Facebook Page

Mid-Continent Railway Museum 8/21/2021

by Chris Guenzler

We woke up at the East Dubuque Quality Inn and checked out then drove to MacDonalds in Platteville, After a filling breakfast, Elizabeth drove us the rest of the way to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum History

The rail line used by the Mid-Continent Railway Museum is a spur off of the original Chicago and North Western Railway mainline. With the development of the Illinois Iron mine in early 1903, the C&NW sent a team of engineers on July 8, 1903 to survey a route to the iron fields. By August 12, C&NW president Marvin Hughitt had arrived in North Freedom in person to announce that a branchline would be built. A second major mine, the Iroquois Mine (also called the Sauk Mine), was established in October not far from the new rail line. By December 1903, the 3-mile branchline was completed at a cost of $40,533.

To support the increasing number of miners in the area, a new town called La Rue was platted, named after William G. La Rue. William La Rue was an area mining pioneer who demonstrated that the latest technological advancements in diamond drill technology could make iron mining in the area economically feasible. The town was surveyed and registered in January 1903, but it was soon realized that its location in the southwest corner of the intersection of present day Highway W and Diamond Hill Road would prove to be too far from where the mines were developing. By November 1903, the development of the town shifted nearer to the Illinois Mine, 0.5 miles to the south at the present day location of La Rue. At the height of iron mining production, the population of La Rue likely did not exceed 50 people, but the town did include a hotel, lumberyard, church, general store, and two saloons to supply and entertain the several hundred miners living nearby. Another townsite named Oliver was platted just east of La Rue, slightly closer to the Oliver Mining Company-owned Iroquois Mine, but no construction ever occurred.

At its peak, the Illinois Mine was shipping between five and 12 train car loads daily over the C&NW branchline, but La Rue's ironing mining days would be numbered. By June 1904, the mines were reaching depths of 400 to 500 feet at which water infiltrating into the mine shafts began being problematic. Costs continued to grow as a result of the water infiltration until finally the Illinois Mine closed in 1908. By this time it was burdened by costs associated with pumping out 2,600 US gallons of water per minute. A similar fate befell the Iroquois Mine in 1914, at which time it was pumping 4,500 US gallons per minute from its mine shaft. With the end of iron mining operations, the town of La Rue quickly disappeared. By 1925, only one building remained: the La Rue tavern, which still stands today.

As the La Rue area iron mining days were ending, the need for quartzite rock was increasing. In 1917, Harbison-Walker Refractories Company established a quarry south of La Rue. The railroad track was extended 0.8 miles south to serve the quarry.

Meanwhile, in 1959, a group of rail enthusiasts from the Milwaukee area had joined together to form the Railroad Historical Society of Milwaukee. With the group’s first acquisition of the Consumers Company 701 steam locomotive, the search for a home for their collection began. An agreement was reached with the Hillsboro and Northeastern Railway to operate diesel-powered train rides over their line beginning in 1962 under the name Mid-Continent Railway Museum. When it was learned the North Freedom branchline was available in 1962, the line was quickly purchased and the small collection of cars and locomotives were moved to North Freedom in 1963. By the summer of 1963, the move was finished and repairs to steam locomotive CNW 1385 were completed, allowing steam train rides to be offered for the first time that summer. Train rides have been offered out of North Freedom by the museum every year since and a small rail yard was gradually built to hold the growing collection of preserved rail equipment.

Flooding and reopening

In June 2008, the museum grounds were inundated by floodwaters of the Baraboo River. The museum closed for repairs until February 2009. Although most damage caused by the June 2008 flood has been repaired, money for repairs to the museum's Baraboo River rail bridge has not yet been found. The bridge's out-of-service status did not affect the route used by the museum's train rides, but did prevent the movement of rail cars and locomotives to and from the museum via the national rail network. Repairs to the bridge were completed in July 2018.

Heritage Railroad

The museum operates a heritage railroad which offers passenger excursion trains on a 7-mile round trip. Trains leave from North Freedom, pass through the former mining community of La Rue, and turn around at a rock quarry, returning on the same route. The excursions take approximately one hour and operate daily from early June through Labor Day and most weekends in May, September, and October. Trains operate at a top speed of 15 miles per hour, requiring approximately 20 minutes to travel the length of the rail line. Roughly 15 minutes are spent at the end of the line to move the locomotive to the opposite end of the train for the return trip to North Freedom. During the ride, a uniformed conductor punches passengers' tickets, shares railroad history, and answers questions.

Special event trains are also offered several times throughout the year, including Autumn Color weekends in the fall, Pumpkin Special runs near Halloween, Santa Express Weekends at the end of November, and the Snow Train in February. During special events, additional ride options are frequently offered such as first class trains, dinner trains, and brunch trains which offer onboard food and beverage service and utilize cars which are more luxurious than the train cars typically used.

