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End Of An Era In Forest County

Richard D. Ackley, Jr.

In 2014 the final remnants of railroad tracks were removed from Crandon, thus bringing a quiet close to a portion of Crandon's unique history. Chances are children today will grow up with little or no association with the railroad.

As a youth I remember the railroad crossing signal lights as they flashed, signaling an approaching train. I can still feel the rumbling and shaking of the earth beneath my feet as I stood nearby counting each passing rail car and reading the various types of information on the sides of these moving billboards. I remember putting pennies on the tracks in eager anticipation of the oncoming train; and soon watching the pennies flattened out into very thin and elongated shapes...free entertainment! We would step onto the narrow rails and try to walk as far as possible without falling off. Samuel Shaw, an entrepreneur and capitalist, purchased property in the area of Forest County in the 1880s, formerly Oconto County. With the aide of Major Frank P. Crandon, tax commissioner with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company, over time successfully lobbied the Wisconsin Legislature for the creation of Forest County, which was established in 1887. Because of his help, Frank Crandon became the namesake for the county seat.

Rail service arrived shortly thereafter in the region by way of the Soo Line Railroad, however a "spur line" did not directly reach the Crandon area until the turn of the 20th century. As a result of the abundant forest, the lumber industry defined the early growth of the city of Crandon. In 1891, Page and Landeck Lumber Company purchased a tract of hardwood timberlands near Crandon, and by 1902, the company built a huge sawmill (later named the Keith & Hiles Lumber Mill) near Clear Lake on Crandon's north side.

The population of Crandon grew from 800 to more than 2,400 in just a few years. With the rail line's presence, settlers and loggers from Kentucky were recruited for the bustling timber industry of northern Wisconsin. The company's sawmill eventually was moved to Crandon from Glasgow, Kentucky. Modern culture lore reflects the early "Kentuck" ancestors.

As I stood along Range Line Road, just West of Highway 55 North of Crandon, back in 2014, I felt a bit melancholy as I watched the rail road tracks being removed. Nobody really noticed...no one was there to play "Taps". I am however very thankful that, although I was not around for the beginning of an era; I had a brief moment to experience and end of an era. My memories are forever locked into my brain...railroad "rest in peace."

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