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CNW Cowboy Line

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CNW Cowboy Line
Posted by wyldmanr8cer on Friday, November 18, 2011 9:55 PM

I am looking for some information regarding the famed "Cowboy Line." I do know that a portion of the original line in Wyoming (Shawnee Jct. to a location East of there) that I can not find information about. Can anyone suggest a book or literature that could tell me more? There was an excellent article about the powder river basin in the May issue of Trains 2010 that included bits and pieces about the cowboy but nothing very extensive. Thanks for the help everybody!

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Friday, November 18, 2011 10:41 PM

       There is a book by Rick Mills(?)  I think it's called "The High, Dry and Dusty"(?) about the cowboy line.

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Saturday, November 19, 2011 7:18 AM

The High, Dry, and Dusty: Memories of the Cowboy Line

By: Rick W. Mills & James J. Reisdorff

ISBN: 0942035208    ISBN-13: 9780942035209
Publisher: South Platte Press - 1992

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Posted by spbed on Saturday, November 19, 2011 9:19 AM

If u go to my YT channel myrailvideos & search Shawnee Jct you will see videos I took there Smile

 

 

 

wyldmanr8cer

I am looking for some information regarding the famed "Cowboy Line." I do know that a portion of the original line in Wyoming (Shawnee Jct. to a location East of there) that I can not find information about. Can anyone suggest a book or literature that could tell me more? There was an excellent article about the powder river basin in the May issue of Trains 2010 that included bits and pieces about the cowboy but nothing very extensive. Thanks for the help everybody!

Living nearby to MP 186 of the UPRR  Austin TX Sub

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Saturday, November 19, 2011 3:28 PM
"Happy Trails, Cowboy Line - Chicago & North Western Abandons Line Across Northern Nebraska"
by Mills, Rick W. - from Trains, April 1993,  p. 26
(abandonment  C&NW  Line  Nebraska) 
--------------------------------------------------------------------
"Hot spots: Cornhusker crossroads - Fremont"
by Harmen, Robert R. - from Trains, May 1993,  p. 70
(BN  C&NW  FE&MV  Nebraska  railfanning  UP)
"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
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Posted by Falcon48 on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 11:37 PM

wyldmanr8cer

I am looking for some information regarding the famed "Cowboy Line." I do know that a portion of the original line in Wyoming (Shawnee Jct. to a location East of there) that I can not find information about. Can anyone suggest a book or literature that could tell me more? There was an excellent article about the powder river basin in the May issue of Trains 2010 that included bits and pieces about the cowboy but nothing very extensive. Thanks for the help everybody!

 

The "Cowboy Line" was abandoned in several separate sections.  The major one was the segment between Norfolk and Chadron NE in the early 1990's (ICC Dockets AB-1, Sub Nos. 230 and 249X).  There was also an immediately prior abandonment between Crandall WY and Crawford NE, as a result of a catastrophic washout in the White River Canyon that essentially obliterated the railroad (ICC Docket AB-1 Sub-No. 236X).  After the UP-CNW merger, UP abandoned the line segment between Orin Junction and Casper (STB Docket AB-33, Sub-No. 113).  Most of this segment consisted of trackage rights over BN previously granted to permit removal of CNW's parallel line.  The segment between Norfolk and Fremont NE on the east end of the line was abandoned earlier in favor of trackage rights over UP. The segment on the west end of the line from Casper to Riverton and Lander was abandoned much earlier.    I don't have the date info for the latter abandonments immediately at hand, but I could find it out in the next couple of weeks, since I'll be in a place that has relevant records.    

I can tell you a lot more about these abandonments, since I was intimately involved in the abandonments of the Norfolk - Chadron and Crawford - Crandall segments.  What parts are you interested in?  A piece of the line survives as part of the Powder River "Connector Line" that CNW built as part of the Powder River coal project (it runs between Shawnee Jct and a point near Harrison) , although it was very heavily rebuilt and much of it is not on the original alignment.  The segment between Crawford and point just east of Chadron also survives as part of DM&E (a/k/a CP).  There was a segment east of Chadron to Merriman, NE acquired by a short line (NEBKOTA) when the rest of the line east of Chadron was abandoned, but NEBKOTA got abandonment authority within the last few years for most of this segment, so it's probably gone now.  

 

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Posted by Victrola1 on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 7:40 AM

Was the Cowboy Line ever part of some dream to reach the Pacific?