For most of the museum's history, nearly all trains were pulled by steam locomotives although since February 2000, all trains have been pulled by diesel-electric locomotives pending the restoration or repair of the museum's steam locomotives.

Our Visit

Elizabeth parked the car and we each went our own way.

Goodman Lumber Company of Marinette, Wisconsin three-truck shay 8 built in 1909 by Lima-Locomotive and Machine Company.

Chicago and North Western narrow gauge wooden box car 10 built in the 1870's.

Western Pacific burro crane built in 1903.

Soo Line caboose 99085 for Wisconsin Central in 1909.

Union Tank Car Company tank car 17550 built in 1937.

Duluth & Iron Range flat car 5537 built in 1897.

Soo Line ore car 80944 built in 1916.

Soo Line outside-braced stock car 29667 built in 1921.

Soo Line 4-6-0 2645 built in 1900 by Brooks Locomotive Works.

Chicago and North Western combine 7409 built in 1915.

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western coach 595 built in 1917.

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western combine 425 built in 1914.

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western coach 557 built in 1917.

Chicago and North Western salon-club car "Minneahaha Club" built by Pullman in 1929.

Kewaunee, Green Bay & Western 2-8-0 49 built in 1929 by the American Locomotive Company.

Kewaunee, Green Bay & Western hopper 4567 built in 1905.

Chesapeake & Ohio hopper 50684 built in 1909.

Milwaukee Road Flanger X9000291.

Oregon Short Line rotary snowplow 792 built by Rogers Works of the American Locomotive Company in 1912.

The replica Milwaukee Road freight house.

Section Shed.

Crossing tower from Neenah, Wisonsin.

Copper Range Railway 2-8-0 29 built by the American Locomotive Company in 1907. I next visited Coach Shed 1.

Great Northern wooden caboose X-582 built in 1925.

Wisconsin Central baggage car 306 built in 1886 by the Barney and Smith Company.

Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic coach 213 built in 1888 by the Jackson and Sharp Company.

Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western coach 63 built in 1888 by American Car and Foundry.

Boyne City, Gaylord and Alpena snowplow 1 built in 1906 by Russsell Snowplow Company.

Soo Line wooden box car 15604.

Great Northern coach 3261 built in 1906 by the Barney and Smith Company.

Wisconsin Central second-class coach 63 built in 1905 by the Pullman Company.

Wisconsin Central Business Car "Oak Park" built in 1884 by the Barney and Smith Company.

Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic box car 15604 built in 1879.

Museum view.

Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western coach 63 built in 1893 by the Barney and Smith Company. Now I visted Car Shed 2.

Lake Superior and Ishpeming 2-8-0 22 built in 1910 by Pittsburgh Works of American Locomotive Company.

Great Northern Business Car A-22 built in 1905 and used by Louis W. Hill, the son of James J. Hill.

Wisconsin Fish Commission fish car 2 "Badger" built in 1922 by the Pullman Company.

Duluth, South Shore & Altantic first class coach 701 by American Car and Foundry in 1902.

Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic gondola car 996 built in 1899.

Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range box car 7122 used to ship potatoes to market.

Montana Western gas-electric motor car 31 built in 1925 by Electro Motive Company.

Chicago and North Western drovers caboose 10802 built in 1909.

Copper Range Railway combine 25 built in 1904 by American Car and Foundry.

Copper Range Railway second-class coach 60 built in 1904 by American Car and Foundry. Now I would go outside.

Chicago and North Western baggage car 8903 built 1949 by American Car and Foundry.

Wisconsin and Southern transfer caboose X103 built in 1975.

Wisconsin Central Railway Post Office Car 1513 built in 1914 by Barney and Smith Company.

Rock Island Combine 1094 built built in 1906 by American Car and Foundry.

Mid-Continent Railway S1 7 built in 1944 by American Locomotive Company.

Canadian National 7-2 sleeper 5375 built in 1913 by Pullman Company.

Akron Canton and Youngstown outside-braced box car 3081 built in 1941 by Mather Car Company.

>Chicago and North Western refrigerator car 19786.

Chicago and North Western refrigerator car 19781.

Chicago and North Western refrigerator car 19789.

Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range caboose C-183 built in 1906 at their shops.

East Jordan and Southern wooden coach 2 built 1864 by Osgood Bradley Company for the Grand Trunk Railway Company.

Soo Line first-class coach 920 built in 1893 by the Harlan and Hallsworth Company.

Lake Superior and Ishpeming coach 64 built in 1910 by Hicks Locomotive and Car Works.

Chicago and North Western narrow gauge combine 1099 builder and date unknown.

Wisconsin Central Railway Post Office Car 1513 built 1914 by the Barney and Smith Company.

Soo Line caboose 203 built in 1906 by American Car and Foundry. I went back outside.

Two unknown passenger cars.

