In January 1977, use of the 14 miles of rail from Durand, Wisconsin south to the Mississippi River was discontinued by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St.Paul & Pacific Railroad due to a derailment which made the tracks unusable. The railroad was in bankruptcy at the time and did not deem repairs as prudent. This railbed was purchased in June of 1979 by Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy) to preserve it for possible transport of coal off the BNSF to a future steam generating plant north of Durand. That plant has yet to be built. In 1995, several aspiring former railroaders and rail fans with motorcars approached NSP with the request to buy or lease the rails for use by private individuals.
This request was granted with the stipulation that a insurance/liability policy be in force year after year as long as the lease was to be in force.
A Board of Directors was established and a system of by-laws adopted for the safe operation of the line. All operators of motorcars must be members of the Chippewa Valley Motor Car Association and must pay annual dues. The board of directors has the power to increase dues as needed.
So, at present, there are about 23 families involved in this project and all maintenance is done by members.......including the three years from 1995-1998 that it took to clear cut all the trees and brush which had grown up around and through the rails from 1977 to 1995! It really is a labor of love and "a work in progress"!
The club owns several large A-4 Fairmont cars that we use as motive power for pulling flat cars, cranes (we have three), gang cars, tool cars, a sprayer and others. We have a homebuilt mower we use to keep the grass down and we spray once a year to keep the brush back. Many hours were spent, early on, replacing ballast and cribbing due to washouts caused by an icejam of the Chippewa River in 1988.
We welcome new members and will provide rides of our rails for prospective members. The second weekend in June is the annual "Durand Days" celebration and our club provides rides for free on about 2 miles of our rails. Using A-4's at the headend and rear of a large number of gang cars, we can transport up to one hundred people per round trip.
We are not affiliated with NARCOA or any other entity of motorcar owners; although we have members who are.
Terry Yust, Member of CVMCA
From BIG RIVER, December 1998, by John Sagan.
On March 14, 1882, the 47th Congress was in its first session. Among the many bills up for consideration was House Bill H.R. 4440, granting permission to the Chippewa Valley and Superior Railway Company to construct a railway bridge " … across the Mississippi River extending from a point between Wabasha and Reads Landing in Minnesota to a point below the mouth of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin."
The bridge was built with a pontoon section in the middle of the channel that could be floated out of the way to allow the many steamboats, workboats and log rafts to pass through, then floated back so that trains could cross. The pontoons were built in 1882 at Peters' Boatyard in Wabasha and then floated up to Reads Landing by steamboat. On November 9, 1882, the railroad line and bridge were deeded to the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company.
Frequent floods and ice jams damaged the bridge, even though it was protected by "ice breakers"—huge pointed timbers that jutted out from the sides to deflect ice and river debris.
The original 400-foot-long pontoon section was replaced in 1891 with a new pontoon the same length. In 1907 it was again rebuilt 396 feet long and 40 feet wide. In 1931 the pontoon was rebuilt with creosoted timers the same length and 50 feet wide. The 1929 edition of the Bridge Book Record says "The East approach consisted of 64 timber pile trestle spans 16' long for a total of 1,011' built in 1926, one span girder type 'B' 40' long built in 1907, one span pontoon 396' long built in 1931, 17 spans timber pile trestle 16' long for a total length of 258' built in 1926, one span pony truss 105' long built in 1914. The West approach consisted of 75 spans timber pile trestle each 14' long for a total length of 1050' redriven in 1939."
The pontoon section was floated out of the way with chains drawn by a steam engine that kept steam up 24 hours a day. Three shifts of bridge tenders kept the bridge working to accommodate all the traffic. The pontoon was pivoted on a 10-inch, concrete-filled steel pipe.
As the trains crossed over the pontoon, it sank 14 inches. To prevent derailing, the tracks between the pontoon and the bridge ends were hinged. According to one observer, "It is a queer sight to one standing on the barge to see the train sliding down the hill on one side and climbing up a hill on the other."
In 1946 there were only a few "barge-bridges" in the world, with the Reads Landing pontoon the largest of all.
Sometimes the pontoon section was unhinged before the onset of winter and towed down to Wabasha to protect it from ice damage. On January 2, 1932, after a long thaw, the steamer Aquila was taken from her winter quarters in Fountain City Bay, in Wisconsin, and went to Wabasha to tow the pontoon bridge back to Reads Landing. Another time, just before the river was closed, the Harry R. Harris towed the Reads Landing Railroad Bridge from its place to a point a short distance up the Black River at La Crosse, Wis.
In the spring of 1936 an ice jam broke the pontoon loose, and caused considerable damage to her ice breakers. The pontoon was repaired.
An ice jam broke the timber pile trestle on the East approach on April 13, 1951. Two days later the chain on the pontoon was broken and the pontoon could not be closed. Repairs on the chain were in progress when on April 16, at about 10 a.m., the west 32 spans of the east approach were completely washed out by high water and ice. At 4:45 that afternoon, the pontoon was unhinged for the last time and floated down to the harbor in Wabasha.
Later in the year the railroad asked permission to abandon the structure. It was removed sometime after 1952 by the Brennan Bros. Contractors, then of Lansing, Iowa. A Wabasha salvage company bought the pontoon and removed the iron girders and many other parts, then sold it to Lake City, Minn., where it became a fishing float and pier.
Some years later a man named Clem Hines bought the pontoon and brought it out to Cook's Valley Road, where he salvaged as much as he could, according to Ted Markey of Wabasha, who says that the bridge parts can still be seen along Cook's Valley Road.
wreck at the Big Beef bridge around 1949. Before the track
was laid, this slough
carried millions of feet of white pine from northern
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Come and ride our Train