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Chicago St. Paul Minneapolis & Omaha - A Capsule History

Nickname: Omaha Road

Reporting Marks: CMO

The CSt.PM&O (“Omaha Road”) was a smaller regional railroad than the C&NW, and it lived in the shadow of the C&NW as a semi-independent line. Most of its trackage was in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but there was additional trackage in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. Total trackage eventually reached about 1700 miles.

The Omaha road served the large cities of St. Paul + Minneapolis, Duluth, Omaha, and Sioux City. Smaller cities included Eau Claire, Ashland, St. James, Hudson, Le Mars, and Superior. Its fleet of passenger cars, freight cars and steam locomotives was similar to that of most of the other medium-sized granger roads. And its finest passenger equipment was assigned to the St. Paul – Chicago route, with the connection to the C&NW at Elroy, Wisconsin. After 1911 many of the better trains ran to Chicago via Milwaukee and the “Adams Cutoff” on the C&NW.

The Omaha Road was a fairly successful subsidiary of the C&NW, and its traffic patterns were in synch with the patterns of the C&NW. For example, lumber, fish, and dairy products went down from northern Wisconsin to the markets on the C&NW, and industrial products and coal flowed north.

The story of the many predecessor roads, and land grants that were rolled into the CStPM&O, is too complicated for this summary history, but a chronology of some the key years on the Omaha Road follows:

  • 1865 predecessor Minnesota Valley RR operates first trains
  • 1867 Strong predecessor West Wisconsin RR acquires a weak predecessor
  • 1870’s Various predecessors build lines in Nebraska
  • 1870 Tracks reach St. James, Minnesota
  • 1870 predecessor West Wisconsin RR reaches Eau Claire, WI.
  • 1871 West Wisconsin leases drawbridge over St. Croix River
  • 1872 first lines of predecessor North Wisconsin RR are built
  • 1876 through trains are announced between St. Paul and Chicago, via Elroy, WI and the C&NW
  • 1877 West Wisconsin defaults on debt
  • 1880 The CSt.PM&O was formed as a corporation
  • 1881 rails reach Elmore, MN allowing connection with the T&NW, a C&NW-controlled road. The St.P&SC (Sioux City) was absorbed by the CStPM&O.
  • 1882 The C&NW gets control of the CSt.PM&O (Omaha Road) by investing about $10.5 million. The move protected a vital connection from predatory moves by the Rock Island and other possible competitors. It gave the C&NW controlling interest in the company, but not all the stock.
  • 1882 – 1909 the “modern” CStPM&O acquires many short lines and expands trackage
  • 1891 – 1892 and 1901 – 1902. The C&NW and the CStPM&O solidify another connection through Marshfield, WI and have joint facilities there.
  • 1911 The C&NW completes its “Adams Cutoff”, which provides a fast and direct route from Milwaukee to Wyeville, useful for trains going from Chicago to St. Paul. This route was the choice of the “400” in 1935, for example. The old route through Madison and Elroy was still used, but not for the Twin Cities 400.
  • 1918 – 1923 Government control of the railroad, under the USRA, took place as a WW I, wartime measure. Some of the functions of the Omaha Road were consolidated with the C&NW in the interests of efficiency.
  • 1957 (January 1st) The C&NW leases the CStPM&O in order to gain total control and consolidate offices and operations. This was the effective end of the Omaha Road, and it was merged out of existence. It was one of the first of many efficiency/economy moves made by the new administration of Ben Heineman of the C&NW.
  • 1972 The C&NW removes the CStPM&O as a paper entity. This had no practical implications: It was a paper transaction only.
Thus the Omaha road came to an end on January 1, 1957.

Characteristics of the Omaha Road as an independent company. It had:
  1. Its own president and officers
  2. Its own departments, such as motive power, architecture, traffic, engineer, land department (and lot company), legal staff, etc.
  3. Its own offices in St. Paul
  4. Its own freight cars, passenger cars and locomotives
  5. Its own passenger car and locomotive diagram books, at least in the first part of the century. The numbering system for the equipment was its own, generally with lower numbers than the C&NW. The reporting marks were “CMO”, not “CNW”.
  6. Its own locomotive classes, with some appliances unique to the road. Diesels were sub-lettered for the CStPM&O.
  7. Right hand running
  8. Its own Standard depot plans, plus other independent standards. The water tanks, for example, had frost coverings for better protection in cold weather.
  9. Its own (shares of) stock
  10. Its own rule books, personnel policies, and disciplinary policies
  11. Its own ICC Valuation Section numbers
Characteristics of the Omaha Road, indicating domination by the C&NW
  1. Its president and officers tended to be provided by the C&NW. In 1907, for example, W.A. Gardner became president of the Omaha Road, having just served as VP of the C&NE in 1906. And in 1907 the legendary Marvin Hughitt of the C&NW became Chairman of theCStPM&O Executive Committee.
  2. Conversely, some of the Omaha Road people transfered to the C&NW. For example S.G. Strickland, who was General Superintendent of the Omaha in 1905 became Assistant General Superintendent of the C&NW by 1909. He was later make USRA administrator.
  3. Some record keeping was done by the C&NW. And the “Safety First” slogan of the C&NW was promptly adopted by the Omaha Road.
  4. The freight cars, passenger cars, and locomotives were often ordered in conjunction with the C&NW, using similar or identical designs. This may have resulted in a lower unit price.
  5. The numbers of the CStPM&O equipment generally did not overlap the C&NW numbers. That indicates a “family” roster or stable of equipment.
  6. Its diesels were exactly the same as the C&NW diesels, including color schemes. The reporting marks, “CMO”, however, were different.
  7. The Standards Sheets were often exactly the same as the C&NW Standards Sheets – often on the same paper, and some of the plans were identical.
  8. The two railroads frequently used the same passenger timetables. That gave the riding public the idea that they were riding on one big system. Maps given to shippers showed the two lines combined. This sort of combination gave the public less incentive to switch to the Milwaukee Road, for example.
  9. The two roads had joint facilities and joint depots where convenient.
Other Companies owned by the CStPM&P:

Minesota Eastern RR
Sioux City Bridge Company
Minnesota Transfer Co. RR
Lake Superior Terminal & Transfer Co. RR
St. Paul Union Depot


Compiled by Joe Piersen

Sources: C&NWHS Archives documents
Grant, H.R., The North Western
(Stennett), Yesterday and Today

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