From: Jim Dent jdent1 AT optonline DOT net
Date: Sat, 22 Nov 2003 19:21:30 -0500
"Osage3.jpg" - image/jpeg, 10469 bytes, 400x192 (24bit)
Moving day for old
Chicago Great Western depot
by Mary Loden
The Chicago Great Western depot (top photo) is raised up and ready to make
its move two miles west to its new home at Cedar Valley Memories. At right
is the depot making its way down the highway to its new home at CVM. The
move was coordinated with Osage Municipal Utilities who had to either lift
or disconnect power lines to enable the depot to travel under them. The
entire move took over three hours to complete and several trees needed to be
trimmed along the way.
An important landmark, the old Chicago Great Western depot, former business
site of Osage Feed and Seed, located on Main St. and Third Ave. N., has been
moved and, thanks to the efforts of Ed Smolik, Merrill Johnson and the
Mitchell County Historical Society, it will not be forgotten.
When Gary Gast sold his property to Stan Walk of the Mitchell County
Development Corporation in August it came to the attention of Rick
Bodensteiner, finance chairman for the historical society.
Bodensteiner knew, although many in town may have forgotten, that Gast's
building was an old depot. Walk said the historical society could have the
building if they moved it and Ed Smolik was contacted.
Smolik said people may not realize how much it costs to move a building. He
did know. Smolik said, "I asked them if we should have it. They said, 'yes,'
and I said, 'Well let's do it.'"
Through search of warranty deeds, Internet sites, old articles and recorded
memories I attempted to piece together the old depot's history.
The territory of Minnesota granted a charter on Feb. 25, 1856 to the Winona
and Southwestern Railway Co. (originally Winona and LaCrosse Railroad Co.)
to construct a road from the city of Winona, WI, to Omaha, NB. Due to
financial difficulties nothing much happened until Aug. 11, 1888 when
Warranty deeds show that Elizabeth and Joshua Bowman of Osage sold land to
the Winona and Southwestern Railway on Oct. 29, 1890. The land, which
included the block the old depot sat on, was sold for the sum of $2,000.
During 1891 the rail line was laid southwesterly to Ostrander and LeRoy MN;
then to McIntire, David, Little Cedar, Bucknam's Crossing, and finally to
Osage where it made a connection with the Illinois Central Railroad.
Also at this time the Winona Osage and Southwestern Railroad Co. was in
operation. This company had attempted the construction of a line from Osage
in a southwesterly direction in 1891. The line stretched 1.37 miles long to
the Cedar River but was never finished nor used by any railroad. The Winona
and Southwestern Railway Co. acquired this property on Oct. 20, 1891 and
abandoned the short section.
The rail was taken up but the old right of way is still in existence. It was
used by pedestrians out for a Sunday stroll or as a shortcut to Spring Park.
Today, this lay of land is part of the Harry S. Cook Nature Trail.
The Winona Southwestern became the Winona and Western Railway Co. on its
incorporation on Oct. 27, 1894.
A flip-top desk used by the depot's ticket master, part of the Mitchell
County Historical Society's collection, states that the depot was used from
1894 to 1964, however, from an earlier newspaper article dated several years
ago, passengers were traveling the 117 mile trip between Winona and Osage in
The train would leave Winona at 3:40 pm and arrive in Osage at 8:30 pm. The
return trip would leave Osage at 7 am and arrive in Winona at 12:20 pm. If
this passenger schedule was not convenient, the 1891 traveler could board
the 7 am "mixed" ("hog and human") freight train in Winona and arrive in
Osage at 5:45 pm.
Travel to Rochester or other points east would leave Osage at 8 am and
return at 5 pm. A common pasttime during the passenger train heydey was to
go to the station at train time and see all the people come and go. It was a
great opportunity for newspapermen to gather news.
On Sept. 10, 1901 the lines of the Winona and Western Railway Co. were
acquired by the Chicago Great Western Railway Co., fondly known by many as
the "Great Wheaty."
This railroad extended from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL, Omaha, NB and
Kansas City, MO.
Passenger service greatly improved and 1908 saw the beginning of the "Maple
Leaf Route." This route offered Mitchell County residents three passenger
trains each day except Sunday between McIntire and Osage. All trains met
main line "express trains" at McIntire. Trains number 203 and 204
represented a through service between Osage and Minneapolis.
The passenger train era in Osage came to an end in 1933 and in 1935 the
passengers agent's office was discontinued according to an entry in the 1956
centennial booklet entitled "A Century of Progress, 1856-1956, Osage, Iowa."
For a short time after that passengers could ride in the cabooses of the
freight trains if they wished.
