Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River

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The Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River Railway was a narrow gauge (3 foot) logging road that ran from Nash (Shoreísí Landing), WI (bottom of the present East Ondossagon Road) to Cornucopia. The line began as two railroads, one owned by the Shores Lumber Co. and the other by the Keystone Lumber Company, both Ashland firms.

Beginning in 1890 with 1.5 miles of track, Shores had a railroad and logging operation, which he contracted out to Stitt & Cartier in 1891, who then continued to log and haul for Shores. Beginning at Nash it ran in a Northwesterly direction, eventually passing right next to Long Lake behind Washburn.  Stitt & Cartierís contract expired in 1893. By then there was 1 locomotive, 18 cars and 4.5 miles of track. The Chequamegon Bay Logging Co., possibly under Stitt, then ran the railroad until May of 1895 when the Ashland Lumber Company took over. At this time there was probably 12 miles of track 4 locomotives and 50 cars. The railroad, under Ashland Lumber Co., continued to provide logs to Shores until the mill burned in 1896. Cartier continued on with the new AS&IR, but Stitt had a falling out over ownership of the RR right away, losing a lawsuit in the WI Supreme Court. 

In 1894, the Keystone Lumber Company built a railroad from Cornucopia to Siskiwit Lake, calling itself the Siskiwit & Southern Railroad. The railroad was probably better known as the Pleas Road, Frank Pleas being in charge of the S&S operations. Logs were hauled to Lake Superior in Cornucopia and rafted to Ashland. A clever device was built in Cornucopia for unloading logs. Rails were put on a huge split log located on the lake, and horses were used to tilt the log and logging cars, thus spilling the logs into the lake. There was a bridge across the east end of Siskiwit Lake and a bridge across the west end of Little Siskiwit (known as Harkers Lake at the time).

In November of 1895, the two railroads consolidated and were jointly owned by the Ashland Lumber Company and the Keystone Lumber Company. Joseph W. Cochran, president of the Keystone Lumber Company became president of the railroad. Rails between the two railroads were joined around February 1, 1896. The new railroad was called the Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River Ry. The Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River was also known as the "Peanuts Johnson Road" after George W. Johnson, the General Manager of the AS&IR in 1896. Soon after the consolidation, the rail from Siskiwit to Cornucopia was abandoned and all logs were hauled to the Nash site where a 3,000-foot dock was built to facilitate dumping into the booms in the lake where by the logs were then towed to Ashland, a short distance down the shoreline. Previous to this, logs were dumped on shore and rolled into the lake.  A roundhouse and machine shop were at the junction of the Omaha and AS&IR. This railroad ran year round, dumping their logs on the ice at Nash during the winter. Beginning in 1900 the railroad ran summer only and they began placing logs in Siskiwit Lake, Twin Lake and Lenawee Lake. Logs were stored in these lakes until spring and then hauled by rail to Nash.

The mainline was 28 miles long from Nash to Siskiwit Lake, with main branches of 7 miles between Stearns and Cartier and 7 miles between Iron River Jct. and Lindsay (built fall of 1898), 9 miles from Iron River Jct. to Johnson (built fall of 1897 from west of Iron River Jct. to near Lenawee Lake), and 9 miles from Cochrane to Oak Point (built 1897 from the Siskiwit Lake area toward Bayfield), three miles from Cairo to Johnson (built fall 1899 between Benton and Greenwood), and 6 miles from Hastings to end of Track (built fall 1899 to access W. H. Gilbertís timber). In 1902 another branch was built into the area between Lenawee and Siskiwit Lakes. Many miles of small branches fed into the woods. According to the James P. Kaysen papers, a maximum of 52 miles of grades was in existence at one time. The Wisconsin Railroad Commission lists a maximum of 48 miles in 1902 and 1903. This probably does not include all the little feeder spurs into the woods, only the main line and main spurs. James P. Kaysen came up with a count of 81 miles of grades when researching the railroad many years ago. The railroad was listed as having 6 locomotives in 1896, 7 engines and 200 cars in 1898. 1901 may have been its greatest size, with 10 locomotives, 180 freight cars, three miscellaneous and two passenger cars. They had 3 day crews and 2 night crews delivering approximately 300 cars of logs per day to the dock at Nash. Rumor has one engine lying on the bottom of Siskiwit Lake. Another engine was lost when a log train coming into Nash went out of control and was unable to stop before running into engine number 6 parked on the mainline at Nash. Number 6 was thrown into the air and came back down on the rails. The force caused the steam lever to be thrown wide open and it screamed down the track, running off the end of the dock, colliding with a number of piling, and ending upright on the ice.  Eventually the railroad would cover the greater part of the central Bayfield Peninsula, reaching from its beginnings at Nash, north to the Little Sioux country and northwest to the Herbster and Flag River country. About a mile southeast of Siskiwit Lake there was a two or three stall roundhouse along with a wye, and a four stall roundhouse was possibly in the area of Lindsay Camp #1 on the Cochrane to Oak Point spur. Another roundhouse was probably somewhere in the vicinity of Lenawee Lake.

The AS&IR and Washburn & Northwestern would run on each others track at times to get to their respective timber holdings They may also have rebuilt track on each otherís old grades for the same purpose. On occasion during the winter months, AS&IR cars would transfer at Grand Jct. and bring logs to the Washburn Mills. The AS&IR crossed the Washburn Bayfield & Iron River (Battle Ax) tracks three times. Between 1899 and 1901, the railroad hauled for W. H. Gilbert and his logs were rafted from Nash to the R. D. Pike mill in Bayfield. The South Shore and Thompson mills in Washburn also received logs via rafting from Nash in the summer months and by railroad during the winter months. On Aug. 20, 1901, the AS&IR was forced by the Wisconsin Railroad Commission to install an interlocking or signal tower by Nash where their tracks crossed the Omaha tracks. The Railroad Commission also assessed taxes on the AS&IR. The formula they used was to take the AS&IRís revenue, divide it by the miles of track they owned and multiply this figure by 4 %. Their taxes in 1898 using this formula came to $815.57 where as the tax they assessed the Green Bay & Western was $5 per mile, resulting in a much lower tax rate for the GB&W.

1903 was the last year of operation for the Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River Railroad. Some of the tracks were torn up in October of that year and shipped to Manistee, Michigan and the remaining track was purchased by the Washburn & Northwestern. The dock remained until the fall of 1904 to facilitate the transportation of the several million feet of logs left in the booms at Nash, whereupon it  was then salvaged for lumber.  During the lifetime of the Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River, about 800 million feet of logs were hauled to Nash.

Copyright 2008 Kurt Larson--Last updated April 10, 2008