaded Cars were pushed in all the way back to the end of this spur, as described previously. The Engine was uncoupled, and ran back out light onto the M&T, the Switch Re-lined, and the Locomotive scooted back for their Train left to clear West 11th Street. The standing Train was re-aired and the Production took off for the Power Plant.
Once the Train got to just short of the Canning Company Switch, the Train would stop; the Locomotive would cut away from the Train, and the Locomotive would run in to the Power Plant Light. Here the train would grab the 6 empty cars left on one track or the other, and take them back towards the train standing, now, on the Steep Hill coming down from West 14th Street. Instead of Running right back in to their Train, the Engine and 6 empty cars would, instead, diverge onto the Canning Company Spur and would pull in until the last car Cleared this Switch. Once in the Clear, the Handbrakes on the First car of the inbound train were kicked off, and gravity moved the train by itself downward into the Power Plant. As the Last Car Cleared, the Switch would be thrown to the Canning Co. spur and the Locomotive and six empty cars waiting patiently for the inbound train to clear would back out to couple on to the cars moving by themselves into the Power Plant, acting as a sort of "Dynamic Brake." Once the rolling cut was stopped, then the Engine would continue backing out to clear the Canning Co. switch.
While the inbound Train stood on the Hill waiting for the Locomotive to finish it's first move of grabbing the Empty cars at the Power Plant, One of the Switchmen would, First, Set the Handbrake on the First car of the Train, then walk alongside and bleed all the air out of the cars to facilitate the train rolling along on it's own. This grade was steep enough that once the Handbrakes were released on the first car the train itself simply moved away on it's own. The Brakeman would attempt to control the descent into the Power Plant with the Handbrake on that first car as best as he could. It was a Dangerous maneuver at best, and over the years I have come across Photographs of cars that DIDN'T Get caught & Stopped in time that rolled off the end of track! Surprisingly, this Maneuver didn't get anyone seriously hurt or Killed in all the years it was practiced!
This maneuver was, of course, greatly modified when there were cars for the Canning Company; The Switch Engine would cut-off from their Train, run to Clear the Canning Co. switch, then go in to get the Loaded Cars first, exchange the Loaded cars for the Empties, then go in to the Water Works and grab 4 empty cars out. The Canning Co. spur held an almost exact Locomotive and six cars, and the Switch Crew had better not be bad at Math! After the inbound train had rolled by by gravity and grabbed by the Switch Engine & cars sitting on the Canning Co. Track, after the inbound train had been shoved in to clear Central Avenue, the Locomotive & Canning Co. cars would go back in to the Canning Co. and "Spot" the Empties as required.
Many are the Stories of the Late Matt Neilis, who occupied the "Switch Foreman's" job on the Switch Engine, roaming the interior of the Canning Co. production area, with Steam literally emitting from his ears, looking for whomever it was that had been irresponsible enough to have not removed the Can Tracks & the Leg that held these up in the air from the Center of the Spur Track so Matt & his Crew could do their work! The Canning Co. had a Metal Warehouse on the West Side of their Spur where empty Cans were unloaded onto a pair of chain-driven tracks that followed their spur along to a smaller, one room building, where the Cans were turned and then sent upwards on this double pair of tracks, the Apex of which was in the Center of the Canning Co. spur, then the cans slid by gravity into the Canning Building. This track was removable to allow the Trains in & out, and in the off-season as simply taken down and stored. The Soo Line would call the Canning Co. ahead of time during Canning Season and let the Canning Co. know the Switch Engine was on it's way, so the Canning co. could stop the empty cans and remove the Track & Stand from the middle of their spur. Sometimes they didn't always have it out of the way!
If there was a car of LP Gas for Superior, it would be left on the hill until all the other switching was completed, then allowed to roll by itself onto the now-returning Train with the Locomotive waiting on the Canning Co. spur for it to pass; this would put the LP Car first out for Switching at Superior when the Train Crested the hill to 14th Street.
There was Method to all this Railroading Madness, wasn't there!
From 1967 to 1973 I saw what would have been the "Final Hurrah" on the M&T. After 1973, Traffic slowly began to fall off. The City of Marshfield began Purchasing more & more power produced elsewhere, and began to use the Municipal Plant only for "Peak" operation. From 18 cars of coal average for a five-day week, the Power Plant dropped to 12 cars per day, no service on Saturday, then, by 1976, had dropped to just 6 cars per day. By 1984, the Power Plant was used even less and the Soo brought in only 6 cars of coal every-other day. By the time the plant was shut down forever in 1988, the plant got in a mere 3 cars of coal every-other day. Wisconsin Central enjoyed just a small amount of Business from the Power Plant until it was closed, and WC hauled the last cars out of the Plant, reloaded with coal from the Stock Pile sold to who-knows-where.
