USGenWeb - The First Seventy-five Years in the Sanborn Community (1878-1953) - IAGenWeb

The Invasion of the Iron Horse

At the time Old O’Brien was the only town in O’Brien county, it was believed that the railway was coming through this part of Grant Township. These few brave pioneers were eagerly awaiting the coming of the railroad. A railway was slowly proceeding westward from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in 1872 the O’Brien Pioneer (the county’s only newspaper) reports that on May 25 a petition asked for a vote to be taken June 22, 1872 “to vote on the question of aiding the McGregor & Missouri River Railway Company, by tax of 5% for one year, to go from McGregor to Sioux City, and to come through Grant township. One line (now the Northwestern) was built across the northwest corner of this county and newspaper items mentioned that the Milwaukee line was to connect with it ‘probably at Hospers.’”
In 1872 “a vote resulted and determined on the center of the county as the place for the county seat.” So the town of Primghar was started as the seat of O’Brien County’s government. After that it seemed the opinion that Primghar would surely be included on the railroad’s line. The Pioneer of August 2, 1872, reports that a petition was gotten up and sent to the Iowa state governor in an effort to influence the railroad company to take their line across the south part of O’Brien county instead of “10 or 12 miles farther north.” Nevertheless the rails were put across the north part of the county presumably because the land was more level. It did not reach O’Brien county until six years later, having stopped at Algona for lack of funds.
After the site of Sanborn was selected as the place for the railroad division point, settlement and building was rapid. The line in Iowa to Sanborn was built from McGregor Western Railway company which was incorporated January 19, 1863. This road was conveyed on August 5, 1867, to the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway company May 1, 1869. The McGregor & Missouri River Railway (whose name was changed from McGregor & Sioux City November 1, 1869) continued the road from Nora Springs to Algona in 1870. The line from Algona through Sanborn to Hull was built in 1873 by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St.Paul Railway company, which was completed extension to Running Water, S.D., in the same year and to Mitchell, S.D., in 1880.
The first construction train arrived in Sanborn the first of November, 1878, with the following crew: Eugene Brainard, Frank Brainard, Tom Joyce, John Hughes, Billy Usher, Rowe Hall and Dan Kane. Henry George and Dell Case were among the first passenger conductors in 1878. Ben Olson was conductor of one of the first trains that crossed northeast of Iowa, having started working with the Milwaukee as early as January of 1874.
L.E. Whitman, the first station agent, came in 1878 with the coming of the railroad. His office and bunk room quarters were in a freight car set on a siding. Sharing these quarters with him was W. Dunbar, the first roadmaster on the I & D division. Walter Lacey succeeded Whitman, his family made their home above the depot. The depot was built in 1880. In 1881 there were nine men employed there, including the following: Fred Harmon, agent; P. McCulla, express agent; A.J. Devinie, G.W. Mowlagd, Tom Frazier, C.H. Pumphrey and O.F. Olson.
The first roundhouse building was erected by John Boland. It was started in November of 1879 but owing to the severity of the winter it was not finished until January 1880.
The first addition to the original building of six locomotive stalls was erected February 20, 1880, less than one month after its opening with six more stalls added. The division point was pushed to the limit to take care of it’s consignments. This meant more trains, more engines and more room at the roundhouse. A temporary shed was used until the second wing was built in September 1882, enlarging it to and 18-stall capacity. In 1881, the monthly payroll at the roundhouse was reported at $2,080; 14 years later it was $6,850.
In the period of 1926-1927 many men were thrown out of employment. Albert Parker and Charles Cheadle were laid off December 2, 1926, and were the last mechanics employed there. The present force consists of a working supervisor and two laborers.
Since 1927 the yards which then included coal houses, machine and car shops, boiler, wheel and oil houses, have been cleared and the buildings torn down or moved. The stock yards, located in the west yard, covered 40 acres on which stood the sheds, feed racks, pens, loading chutes and platforms. These were razed in 1934.
The first roundhouse cost from $50,000 to $75,000 and was built of white Milwaukee brick, with slate roofing from the quarries of the “Green Mountain State.” A Mr. Brown was the first foreman. The first “iron horse” to dedicate the building was engine No. 61, James Buel, which came January 16, 1880.
When the cyclone visited Sanborn June 4, 1914, the first building to feel its effects was the roundhouse and the wing built in 1882, both were leveled to the ground. When the company rebuilt the wing, they enlarged the machine shops by taking away two of the six stalls, leaving four as it stands today.
Some of the early workers were A.J. Fitzgerald, John Conley, Tom Warren and Win Haynes. J.H. Daly and Frank Parker were machinists. G.H. Kings served as night foreman for fifteen years. George Colvin served as the last blacksmith, a position which he held for 27 years.
