When ski jumping was in its heyday in Trempealeau County, the railroad was ready to step up and transport passengers to the excitement.
On page 68 in my book LOOK OUT BELOW! Ski Jumping in Western Wisconsin’s Trempealeau County, I included an ad from the January 11, 1912 Whitehall Times and Blair Banner. That ad gave the train schedule for spectators wanting transportation to the Sunday, January 14, ski jumping tournament in Tamarack south of Arcadia in Trempealeau County. There were stops in seven small towns before arriving in Arcadia at 10:00 a.m.
Recently I found a copy of the old Green Bay and Western train route through Jackson and Trempealeau Counties that helps visualize that trip. Here it is:
This copy is from Rolling Through Time: Trempealeau River Valley Towns and Trains, prepared by The Trempealeau County Historical Museum Board of Directors (probable year 2,000). Here are the departure times Sunday, January 14, as the train goes west:
- Merrillan, 8:00 a.m.
- Alma Center, 8:10
- Hixton, 8:26
- Taylor, 8:36
- Blair, 8:54
- Whitehall, 9:14
- Independence, 9:31
- Arrive Arcadia, 10:00 a.m.
Twenty-five cents additional would get folks transportation between the depot and the Tamarack ski hill. Beginning at 5:00, the train would make the return trip leaving from Arcadia.
By 1927 ski jumpers from Blair, Pigeon Falls, and Whitehall (including Borresons) were competing at Tamarack. Whether the GB & W still making spectator runs then, I don’t know, but ski jumping was big enough in 1912 for the company to give this a try. By this time, the GB & W had been operating about four decades.
1873 had been the big year for rail construction in Jackson and Trempealeau Counties, completing a route across Wisconsin. According to the above booklet, “On Dec. 18, 1873, the first regular passenger train from Green Bay to East Winona began. It took 10 to 12 hours for the 209-mile one-way trip.” This railroad route would go on to determine the plotting and success of towns like Taylor, Blair, and of course Whitehall, all adjacent to the tracks.
It was likely the spring of the same 1873 year that Elias Borresen and his family made the final step of their immigration, departing Onalaska, Wisconsin, to make their home in Fitch Coulee, not too distant from Whitehall. The next year, 1874, nearly a quarter of a million bushels of wheat were shipped by train out of Whitehall. Perhaps Elias was among those wheat producers.
As you can see by the map, there was also a nine-mile railroad from Blair to Ettrick, the Ettrick and Northern. Beginning December 1917 it operated for two less-than-ten-year periods, ended by the convenience of truck shipping. It was the shortest independent rail line in Wisconsin.