McCloud River Subsidiaries and Affiliates
Ahnapee and Western Railway Company
The story of how the McCloud River Railroad developed a satellite operation two thirds of the way across the continent started in 1851 when European settlers established a town they named Wolf River at the mouth of a river on the east side of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula that separates Green Bay from Lake Michigan. The name of the town and the river changed in 1859 to Ahnapee, after a local native legend of a great gray wolf named Ah-ne-pe.
The Door Peninsula developed a thriving economy based around agriculture, fishing, supporting maritime trade on the Great Lakes, and a small timber industry built around the hardwood forests in the peninsula interior. An entrepreneur named Edward Decker determined he needed a railroad to support his other businesses on the peninsula, and on 18 August 1890 he incorporated the first of several companies that would hold the Ahnapee and Western Railway name. The A&W established a connection with the Green Bay & Western Railroad at Casco Junction on that road's line that ran from Green Bay east to Kewaunee on the shore of Lake Michigan. The new road built north, reaching Ahnapee in August 1892 and Sturgeon Bay in July 1894. This last extension required a large wooden bridge over the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. Ahnapee renamed itself in 1897 to Algoma, meaning either "Park of Flowers" or "Hill of Roses", but the railroad retained the original name.
Map of the Ahnapee & Western
The Ahnapee & Western logo, as seen on caboose #33 in 1978. The railroad's slogan changed from "The Rail-Water Route" in the early years to "The Rail-Truck Route" by the later years. P.E. DeFries photo.
A&W #1 preparing to depart Sturgeon Bay circa 1896 with a passenger train common for the era. Door County Historical Museum.
The GB&W renumbered the A&W #2 as their #31 when they bought the smaller road; it is seen here in the dead line at GB&W's Norwood Yard on 22 September 1934. Andy Laurent collection.
An early Ahnapee & Western passenger train on the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal bridge. Door County Historical Museum.
Like most small railroads of the era the A&W became a lifeline for the area it served. However, the failure of several of Decker's other businesses threatened the railroad, and the Green Bay & Western stepped in to buy the company in 1906. The GB&W operated mixed freight and passenger trains until it discontinued passenger train service in 1937. The road suffered declining freight revenues as trucks siphoned away business in the aftermath of World War II, which again threatened the road's continued existence. A group of local investors led by Vern Bushman incorporated a new Ahnapee & Western company, which bought the line from the GB&W in June 1947. The new A&W struggled on for another two decades, but by the late 1960s declining business and increasingly poor track conditions started taking their toll. The final straws hit in 1968, when the last major shipper in Sturgeon Bay closed down and inspectors condemned the railroad's ancient bridge across the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. The last freight rolled south from Sturgeon Bay on 4 September 1969, and the railroad received permission to abandon the line north of Algoma shortly thereafter.
The first train the newly independent A&W operated on 31 May 1947, seen here at East Redwood Street in Sawyer. The Evangeline Milk Company is in the background. Locomotives #260 and #259, both acquired from the GB&W, ran with a passenger car carrying various dignitaries. It stopped at Casco Junction for photos and at Algoma for a luncheon and to switch out the Algoma Plywood plant. A&W Railway- John Poppy collection, courtesy Andy Laurent.
In the winter of 1948 the #259 and #260 traded off duties monthly. The #259 is seen here on 5 February 1948 switching the Cities Service and Americal Oil spurs at the foot of Jefferson Street in Sturgeon Bay. The Christy Corporation shipyard is visible in the right background. This locomotive would get a green A&W logo designed by Vern Bushman's daughter.Mailer-Luedke Collection, courtesy Andy Laurent.
In 1949 the A&W purchased the large 2-8-0 #261 from the GB&W to replace the #259, but it proved too heavy for the tracks and only made a couple dozen runs over the road before being sold and replaced woth a second former GB&W locomotive, the #351, which weighed 20,000 pounds less than the #261. The #351 and #260 kept the trains rolling through the last summer of steam, rotating service monthly. In the early summer of 1952, which is about the vintage of this photo, the train crew worked six days a week, typically between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. The work hours changed to early in the morning after a new wage contract agreement came into effect on 17 July 1952. The tender of the #352 would have been painted a bright red at the time of this photo. R.H. Carlson photo, Jeff Moore collection.
