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Chapter 11
THE PORTAGE BRANCH

During the period 1873-1875, a final survey was made and the right-of-way approved from Portage City to Stevens Point. The right-of-way of the Portage branch, as it has always been known, was easy going over flat level country through an extensive sand belt. As the problems of road building in this section were elementary in character, the Branch Line was an ideal location for the education of Phillips & Colby in the actual work of railroad construction. It was a simple matter for Phillips to scrape up sand embankments through Portage and Waushara Counties; to make a sand fill across the corner of Buena Vista Marsh. On October 15, 1875, construction of the Portage Division was begun at Stevens Point, and before winter closed in on them, Phillips & Colby had placed the 54 pound iron rails to Hancock, 27 miles south of Stevens Point. In the spring of 1876 construction was resumed at Hancock southward, and on October 15, 1876, the line was completed to Portage City, 71 miles directly south of Stevens Point.

The purpose of the Wisconsin Central in building the Portage Branch was to obtain, temporarily, an auxiliary outlet to the city of Milwaukee via the C.M.&St.P. As will be seen in later developments, the owners of the Wisconsin Central entertained a plan of expansion involving the continuation of the line from Portage City southeastward to Burlington, thence south to Chicago. Thus the line from Ashland to Chicago would be shortened by about 35 miles. This plan of extension from Portage City was revived periodically but never carried forward.

The road was seriously handicapped in the lack of a Company owned terminal in Milwaukee. The line of the leased Milwaukee and Northern Railway carried the Wisconsin Central load to Schwartzburg only, a point 9 miles north of Milwaukee. From Schwartzburg to Milwaukee trackage rights over the C.M,&St.P. were in effect. From 1873 to date the Wisconsin Central has been dependent upon the C.M St.P. for trackage and terminal facilities in Milwaukee. In fact, the W.C. and the C.M.&St.P. were so closely linked by trackage rights and other mutual interests, that the C.M.&St.P. transportation rules, whistle, and train signals and time regulations were used as standard by the W.C. until the latter built its own line to Chicago in 1886.

Construction began October 15, 1875 at Stevens Point, and before winter set in 54-pound iron rails had been placed to Hancock 52 miles south. In the spring of 1876 construction was resumed and on October 13, the line was completed to Portage City, 71 miles from Stevens Point.

In 1881, the Portage Branch displayed increased activity; the Central was aiming at the valuable quarries of high grade Granite at Montello, 7.5 miles east of Packwaukee. Beginning at a point on the Central's Portage Branch, 16 miles north of Portage, a branch line called the Packwaukee & Montello RR Co. was built east-ward along the shore of Buffalo Lake (a widening of the Fox River). During the days when granite paving blocks were vogue in larger cities, the Central carried from 20 to 50 carloads daily out of Montello.

The Packwaukee and Montello Railroad Company was incorporated July 14, 1881, by the same group that controlled the Wisconsin Central. Constructed by Colby and Finney, contractors, the P.&M.R.R. was placed in operation January 31, l882, on which date it was leased for sole operation to the Central, and remained in this status until July 13, 1899, when it was sold to the newly organized Wisconsin Central Railway Company.

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