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Riding the Milwaukee Road... Sort of.


  • Riding the Milwaukee Road... Sort of.

    Click image for larger versionName:	20231113_124632.jpgViews:	0Size:	121.5 KBID:	2290558 This week, I got to combine two of my hobbies.... Off-roading and railroads.

    I've written before about some of our ATV rides in Tennessee, and we recently acquired a four seat Honda Pioneer 700 UTV to add to our off-road "toy collection".

    For those who have no idea ATV/UTV means... a "traditional" ATV (all-terrain vehicle) is a three or four-wheeler with handle bar steering and a motorcycle style saddle seat. A UTV (utility-trail vehicle) has a steering wheel and side by side seating (which is why they're also called side by sides). It's almost like a baby Jeep or Humm-V in terms of capability, and increasingly, size. Ours is just under 60 inches wide -- in theory, it could take a hy-rail kit without requiring any modification to the axles or wheels.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	20231108_123859.jpg Views:	0 Size:	152.9 KB ID:	2290559 Both my wife and I had a rare free day on Monday, so we decided to take it out for a ride. As there's really nowhere suitable to do this where we live, we headed a few miles north of the border to Southwest Wisconsin and the Cheese Country Trail.

    In the 1800's, southwestern Wisconsin had considerable lead mining operations, served by a network of several small railroads which were eventually absorbed into the Milwaukee Road, the Illinois Central and the Chicago & North Western.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	capture_400795.jpg Views:	0 Size:	70.4 KB ID:	2290452 In 1857, the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad extended their westward mainline from Janesville to Monroe, and then later thru Gratiot to Shullsburg. The Mineral Point Railroad Company was built in 1857 between Warren, IL and Mineral Point, WI, and intersected the Milwaukee & Mississippi at Gratiot. An additional branch was built from Calamine to Platteville. All of this eventually became part of the Dubuque, Platteville and Milwaukee Railroad, which in turn was purchased by the Milwaukee Road in 1880.

    By the 1920's, the easily mined lead deposits were mostly depleted. Going deeper was cost prohibitive, and as mines closed down, so did the demand for rail transport. The Warren to Gratiot line was the first abandoned, followed later by Shullsburg to Gratiot. After the MILW's 1980 bankruptcy, the remnants from Monroe WI to Platteville and Mineral Point were acquired by the State and briefly operated by the Central Wisconsin Railroad. That railroad was in turn absorbed by the Wisconsin & Calumet, who was absorbed by the Wisconsin & Southern.

    Operations on the MILW owned lines west of Monroe ended in 1985, with the ties and rails removed a few years later and the right of way converted to the present day trail a few years later. Over 40 bridges and culverts from the MILW are preserved, including a four span Pratt Thru Truss over the Pecatonica River that's 440 feet long that dates to 1888.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	capture_400794.jpg Views:	0 Size:	46.7 KB ID:	2290455 Our run this week started in Monroe (MP44) and ran thru Gratiot to Darlington (MP75), where we took a break to warm up, fuel up, and have lunch at one of the local taverns. Being in Cheese Country, that included an obligatory basket of fresh cheese curds. Future trips will likely start in Gratiot and explore the northern sections.

    While the gravel trails are not what most people think of for trail riding, it was still an enjoyable way to spend a clear yet chilly November weekday. For the most part, all the leaves were down for our ride, but I'm sure that three weeks earlier, the views would have been absolutely stunning with all fall colors. The only downside is that it had been so dry lately, there was a pretty good dust coating on everything... the Honda, our gear and definitely our clothing & hair. I'll take dust over mud and rain any day.

    If you're at all curious about the routing, it's covered by one of the track charts in our reference section (87982 )for the Madison Division.​

    Someone on one of the off-road forums I've discovered is fond of saying "photos or it didn't happen"....

    Here's a short video of us crossing the span... The 15 mph limit for ATV's is probably faster than what the MILW allowed at the end, but I'm guessing the view from the bridge should have been pretty much the same 100 years ago.

    Last edited by eric; 11-18-2023, 05:10 PM.
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