The One Man Railroad – A Look Back At The Tiny, Long Running Illinois Midland Line

The One Man Railroad – A Look Back At The Tiny, Long Running Illinois Midland Line

(By Greg Rourke) – Shortline railroads are a necessary part of moving goods across our great land. Before highways the big railroads built branches and sidings to virtually any business that needed one. At some point they became unprofitable to run trains and maintain seldom used tracks, and they were sold off to shortline operators.  A few lines started out as shortlines, and today’s history lesson is about what might have been the shortest line of all.

In 1912 S.G. Durant proposed building a railroad from Rockford, Illinois to Kankakee, Illinois. Both are industrial cities, so it made perfect sense. He convinced folks to invest in his railroad, and sold shares. He promised to take a small fee for his work after the first train ran. So far, so good.
Mr. Durant raised enough capital to get started. He graded a line from Newark, Illionois to Millington, Illinois. Neither was a bustling metropolis then or now, but they were were in between the proposed destination cities. He laid 1.9 miles of track, and  connected the railroad to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad in Millington. S.G. then rented a steam locomotive and borrowed a couple of freight cars and ran a couple of trains. He kept his promise…sort of…took most of the money out of the bank and skedaddled for parts unknown.
But then a funny thing happened. Well, the folks back then probably weren’t all that amused, but they proceeded to build a grain elevator and operate the railroad. Newark Farmers Grain bought the line, and named it the Illinois Midland.  They hauled grain to the CB&Q in Millington, and hauled lumber, coal, and feed back to Newark. It kept the little railroad in business for many years, with various motive power, steam at first then later diesel. Trains ran nearly every day. Will Thorsen was engineer, fireman, brakeman, and after the train was done for the day went out to maintain the line. Where the line crossed a pasture he would open and close the gate as the train passed. A one man railroad.
The line finally died in 1967, when two wooden bridges were  burned, allegedly by arson. But by then trucks  were taking over most of the business, and it was decided to end the railroad that was almost as long as the HO model railroads in many basements.
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4 thoughts on “The One Man Railroad – A Look Back At The Tiny, Long Running Illinois Midland Line

  1. john

    “Interurbans” were light, fast (60+ mph) rail lines that were in use through the 1930’s until put out of business by buses. In Ohio, they were built along canal beds that once connected the Great Lakes and the Ohio River.

  2. Shawn Fox Firth

    neat story , think I,ll sit down and rewrite the lyrics to Guthrie’s ‘City Of New Orleans’ . . .Riding on The Midland Inland Rail , Newark Farmers Grain , One Conductor 2nHalf tons o Grain , All along the south bound Odyssey The Train pulls outa’ Kankakee . . . .With Respect To Van Zant of course . . . .

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