Galena and Southern Wisconsin Railroad

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The Galena and Southern Wisconsin Railroad Company (G&SWRR) existed as a functioning 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad from 1874 to 1880, when it was bought by the Chicago and North Western Railway. Originally it had connections between Galena, Illinois and Platteville, Wisconsin, with later additions reaching up to Lancaster Junction near Fennimore, where it connected to the Chicago and Tomah Railroad.

near the end the Galena Gazette wrote many articles about the problems between the Bond Holders and Stock Holders, which caused some animosity in Galena. The entire line was once put up for auction "on the courthouse steps", according to the Galena Gazette. There are a number of letters written back and forth between some of the principles involved in this forced sale. (More will follow about this topic)

After the C&NW buyout of the line the 3 ft (914 mm) gauge was rather quickly changed to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge in 1882. The rails between Galena and Benton, Wisconsin were torn out sometime in the late 1930s. The line continued to run between Benton and Platteville until a few decades later when those rails were also torn out. Only a few of the structures that served as stations and depots for the G&SWRR exist today. Some bridge abutments can still be found where the roadbed snaked along and across the Galena/Fevre River. (Note: The Galena river changes names to the Fevre or Fever River when it crosses from Illinois to Wisconsin.) In Cuba City a caboose and a few items from the C&NW days are on display.

As for the railroad itself, a Galena Gazette story dated April 9, 1874 indicates that the first of two engines was delivered. It was named the Platteville and numbered as #1. The description tells that the Platteville had 35,000 W.W.O., 6 drivers 3 feet in diameter and one pony truck in front. This would indicate a Mogul type of engine, 2-6-0 which had a similar driver and truck set up. Furthermore, the Platteville had 11" by 16" cylinders and tender water tank capacity of 1,100 gallons. The tender had two-four wheel trucks. It was estimated to draw 800 tons on a level grade and at 75 feet to the mile, 100 tons.

The Platteville 3 ft (914 mm) gauge locomotive was manufactured in Connellsville, Pennsylvania at the National Locomotive Works. [1] It cost $7,000 and would be used in the extension and construction of the line to Platteville, WI, which would eventually be completed on New Year's Day, 1875. The article also mentions a second locomotive, The Galena, which would be delivered sometime in September 1874.

One interesting story from 6 November 1874 mentions an accident that involved the Platteville locomotive. "Mr. Geo W. Mortimer from the Steam Engine Works at Connellsville, Pa. where the Platteville was made" was slightly injured in a minor steam escape as he was overhauling the boiler.

Unlike The Platteville locomotive, The Galena was a 4-4-0 American-type engine. The Galena had 44' drivers and a similar tender to that of the Platteville but which could hold 1,000 gallons of water, (100 less than the Platteville's tender) yet still more than enough for the 31 mile trip along the full length of the line, and the locomotive appears to have had similar traction power.

The rolling stock of the G&SWRR came mostly from the Litchfield Car Works, originally in Litchfield, IL. In 1889 this company moved to Mount Vernon, Illinois and changed its name to the Mount Vernon Car Company. but earlier had built rolling stock for several railroads, such as the Gulf, California and Santa Fe Railway. [2]

The Galena Gazette article of November 27, 1874 mentions a passenger car costing $1,500 being the first such added to the line. By this time the line reached well into Wisconsin, as far up as Cuba City, and passenger service was vital to the operation of the G&SWRR. The passenger car is 40 feet long, and 10 feet are dedicated to baggage, express & post office use, while 28 seats in the passenger compartment are for the many people who would ride the line. There was a report of a minor incident involving the passenger coach in which it left the tracks near the tunnel close to Buncombe P.O. and sustained a few scratches, but was quickly returned to service.

A "comfortable caboose" was also added for freight service. Most of the freight service seems to have been mainly livestock, although Wisconsin cheese and dairy as well as lead and zinc mined in the region would have been an important source of income. There are also mentions in the Galena Gazette of "hay, flour" and other goods being transported along the line. With connections to the Illinois Central in Galena, local goods reached Chicago and points beyond. In later years from Platteville and Ipswich, (located southeast of Platteville), WI, goods and passengers could ride a train all the way to Milwaukee, WI.

Before the G&SWRR ceased to exist independently, General and President Grant and his wife road the train from Galena to Platteville, as described in the Galena Gazette. Frequently, however, floods and snow storms would stop all traffic, and the railroad lost revenue in the waning days of the 1870s.

Officially the G&SWRR ceased to exist as an independent railroad in early April 1880 when the Chicago & Northwestern bought out the company. Many of the narrow gauge and smaller railroads in the area were also bought out by the C&NW as well as other growing major railroad companies at the time. A museum of local narrow gauge railroads exists in Fennimore, WI. http://www.fennimore.com/railmuseum/) A Galena Gazette article dated 19 May 1882 tells of the widening of the 400' Buncombe Tunnel on the border between Illinois and Wisconsin, near Buncombe P.O., to change the entire road to the standard gauge rails used by the C&NW.

The old right-of-way, now abandoned, can still be seen in some places, tracing what was once a small but prosperous locally owned and operated rail road empire stretching between Galena, IL, and Platteville as well as Montfort, WI. The fate of the Platteville was reported by the Galena Gazette to have been sent to the C&NW Proviso yards after it sustained damage due to wear and tear, but the Galena locomotive's fate remains yet to be discovered.

There is a short tunnel near where the old Buncombe depot once stood that was built and used by the G&SWRR. This was also the site of a spur leading uphill northwest to small station near Hazel Green, Wisconsin.

References[edit]

The Galena Gazette, 1872 to 1882, courtesy of the Alfred Mueller Historical Collection room at the Galena Public Library [3], Galena, Illinois.