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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
CMStP&P Mississippi River Crossing At Reeds Landing
Reeds Landing, Minnesota

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 762.7.
• River Elevation: 667 Feet.
• Railroad: CMStP&P Railroad (Milwaukee Road).
• Daily Traffic Count: 0 Trains Per Day, Bridge Has Been Removed.
• Bridge Type: Wood Trestle w/Floating Pontoon Span.
• Length: 2,860 Feet, 400 Foot Floating Span.
• Width: 1 Track.
• Navigation Channel Width: 400 Feet.
• Height Above Water: ??? Feet.
• Date Built: Opened July 1882.
The Milwaukee Road built a bridge across the Mississippi River in 1874 at Prairie du Chien and operated trains along the west bank of the Mississippi River into the Twin Cities. The Milwaukee Road then desired to construct a rail line into Eau Claire, Wisconsin. This new line would branch off of the mainline on the west side of the Mississippi River just north of Wabasha at a small river community known as Reeds Landing. The route would cross the Mississippi River and skirt the south bank of the Chippewa River for about 40 miles entering Eau Claire from the southwest.

The river crossing used a very interesting bridge style known as a pontoon bridge. The center span of the bridge was built on a series of boats. When river navigation traffic wished to pass the bridge, the floating span was disconnected from the Wisconsin end of the crossing and pulled out of the way by a tug boat. The Milwaukee Road had two other pontoon bridges, including an 8,000 foot long bridge over the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien and a bridge over the Missouri River at Pierre, South Dakota.

I have not tracked down definitive information on how the bridge operated in winter. The story that I have heard is that the bridge would be pulled out of the water in winter to prevent it from being damaged by river ice. Once the river froze, tracks would be laid across the ice. I do know that trains did cross the river over the ice, but I find that harder to believe at this location. The river is narrow at Reeds Landing, meaning that currents would make the ice dangerous.

The bridge consisted of several different sections. Starting on the Minnesota side of the crossing, the first section was a 700 foot long causeway that branched off of the northwest heading mainline and arced 45 degrees towards the north. Next, a 1,050 foot pile trestle, a 105 foot long pony truss span, and 258 additional feet of trestle carried trains to the south end of the pontoon span. On the east side of the pontoon span, there was a 40 foot long steel girder span and 1,011 feet of wood pile trestle. From there, a 7,200 foot causeway crossed river flats to reach the current day Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, and another 2,500 feet of causeway carried the tracks to the current day location of highway WI-35. North of highway WI-35, the tracks followed the river bottoms along the Chippewa River to Trevino, Durand, and into Eau Claire. The pontoon span was 400 feet long.

The Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge opened in July, 1882. It was abandoned in 1952. The causeway between the river and the BNSF tracks was abandoned at that time. The line to Eau Claire was in use until January, 1977, when a derailment caused significant damage to the tracks. Milwaukee Road trains reached the line by crossing a bridge at Winona, and using the BNSF tracks to reach the causeway near WI-35. Little of the pontoon bridge still survives. The embankment on the Minnesota side of the river is still in place. None of the bridge remains. The river is higher today due to the lock and dam projects. Material dredged from the river channel has been dumped across the path of the bridge on the Wisconsin side of the main channel forming a large island. The causeway on the Wisconsin side of the river is visible on maps, but areas are washed out, making it difficult to follow on the ground. The connector from the BNSF tracks is easy to walk to and is readily visible. A section of railroad tracks crossed WI-35 until relatively recently, perhaps into the early 2000s. A wooden trestle still stands just north of WI-35.

Update—rail fan Terry Yust tells me that the Pontoon Bridge was rebuilt three times due to damage from ice. It was dealt a final blow from ice in April, 1951, which lead to its abandonment. Terry includes an article on the Pontoon Bridge and the rail line to Eau Claire on the web site for the Chippewa Valley Motor Car Association.

The photo above is a finger of land that is an embankment that curves off into the Mississippi River that once supported the west end of the pontoon bridge. The photo below is a historic photo that shows the pontoon bridge from 1916. The view is looking southeast from the bluffs on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River.


Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above is looking southeast across the main channel of the Mississippi River from Reeds Landing where the Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge once stood. The photo below is a close view of the east shore of the river where the bridge entered Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
These two photos are summer views of the remaining part of the causeway on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River. The photo above is the tip of the causeway as seen from the road that runs through Reeds Landing. The photo below is a wider view from along the edge of the CP Rail tracks. While CP Rail has ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted at close intervals along the railroad track, local residents still maintain docs on the river side of the railroad right of way.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above is a sign posted in a parking area near where the Milwaukee Road tracks formerly crossed Wisconsin highway WI-35. The photo below are the tracks on the north side of WI-35.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above are the Milwaukee Road tracks heading north into the woods from highway WI-35. The photo below is a view from just past the treeline in the woods. While the ties are still in place, they are pretty well rotted. I find it unusual that the rails were not salvaged given the recycle value of steel.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
These two photos are looking north across the railroad trestle that is located just north of highway WI-35. The photo above is looking down the length of the trestle deck, while the photo below is from the center of the trestle.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above is looking south down the length of the trestle deck. The photo below is a closer view of the gap in the ties at the north end of the trestle. It appears that the approach to the trestle has washed out, a few ties have fallen down into the washout, and a few more ties are rotted to the point of being ready to fall off of the rails.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
These two photos are views looking south along the deck of the trestle. The photo above is looking down the center of the trestle deck, while the photo below is looking over the west edge of the trestle.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above is looking south down the railroad right of way from highway WI-35. The main channel of the Mississippi River is two miles to the south, but most of these two miles are across the Chippewa River delta. The photo below is a view from the access road leading to Trevino Junction where the Milwaukee Road tracks from the Pontoon Bridge crossed the Chicago, Burlington, & Qunicy tracks (now part of BNSF). This road follows the old railroad right of way for several hundred feet. The muddy road to the left is a 90 degree curve for an interchange track between the Milwaukee Road tracks and the CB&Q tracks.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above is a sign for Trevino Junction. The Milwaukee Road tracks crossed the CB&Q at this location. The small white sign at the edge of the woods is located about where the railroad tracks were once located. The photo below is looking directly south into the woods where the tracks once lead to the Pontoon Bridge. The small sign marks the edge of a wildlife refuge. The right of way is very overgrown. It might be possible to walk about one-third of the way towards the Mississippi River during low water, and in the fall after the leaves drop off of the trees and brush.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge
The photo above is looking towards the west at Trevino Junction. The mechanism next to the tracks is a switch heater. It blows hot air on the switch to keep it clear of ice in the winter. The switch is for a siding located east of this location. The photo below is a train passing Trevino southbound. The rear of the train is still moving downhill into the Chippewa River valley, which allows the head of the train to approach fast and quiet.

Milwaukee Road Pontoon Bridge

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