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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer
Plat Map (1906)
The engine house allowed service to many pieces of equipment. An engine would enter the shop and stop on a turn-table which would rotate to align the engine with a repair stall. The engine would then proceed off the turn-table into the stall for repairs. It would leave the yard by reversing the process. Photo courtesy: Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, Pennsylvania
MILWAUKEE RAILROAD SHOPS. The history of the Shops began in 1880 when the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway obtained the north-south line from Clinton, Iowa, through Dubuque to La Crescent, Minnesota. This had been constructed by Dubuque shippers in 1873. The owners of the Chicago and Milwaukee decided they could not afford to close the railroad's huge shop area north of 17th Street. Instead they converted the Dubuque shops into a maintenance center responsible for 287 locomotives and 2,500 miles of track.

In 1880, voters were asked to decide whether the Milwaukee shops should be kept in exchange for a donation of land valued at $35,000. The citizens voted — for retention-- 1,704; against retention, 54. (1) The land was known as the Guerin property and lay between 3rd and 4th and Clay and White STREETS. In addition there was a lot on the southeast corner of 4th and White. This gave the railroads three blocks of land for construction. (2) In 1892 consideration was given by the Illinois Central to enlarge their locomotive building facilities in Waterloo. This was seen as a positive development that would bring more business to Dubuque. (3)

The shops were expanded. In May 1900 two additional railroad divisions were added to the work crew and a larger car shop was constructed. Employment reached 800 men. In May 1902 an annex was added to the roundhouse. A new power plant was added at a cost of $30,000 in March 1903 along with an addition to the blacksmith shop. In 1905 a new coal chute began operations and in January 1906 the plant and its equipment received a $250,000 upgrade. (4)

In 1906 the Milwaukee Dubuque Shops was considered the city's largest industrial plant. (5) The complex covered fifty acres and had an annual payroll of $750,000 with one thousand workers employed as blacksmiths, boilermakers, carpenters, machinists, and painters. (6) The Shops provided important business for such local industries as A.Y.MCDONALD MANUFACTURING COMPANY, STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY, MORRISON BROTHERS COMPANY, and the JOHN ERNSDORFF IRON COMPANY.

All damaged railroad cars and locomotives belonging to the Milwaukee Railroad operating south of Dubuque and between Kansas City, Missouri and Sioux Falls, South Dakota were brought to Dubuque for repair. Half of the new freight cars used in the extension of the continental railroad from Chicago to Pudget Sound were constructed in Dubuque where the company saved $28.00 over prices in Minneapolis. (7)

Coaches are being constructed. Photo courtesy: Dubuque County Historical Society and the Telegraph Herald
Map showing the size of the shops.
c. 1912. Photographer unknown, “[Milwaukee Railroad Shops],” Loras College Digital Collections, accessed April 12, 2014, https://digitalcollections.loras.edu/items/show/29.

Through the early years of the 20th century as many as two thousand Dubuque workers unloaded coal, built coaches, and refurbished boxcars. The Milwaukee Shops were the first to offer work for returning soldiers from WORLD WAR I. (8) In 1929 the Milwaukee Shops won the trophy cup during the "Made in Dubuque" week festivities. (9) All damaged railroad cars and locomotives belonging to the Milwaukee Railroad operating south of Dubuque between Kansas City, Missouri and Sioux Falls, South Dakota were brought to Dubuque for repair and modernization. Because the Dubuque Shops could build cars at a lower cost ($28 per car) than shops in Milwaukee, half of all the new freight cars used in the extension of the Continental Railroad from Chicago to Puget Sound were built here. (10) A redbrick roundhouse constructed in 1871 was large enough to allow the simultaneous repair of twenty-four engines. It was said that the building was so well constructed that the heat from only two locomotives could warm the entire enclosure.

Wages, ranging from sixty to seventy cents per hour, were among the best paid in Dubuque. In 1911 the annual picnic for employees and their families was held in Bellevue. Transportation for 2,500 was furnished by a special train. The following year 1,800 took a similar train to Guttenberg for the day. (11) Following a pattern in other industries, shopmen formed a baseball team in 1917 and played teams within and outside the city. (12) In 1921 the Dubuque Division Booster Club was established for supervisors and clerks. (13) The purpose of the group was to advertise the Milwaukee railroad and organize social events. "Milwaukee Get-together Parties" were well known in the community.