 

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Posted by Falcon48 on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:11 AM

 

My earlier posting on the Cowboy Line described what happened to it, but didn't discuss why it happened.  I'll try to briefly describe that here.  Keep in mind, though, that this is almost completely from memory, so dates are approximate and may be slightly off.
 
By the late 1970's, the Cowboy line was being kept alive primarily due to hope and mud.  The "hope" (and plan) was that the line from Shawnee east would become part of CNW's planned route from the Powder River Basin.  The "mud" was the bentonite clay moving from South Dakota south on the Colony Line to Dakota Junction (west of Chadron) and then either west to the UP or east to Fremont.
 
The hope and mud both vanished in the 1980's.  The hope went first.  Unable to obtain financing for its ambitious plan to build a new coal route which included the Cowboy Line across Nebraska, CNW turned to UP.  The result was the existing UP coal route which only uses a small portion of the old Cowboy Line between Shawnee Jct and Crandall in Wyoming. 
 
The mud went next, although its demise was a little more convoluted.  CNW actually had two routes from the bentonite mining areas - the Colony Line / Cowboy route and a potentially alternate route via the Colony line and the line across South Dakota via Pierre (I say "potentially" because it wasn't being used for bentonite due to bridge issues).  By the mid 1980's, CNW decided that it didn't need two through routes from Rapid City, and applied to abandon the portion of the South Dakota route between Pierre and Rapid City (the "PRC Line"), which would have severed it as a through route.  Unfortunately for CNW (and the Cowboy Line), the ICC, at the time, had an even number of commissioners and, when the time came for them to vote on the abandonment, it was a tie vote.  A tie vote results in denial. 
 
CNW planned to reapply for the South Dakota abandonment, but fate stepped in.  The prior abandonment proposal had galvanized the South Dakota political community, and they very actively pursued alternatives to the South Dakota abandonment.  This eventually resulted in CNW selling not only the PRC line, but its entire line from Rapid City to Winona MN to a new regional road - DM&E.  As part of this deal, DM&E agreed to address the bridge issues that had prevented CNW from routing bentonite over the line (I believe they got federal funds to do this, but I'm not sure).  CNW, in turn, agreed to reroute the eastbound bentonite traffic over the South Dakota line once the bridge work was done, which is what happened.
 
This pretty much sealed the fate of the Cowboy Line between Chadron and Norfolk (over 300 miles), as there wasn't enough local traffic generated on the line to sustain it (it was primarily agricultural traffic most of which had been lost to trucks).  ICC approved "discontinuance" of service over the route in 1991 (effectively an abandonment where he track stays in place).  ICC approved full abandonment of the segment between Norfolk and Merriman in 1994, and the sale of the Merriman-Chadron segment to NEBKOTA (a short line).  As mentioned in my prior post, NEBKOTA has since received abandonment authority to abandon most of this segment. 
 
Following the abandonment of the line segments east of Crandall, the Casper Line became essentially an island, dependent on a dwindling local traffic base.  CNW obtained trackage rights over BN between Orin and Casper in 1989 or so, which allowed it to abandon most of the Casper Line.  UP abandoned the remainder of the line and the BN trackage rights after the UP-CNW merger (it had been on CNW's chopping block, but the merger occurred first).   
 
Clear as mud?  
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Posted by Falcon48 on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 9:28 AM

In response to Victrola1, "dream" is the right word.  CNW clearly had "dreams" at various times of extending the line beyond Lander to the Pacific Coast.  In fact, it's difficult to see why CNW would have built a rail line to a place like Lander if they weren't thinking about an eventual extension west.

But CNW never made the decision to turn the "dream" into a reality.  CNW certainly looked at a potential extension at various times (I believe Gene Lewis unearthed an old CNW study of a potential extension to Coos Bay), but decided against it for a variety of reasons.  The decision by the Milwaukee Road to build a line to the Pacific Coast was one of those factors. 

Keep in mind that, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transcontinental rail traffic wasn't nearly as important or attractive as it is today, since it required construction and operation of hundreds of miles of railroad across relatively unproductive territory.   On the other hand, prior to the development of widespread trucking, most of CNW's service territory was a traffic cornucopia.  When the time came to back up the dream with hard cash, CNW probably decided it was better to concentrate their resources on their own service territory, and to rely on an alliance with UP for transcon traffic.   

  

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