Learning about trains – A trip to the CNWHS Archives

Following the Prototype

If you want to be a prototype model railroader then you need to develop a great relationship with your prototype’s historical society.  Like most prototype modelers I did an extensive amount of research on the internet.  But the internet can only take you so far and there is so much more information not on the internet that could be valuable to your modeling project.  So with an increased appetite for prototype information about the CNW and the Marshline subdivision I set my sites on the Chicago and Northwestern Historical Society Archives.  See more about the CNWHS at http://www.cnwhs.org/

This place has everything…

Information about towns

  1. AFE’s (Authority for Expenditure)
  2. Maps
  3. Pictures
  4. Depots
  5. Track Charts

Information about equipment

  1. Locomotive Drawings
  2. Rolling Stock Drawings
  3. Rolling Stock Purchases
  4. Locomotive Purchases
  5. Locomotive Pictures
  6. Rolling Stock Pictures

Information about Operations

  1. Timetables
  2. Interchanges
  3. Waybills
  4. Employee Testimonials
  5. and more…

Go in with a plan

I didn’t really know what they (the archives) had.  I walked into the place and I had no clue where to start.  After the information overload subsided I started doing research on all the towns of the Marshline.  I focused on looking for AFE’s and pictures of the towns that I wanted to portray on my model railroad.

I have to say the AFE’s proved to be a valuable resource for me.  Not only did I get a detailed track arrangement of each town, but I also learned about the history, the industries and the little details like where culverts were placed and when rail and ties were replaced and when!

Here is an example of an AFE for Eldorado, WI proposing to remove the passing track in 1959.  AFE courtesy of the Chicago & Northwestern Historical Society.

They had so much information,  it was impossible to go through it all in one day…my advice to anyone going a place like this is to tie the part your project you need to accomplish next directly to the information you want to get at the archives.  It is way to easy to slide into the abyss of historical goodness and not get anything pertinent to your project.

Rinse and Repeat

Multiple visits is a must.  Even though the CNWHS Archives are out of the way for me…(3 hour drive)… I intend on visiting the archives on a frequent basis in the future.  There was just too much information for me to possibly consume in one visit.   I have enough data to get me through the design phase of my layout construction.  Frankly I can’t wait to go back…but next time I’ll have a plan!



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