THE RAILROAD COMES TO PEWAUKEE
1856 – 1971
By Lauretta Larson Wieland
Historian, Pewaukee Historical Society, 1981
The development of Pewaukee from a frontier wilderness to a thriving village after the coming of the railroad sets the stage for this thrilling epic.
The Milwaukee-Watertown Railroad chartered by a Wisconsin Corporation in 1851 was completed to Watertown through Pewaukee in 1856. The first Wisconsin railroads, the first through Waukesha the second through Pewaukee, developed almost simultaneously. The second gave Pewaukee an impetus for a century and a half. The history of railroading revealed that when federal surveyors arrived in Wisconsin, they stated that the first railroad should have routed north of Waukesha, through Pewaukee, to shorten the route 250 miles. Wisconsin at that time was demanding the shortest route possible between the port of Milwaukee and the Mississippi River, which led to the development of the Watertown line. This road became the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad in 1874, at which time it became the major one in the state. In 1890 it became the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific to Seattle, Washington with its main office transferred to Chicago.
Alexander Mitchell, considered the father of Wisconsin railroading, took out a claim in 1846 east of our village engulfing almost half of section eleven. Milwaukee’s famous Billy Mitchell, now considered the father of the U.S.A’s air force was his son. Alexander Mitchell served as president of the Milwaukee Road from 1865 until his death in 1887. Abstracts of early Pewaukeeans show they sold strips of their land for the Milwaukee Road right-of-way for $1.00 each.
The "Y" intersection located at the outlet of the lake near Clark’s Pewaukee Mills was moved to the north of the tracks where it is today, leading to West Wisconsin Avenue and High Street. Knowing this might help to make pictures of early Pewaukee less confusing to the viewer.
The arrival of the first train along this line was the greatest event in Pewaukee history. Pioneers stood all along the tracks, at every station, home and farm to greet its arrival, with horns, bands, handouts to the crew and oratory. It was an all-day event with people and youth scampering from one spot to another to see it again.
This little engine, compared to those of today, pulled a short train, had a smokestack that looked like a funnel, bore a name and a number on its cylindrical boiler. The first one going through was named "Westward Ho". It had a wedge-shaped cowcatcher on the front, on the track level, for removing cows and other obstructions from the tracks, which might hinder the time schedule, although the time schedule was seldom kept in the early days of railroading.
When you traveled west in the early days you read signs in the day coaches "Don’t shoot game from the car windows!" The train just sat and waited for the buffalo (actually the American bison) to pass. Carloads of buffalo hides were sent back east to be made into buggy robes, crates of prairie chickens, gold from the southwest (Jesse James robbing the trains). Travel was trouble in those days. You had to detrain to sleigh across the Mississippi ice; bridges had not been built. Immigrant trains were loaded with humans and livestock to people to farm the west. After the Civil War our nation went railroad-mad with the cry "Go West!" By 1870 the railroads had spanned our nation, by 1890 we could boast the best in travel anywhere.
Railroad waltzes, marches polkas soon became the music of the day. Everybody remembers or knows the old favorite, "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad All the Livelong Day."
The saddest story of tongue or pen was how railroads depleted the hardwood forests along the line, of hard maple, white oak, walnut and cherry woods, long considered choice furniture wood. If the engine-tender ran out of wood between the "wood up" stations, the engineer and fireman stopped the train to cut wood and load it into the tender. Pewaukee was the first "wood up" station west of Milwaukee. These small engines had to take on water and refuel every 20 miles. Stationmasters were required to stack cordwood, cut once through, close to the tracks for refueling.
The first little depot in the village was a small wooden structure of which no known picture exists. It stood between the tracks and the present Capitol Drive, east of Wisconsin Avenue crossing. Grandfather told me it had a plank platform toward the tracks and a small grassy spot toward the west with a flowerbed circled with a picket fence. It was heated by a small round-bellied stove. Water was supplied for the engine and depot with a wooden pump and a hand-dug well. Shortly thereafter a windmill was placed in the back of the depot which was still in use in the 1920’s. It kept a round, elevated tank filled with water to quench the thirst of the iron horse, as the engines were called in that day., A large hollow globe floated within the tank, a lever to the globe would automatically throw the fans or blades against the wind to fill the tank. The windmill was extremely important in the building of the Middle West and in the west and in the development of the railroads, appearing at every station along the lines.
