Chicago Great Western Railway

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Chicago Great Western Railway
Reporting mark CGW
Locale Minneapolis, Minnesota, Oelwein, Iowa, Chicago, Illinois, Kansas City, Kansas and Omaha, Nebraska
Dates of operation 1885–1968
Successor Chicago and North Western
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Oelwein, Iowa / Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago Great Western Railway (reporting mark CGW) was a Class I railroad that linked Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, and Kansas City. It was founded by Alpheus Beede Stickney in 1885 as a regional line between St. Paul and the Iowa state line called the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad. Through mergers and new construction, the railroad, named Chicago Great Western after 1892, quickly became a multi-state carrier. One of the last Class I railroads to be built, it competed against several other more well-established railroads in the same territory, and developed a corporate culture of innovation and efficiency to survive.

Nicknamed the Corn Belt Route because of its operating area in the midwestern United States, the railroad was sometimes called the Lucky Strike Road, due to the similarity in design between the herald of the CGW and the logo used for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

In 1968 it merged with the Chicago and North Western Railway (CNW), which abandoned most of the CGW's trackage.

History of the Chicago Great Western[edit]

Predecessor railroads[edit]

The Chicago Great Western, circa 1897.

In 1835, the Chicago, St. Charles & Mississippi Airline railroad was chartered with the intent of building a railroad west out of Chicago.[1] The railroad never began construction, and its rights to build were transferred in 1854 to a new company, the Minnesota & North Western (M&NW), which eventually began construction in 1884 of a line south from St. Paul, Minnesota to Dubuque, Iowa.[1][2] In 1887, the Chicago, St. Paul & Kansas City Railroad acquired the M&NW, and by the end of the decade, under the leadership of St. Paul businessman A. B. Stickney,[2] it had established routes west to Omaha, Nebraska, south to St. Joseph, Missouri, and east to Chicago, Illinois, via the Winston Tunnel near Dubuque.[1] In 1892, the railroad was reorganized as the Chicago Great Western.[1]

Early 20th century[edit]

1907 Chicago Great Western ad.

In 1907, the panic of 1907 caused Stickney to lose control of the railroad, and ownership passed to financier J. P. Morgan.[3] In 1910, the CGW introduced four McKeen Motor Car Company self propelled railcars, its first rolling stock powered by internal combustion engines.[4] In the same year, the railroad also purchased ten large 2-6-6-2s from the Baldwin Locomotive Works.[5] Two years later, the railroad acquired an experimental battery powered motorcar from Breach.[6] In 1916, the railroad began standardizing on 2-8-2 steam locomotives, which served through the 1920.[5] During the 1920s, as ownership changed again to the Bremo Corporation, a group of investors led by Patrick Joyce, an executive at the Standard Steel Car Company,[3] the railroad expanded its use of self-propelled vehicles.[4] At the end of the decade, 36 2-10-4 steam locomotives were purchased from Baldwin and the Lima Locomotive Works.[5]

Mid 20th century[edit]

During the Great Depression, the railroad trimmed operations by closing facilities and abandoning trackage.[7] It purchased its first diesel-electric locomotive, an 800 horsepower (600 kW) yard switcher from Westinghouse, in 1934.[8] In 1935, the CGW began trial operations of trailer on flatcar trains, which were expanded the following year into regular service, initially between Chicago and St. Paul, but rapidly expanding across the system by 1940.[3] In 1941, it was reorganized in bankruptcy, and late in the decade a group of investors, organized as the Kansas City Group, purchased the CGW.[3] In 1946, a demonstrator EMD F3 diesel locomotive set operated on the CGW, immediately prompting the company to purchase a wide variety of diesels, and by 1950 the railroad had converted completely to diesel motive power.[5] In 1949, William N. Deramus III assumed the presidency, and began a program of rebuilding infrastructure and increasing efficiency, both by consolidating operations such as dispatching and accounting and by lengthening trains.[9] In 1957, Deramus left the company, and Edward Reidy assumed the presidency.[9]


