Friday, January 18, 2008

Missing the Whistle

You don't have to be a railroad buff to wax nostalgic about the sight, sound, and smell of of an old steam engine chugging alongside a prairie highway. The railroad -- specifically, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway -- played a key role in the economic and social life of many high plains communities in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Growing up in Chadron, Nebraska, in the 1940s and '50s, I was intrigued by the fact that so many homes had green trim -- very much like the green paint used on locomotives that were parked in the roundhouse for repairs and servicing! It seemed that half the town worked for C&NW, which probably wasn't far from the mark. Of course, that was before the railroad company removed itself from the community. Were it not for Chadron's four-year college, the loss of the railroad likely would have been the death knell for Chadron.
Quite by accident, I recently came across a WEB SITE dedicated to the history of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway System. It's a neat site, full of photographs and history of the mightly line before it merged away its identity. I suspect many Chadron residents, along with citizens from hundreds of other communities across the midwest and plains states, have already discovered the site.
The Dawes County Museum just south of Chadron has many artifacts from the rail era. But if you've not seen the C&NW Historical Society web site, it's worth a CLICK. Lots of information. Lots of photos, and lots of fun!