In 1953 the A&W acquired two 70-ton diesel electrics new from General Electric. The road numbered them 600 and 601 and painted them in this attractive scheme. K.C. Henkels shot this fine portrait of the #601 in Sturgeon Bay on 6 September 1966.
An AHW freight near Algoma on 19 October 1963. Rick Burn photograph, used with permission.
One of the constants in A&W's history had been a moderate sized forest products plant in Algoma. The plant first opened in 1892 right as the railroad reached town, and operated under a succession of names leading up to the Algoma Plywood & Veneer Company. United States Plywood Company purchased the plant in 1940, and it became the largest remaining shipper on the A&W after service to Sturgeon Bay ended. By this point, the A&W was in terrible shape, by physically and financially, and it was clear to all the line could not survive in its then form. U.S. Plywood, which had merged by this point into U.S. Plywood-Champion Papers, Inc (Ply-Champ), concluded the railroad was important enough to the continued operations of the Algoma plant that it decided to buy the railroad to preserve the service.
Aerial view of the U.S. Plywood plant in Algoma in 1949.
Undated postcard view of the U.S. Plywood plant in Algoma.
One of the biggest obstacles to the sale was the A&W's accumulated debt, especially the $233,363.70 in unpaid car service and traffic balance obligations the small road owed to over fifty railroads as of 31 March 1970. Negotiations between the involved parties progressed, and by the later months of 1970 they had a deal. Ply-Champ agreed to buy the A&W's operating rights and physical assets for $180,000 of their subordinated notes, with the money to be proportionally distributed amongst the car service and traffic balance creditors. All debts above that amount would remain the responsibility of the old A&W company. The Interstate Commerce Commission approved the deal on 2 November 1970, and Ply-Champ closed the purchase on 18 December 1970. The old A&W became the Ahnapee & Western Transportation Company, a subsidiary of B&D (Bushman & Daanen, Vern Bushman's son-in-law) Warehouse in Green Bay, which eventually paid off all of the other debts associated with the former railroad.
Ply-Champ for its money got the 13.75 miles of the mainline between Algoma and Casco Junction, plus 2.64 miles of sidings and spurs; the two General Electric 70-ton diesel electric switchers; one Flexi-van intermodal flatcar; a Hart gondola outfitted with a snowplow; and one old bay window caboose. Ply-Champ placed the A&W within the McCloud River Railroad's corporate structure, making it an operating division of McCloud instead of an independent subsidiary. The various top McCloud River company officers assumed the same positions on the A&W. The new ownership almost immediately sent both of the diesels to the GB&W's shops in Green Bay for repainting into a variation of the orange and white worn by McCloud River's new SD38s.
The A&W entry in the 1972 edition of the Official Railway Equipment Register reflects the road's status within the McCloud River corporate structure.
A&W leadership in the early 1970s consisted of president Carl T. Hester, flanked on the left by Superintendent of Transportation Ted Gartzke and on the right by General Manager Jim Roubal. Andy Laurent collection.
The A&W #600 rests in Algoma in September 1971 immediately after being repainted into McCloud River's orange and white colors. Jeff Moore collection.
The invoice for painting the #600. Jeff Moore collection.
The freshly painted #600 switching at Casco Junction on 9 August 1971. Andy Laurent collection.
One more photo of the #600 in Algoma in August 1971. The man on the steps is Ed Tomjanovich, A&W's long time diesel mechanic. Andy Laurent collection.
