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Chicago St Paul Minneapolis and Omaha in Cobban Wisconsin


Cobban Wisconsin

     A very small community by standards today, Cobban was fairly busy because of the Omaha line. Named after it's founder in 1910, Simon Cummings Frazer Cobban, this town grew very fast as did most of the towns fed by rail in the area. Business grew up rapidly to handle the in surge of produce coming from the fields waiting for disposition at a canning factory, processing plant, or a lumber mill miles away. Cobban was also a distribution center for incoming merchandise to assist the local resident is survival and a better life. A milk stop was near the tracks at the depot and dry goods, perishables, and supplies were brought in and out by rail. The Cobban store was the closest produce and dry goods for people living between Jim Falls and Cornell. Many unique stories must have been told over the counter at the now abandoned store by the patrons years ago. The map shows the line at Cobban in the mid 1980's. South of the town was Jim Falls, and to the North was Hatch's Siding (then abandoned) and Cornell.

Cobban Ferry

Crossing the Chippewa River prior to the bridge at Cobban was with a ferry during the open river season and across the ice during the frozen river conditions. Surely there were times when a condition existed half way between when it was unsafe for either mode of crossing. There was always the problem of horses getting "spooked" on a barge in the middle of the river. The ferry system was run by the store owner just to offer his services to the customers from the other side of the river. The ferry was apparently several sizes depending on who you talked to according to Emil Gerber. It's size was 20 feet wide and 30 to 60 feet long. If the people in the picture are 5 to 6 feet high, the length would be closer to 30 feet. It was constructed of planks that were 3 inches thick by 16 inches wide. It was said that one of the local farmers transported a load of sugar beets and 6 horses at the same time. The ferry was guided by a cable that was 3/4 inch thick and run from one bank to a concrete slab at the other near the depot. In 1905 the ferry was frozen into the ice due to an early winter. Apparently it was removed most every other year to prevent damage. The bridge shown below replaced the ferry and has it's own unique history.

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The Cobban Bridge 

The Cobban Bridge was brought up from the Yellow River by Chippewa Falls in the winter by the owner of the store to replace his ferry system with a more efficient method of river crossing. This was accomplished before the hydroelectric power dams were built in Jim Falls and Chippewa Falls creating Lake Wissota in the early 1900's. The Bridge was partially dismantled in Chippewa and was pulled by teams of horses up the frozen river from Chippewa Falls on sleds (then called Chippewa Junction) to Cobban. Amazing courage of the individuals that make up this era. Imagine the mess if the bridge sections would have fallen through the thin ice. The positioning of  the old Chippewa Bridge at Cobban over the Chippewa River allowed customers to cross the river and shop at the store or drop milk off without making a thirty mile round trip in either direction if they chose to not take the ferry. As the 70 ton capacity bridge was in the final stages of set-up, Gottlieb Gerber and a few others took a half barn door and painted on it "LOAD LIMIT FIVE TONS" and hung it on the East end of the bridge. This was intended as a joke and it stayed there until the some time in the 1940's. This could be the beginning to the current status of the bridge as a limit of 5 tons. This old girder bridge still stands functionally today, has one lane traffic, and hardwood cross-plank roadbed with additional hardwood planks for the tire paths. As you walk or ride over on a bike, you can see the water beneath through the gaps in the wooden planks. The next bridge to the south was in Chippewa Falls or to the north was Cornell, depending on which direction you wished to travel. 

Cobban Floods

A few floods over the last century claimed much personal property, but the residents worked hard to keep the community together.  The picture at the left shows the Omaha tracks under water during the flood of 1941. To the right side of the tracks, the Cobban store can be seen. The depot is to the left almost directly across the tracks from the white Cobban store. The lumber mill can be seen as the larger building to the far right near the top.



The Cheese Factory

The second Cheese Factory being built in Cobban in 1916 by the Shultz Brothers. The building stands today surviving many floods and time. Picture on left reflects 1916 while picture on right reflects nearly 90 years later. Milk was brought in by the local farmers to be sold to the factory.  Butter fat from the milk was used to make cheese and other dairy products. The Factory was a source of income for the dairy farmers as well as the employees of the factory.


Cobban Store

The second Cobban Store was rebuilt in 1923. It looked much like the first one (shown on left) that was severely damaged in a flood in 1922. To the right of the second store build was a weigh scale used for weighing entire wagons of produce as they arrived for export. Sugar Beets and potatoes were a common commodity for the Cobban area.


Cobban Depot

Cobban Depot was used for passenger service as well as processing the merchandise that left and entered the Cobban Community.  The siding near the station was tended by Emmett Yeager. He used a small white horse to position railroad cars so the could be loaded or unloaded. The cars would then be staged for pick-up by the Omaha as it came through on it's scheduled stop. They would hitch the horse to the car and the horse would lean into the traces (sometimes called tugs) and it would stay leaning until the car began to move. Sometimes the motion was started by a man with a tool called a "Johnson Bar" by prying it under the wheel of the car. As it began to move the horse would take bigger steps until the car was "spotted", then someone would set the hand brake on the car. The horses job was then done until the next car needed to be moved. The depot has been gone since shortly after the flood of 1941.


Lumber and Shingle Mill

Lumber was an export from Cobban area. Many trees were transformed into building material for area communities as well as residents of the Cobban community. Shown at the left are stacks of lumber set to dry so it can be used without warping after construction. Seasoned lumber was a commodity that came from the "Big Mill" that kept Cobban flourishing as long as it lasted. When the area became "logged out" the lumber mill vanished as did much of the town. 

The Shingle Mill was originally owned by Stevens and Jarvis Lumber Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin and was later purchased by Julius Miller who was part owner of the Cobban Store. The material for manufacturing shingles came from around the Cobban area. There were many logs lying in the woods that were either missed due to deep snow or left to stay because of the red sawdust coming from the crosscut saw. This would indicate that the log might be getting soft inside. Only logs of solid stature  were accepted at saw mills years ago. Much  of the lumber is made today from what years ago was called firewood.  Also brought to the shingle mill was the tall stumps that were still standing in the woods. Lumbermen would cut high to avoid hollow bottoms in the trees. Another source of logs was called "river pigs". These were logs that had been lodged in the river bottom and long the sides of the river banks after log drives were complete. The logs that were intended for shingles were cut into lengths of 20 inches then fed through a horizontal saw, sorted, trimmed, and bundled.


Cobban Today

Cobban WI, viewed from across the Chippewa river in the winter from the "River Road" Highway 178. 


Directly South of Cobban is a small outlet from the river that required a small bridge to cross the entrance. This particular bridge used log piles driven into the river bed for support.

A 1920's style farm house in the background between Cobban and the railroad bridge. The depot was located in this area would have been the "Milk Pick-up" point for rail transportation from the farm to the dairy just a few miles South

  If you have any information, stories, corrections, or pictures regarding this or any of the other towns along the Hannibal branch line, Please let me know, < E-mail > along with your permission to publish your personal memories in an attempt to keep the history available for future generations. Non-digital pictures and documentation will be returned upon request.

Thanks for looking,

 Doug Stoll