As early as 1946, the first proposal was advanced to merge the Great Western with other railroads, this time with the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad and the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad.[10] Upon the failure of a later merger opportunity with 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 carrier under these conditions."[11] In 1965, the railroad ended passenger operations.[5]

The CGW, therefore, was open to a merger with the Chicago and North Western Railway (CNW), first proposed in 1964. After a 4-year period of opposition by other competing railroads, on July 1, 1968, the Chicago Great Western merged with Chicago and North Western.[12] At the time of the merger, the CGW operated a 1,411 miles (2,271 km) system, over which it transported 2,452 million ton-miles of freight in 1967, largely food and agricultural products, lumber, and chemicals, for $28.7 million of revenue.[3] Upon taking control of the CGW, the CNW rapidly abandoned most of the its former CGW trackage.[3]

Passenger operations[edit]

1906 blotter promoting the railroad's passenger service.
The railroad's Blue Bird, which was one of its gas-electric fleet.
The Chicago Great Western Limited.

The Chicago Great Western was not known for its passenger trains, although it did fleet several named trains, mostly running between Chicago and the Twin Cities. Regardless of the railroad's small size and meager passenger fleet it looked for ways to more efficiently move passengers, such as employing all electric (battery powered)[6] and gas-electric motorcars on light branch lines, which was much cheaper to operate than traditional steam or diesel-powered trains.[4] The CGW's most notable passenger trains from its major terminal cities included:[13]

Chicago - Rochester - St.Paul - Minneapolis

Rochester - St.Paul - Minneapolis

  • Rochester Special
  • Red Bird
  • Blue Bird

Chicago - St.Paul - Minneapolis

  • Great Western Limited
  • Legionnaire

Kansas City - St.Paul - Minneapolis

  • Tri-State Limited
  • Mills Cities Limited

Des Moines - Chicago

  • Chicago Special
  • Southwestern Limited

Omaha - St.Paul - Minneapolis

  • Nebraska Limited
  • Omaha Express
  • Twin Cities Limited
  • Twin Cities Express



  1. ^ a b c d Schafer, page 27
  2. ^ a b Middleton, et al., page 234
  3. ^ a b c d e f Middleston, et al., page 235
  4. ^ a b c Schafer, page 28
  5. ^ a b c d e Schafer, page 31
  6. ^ a b Railway Age Gazette Magazine November 15, 1912
  7. ^ Schafer, page 30
  8. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune December 28, 1934
  9. ^ a b Schafer, page 32"
  10. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune March 17, 1946
  11. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune October 18, 1962; November 13, 1963; March 3, 1965
  12. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune May 23, 1964; July 1, 1968
  13. ^ CGW Ticket FolderApril 1930


  • Schafer, Mike (2000). More Classic American Railroads. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7603-0758-X. 
  • Middleton, William; Smerk, George; Diehl, Roberta (2007). Encyclopedia of North American Railroads. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34916-3. 

For further reading[edit]

  • Hastings, Phillip R. (1980). Chicago Great Western Railway. Carstens. ASIN B0006XK2CC. 
  • Grant, H. Roger (1984). The Corn Belt Route: A History of the Chicago Great Western Railroad Company. ISBN 0-87580-095-5. 
  • Bee, Roger; Brown, Gary; Luecke, John C. (October 1984). Chicago Great Western in Minnesota. Blue River Pub Co; 1st Edition. ISBN 0-930431-00-6. 
  • Edson, W. D. (Spring 1986). "Locomotives of the Chicago Great Western". Railroad History: 86–113. ISSN 0090-7847. 
  • Fiore, David J. Sr. (July 24, 2006). The Chicago Great Western Railway. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-4048-X. 
  • Luecke, John C. (2009). More Chicago Great Western in Minnesota. Grenadier Publications. 

External links[edit]