The A&W operated three trains a week over its line at the time it became part of the McCloud River. The new ownership decided almost immediately that the truncated operation required only one of the 70-tonners, and Ply-Champ decided to send the #601 to the Moscow, Camden & San Augustine, another shortline railroad the company owned in Texas. The GB&W shops had just painted the #601 at the time but had not yet applied the A&W lettering or logo; Ply-Champ instead ordered the locomotive lettered for the MC&SA and shipped it south from Green Bay instead of back to Algoma.
As noted, the A&W needed an end to end rebuild at the time Ply-Champ bought the line, and serious work to that end commenced in April 1971. The Green Bay & Western did most of the actual work on the project. Frank Stoller Construction Company provided most of the stone and gravel used. The A&W rented a backhoe and front end loader from the Alvin J. Tassoul Excavating Company, and the L.B. Foster Company provided a large number of angle bars. Lastly, the company called on the Krueger Construction Company for additional materials and equipment used in replacing two grade crossings in Algoma and rebuilding one side track. All told, Ply-Champ acting through the McCloud River invested $132,030.96 in rebuilding the A&W between April 1971 and June 1973.
A&W #600 passing through Rio Creek on 11 August 1972. Note the GB&W ballast hopper right behind the locomotive. Tom Post photo, Jeff Moore collection.
Invoice from Frank Stoller Construction for some of the rock used in the rebuild. Jeff Moore collection.
GB&W invoice for work done in June 1971. Jeff Moore collection.
One of A&W's few pieces of equipment was this Hart bottom dump gondola equipped with a snowplow. The car had been built for the Wisconsin & Michigan Railroad and then sold to the Green Bay & Western in the middle 1930s. The A&W acquired the car around 1965 and installed the Wausau highway truck plow to one end. The road used the car for both ballast dumping and spreading and plowing snow in the winter; it's seen here dumping ballast at Casco Junction on 9 August 1971. Andy Laurent collection.
Another 1971 view of the A&W crews dumping ballast at Casco Junction. Andy Laurent collection.
GB&W invoice for work done in September 1971. Jeff Moore collection.
Among the circa 1971 projects was setting this old flatcar body up as a piggyback trailer loading ramp in the Algoma yard. Ply-Champ had long loaded truck trailers at Algoma which had previously been driven to the Milwaukee Road's intermodal ramp at Green Bay. This ramp facilitated loading trailers on flatcars directly from the Algoma plant and boosted A&W's traffic for a while, but the increased shipping times quickly caused Ply-Champ to divert the intermodal loads back to Green Bay. Andy Laurent collection.
The agreements with the Green Bay & Western to rebuild the A&W apparently led to more serious discussions, as on 14 December 1971 the McCloud River signed an agreement with the GB&W for that road to take over operating the short line. Working through the various logistics associated with the deal stretched through 1972, and the A&W operated its last train as an independent road on 15 September 1972. The first GB&W freight ran up the line to Algoma on 19 September, and thereafter trains operating to and from that company's ferry slips at Kewaunee would make the side trip to Algoma as needed, usually two or three days each week. The A&W sold its remaining diesel and donated its caboose to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay.
The GB&W #307 in Casco in 1985 with carloads of steel plates bound for Sturgeon Bay. Scott Janz photo.
Another shot of a GB&W freight bound for Algoma, this time in Rio Creek. Scott Janz photo.
The former A&W caboose on display in the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. Jeff Moore collection.
The A&W thus lost its public face and identity, though the corporation remained part of the McCloud River Railroad. The situation remained stable until 1976, which proved to be momentous in several ways. First, on 29 April 1976, the McCloud River reached an agreement with Trans Northern, Inc., allowing that company to operate passenger excursions out of Algoma. Trans-Northern incorporated the Algoma Railroad, which operated its excursions in between GB&W's by now twice weekly freights. The Algoma Railroad is detailed in a separate page in this section. The second major event that would rapidly change the A&W's trajectory in 1976 happened when Ply-Champ's corporate successor Champion International shut the Algoma plant down. The closure of the Algoma plant proved short lived as Champion sold it to a new local company, Algoma Hardwoods, Inc., which reopened the factory in March 1977.