Electric motors had generally replaced steam power at the shops by July 1916. Electric power was being obtained from the UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY although steam power was still used in the immense building. The change-over was necessitated by the amount of work being done. Company officials reported an immediate increase in productivity. (14)

In 1922 an unsuccessful strike for higher pay lasted three months in an attempt to raise the top rate to eighty cents. In 1924 representatives of six shop crafts, known as System Federation 76, of the Milwaukee line met in Dubuque to take positions on issues affecting the labor force. John Utzig of Dubuque was the federation president. (15)

The Milwaukee Railroad Shops were an important local employer. Photo courtesy--Bob Reding
There were hints by 1927 that the "Shops" might close. Trucks, airplanes and barges were increasingly used to transport people and materials. By October, these fears were ended although an expectation existed that employment would decline. (16) In 1929 the shops closed except for a small crew in the locomotive repair area with some of the operations transferred out of the state.

By 1934 workers were dismantling rather than rebuilding cars. When this process began, the Milwaukee line had 20,000 cars and a large number of locomotives that had been in service for twenty or more years. It was considered better business to junk the old equipment and purchase new because the new machinery had many improvements. (17) Some of the all-wooden boxcars and stock cars were sold to farmers for storage, but most were dismantled and burned. In an area the employees called the "rip yard," the best lumber was saved and the rest was burned.

There was new construction in 1935. A new office building was constructed for the chief dispatcher, operator, store keeper, special railroad police, train master, yard master, and roundhouse foreman. (18) Employment in that year was 110. On a daily average, sixteen cars and one locomotive were dismantled. (19) The work was expected to last at least five years. (20)

The Dubuque Shops closed permanently about 1954, the victim of changing methods of transportation.



1. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Online: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-28-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

2. "Milwaukee and St. Paul Repair Shops," Dubuque Herald, October 29, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18801029&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "To Build Locomotives," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 9, 1892, p. 4. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18920909&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. Kruse, Len, "Transport Changes Caused Decline," Over 49 News & Views, January 1992, p. 2

5. Kruse, Len. My Old Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa: Center for Dubuque History--Loras College, 2000, p. 97

6. Ibid.

7. Kruse, Len.Over 49 News & Views, January 1992, p. 2

8. "Jobs For Soldiers at Railroad Shops," Telegraph Herald, January 9, 1917, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=yg9eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5V8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=4525,6598291&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

9. "Trophy Cup Won By Milwaukee Shops on Display at Chamber," Telegraph Herald, June 26, 1929, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=onlFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wrwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4059,5772144&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

10. Kruse, Len. p. 97-98

11. Ibid., p. 98

12. "Shopmen Form Baseball Team," Telegraph Herald, May 31, 1917, p. 9. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=FgleAAAAIBAJ&sjid=6V8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=3365,4126021&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

13. "Club Formed at Milwaukee Shops," Telegraph Herald, November 13, 1921, p. 20. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=MJZSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=vdAMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6853,4815022&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

14. "Milwaukee Road Changes Over to Electric Power in Big Shops at Dubuque," The Milwaukee Journal, July 18, 1916. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19160718&id=QaxRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FiEEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6055,3416556&hl=en

15. "Shop Crafts in Gathering Here," Telegraph Herald, October 21, 1924, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ATtFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=lbsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6855,3245959&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

16. "The Shops Stay," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, October 3, 1927, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=K5BFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1bwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1049,6250981&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

17. "More Then 100 Men Employed at Shops Now," Telegraph Herald, July 9, 1935, p. 12. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=owFCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2528,6886048&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

18. "Start Work on New Office Building at Milwaukee Shops," Telegraph Herald, November 3, 1935, p. 12. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=G81BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=y6kMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6624,1636556&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en

19. "More Then 100 Men Employed at Shops Now,"

20. "One Locomotive, 16 Boxcars Destroyed by Fire Every Day," Telegraph Herald, July 14, 1935, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=PLxBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=tqkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2163,400006&dq=milwaukee+railroad+shops+dubuque&hl=en