During the war years between 1942 and 1945 many people in town remember the
trains being loaded with German P.O.W.s headed for Mankato and smiling
American soldiers who would toss out candy bars to the kids.
By the year 1946, the old passenger depot had already sat empty for several
years. The Chicago Great Western Railway Co. still retained ownership and
leased this portion of its property to Harvey Norby, of St. Ansgar and the
late-George Gast. The two men moved their business, Osage Feed and Seed,
from the location where Kwik Star is now located, to the depot site farther
west to be closer to their warehouse. The Chicago Great Western freight
depot, located one block north, was still in use until the early 1960s. This
building was dismantled several years ago by Merrill Johnson when he worked
for the elevator.
The depot building was in serious disrepair according to Norby. He said the
floor boards in the main room had been broken through from when the highway
department had used the depot to store bags of cement for a road project.
Gast and Norby also replaced the roof and brought in water and sewer
connections. Storage garages were later added to the north and south ends of
the building. Norby sold his half of the feed business to his partner in
Both the wives of Gast and Norby were bookkeepers for the feed business.
Norby said they were often nervous around opening and closing time because a
number of "hobos" who were used to sleeping in the vacant depot would still
approach them looking for food or a place to sleep.
Don Schweiger said he started working at the feed and seed store in 1956. He
said, "I unloaded a good many freight cars into the warehouse." He said 50
pound bags of feed and 100 pound bags of salt would come in on 40-ton
freight cars. The bags were all lifted from the cars by hand and placed on a
two-wheel cart to take into the warehouse. He said the freight train stopped
making deliveries in the early 1960s.
Steam locomotives were replaced by diesel engines in 1964. The coal shed and
water tank in Osage became part of a bygone era and were torn down
Some of the businesses and industries served by the Chicago Great Western
over the years include Annis & Ahrens Lumber Co., Co-op Oil Co., Decklever &
Falk, Goplerud Oil Co., M.A. Guberman scrap yard, Iowa State Highway Dept.,
Mitchell County Farm Supply, Mitchell County Oil Co., Osage Co-op Elevator,
Osage Feed and Seed Co., K.P. Schmidt coal, Sinclair Refining Co., Spahn &
Rose Lumber Co. and Standard Oil Co.
The economic prosperity seen by the railways during the post-World War II
boon began to decline and with the constantly rising cost of labor and
materials the Chicago Great Western went into the red and abandoned its
railway through Osage in 1967.
The rail line later merged with the Chicago and North Western Railway on
July 1, 1968 to maintain its stability, but the C & NW subsequently
abandoned most of the CGW lines.
Bill Bollinger, retired city works director, believes the old track was
taken up in the late 1960s, sometime between when the railroad abandoned the
line and Fox River Mills opened in the early 1970s.
The C & NW sold its property in Osage to the Osage Development Corporation
July 7, 1970. The ODC then partitioned the land off into lots and sold the
lot the depot sat on to George Gast on Sept. 19, 1972.
George Gast sold his feed business to his son, Gary, in 1985, who had been
working there off and on since his high school years. Gary retired the
business and the sold the property to Stan Walk of the Mitchell County
Development Co. in August of 2003.
The old depot has now come full circle. Ron Holland Housemoveing, Inc. of
Forest City jacked up the building and it finally made its two-mile journey
to Cedar Valley Memories on Nov. 6, 2003. Smolik was there for the historic
event and rode in the truck with the depot until it reached its final
The depot slowly made its way down the road with the assistance of the
utility company disconnecting and lifting power lines for the depot to pass
Merrill Johnson said the intention is to restore the building and bring it
back to its original 1890s design. Lloyd Gerbig and Dean Wright replaced
floor joists and sill pieces to get the depot ready for the move. "Some
people said the wood was rotten. It's far from rotten," Gerbig said. "It
took a 110 pound air nailer to drive a 16-penney nail through the floor
joist. The I-beam running down the center is just like the day they put it
Gerbig said his main concern is getting the building settled on its new
foundation and getting it sealed up before winter hits.
Next spring when the historical remodeling begins he said they could sure
use the help of as many volunteers as they can get.
Smolik acquired a miniture steam locomotive in Great Falls, MT. The train
can reach a speed of 60 miles per hour. He said he had a lot of plans for
the train even before the depot came along.
The train has a full one-hald inch thick boiler that is in excellent
condition Smollik said. If they don't want to run coal it can easily be
converted over to burn fuel oil and Nash's ____ has already said they can
have all the used oil they need.
Smollik envisions the train making a turn on the south side of the depot and
winding up the hill through the trees, over to the river and back.
The rail is sitting in storage but Smollik said they still have to purchase
seveal thousand railroad ties and in some places will have to dig through
six feet of limestone. He added with a grin, "But that's no problem."