A Brief History

The railroad's name itself conveys the great dreams that its founders had for the future. Originally incorporated in 1894 as the Galesburg, Etherly & Eastern, the builders' dreams were a reflection of the day's mentality; a railroad would bring development and prosperity to towns along the way, commerce would flow because of the railroad. This mentality would lead to a rapid expansion of the railroad physical plant in several areas of the United States. In particular, the northeastern and midwestern United States would be overrun with railroads. Not all of those railroads would survive; our Galesburg & Great Eastern is one of those roads.

Because of the potential commerce generated by a new railroad, conflict and competition between communities was a common reality. This railroad line was initially built from Wataga, Illinois to the new mining town of Etherly, three miles south of what was to later become Victoria. Etherly was a company town, built largely at the direction of the Galesburg Coal Company, which had two shaft-type mines in the vicinity. The infant Victoria was only a farm support town, serving as the source of necessities for local farmers.

In 1893, there had been a business panic which disrupted America. Credit was no longer readily available, and personal savings had often been wiped out by bank failures. This bad economic spell continued through 1894, when a bitter labor strike began at the Pullman Company works in Chicago. At the same time, grain prices had been slowly dropping, causing hardships in farming communities such as Victoria. It soon also was discovered that the coal deposits at Etherly had become not commercially viable and the mines closed. The little railroad, founded in 1894, quickly went into bankruptcy in 1895, with the locomotive and other company assets sold to pay expenses. It has been observed that 318 railroads went bankrupt because of the financial panic of 1893. It is probable that the Galesburg, Etherly & Eastern was one of those casualties.

The economic situation in the US stabilized, and the remaining assets of the railroad line were sold in 1897 to a Henry Harms of Chicago. By 1898, the Galesburg & Great Eastern Railroad was formed and railroad service was begun to Victoria in that year. By 1899, Etherly had declined to the point that many of the town's prominent structures had been sold and moved to nearby Victoria. Yet, the Galesburg & Great Eastern continued to struggle. In the ensuing years, there was a brief flurry of competition when a second railroad in the area was planned and initial construction began. Because this second line was being built solely with local financing, it was undercapitalized and the construction of this second railroad soon was simply a dream. The G&GE was to be Victoria's sole railroad connection.

Finances of the railroad were always shaky, although local individuals continued to support the road financially. In 1914 Harms, the major investor in the road, died. His capital stock had never been properly conveyed to the G&GE holding corporation, leaving the road's future again in doubt. The matter was resolved in a Knox County court in 1915, and the line continued in operation. At the same time, the line's other investors built a grain elevator and cattle stockyard in 1915 at a location identified as "Alert", midway between Victoria and Wataga. Ultimately, local investors bought the road in 1916. By the 1920's, the railroad was operating two trains a day in each direction. But the area's fortunes rested upon the coal and grain trades, which were prone to boom and bust cycles. The Galesburg & Great Eastern fortune's rose and fell with these business cycles.

Two unrelated events were to prove to be another challenge to the G&GE line. In an era before mandatory deposit insurance, an abrupt bank closure would be devastating to a community. As The Great Depression ground along, the Victoria bank closed in 1931, decimating the railroad's capital which had been on deposit with that bank. To cut expenses, the railroad bought a 12-cylinder Lincoln, fitted it with flanged wheels, and used it to provide passenger & mail service. In 1933, the Lincoln was involved in a grade crossing altercation on July 4th. Litigation related to the grade crossing accident posed a substantial potential liability to the railroad. The matter was finally resolved to parties' satisfaction in late 1935, but the line's owners had seen the future. The accident had shown them that ownership of the G&GE also posed a massive financial risk. By the mid-1930's, the G&GE was little more than a right of way, with neither locomotives nor freight traffic. The arrival of the Central Indiana Coal Company would change that.

Coal mining financiers from Indiana had approached the road's investors about purchasing the line and its assets at about the same time. Initially, the G&GE owners had rejected their proposal, but when it was learned that these investors planned to build a branch line from their new mine to the Santa Fe at Dahinda, the G&GE owners quickly changed their minds. Ownership of the Galesburg & Great Eastern was transferred to the Central Indiana Coal Company in May, 1936. From that time until the end of operations in 1961, the G&GE was primarily a coal hauling railroad.

This 1937 entry from a car register of that era gives a clue as to what makes the G&GE interesting:

Messers Sherwood, Lundblad and Behrmann were officers of the Central Indiana Coal Company, the final owner of the railroad. Later, both Mr. Sherwood's son and grandson would be involved with the operations of the railroad and the mine. W. C. Swallow, also a representative of CIC, was the individual who had initially contacted the previous owners of the G&GE about connecting the proposed strip coal mine to the railroad. The address listed for W. C. Swallow is a residence in Galesburg, the Carr House. This location was an interesting choice, for Carr had been an early pioneer and financier in Galesburg.

Quoting R. H. Sherwood (the first R. H. Sherwood's grandson): W.C. (Cal) Swallow lived in Galesburg. Cal was the land agent for Central Indiana and was responsible for the purchase of the G&GE, as well as the purchase and acquisition of coal leases for the coal company. He worked largely as an independent agent and also obtained the right of way for the construction of the spur to the mine tipple (which was difficult to obtain).

After an initial rebuff by the G&GE's owners, CIC had proposed to build their own rail line south to meet the Santa Fe at Dahinda. This was no idle threat by the coal company. Again, R. H. Sherwood: Yes, it was more than a tactic. The company was well prepared to build its own line if need be. The owners of the G&GE soon realized that the only way out was to sell.

Faced with this prospect, the G&GE's owners sold their interest to the coal company. Central Indiana Coal would then operate the mine and the Galesburg & Great Eastern for almost twenty five more years. In an interesting sidelight, the Central Indiana Coal Company, largely owned by Robert Sherwood, often used a Sherwood Forest theme in the naming of their mines. The mine at Victoria was Little John; at Wyoming, it was Allendale. Other mines in southern Indiana were the Friar Tuck and Robin Hood.

In 1954, the mine was sold to Stonefort Corp., in what appears to be largely a paper transfer. After the Little John Mine closed in 1960, many of the mechanical assets of the company were disassembled and moved to other locations. The Wataga coal tipple was moved to Wyoming, Illinois for use with the Stonefort's Allendale Mine. The coal shovels also moved to this mine, along with the G&GE's two Whitcomb diesels. Presumably, the earlier steam locomotives had already been cut up. The G&GE's rails were sold for scrap, and the railroad's right of way reverted to the farmers who had originally owned it.

The railroad was abandoned shortly after that.

[Sources: "Go & Go Easy", John L. Brown; Prairie Journal - Summer 1984]
[Illinois Department of Natural Resources]

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