F.F. Mengels Business stayed heavy with the Soo in to 1973, then, it, too, began to fade, due to the Soo Line finding this business to be unfavorable due to the Short Haul from Custer. Each time there was a Rate Increase, Mengels found it cheaper to haul that material itself in it's quad axle dump trucks to Marshfield from Custer. First to go was "Stone" in 1973, followed by "Rock" in 1975. Pea Gravel disappeared in 1977. By 1982, the last year Mengel's in Marshfield received any carloads via the Soo, Mengel's as down to 3 cars of sand three days per week. When the Rate was raised on that commodity that Winter, Mengel's gave up Rail service to Marshfield altogether instead preferring to Truck their material over. Too, Mengel's itself was slowly contracting, due to increased competition. The entire Mengel's operation was sold to County Concrete in 1994, and Trierweiler Construction bought up the Marshfield Mixing Plant shortly thereafter and tore both Old & New Mixing Buildings shortly thereafter. Today, this land is home to Northwestern Rental Center, who purchased the Property from Trierweiler Construction.
The Marshfield Canning Co. remained a Steady Rail Customer right in to 1989. Although empty cans switched to Trucks, as did Pelletized Salt, the Outbound Business remained at a healthy 500 cars per year to 1986. Thereafter totals slipped to 250, then to 100, to the final year where Wisconsin Central moved a total of 30 cars all year. Reedsburg Foods acquired Marshfield Canning Co about 1983 and slowly phased out operations until the Canning Co. was closed up forever in 1996. Today's Wisconsin Central pushed the Last Load from the Canning Co. uptown in 1995.
The Mid-State Cheese Co. Burned to the Ground on January 2, 1976, in a Spectacular Inferno. Prior to this fire, Service by the Soo slowly dropped off. The Nefarious Practice of emptying out the Coolers prior to tax time ended in 1970, thereafter the Soo was lucky to get one carload of cheese outbound from Mid-State per month. When the building burned down, the Soo hadn't spotted a Carload in Mid-State in about a year.
Weinbrenner Shoe Company slowly contracted from Rail Service over time, from requiring a Daily Switch to just a Car per week by 1984. Originally, Weinbrenner got inbound cars of pre-cut leather in on the West Spur next to the Building; I was on hand, accidentally, to see the Last Car pulled out of that side of the building. Thereafter, the West Weinbrenner Track & the Run-around were pulled up and were gone by 1975. Weinbrenner's Business to the Soo Line by 1973 was predominantly Combat Boots & Dress Shoes for the Military. With the closing of that Contract in 1984, the East Side Spur, where Weinbrenner did all their remaining business with the Soo, was quickly taken out.
The Marshfield Milling Co. stayed a thrice-daily Switch for the Soo into 1973. Thereafter, the Milling Co., later to become, "Prince Corporation", continued to expand and shift more & more of their Operation from the old Banner Mills out to the New Complex built just outside Marshfield's eastern City Limits. By 1980 the Soo had little reason to put any cars in at this old Facility, and the Milling Co. moved out of the old Banner Mills building by 1984. This historic Building was torn down in 1986, in a move to "Beautify" the area. The old Banner Mills was called, "An Eyesore", although what was done after the Banner Mills buildings were removed could hardly have been called "Urban Renewal". It was more of an Eyesore Afterward!
United Building Centers never amounted to much of a Railroad Customer. They didn't do a lot of Business with the Soo Line until the Arab Oil Embargo hit with gusto in the mid-1970's. Then, the Three UBC's in this area, Spencer, Marshfield & Loyal, would split a Carload three ways, each Lumber yard got a portion of the load no matter where it had come in. This made for a lot of Trucking about, but this was what was done. UBC gave up in Marshfield in 1980; Loyal and Spencer made in in to 1985 before they both were closed up forever.
On September 2nd, 1998, Scrappers from Iowa arrived in Marshfield and removed the M&T. There was no hope of ever getting any Business back on it; the Power Plant was torn Down in 1997. The City of Marshfield has a predilection of eradicating any traces of Railroads, not to mention an Allergy to the one that remains. The M&T will become a part of a Trail, but, instead of being called, "The Marshfield & Texas Trail" it will become the "Wildwood Trail" because it comes out at Wildwood Park. There will be NO Reference to Railroads! That it will remain in a Trail State is better than nothing, although Residents along the M&T's Right-Of-Way are strictly Against keeping the M&T as a trail. The City plans on doing it anyway, Tax Payers be damned!
The last "Train" over the M&T was Wisconsin Central-ex-Fox River Valley Engine 1702 & one Carload from the Marshfield Canning Co. in August of 1995.Keith Meacham
See our Permissions page for use and copyright information.