Washburn Northwestern Railroad

Railroads Ashland Siskiwit & Iron River WNW Roundhouse

The Washburn & Northwestern Railroad was a narrow gauge railroad built, owned and operated by the A. A. Bigelow Lumber Company of Washburn except for the last four years of its existence when the Edward Hines Lumber Company owned it. While men were building the mill, others were busy hacking out a railroad into the valuable white pine land the company owned. The road opened in June of 1887 with one mile of completed road. Leaving the mill on 6th Avenue and heading west, it then crossed the Omaha tracks between 9th and 10th avenue west, followed the lower part of town, and then, following the Thompson Creek (Vanderventer) valley, made the top of the hill where it then crossed the Wanabo Road and wound its way in a generally westerly direction away from Washburn. Within a year, the railroad was eight and one half miles long. I believe an early branch followed a line just west of State Highway 13, probably ending just short of Bono Creek. The Battle Ax was to use part of this grade when it was constructed about 10 years later.

Engine facilities, turntable and the like were located close to where the dock met the shore. A machine shop was on the dock itself. In 1892, larger facilities including a four-stall roundhouse and attached machine shop were constructed at a cost of $50,000, the old machine shop being converted into a warehouse. The track continued east past the roundhouse and dock on a large trestle that curved out into the millpond on the northeast side of the mill and was the terminus on the Washburn end. The western terminus was probably in the vicinity of Horseshoe Lake, however branch lines extended to north of Iron River (1894) and another to north of Ino and later under Hines, almost to Port Wing. In addition, around one hundred small branches came off of these main branches leading into the timber. These small branches were used and removed as soon as the land was logged over. During the height of operation under Hines, approximately 60 miles of track were involved. Tim Sasse, who has done extensive research on the Ashland, Siskiwit & Iron River RR reports that " The W&NW had an interchange with the neighboring Ashland, Siskiwit & Iron River RR at Grand Jct. Many cars of logs bound for Washburn mills traversed AS&IR rails for part of their journey. Following the AS&IRís 1903 abandonment the W&NW took over about 15 miles of their track to reach several tracts of timber west of Siskiwit Lake owned by Hines." Spurs eventually were run into both the Thompson and Sprague mills in Washburn in order for these mills to provide contract sawing for Bigelow.

The Northwestern Lumberman reported on June 25, 1892, that Bigelow put in a telephone line along the entire length of the railroad. A dispatcher located in Washburn ordered all movements by phone to intermediate stations. The Lumberman reported it was the first of its kind and that other logging railroads would probably follow suit.

The American Lumberman of May 13,1899, had this to say about the W&NW:
    "The Bigelow road, which extends westward from Washburn, is the pioneer logging railroad of this section. For a dozen years it has supplied the Bigelow mill with logs, and during those years the Bigelow mill has manufactured more lumber than any other mill on Chequamegon Bay. This road also did hauling for other concerns and will continue to do so, and it is probably the success of the logging operations on this road that has served as a precedent for the establishment of the other roads which have been built in rapid succession."

Under Hines, eleven locomotives and 180 railroad cars brought the logs, 700,000 feet per day, from the woods to Washburn on 60 miles of track. (See Roster) It is estimated that the W&NW Railroad hauled 1 billion feet of logs in its nineteen years of running. After the closing of the mill in 1905, the rail was removed, much of it and the equipment going to the Hines operation in Cusson for use on the White River Railroad.

Other Hines Railroad Operation in Wisconsin
By Tim Sasse

White River Railroad (Cusson Operations). A narrow gauge that served Hines mills in Mason and Iron River. DSS&A main was 3rd railed between these locations to accommodate narrow gauge log trains. Abandoned 1914. A 1908 roundhouse fire destroyed several locomotives.

Superior--This mill was supplied by a Hines Standard gauge operation at Wiehe which was about 1 mile west of Maple in Douglas County. It operated from 1903 until about 1906. The NP hauled the logs from Wiehe to Superior. Prior to 1903 the mill was supplied by contract carrier Bayfield Western RR. 

Hayward--The mill was supplied by two railroad operations. The first operated from 1902 until 1911 and ran north from Hayward into southwestern Bayfield Country. It was referred to as the "Hayward & Northwestern". The second connected with the CSPM&O at Hines Siding in Northwest Douglas County. It ran from 1903 until about 1912. The CSPM&O handled logs from Hines to Hayward.

The Superior and Hayward operations were transferred to Virginia Minnesota after abandonment.

Rice Lake--This mill was purchased in 1920 from the Rice Lake Lumber Company. It included a railroad that ran north from the CSPM&O about a mile west of Loretta in Sawyer County. Rail operations were consolidated with those of the Park Falls and Loretta mills shortly after purchase.

Park Falls--In 1913 Hines purchased this mill from the Atwood Lumber & Manufacturing Company. It had a standard gauge railroad that was extended eastward and northward into the Springstead area of Iron County. In 1920 this rail operation was shut down and moved to Loretta.

Loretta--The rail operation began here in 1920, with the Purchase of the Superior & Southeaster RR. Hines constructed a rail line north from Loretta that connected with the existing S&SE and formed a through line to Grandview on the CSPM&O Ashland line. The rail line was extended south into the Southeastern portion of Sawyer County as well. This was Hines' last operation in the state ending in 1934.

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