The third major event of 1976 occurred right at the end of the year when Champion International sold the McCloud River Railroad, including the A&W, to Itel Rail. The sale closed in April 1977 after Federal regulators blessed the transaction. Itel had started its corporate life primarily to lease incentive per diem boxcars to railroads, and then shortly expanded into shortline railroad ownership. The A&W remained a division of the McCloud River until 15 February 1978, when Itel incorporated a new Ahnapee & Western Railway Company to assume the assets. The new separate A&W remained a subsidiary of the McCloud River. On 1 April 1978 Itel executed the first of several boxcar leases to the A&W, which restored the railroad's name to railroad equipment after about a six year absence. Then, on 12 October 1978 the Interstate Commerce Commission approved Itel's acquisition of Green Bay & Western, and while various sources indicate ownership continued to rest with the McCloud River Itel replaced all of the McCloud officers from the A&W with GB&W people by late 1978 or early 1979.
A&W boxcar #4022. All cars leased to the road carried the large AHW reporting marks but no other lettering. Jeff Moore collection.
The increasingly infrequent GB&W freights again had the A&W to themselves after the Algoma Railroad failed in 1979. The railroad in the last years served two shippers, Algoma Hardwoods in Algoma and Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay. The latter company shipped and received cars from a reload in Algoma. Continually declining track conditions caused operations to become increasingly slow and hazardous, and the GB&W operated its last train to Algoma on 25 March 1986. Bay Shipbuilding moved their reload from Algoma to Kewaunee, while Algoma Hardwoods commenced routing their rail traffic through GB&W warehouses in Green Bay. The GB&W issued a track bulletin taking the A&W out of service on 16 April 1986.
The GB&W then used the line to store cars, principally A&W's fleet of incentive per diem boxcars idled by the economic downturns and the end of that program; however, shortly after operations ended heavy rains weakened the bridge over the Kewaunee River one mile north of Casco Junction, and a trackmobile gingerly shoved the last of the cars stored north of the bridge across it. GB&W continued to use the old interchange tracks at Casco Junction and the first mile of the mainline for car storage. Another flood washed the bridge out completely on 25 June 1990 and caused some other damage to the line, and the GB&W operated a Jordan spreader up to the bridge to clear a mudslide and cut drainage ditches.
The A&W had reached the end of its line, and by 25 October 1990 the road had been officially declared "No Longer a Common Carrier". Itel sold the A&W company, together with the Green Bay & Western and Fox River Valley railroads, to Wisconsin Central Railroad subsidiary Fox Valley & Western on 27 August 1993, and the A&W ceased its corporate existence on 19 November 1993. Scrappers finally removed the rails and other track materials from the line between September and October 1995, and the State of Wisconsin promptly converted the grade to the Ahnapee State Trail.
A&W boxcars stored on the old main line at Casco Junction. Door County Historical Museum.
A&W Equipment Roster
Locomotives- Only includes those A&W locomotives during McCloud River ownership.
600- GE 70-ton, c/n 31727, blt. 1/1953. 600 horsepower. Acquired new. Sold 11/1972 to Industrias Penoles, Mexico. Further disposition unrecorded.
601- GE 70-ton, c/n 31728, blt. 1/1953. 600 horsepower. Acquired new. Sold 7/1971 to Moscow, Camden & San Augustine #601, San Augustine, Texas; to Tex-Trax- Econorail Division #60, Port Arthur, Texas, 5/1984; Scrapped 2001.
In 1950, the A&W requested that U.S. Plywood assume some of its own switching chores so as to reduce the time its crews and equipment spent performing that task. U.S. Plywood and successors employed two small Plymouth switchers at the Algoma plant.
c/n 3318, Model JLA-2, 97 horsepower, 12 ton, Gas Mechanical. Built 11 September 1929 for Cooper Bessemer Corp., Grove City, PA; to Algoma Plywood & Veneer Company; to Wisconsin Power Company, Necedah, Wisc.