The train coaches that went through here were flat roofed without ventilators, were heated with a round-bellied stove at one end. Trainmen left the train with long-spouted oilcans to oil the wheel-brake parts. They signaled the engineer with their fingers and hands when the train was ready to depart. That was railroading in the late 1800’s. Thus American geniuses had developed some comfort and safety for travelers never known to mankind before, but to be improved throughout our history.
Pewaukee’s second depot was built in 1881 of Milwaukee Cream City brick, between the tracks and the present Pewaukee Lumber and Hardware 430 Oakton Avenue. This street was first known as Railroad Street, then changed to St. Paul Avenue and finally became a part of Oakton Avenue. To the west stood Dr. Kolander’s horse hospital and barns. He received his degree in Veterinary Medicine from a college in Toronto, Canada, serviced horses for the local Oakton Springs Hotel and its patrons, who brought their horses and carriages with them for the summer stay via the Milwaukee Road, for the Kiekhefer Farms, the Pabst Tally-Ho and all the farmers throughout the area.
This depot was an oblong structure with a steeply pitched overhanging roof supported by curlicue brackets. It was not an architectural gem, but built for a very useful purpose. At each end of the building on a line with eaves, hung huge wooden placards bearing the name Pewaukee in huge black lettering. The waiting room on the west was small since the largest portion on the east was used for freight and express. The entrance to both sections was toward the track to the north.
This station was surrounded on three sides with elevated plank platforms. The switching sidings were north of the tracks and at the east end of the depot., leading to the lumberyards, coal yards, Savoy’s ice house and the coffin factory. The offices of the huge Gates Lumber Co. Chain were on the present site of the Pewaukee Lumber and Hardware. This quaint wooden siding from the limestone quarries to this depot is described in "Pewaukee’s Limestone Story."
The first semaphore was placed at this depot, used for conveying information to train engineers by flagging symbols. The lamp within was fueled by kerosene and lit for the night by climbing an attached ladder.
In the triangle between the track and today’s Capitol Drive on the site of the Lake Beverage Distributor’s, Inc., stood Fred Zauns and Captain Davey’s huge boat shop occupying the whole triangle. In partnership, they built all types of boats and steamboats, operated steamboat rides to any spot on the lake for 25 cents.
This is the depot that provided an office for shipping Pewaukee’s famous spring water before the turn of the century. It saw our servicemen leave and return from the Spanish American War, sent off and welcomed back by Pewaukee’s first community band. A war that lasted only thirteen days.
Since Pewaukee had a large percentage of German settlers, it was common to see housewives with market baskets covered with a red checkered towel, leave for Watertown via the Milwaukee Road to buy a fresh, hand-plucked, noodle-stuffed Watertown goose to prepare for the holiday seasons. I made several such trips with my grandmother.
Actually this depot became a beehive of activity for its day. In 1888 eight trains stopped per day at this station, increasing to sixteen in 1895. Little crossing-guard shacks were built at the Wisconsin Avenue and Oakton Avenue crossings where the guard could sit during inclement weather while waiting for trains. He came out at first waving a red flag on a stick when trains were due to arrive. Later he carried a circular, metal red on yellow railroad stop sign. Crossing double railroad tracks was the bane of mothers who had school children who had to cross the tracks several times daily. The Pewaukee Schools taught the children how to safely cross the tracks but mothers still walked to the tracks or across the tracks with them.
In the spring of 1894, our whole community turned out along he tracks to watch Coxey’s Army of the Unemployed, as they rode the rails through here on their way to Washington DC to demand relief from the Federal Government. Coxey was an Ohio horse dealer who urged the unemployed from as far as the West Coast on to Washington after the panic (depression) of 1893. Five to six thousand of them had captured the trains, until President Cleveland sent Federal troops to Chicago to protect the mails and restore order. Coxey’s Army accomplished nothing and soon disbanded.
The same thing happened again when the American Bison from the North Dakota herd rode through here in a slatted cattle car to Washington, DC as the model for the 1909 Buffalo nickel. Actually, it is a bison on our monetary nickel, not a buffalo. The habitat of the bison was the western plains of the USA, while the habitat of the buffalo was Asia and Africa. While they both belong to the ox family, they are entirely different in nature. The buffalo makes an excellent beast of burden, the bison does not. They are, also entirely different in build and appearance.
Abner Palmer, who emigrated from Vermont, was our first depot master or agent. His son, Spencer, was a machinist in the Milwaukee Road car shop and who, in his declining years was our village lamplighter and school custodian. Anthony LeBair was our second depot agent, who later owned and operated a shoe and repair shop on Oconomowoc street later to become West Wisconsin Avenue.