Early in 1881, Conductor George Bryan, who began his railroad career in 1874, was the yardmaster; M.M. Burns was in the construction train service having started in 1877. Veterans who pioneered when the Milwaukee extension was being built west from Algona were: F.W. Hurlbut, W.A. Malthouse, G.A. Warner, C.H. Cotant, Chas. Woodman, J.C. Wiley, W.H. Stewart, C.L. Hyde and C.J. Walston.
In the period 1880-1881 the following were listed as running into Sanborn: W.E. Gorman, Geo. H. Klein, Ed Moroad, J. McCarty, C.H. Matthews, T.C. Delong, G.B. Phelps, O.S. Powers, P.H. Kinny, E.D. Pennock, T.W. Lane, P.S. Marsden, C.A. Smith, Milt Haupt, A.J. Grahan, Alex Smith, H.D. Fosc, D.L. Tenny, J.L. Thomas, Roe Hall, Matt McMahon, P.O. Malley, L. Herrick, F. Lanahan, W.E. Cotant, W. Blalock. The following workers lost their lives in accidents during the years 1885-1888: C. McMann, Hiram Algyr, Rossan, H.H. Irons, Albert A. Gaskell, Jim Fee and Young Oleson.
In another list of early Milwaukee employees we also find: A.D. Nelson, roadmaster, Jerry Starr, Thomas Beacom, Andy W. Solon, George N. McCullow, Wm. Woodman, George B. Freeman, Charles Beebe, Ed Beebe, Henry Baker, John J. Hughes, John Brown, John J. Gallagher, Joseph Fulton, Rush Eddy, Thomas McArdle, Wm. Switzer, Al and Wm. Swanson, Peter Mottershed, engineer from England, and Charles E. Foote, former school principal and lawyer, also J.J. Farrell, Tom Hamilton, Jake Hanson, Henry Kissler, Al Manchester, A.C. Peterson, O.W. Renshaw, Roy Harmon, Frank McConnell and W.C. Burge.
Other employees of the Milwaukee working in 1897 were: Michael McKeever, J.J. Enright, Frank Coolidge, Ed A. Boyer, Charles M. Briggs, Frank Maynard, John Hasley, C.B. Coleman, L.C. Carroll, H.A. Sampson, Thomas A. Briggs, E.A. Sumner, Walter Mayo, Frank Penrose, R.D. McMillan, E.L. Bradbury, Craig J. Wilson, Frank Mayo, James McCormack, John V. Durgin, Emmett Wentworth, Oscar Merwin, Charles W. Waltson and Thomas Helman. R.P. Edson was agent in 1897 with E.N. Radloff and M.C. Corbett assistants. Robert Hamilton had charge of the roundhouse.
A Pioneer news item of November 20, 1881 states “700 cars on track, yards full.” A January 13th, 1882 item reads: “a trifle over $5,000 per month is paid out to persons in the employ of the railway company.” Again on January 20, 1882: “The railroad company is at present engaged in putting up a temporary roundhouse south of the tracks. The present house is altogether too small to accommodate the iron horses. The building underway, we learn will be converted into machine shops after this winter.” A later Pioneer item dated January 16, 1885: “Milwaukee pays $10,000 to $16,000 to employees at Sanborn every month,” and on April 3, “four passenger trains daily.”
Others who were railroading before the turn of the century were J.W. McGuire, J.J. Hurley, J.M. Kinney, G.A. Irving and John Smock, who railroaded a total of 46 years and whose son Pul has railroaded 52 years. This brings us to the twentieth century when many names have been added but space does not permit us to list.
It was in August of 1935 that workmen began dismantling the roundhouse after 56 years of participating in the progress of transportation. The work of demolishing this old building was under the supervision of J.B. Moore, foreman of the Boone Wrecking Company of Boone, Ia.
The History of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway published in 1901 includes biographical sketches of many of the above mentioned early railroad men. The following biography of George W. Sanborn is quoted from this book: “George W. Sanborn (for whom our town was named) was in his day one of the most honored and faithful employees of the company. Mr. Sanborn took up railroad life in 1854 on the old Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad (now the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul) as a brakeman in the freight service between Milwaukee and Janesville, Wisconsin, which was then the only road in the state.
After serving six months in the capacity of brakeman he was promoted to baggageman on a run between Janesville and Milton. After one and one half years he was promoted to conductor in the passenger service. In 1868 he was sent to Milwaukee and promoted to assistant superintendent of the Northern Division, and later assistant superintendent of the Iowa and Dakota division, with headquarters at Mason City, Iowa, for six years. He was then appointed superintendent of the division, also of the Sioux City division until 1888 when he was succeeded by F.D. Underwood.
The birth of Mr. Sanborn occurred at Bath, in the state of New Hampshire on September 25, 1832, where his father, Martin L. Sanborn was a prominent farmer. Mr. Sanborn married Miss E.E. Richards of Norton, Ohio.
In conclusion of the history of the extension of the railroad into Sanborn, bringing prosperity to the country around, we can see that the gradual elimination of railroad facilities here means progress because fewer division points are required.
Long-time residents of Sanborn feel proud of these early days when our little town played a big part in the invasion of the “iron horse” in the midwest, especially the following descendants of these early railroad men:
M.M. Burns - Mrs. Frank Johnson.
Frank Parker - A.W. Parker.
George N. McCullow - Miss Zaidee McCullow.
C.E. Foote - Mrs. Helen Ott, A.K. and George V. Foote.
Charles Watson - Mrs. Ethelyn Stevens.
J.H. Daly - Mrs. John Cravens.
G.H. Kings - Mrs. A.V. Brady.
R.D. McMillan - A.W. McMillan.
J.C. Wiley - Mrs. Earl Mayne.
Thomas Joyce - Tom Joyce.
G.A. Irving - Miss Dorothy Irving.
John Smock - Miss Leah Smock.

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