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Yellowstone's Supporting Railroads

Chicago, Burlingston, & Quincy


Copyright 2020 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

Yellowstone's Eastern Rail Access - Cody, Wyoming


The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

This railroad started out in Illinois in 1849 as the Aurora Branch RR.  The name Chicago, Burlington & Quincy name was in use by 1864 and came to be known as the Burlington.  In 1872 the company absorbed the Burlington and Missouri River RR and the Nebraska B&MR.  The CB&Q completed their lines to Denver in 1882, making the first direct Chicago to Denver line.  The Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways purchased 97% of CB&Q’s stock around 1900.  The CB&Q extended a rail line to Cody, Wyoming in November of 1901, providing access to the eastern side of the park and the beautiful Wapiti Valley. The Burlington Route to Cody was a branch line off the main route from Lincoln, Nebraska to Billings, Montana.   It left the main line southeast of Billings at Toluca and headed southwest for 129 miles to the terminus at Cody.  Construction on the line began in the spring of 1900 and was completed Nov. 11, 1901.

Cody Wapiti Valley map

1907 Map of route from Cody, Wyoming to Lake Hotel in Yellowstone. The road passes through Waiti Valley to Pahaska, and then up over Sylvan Pass, and down the mountain to Lake Hotel. At the hotel one could choose to take the coaches of the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. or of the Wylie Permanent Camping Co.

[From 1907 Cody Road brochure, Author's collection]

As the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy RR reached town in 1901, construction began on an automobile road up the North Fork of the Shoshone River. It would meet up with the road that was under construction over Sylvan Pass into Yellowstone by the Army in charge of the park. Two years later the road over Sylvan Pass became passable for wagons but was not officially completed until 1905. This allowed Cody to become the eastern gateway to Yellowstone. By 1903, both Aron “Tex” Holm and the Frost & Richard companies were leading camping trips from Cody over the pass and into Yellowstone. As time went on other local outfits escorted guest into the park by horseback or wagon.

Frost & Richard Yellowstone, Cody
Tex Holm Yellowstone

Left:  Frost & Richard Camping Company ascending Sylvan Pass from Pahaska, with camp wagons, carriages, and horses. Undated. YNP #1935

Top:  "Tex" Holm and a party from Geographic Society of Chicago in 1909. They are camped somewhere along the route to Sylvan Pass.  GSC #P05-01

By 1910 the Burlington main and branch lines extended mostly through the midwest, with primary connections at Chicago, St. Paul, Omaha, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, and Billings.   By 1916 the Cody branch had become a spur of a main line from Denver to Billings.  Passengers could, of course, travel all through the west via interconnections with other railroads, such as the Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, and the Southern Pacific.  This enabled tourists to enter the park through Cody, and have the option to exit the northern entrance at Gardiner via the Northern Pacific Ry, or the west entrance at West Yellowstone with the Union Pacific RR.  

Buffalo Bill Cody Hotels
Cody Depot Burlington

Left:  Ad for Buffalo Bill's Hotels in Cody & the Wapiti Valley, including Pahaska Tepee at the east entrance of Yellowstone, Wapiti Inn - the half-way point from Cody, and the Irma Hotel in Cody. From a Buffalo Bill brochure, undated.

Top:  The CB&Q Cody Depot in 1913.  Author's digital collection

The Cody Burlington Cafe & Inn

By 1917, tourist facilities in Cody were proving inadequate to meet growing tourist demands. To help alleviate the problem and satisfy their customers, the CB&Q built the Burlington Cody Café for their rail passengers. It was located just west of the depot and was scheduled to open on June 20, 1917. The railroad was hoping the town would pick up the slack in hotel accommodations, but apparently the local businessmen did little to add rooms. So, in 1922, the CB&Q built a new 2-story hotel to add on to the existing café. It featured 45 basic sleeping rooms upstairs, with a 100-person capacity café and lounge downstairs. It opened on June 19, 1922 and was renamed the Cody Inn.

Cody Burlington Inn
Cody Burlington Inn

Various stages of renovations of the Cody Burlington Inn.  All images from author's digital collection

Top Left:  Real-Photo postcard of the Burlington Inn, ca1922. Note the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. (YPTCo) buses at right.

Top Right:  Real-Photo postcard of the Burlington Inn after remodeling, ca1928. YPTCo buses at the entry, along with private autos on road.

Bottom Left:  Postcard of Burlington Inn with sketched image, ca1940s

Bottom Right:  Real-Photo postcard of Burlington Inn, post-WWII era.

Cody Burlington Inn
Cody Burlington Inn, Cody Inn

Tourist demands continued to expand and the CB&Q built a new addition to the Cody Inn in the spring of 1928. It included a basement and 2-stories that would about double the existing restaurant space and bedroom count. Again, it was scheduled to open June 20, 1928. The Inn was closed from 1943 to spring 1946, no doubt due to WWII, and reopened June 19, 1946. During closure it was remodeled and redecorated.

 In 1948 the Cody Inn was leased to a Billings man and he changed the name to El Rancho. The railroad ended passenger service to Cody in 1956 and a year later the all the furnishings and mechanical/electrical fixtures were sold at auction the end of June. The north wing was saved and moved to the nearby Husky Oil Co. site to be used as office space. The rest of the historic Inn was razed.

The end of passenger rail service to Cody

In 1917 the CB&Q, NPRR, and UPRR joined forces in providing loans to the parks hotels, a practice which ended after WWII. By the late-1920's rail service was also available through the west entrance via the Milwaukee Road at Gallatin Gateway and the south entrance with the Chicago & North Western RR at Lander, Wyoming.  Passenger rail service to Cody ended in 1956. In 1970 the CB&Q became a part of the Burlington Northern RR, and in 1995 BN merged with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe RR, creating the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe RR.

Aerial of the Burlington Inn (center left) and the

depot/railroad complex (center right) in 1955.

Courtesy Buffalo Bill Historic Center.

cody burlington inn depot

Brief Chronology of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad


1849   The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad is formed in Aurora, Illinois with the Aurora Branch Railroad, becoming the second railroad to serve Chicago.


1852   The Burlington and Missouri RR (B&MR) is created.


1864   The Aurora Branch now has 400 miles of track in Illinois and adopts the name of Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., the offical name of the Burlington Route.


1872   CB&Q acquires the Iowa and Nebraska operations of the B&MR lines.


1882   The CB&Q becomes the first direct rail line to Denver.


1900    The Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads acquire controlling stock (over 97%) of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy RR.


1901   The Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy RR arrives in Cody on November 12, which will provide scheduled passenger service to the east entrance of Yellowstone. The road over Sylvan Pass in to the park opened in 1903 and was completed two years later.  Holm Transportation Co. begins providing stagecoach service to Lake Hotel at that time.


1917   NPRy, UPRR, and the CB & Q railroads enter into an agreement to jointly provide financial assistance to the park hotels. This joint venture continues until after WWII.


1924   Chicago, Burlington & Quincy RR build the “Burlington Inn” in Cody with 80 rooms.


1934   The Burlington introduces the Pioneer Zephyr, the country's first diesel-powered streamlined passenger train.


1945   Burlington creates America's first vista-dome passenger car.


1956   Regularly scheduled passenger rail service to Cody ends, necessitating closure of the Burlington Inn.


1970   On March 2, the CB&Q RR is merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad.  Soon afterwards the nation's passenger trains are nationalized with the creation of Amtrak.


1995   The BNR is merged with the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fee RR, creating the BNSF railroad.


(Thanks to   for some of this information)

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