The complex was originally built in 1917 by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railway Company, or more commonly known as The Milwaukee Road. Upon its completion, it became the 2nd largest shop complex for the entire Milwaukee Road. The only site larger than Sioux City’s was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the railroad’s headquarters was located. The original complex encompassed over 50 acres of land and incorporated over 25 buildings, including a 30 stall roundhouse, machine/blacksmith shop, car/carpenter shop, steam power plant, water treatment plant, storage warehouse, sand drying house, two wooden sand towers, and a 300 ton capacity 10 story wood coal tower. During the years when the Milwaukee Road was at its pinnacle, the complex featured over 10 miles of track and employed over 500 people.
The typical work accomplished by the shop’s employees can be found highlighted in an article done by the Sioux City Journal in 1948. The article provided a year end production report on the Milwaukee Railroad Shops.
- 6,317 freight cars repaired
- 8,316 steam locomotives serviced and repaired
- 561 people employed with an annual salary of over $2.1 million
- 6,541 freight trains for an average of 18 per day
- 4,380 passenger trains for an average of 12 per day
Unfortunately, in 1981 following several years of decline, the Milwaukee Road declared bankruptcy which forced the site’s last 2 employees to close the doors to the complex for the final time. Remnants of old torn down structures, several foundations, a few sections of track, and a handful of dilapidated buildings were all that was left behind.
Over the next several years the complex was then converted into a salvage yard and the remaining buildings, foundations, and structures fell into further disrepair. However, in 1995 the City of Sioux City awarded the Siouxland Historical Railroad Association a grant to purchase the complex and begin preserving the site. The clean-up and restoration process of the now 31.5 acre grounds and its remains continues to be an on-going project, with the hopes of revitalizing the historic site into an exciting environment of education and entertainment for many years to come.
Today, there is bright light at the end of the tunnel. After receiving federal, state, and local grants, to go along with the generous contributions made by businesses and visitors, over the past few years there has been an unprecedented amount of building and grounds restoration. In turn, thousands of people come every year to see HISTORY UNDER RECONSTRUCTION at the old historic Milwaukee Railroad Shops.