About 1900 the Milwaukee Road was beginning to replace its little old depots with bigger and better terminals. Our depot became the freight depot. Our third and last depot, labeled the "passenger depot" was of red brick with limestone to the window copings. There were similar structures but ours was not duplicated from coast to coast. The Public Relations director of the Milwaukee Road told me in 1976, when we were celebrating our centennial and the nation’s bicentennial, that our depot’s architecture was the best depot architecture from Chicago to the west coast, should never have been razed, but preserved for posterity with a new use. This unique structure was razed in 1972 breaking the hearts of the remaining pioneers and their descendants.
Pewaukee received that depot because Pewaukee’s place as an outstandingly fine suburb and summer resort had been assured at that time, 18 miles from Milwaukee, 100 miles from Chicago. No area in the world was ever populated with such rapidity as southeastern Wisconsin, due to Great Lakes shipping and the railroads. In 1840 the population of southeastern Wisconsin stood at 30,749, by 1975 it had reached 1,236,729. Pewaukee was strategically located as far as the railroads and state highways were concerned.
This last depot which was the pride and joy of the village, was built with a deep over-hanging roof and three sharply pointed dormers to admit light to the high vaulted interior. The roof was extended to the east and the west, supported by six pillars forming ornamental arches to cover red brick loading platforms. Heavy benches for the comfort of waiting passengers and high-wheeled express carts stood on this platform. To the west were lovely flowerbeds. A parking area with limestone hitching posts stood at the west end of the depot, toward Capitol Drive. Patrons had a clean, warm place to wait for transit, which is absent in the village today. (1980)
The interior had two waiting rooms, one for ladies, one for men each with their own entrance and facilities. The caged in depot office with its telephone and telegraph facilities was located between the two. The office had a deep bay window on the trackside enabling the depot agent to see in three directions. Heat was provided with a coal-fired stove in each waiting room and the office.
The coal stove did not produce warm floors, so August Scheele, one of our depots agents used his family’s Wisconsin Bison lap robe to wrap around women’s and children’s feet while they waited for early morning trains. That lap robe is now exhibited in the Pewaukee Area Museum. Bison pelts as lap robes do not attract moths, only the wool fabric backing.
Our depot was the focal point of our village, a highly important business center, as well as a social center. Local people forecast the weather by the sound of the train whistle. The train not only brought visitors and travelers, but newspapers and was the oral source of world or state news. It was the only contact a community had with the rest of the world. No one arriving or departing went unnoticed! It was bound to get into the local paper if not spread by word of mouth.
Local people and boys new the engineer, conductor or brakeman and the people who took the train, even those from neighboring towns, for they visited with them enroute to Milwaukee. The Comet Club on Park Avenue was a clubhouse for trainmen and their families, where they could rest and enjoy the lake, fresh air and sunshine with vacations or between train runs. Every boy in the village dreamed of the day when they could become trainmen. Ambitious youths were only too glad to to help the stationmaster unload suitcases and trunks on to the high-wheeled express carts or help a passenger with heavy luggage to a horse-drawn vehicle for a few pennies as a tip.
Many a youngster was sent to visit grandma in a neighboring community and placed in the care of the conductor. At train time, when a noisy locomotive would puff into the station with a hiss of steam, little girls would hide their faces in mother’s skirts. The chug-chug and the vibrations would make their little hearts pound and beat faster. Men waiting for the train would open their watches with the comment, "She’s right on time!"
In our local museum hangs a huge hardboard poster, a real work of art, picturing the Waukesha County Lake country and the resorts on each. This poster hung in every Milwaukee Road station, from Chicago on. The Road had a check system whereby one could stop off at various resorts along the line, for a one or two-week stay, using the same round-trip ticket. It promoted our Pewaukee Resorts and others, as well as ridership on the line.
We used to pick wild flowers with our mothers along the-right-of-way, where columbine, wild rose, the daisies, violets, shooting stars, wild geranium, Indian pinks, blue gentians, wild asters, etc. grew so profusely – flowers for church, our teacher or for the graves on Memorial Day. It was the only place grandmother would pick dandelion greens because they were unwatered by dogs.
When you left our depot going east two huge billboards greeted you from cow pastures along the tracks, placed there by thriving advertising agencies that developed with the railroads. One pictured a huge brown bull with smoke spurting out of his nostrils. He advertised Bull Durham tobacco. The other pictured a large Ingersoll watch - it helped the businessman make the train on time – it sold for one dollar, but fit his pocket.
Many an immigrant landed at our depot unable to speak English, greeted by relatives or friends who preceded them, who had urged them to come either to Pewaukee or some spot in Wisconsin, whose descendants made Pewaukee their homeland.
