Passengers recall high speed passenger train - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Passengers recall high speed passenger train that ran through Eau Claire


Eau Claire (WQOW) - Back in the 1930'S and 40's, Eau Claire was home to one of the most popular up and coming transportation choices; the high speed rail. One train in particular was the theme for the steaming by the water, an Eau Claire train show held Saturday afternoon at Phoenix Park.

"It was our connection to the rest of the world. We could go fast," said Bill Anderson, who twice rode on a C&NW Railway 400 high speed train in Eau Claire.

These days, the only Chicago and Northwestern Railway high speed train running through Eau Claire is a model version. But the 400, as it was known to people at the time, was at one point the talk of the town.

"It came in along Truax Boulevard, the rail line that's now Union Pacific, went over the high bridge by the paper mill, and then over to Putnam Street where the depot was at that time."

The 400 earned it's name with it's speed, because it was able to make the 400 mile journey from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Chicago in just 400 minutes. That took what was a 12 hour trip down to just 7 hours instead.

"It was advertised at over 100 miles an hour. And in 1939, there were things that went that fast, but not that carried people. It was a real exciting thing," Anderson explained.

The 400 wasn't only marketed as the fastest train on the American continent, it also offered a better ride than its competitors.

"An air suspension was very, very, very high tech for that time. And you didn't feel the bumps and the jugs and so forth that many of the other railways had," said Charlie Schaaf.

But the thrill was relatively short lived. After beginning in the 1930's, new technology meant an old transportation method would soon be phased out.

"People had not only one car, but two cars in the sixties. People were flying in airplanes more than they ever had, and the trains were just kind of going downhill," Schaaf added.

Despite citizens trying to petition the company, the Interstate Commerce Commission allowed Chicago and Northwestern to close the line for good due to a lack of business nearly 50 years ago, on July 23rd 1963.

"Eau Claire and its citizenry tried real, real hard to keep it here. And it was a very sad day," said Anderson.

Steaming by the Water was put on by the Indianhead Model Railway Club and the Riverfest Group. It is an outdoor model train show where people can buy, sell, or simply come and see models from around the upper Midwest.

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