The JLA-2 in 1950. Algoma Record-Herald Photo, Door County Historical Museum collection
The JLA-2 wearing its later paint scheme on 19 May 1961. Stan Mailer photo, Dan Luedke collection.
c/n 5724, Model DDT, 78 horsepower, 12 ton, Diesel. Built 12/3/1953 for The Hines Company, Crandon, Wisconsin; to Algoma Plywood & Veneer circa 1960; to U.S. Plywood Corp; to National railway Museum, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The DDT shortly after arriving in Algoma. Andy Laurent collection.
A later photo of the DDT. Andy Laurent collection.
Bob Welke shot this photo of the DDT switching in Algoma in April 1977.
Additional photos of the DDT:
1978 Photo of the #5724 on the Northeast Rails website
1993 Photo of the #5724 at NRM on the Don Ross's Depot website
Incentive Per Diem Boxcars- As detailed elsewhere on this site under "normal" arrangements in the incentive per diem era a leasing company would own boxcars and lease them to a railroad. The deals were structured in such a way such that both parties benefitted from the incentive per diem revenues the cars earned. These typical arrangements did not always apply for those roads like the A&W that were owned by the boxcar leasing companies. Itel in particular tended to assign leases for its cars to the railroads it owned in between leases to other parties, and as such there were quite often large fluctuations in car numbers and types on the roster across years. McCloud River used the Ahnapee & Western's AHW reporting marks up to the point Itel reincorporated the A&W as an independent railroad in 1978. Itel probably sold the right to use the AHW reporting marks to GE Railcar along with the rest of its railcar fleet in 1991, but by 1994 they had been transferred along with the rest of what was left of the A&W corporate structure to the Fox Valley & Western. The AHW reporting marks remained registered through 2005.
#300-#399: 100 50' single door cars, temporarily relettered from Angelina & Neches River to AHW circa 1995, then restencilled back to A&NR sometime after that.
#301-#400: 100 50' single door cars, originally leased to Providence and Worcester, then assigned 28 January 1980 to AHW. Subsequently leased in 1983 to Bangor & Aroostook.
#2000-#2099: 100 50' single door cars, originally leased in 1975 by Itel to Hartford & Slocomb. Lease assigned 1 April 1978 to AHW. Cars subsequently leased to Iowa Interstate or Escanaba & Lake Superior
#4000-#4099: 73 50' double door cars, originally leased in 1977 by Itel to Hartford & Slocomb. Lease assigned 1 April 1978 to AHW. Lease for 25 cars assigned to Crab Orchard & Egyptian Railroad 1984. Lease for 70 cars assigned to McCloud River circa 1987.
#4200-#4299: 100 50' cars, formerly Marinette, Tomohawk & Western cars, leased to AHW 1991-1993.
#5000-#5010; 11 50' cars, Leased to AHW 19 September 1983. All off roster by 1994.
Mark Mathu's Green Bay Route website also indicates two other possible boxcars series in the 41620-41674 and 42000-42099 series. No other information.
MR #11161, formerly of the AHW 4000-series. The patch covers the AHW lettering. Jeff Moore photo.
In addition to his ownership of the A&W, Vern Bushman was also a long-time president of the National Railway Museum in Green Bay. The museum painted this former Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad coach for Vern's railroad and named it in his honor, even though it had no other connection to the A&W. Jeff Moore collection.
Special thanks to Mark Mathu and Andy Laurent for their help with some information on this page. Other information gleaned from various sources, including corporate records, regulatory filings, Shortline Railway guides, and the book "Algoma Railroad" written by George A. Forero Jr. and published by Trans Northern in 1979.
Links to other websites of interest. Pages will open in a new window.
Ahnapee State Trail website
Mark Mathu's Green Bay Route- Mostly about the GB&W, but has a good amount of A&W material.
Algoma Murals on Wisconsin Historical Markers- Scroll down to several pictures of a fine mural painted in Algoma in 2007 depicting a steam powered A&W freight.