The first telegraph was installed in the second depot, where farmers received stock reports every morning after they had hauled gallons of milk in galvanized cans to the early morning milk train. Franklin Ely was our first telegrapher, and he trained telegraphers all along the line as well. As children we took the train with our parents, we loved to stand at the caged-in ticket window to watch messages being sent or received and to listen to the ticking telegraphic keys. Our eyes were open with awe, for how could a man decode a message so quickly? We envied those who received a play telegraph for Christmas, usually made for boys.
The station agent had status in those days serving all the daily trains. Along the line trains stopped at Wauwatosa, Brookfield Junction, Duplainville, Pewaukee, Lakeside, Hartland, Nagawicka, Nashotah, Okauchee, Gifford, Oconomowoc, Ixonia, Watertown – our neighboring towns most of which have Indian names. You could travel on spur lines to Templeton, Colgate, Menomonee Falls, Sussex and Waukesha by changing trains at Brookfield Junction. Our Bill Scholl managed one of the hotels at Brookfield Junction, and Dwight Haskins was telegrapher there for many years. You’d get to nearby places and far away places by train from Pewaukee with little trouble, all you needed was time.
The stationmaster not only had to take messages but deliver them decoded. He usually had no more than one helper to keep stoves stoked and ashes emptied, keeping loading platforms free from show and ice and sanded, and the station spic and span inside and out. Express trucks had to be loaded ahead of time and pulled up to the spot along the track where they would be unloaded. Freight and express had to be stored and protected until called for; answering the telephone and the question "Has my express or freight arrived?" was a huge chore in itself.
The first wigwags with signal bells were installed at the two street crossings, one in 1915 the other in 1917, gates in the same two crossings in 1953, eliminating the crossing guards.
Our first little depot was sold in 1912, converted into a dwelling on Oconomowoc Street. The Edward Dellman family respected and prized the virgin timber used in building it, which made a fine under-support for a new home. The semaphore was moved to the new passenger depot in 1918, the second depot was razed in 1938 ending the two eras almost forgotten today. The shrill whistles awakening the slumbering at night, the engine toots and the noise of the freight cars being loaded or unloaded, coupled around the clock, once a familiar sound to Pewaukeeans, are no longer heard. Privately owned trucking firms have taken the place of the railroads.
The Milwaukee Road line was and still is the most important rail freight carrier from Chicago to the West Coast, loaded with automobiles, oil tanks, cattle cars and all types of freight that trucking cannot handle well. Because these freight trains are so long and block our two railroad crossings for quite a span of time, the village is concerned that someday they may block the local fire department from reaching local fire, or for an ambulance to reach the hospital in time.
In the earlier years, wading to the depot in deep snows across our wind-swept lakefront was no fun, with no local snow shoveling ordinances or the use of snow fences across our lake frontage. Pedestrians walked in the tracks of bobsleds or hopped a zigzag pedestrian trail from one bare spot to another on the old wooden sidewalks. Buildings on the east held the snow, making the road preferable for walking to the depot. Snow shoveling ordinances arrived late in our village, not until the Federal Government required it for house-to-house delivery of the mails.
Across the tracks towards the Eigemore Hotel, now the Lakeside Shoprite site, was a long, roofed-over brick-paved platform for trains traveling east, where lounges and youths of the day ran to see trains come in, to see what went on in the chair cars and diners, hoping to get a peek into the sleepers. Watches of passengers and clocks in the village were set by the depot clock or the whistle of incoming locomotives until the day of radio.
There were the platforms on which you saw well-dressed local commuters traveling to Milwaukee to work and large numbers of elitely dressed summer resorters from May through September. You wore your best when you traveled on the train (not so today). My father always said there was much more baggage on the platform than people. There was always a porter to help you with your luggage for a tip.
The Bench Marks (round bronze discs) three inches in diameter, of the U.S. Department of Coast and Geodetic Survey’s had been placed under the limestone coping of the windows, thinking they would have a permanent place for all time. They were used by geodetic mapping crews, engineers and surveyors all over this entire area. They were removed and placed in a more permanent spot when the depot was razed.
Our depot was located near the three lake piers on the lake frontage, where train passengers could make connections by steamboat to Milwaukee, Waukesha Beach and all along the line to Watertown. Travelers could take advantage of all day excursions or weekend stays to Waukesha Beach.
Pewaukee’s transit service was super when coast trains, specials, flyers and limited went through our village. Nonstop trains could be flagged for passengers, for those going beyond LaCrosse and Chicago. In 1909 the Pewaukee Breeze published a Milwaukee Road time schedule of nineteen trains going through here a day. Eleven of them mail coaches, on which mail was sorted and canceled in mail cars enroute, with five deliveries from the west and six deliveries from the east, to our village.. All letters except those overweight bore two-cent stamps. Today Pewaukee has one delivery of incoming and one of outgoing mail and postage has risen to twenty cents per letter.
You could travel on the Pioneer Limited for $33.00 dollars to San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, California; for $30.00 to Seattle, British Columbia and Wyoming. Rates for a round-trip excursion to the Wisconsin Dells was $ 4.20 in 1888. Today you are lucky if you can make a train connection without staying at a Milwaukee hotel. We have a commuter bus service as far as Watertown, without a bus stop, a great handicap for the retired or those who do not drive anymore or cannot afford to park their cars in Milwaukee except for a few hours. This is traveling to and from Pewaukee in 1970-1980 and beyond.
Jesse White’s mail cart pulled by hand carried the mail to and from the depot, meeting the eleven mail trains each day. Everyone went to the post office for the evening mail, standing in line before the cage-in window to pick up mail from a dear one. The post office was a friendly gathering place for the village folk, where you could spot the new teacher or meet a passenger. We have lost some of these things which have endeared a small town to us.
There was no air conditioning in the early trains except the open windows. Oily soot came in from the coal burning locomotives, smearing one’s face and clothing. Dark habits were popular and recommended for traveling until the day of the streamliner. Housewives that lived on Oakton and Wisconsin Avenues complained that the soot soiled and grayed the laundry on the wash lines and the lace curtains on their windows.
The train trip, as I remember it, was a smooth swaying ride, with the fringed chandeliers hanging from the ceiling of the coaches, keeping time with every motion of the coaches. Red, prickly plush-covered chairs with adjustable backs and footrests made the trip comfortable for everyone, except those short-geared. Barracks at the entry end of the coaches, or overhead racks took care of passenger’s luggage or parcels. The ladies room was at the same end of the coach, while the gent’s room was at the rear, providing a smoker with leather upholstered seats and brass spittoons. Long distance trains provided a smoking car, similarly equipped.
Brakemen provided staunch stepping stools at every coach entry to aid passengers when alighting or getting off the "high-from-the-platform" train steps. We do not receive that service from bus lines today, which have replaced the trains. After the coach was loaded, the brakeman called out "All aboard!" then closed the doors at the bottom of the steps with a bang, only to be opened by him at station stops.
Pewaukeens living on the north side of the lake chose to walk along the sides of the railroad tracks, carrying their luggage, as a short cut to their homes after leaving the train and the depot. Trainmen, switching trains between the ice industries and the freight depot would give them a lift in the caboose to their destination. How kindly and considerate early pioneers were! For those who are familiar with railroading terminology, caboose is a German term for "cabin home" which rode at the end of every train, which provided service and living quarters for trainmen enroute.
The Milwaukee Road had installed sidings for all of Pewaukee’s ice industries, the first one installed in 1904, the last siding removed in 1954. The railroad lines used as much as ½ to one million tons of ice per year, for dining cars, lunchrooms, and for transporting perishables in its reefers. Reefers had to be filled enroute and Pewaukee was one of its major filling stations.
There was one train that arrived in Pewaukee that deserves special note. It was labeled "The Fisherman’s Special" which made connections in Milwaukee with the fisherman’s special from Chicago to northern Wisconsin. Fishermen would arrive at our depot decked out in fishing garb and waders, with their lunchboxes, creels and all the fishing gear necessary, rent a rowboat on the lake shore, row to the west end of the lake (about 6 miles) where the water was deeper and the fishing was the best, sleep in their boats all night, just to get the best catches at sunrise. Pewaukee Lake has been and is labeled today as the "fishingest" lake in southeastern Wisconsin.
Commuting service between Milwaukee and Watertown was excellent from the late 1880’s until 1972. The early morning and evening train through our village carried a so-called Millionaire’s coach, with a private bar and it’s smoking lounge. It was used mostly by the wealthy patrons and businessmen from the lake country area, who had offices in Milwaukee. It sped at 70 miles per hour over a 46-mile route giving it the name "Cannonball", although this name was never the official name for this Milwaukee Road train.
There was always a friendly relationship between the passengers and the train crew. Many romances developed on our computer trains that ended in marriage. The regular rider who boarded this train with the morning newspaper under his arm found this twice-daily train trip truly relaxing. They could swap stories, jokes, argue baseball, discuss business trends, stocks and bonds, play cards, read the newspaper, watch the panoramic scene from the sooty windows, or finish out a night’s sleep on the way to work. They never had the nerve-wracking crush of driving to and from work on the over-crowded highway system. In addition, they could take a refreshing nap on the way home after a hard day’s work, waking up cheerful for the evening dinner and companionship awaiting them at home. In terms of slang, they really had it made.
In 1943, the two-coach Diesel Cannonball was put into service. This morning train No. 12, going east, operated daily except on Sundays. It left Pewaukee at 7.42 A.M. and arrived at Milwaukee at 8.20. On the return trip, train number 23 left Milwaukee at 5.25 P.M.. arriving at Pewaukee at 5:57.
This service ended in 1972 after the Wisconsin Public Service Commission agreed to allow the Milwaukee Road to discontinue this run. The automobile had dropped this ridership to 50-60 passengers per day – also due to improved highways. The revenue lost by the Milwaukee Road was such that the Cannonball was not earning its way. Many attempts were made to increase this ridership but to no avail, leaving the retired population stranded.
On July 3l, 1982 it made its last run, ending all passenger service for Pewaukee and others along the line. Two hundred curiosity seekers, railroad buffs and the ever-faithful patrons made the final run. The regulars were the sad ones on the trip, listening to the clickity-clack along the rails for the last time. The third and last car on the Cannonball was a special chartered car for railroad officials and railroad hobby club members searching for all the nostalgia they could find. The engineer, brakeman and conductor autographed the last run tickets with no.7/31/72. The conductor’s punch certified the trip.
OH! HOW OUR PEWAUKEE AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY WOULD LIKE TO HAVE ONE OF THESE LAST-RUN TICKETS TO PRESERVE FOR POSTERITY IN OUR MUSEUM!
This is a quote from the Lake Country Reporter in 1972:
"On Cannonball, rattle down the tracks again! With gasoline passing 50 cents a gallon, anti-pollution cars cutting down on the miles per gallon, we suspect the Cannonball might do good business in 1976. There are enough passenger coaches on the siding in Hartland to provide a whole fleet of commuters!"
And I might add where are all the wonderful steel coaches that made railroad travel so safe? The air-conditioned coaches were so free of dust! Remember?
SERVICING THE RAILS
Many a man and son and prospective college student worked with the railroad section gangs with pick and shovel, driving spikes, replacing railroad ties repairing breaks, cleaning frogs at switching intersections and clearing crossings. They traveled from one section to another by pumping a flattop handcar. When trains came along, all the men would lift it off the tracks, replace it after they sped by.
I remember those section crews as I walked across the tracks to and from school. Those men who worked long on the section were permanently humped and stooped, their eyes always blood-shot from the cinders, their hands embedded with black soot and coal dust, and their fingers crippled and gnarled from hard labor. Their skin was weathered from sun and windburn over the years. When they were no longer able to work on the tracks, they were assigned jobs as crossing guards or given janitorial work at the depots.
Patrons of the railroads owed a great debt to these men who serviced the railroad, for safe travel on the rails. All these section men were dedicated to their jobs, and considered it an important service.
The Pewaukee Breeze, a Pewaukee newspaper of 1904, a 5-cent paper, ran this item: "The section men’s organization thinks that $1.25 per diem for an able-bodied man to support his family might be increased. We keep the tracks in good repair. The railroad can well afford increases!"
There were many train wrecks within the village. Luckily there was no loss of life. I remember the one that occurred in 1922, which knocked down the semaphore signals, derailing 20 cars between Oakton and Wisconsin crossings.
In December 1911, a second class mail car bounds for Seattle caught fire, was uncoupled and side tracked between the two depots. Shortly after side tracking, there was a terrible explosion within the mail car which shook all the homes along Oakton Avenue. The mail car was totally destroyed by fire.
On Saturday afternoon, on Sep. 23, 1911, an eastbound freight train ran into an open new track being laid east of the second or freight depot. A rail was driven 30 feet into the ground with one end sticking up, which turned the engine over. The engineer and fireman crawled out unhurt. Five cars were wrecked, thrown off the track, three of them completely demolished. Misunderstanding of signals was blamed. Traffic at the crossing was delayed three hours while the track was cleared and repaired for eastbound trains. It took three days to clean-up the wreckage.
In December 1957 a passenger coach fire with an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 damage occurred in the village. Thirty Pewaukee firemen fought this fire with 3 trucks for 1-½ hours. Thirty people had to be removed from this coach – bound for Chicago. The walls, seats, upholstery and patron’s luggage was all destroyed.
Almost an entire train was derailed in the village in February 1960, a train traveling 70 miles per hour, but 14 cars were spared. This just east of the Oakton crossing. The freakish thing about this wreck was that the engines returned to the track just west of the Wisconsin Avenue crossing, thirteen cars behind them left the tracks but remained upright. There were 150 passengers on this train, but personal injuries were slight.
Excitement reigned in the village at the time of these wrecks drawing crowds from Waukesha, Milwaukee and the countryside. Five major wrecks within a span of 100 years illustrate the safety of the railroads. Because the coaches were made of steel, injuries were at a minimum.
Old timers remember how the brakemen and the conductors always removed their caps when entering or walking through the coaches and diners and the courteous, careful and obliging treatment received from the porters. The decline of the trains led to the erosion of all railroad etiquette and service from train porters and redcaps (railroad station porters).
Pewaukee livery service, also, folded with the decline of the Milwaukee Road. The two livery proprietors, Mary Ann Benton, William Benton and Will Anderson, charged 25 to 50 cents to the pier boat landing, hotels, cottages, or homes. Just before they would drive away from the station platform, to be sure they were not leaving any passengers behind, they would call out "All aboard for Spring City!" The Benton Livery was on Oakton Avenue and the Anderson Livery on East Wisconsin Avenue. Mary Ann, an excellent horsewoman was ahead of her times, she was the first woman in Pewaukee to wear a slit skirt to her ankles, which intrigued other girls and me my age.
The railroad station furnished well-paying positions for men of that day. This is a list of those I knew about or remembered. There may have been others because records were never kept or employees.
First depot agent Abner Palmer
Second depot agent Anthony LeBair
Third depot agent Franklin Ely, father of J. B. Ely
Ray Bennett husband of Libbie Matzek Bennett, Pewaukee postmistress and well-known teacher in the county
August Scheele father of Esther Scheele Swetland
? Reynolds (above three men Passenger Depot Agents)
Clarence Parsons (above three men Freight Depot Agents)
Bon Harland Jr. Depot, R.R. Assistant
Forest Jones, Asstant to August Scheele
In the 1860’s depot agents salaries were around $1500 per year, freight depot agents $1200 per year.
OUR FAVORITE STREAMLINER
The first Streamliner, Pewaukee’s favorite train, the "Hiawatha", made its trail and first run through our village in 1935 at 95 miles per hour. An announcement in the Milwaukee Journal cautioned viewers to stand away from the tracks since a train traveling at that speed could draw a viewer under the wheels. Everyone was along the tracks as it sped through the village. Pewaukee had a keen interest in that train because our local Joe Scholl helped build the dome cars in the Milwaukee Road shops. If we wanted to travel on this train we had to travel to the Milwaukee depot or to Oconomowoc to embark.
I took the Hiawatha to the Seattle World’s Fair, took beautiful colored slides of the panoramic views along its route from the windows at either end of the dome car, something one could not do before on a train. The interior with its beautiful décor was dust free; one’s appearance was just as neat when you departed as it was when you embarked. Trainmen and porters looked neat and trim. I thought of the discomfort our pioneers endured as they rolled west in covered wagons. In less than 100 years traveling by rail was luxurious for the average American citizen.
The Hiawatha provided a hostess with an RN degree to meet the needs of the passenger’s enroute. I was sold on the conforts of the streamliner. It is the only way to travel to see panoramic views of our beautiful land. You see little traveling among the clouds in an airliner, except you get to your destination sooner. I can go over the train routes several times and still enjoy the scenery – one can see something new every time.
The food was superb in the dining car, heated to the right serving temperature from prepared frozen foods in an all stainless steel kitchenette. Dining car service included three meals a day, either table d’ hotel or a la carte. Three dinner seatings are offered to eliminate waiting in line. Dinner chimes playing in the coaches to call you to meals. Baby’s formula was prepared by the Stewardess and stored in the dining car under refrigeration. Smooth riding made it easy to walk from coach to coach.
The dome car was like a long room with picture windows, seats 16 feet above the rails to provide vast sweeps of scenery to be viewed at all times. Views like this cannot be shared by travelers who span the same areas in airplanes 5 miles up. Seats were placed at an angle toward the window. Tables in the dining car were also placed in front of large windows, sightseeing offered to you in every coach except in the slumber coaches. There was no extra charge for seats in the dome car, neither were they reserved.
The Lewis and Clark Travelers Rest coach, considered the most interesting and unusual on any American railroad, was located ahead of the diner. It offered complete meals or snacks in the buffet section all day and evening, beverages served all day and evening, magazines, tables for cards, a desk and stationery, and History Books on Wheels offering the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There was radio reception from the train’s high fidelity sound system if you carried a transistor on your trip with earphones. The colorful murals on the walls of this coach were historical and most interesting – depicting the route and scenery on Lewis and Clark’s expedition.
The domes for the slumber coaches were behind the diner.
Brochures were given to us to teach us how to take pictures or slides from the dome car windows.
This train was more than a quarter mile long. Going through the mountains we saw from our dome windows the front end winding like a serpent around the mountain curves, which our coach had not reached. The cost of the trip (1962) for a family of four with children over the age of 12 was $257.15. Stopovers could be arranged at no extra cost Bus and auto service could be arranged by the line before your trip departure, before you left the train for a stopover, if needed for transfer service.
This true story about the Hiawatha Streamliner, which offered more comfortable, faster, quieter, smoother riding; better sleeping and dining facilities and better sightseeing in the 1960’s is written purposely for Pewaukee’s present youth who may never have the opportunity to ride on a train of this type.
The Hiawatha Streamliner, this beautiful train I described above left Milwaukee April 10, 1971 for its last run after 36 years of service. Now a few fright trains and Amtrak trains to the West Coast have the priority of the line, but do not stop in Pewaukee.
It was a sad occasion for the Milwaukee Road service to end in our community, leaving us without mail, express, freight and passenger service. Trucking corporations took over, the Greyhound and Wisconsin Coach handled a much reduced passenger service, without a bus stop sign or shelter for inclement weather.
Our passenger depot, built at the turn of the century and built well enough to last another century, was abandoned and became a sad and lonely structure. Quoting the Lake Country Reporter again, "Clarence Prophet, one of Pewaukee’s self-elected heroes, kept the grounds clean and manicured around their beloved depot, long before ecology was doing was doing its thing, without remuneration. The grounds at least received tender, loving care until razed. Nothing has taken its place.."
Pewaukee will never be the same again since the passing of the railroad. And we wonder if it ever can be justified?? All we have left of our beloved depot are a few of the red bricks of the structure in our Pewaukee Area Historical Museum.
In all my travels over the United States, I have never enjoyed such comfort and relaxation as I did traveling on the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha!
The Milwaukee Road had one of the largest car building plants that grew up in West Milwaukee and the USA and stayed. The Hiawatha built in these shops was designed beautifully without considering costs. It was the first stunning train to emerge in high-speed, lightweight streamliner era. Sheathed in maroon, black, battleship gray and orange, with chrome ornamental wing and strip, it was the most magnificent of trains inside and out. The Milwaukee Road’s 6,000 Hp combo, the Hiawatha Olympian service to the West Coast had the most outstanding motive power of any railroad line. If the railroads had the subsidized support the airlines received from the government, they may well have been in service today.
FORGOTTEN FACTS ABOUT TELEGRAPHY
Telegraphy, a history in itself, was proven to be the stepping stone by which early Americans attained the pinnacle of success. In 1888 there were less than 25,000 operators in the U.S., by 1908 the number had grown to 75,000 and upward from that point. Andrew Carnegie, who built up the greatest industrial organization the world has ever known, Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, Richard W. Sears, the President of Sears Roebuck & Co., who established the greatest mail-order enterprise, and Thomas B. Clovey, president of the World’s Union Telegraph Co., began their careers as young telegraphers, receiving about $50.00 per month in salary.
Positions where speed and accuracy were necessary with the commission houses on the World Board of Trade in New York City and the dispatchers for many of the railroads received thousands of dollars in salaries. The latter had the best opportunities to become the chief executive of a railroad company.
One could learn telegraphy at home just by buying a book with complete instructions for setting up the instrument, the switchboard, and the care of the batteries, the Morse Code in full and hundreds of abbreviations in general use, duties of every railroad employee from Superintendent to engineer, conductor and switchman. Equipped with all this knowledge a young man could become a station agent. Pewaukee supplied several station agents along the Milwaukee Road Line, all trained by our first telegrapher, Franklin Ely.
If there were several students of telegraphy within a neighborhood, within a reasonable distance from each other, 4-ohm short private lines of ½ mile or slightly longer in length could be set up to give practical experience in telegraphy. The material estimated for establishing a short private and complete line was about $14.00. It is easy to see why telegraphy in the early days of railroading was the one career young lads aspired. It required a lot of memorization which discouraged the less ambitious.