Duluth South Shore and Altantic sleeper "Duluth" built in 1902 by the Barney and Smith Company.

Lake Superior Terminal and Transfer Railway Jordan Spreader 55 built in 1916 by the OF Jordan Company.

Steel enclosure protecting Lake Superior and Ishpeming combine 1 built 1898.

Soo Line sleeping car 1210 "Rhinelander" built in 1902 by the Barney and Smith Company.

Chicago Burlington and Quincy caboose 15 built 1895 by the CB&Q.

Milwaukee Road bunk car X918050 built in 1951 converted from a steel box car.

Lake Superior and Ishpeming box car 2011 built in 1901 by the Pressed Steel Car Company

Akron Canton & Youngstown box car 3011 built in 1911 by Mather Car Company.

Unknown box car.

Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Caboose C-74 built in 1924 by the Duluth Minnesota & Northern Railroad.

Dardanelle and Russelville 2-6-0 9 built in 1894 by Baldwin as New Orleans and Eastern 232.

Milwaukee Road rib-sided bay window caboose 01855 built in 1939 by the Milwaukee Road.

Lake Superior and Ishpeming box car 2026 built in 1903 and builder unknown.

Milwaukee Road caboose 01601 built in 1929 by the Milwaukee Road Railroad.

Milwaukee Road bunk car X918050.

Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic caboose 568 built 1911 by the railroad.

Chicago and North Western caboose 12476 built before 1913, builder unknown.

Chicago and Illinois Western 0-4-0 701 built in 1914 by the American Locomotive Company and was first piece of equipment that the museum received.

Wisconsin and Calumet caboose 529 built by the Santa Fe in 1948.

Wisconsin Sand and Gravel Climax gasoline engine 2 built in 1928 by Plymouth.

Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic caboose 578 built in 1913 by the railroad.

Soo Line Wrecking Crane X-3 built in 1907 by Industrial Works and Soo Line Idler Flat Car X-173 built in 1930 by New York Central.

Chicago, St. Paul Minneapolis & Omaha wooden bay window caboose 6110 built in 1892 by the Chicago, St. Paul Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad.

Baltimore & Ohio C-1921 built in 1925 by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic caboose 548 built in 1911 by the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad.

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific caboose 17772 rebuilt in 1940 by the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific from an outside-braced box car.

Tender of the Chicago and North Western steam engine 4-6-0 1385.

Milwauakee Road RSC-2 998 built in 1947 by the American Locomotive Company. I went inside the engine house.

Delaware, Lackawanna and Western coach 563 built in 1940 by the Pullman Company.

Domtar Paper Company NW-2 1001 built in 1954 by Electro-Motive Division, orginally Arkansas & Louisiana Missouri Railway 10.

The smoke box and frame of Chicago and North Western 4-6-0 1385 built in 1907 by the American Locomotive Company. With train time approaching, I went back to finish photographing the equipment before my ride.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum 45-ton switcher 4 built in 1943 by the General Electric Company for the United States Navy.

Great Northern steam generator car 6 built as a Railway Post Office Car by American Car & Foundry in 1913.

Unknown piece of equipment.

Union Tank Car Company 17550 by the Union Tank Car Company.

Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Canteen Tender 8670 built in 1919 by the American Locomotive Company. Now it was train riding time by ten minutes.

This train had a consist of Mid-Continent Railway RS-4-TC-A1 1256, Chicago and North Western combine 7609, Delaware Lackawanna and Western combine 425 and Delaware Lackawanna and Western coach 595.

Mid-Continent Railway RS-4-TC-A1 1256 built in 1954 by the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton orginally United States Army 1256 originally delivered to Sharpe Ammo Depot in Lathrop, California. Now sit back and enjoy a ride at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum. My loving wife and I took seat in the back of Delaware Lackawanna and Western coach 595.

The ride out to Quartzsite Lake on the Mid-Continent Railway train. We returned to North Freedom and waited for Greg and Marty to visit the engine shed while Elizabeth went to the coach shed number 2. I visited the gift shop and bought two T-shirts then Elizabeth returned and found mugs and pins. When the boys returned, we left this wonderful museum and headed south toward Rockford. On the way there, we found a depot.

Milwaukee Road H12-44 781 on display at Brodhead Historical Museum.

Milwaukee Road caboose 01900 also on display here.

The Brodhead Milwaukee Road station built in 1885.

The National Register plaque on the side of the station.

United States Army tank on display.

The memorial to all veterans of the wars.

The mural on the side wall of a building down the street from the Brodhead station. We continued south and came upon another station.

The Milwaukee Road station in Orfordville. We drove the rest of the way to Rockford, Illinois and checked into the Baymont Inn. After we settled in, the two of us borrowed the car and went to Texas Roadhouse for an excellent dinner then walked to Walmart across the parking lot before we drove into Rockford and found the depot.

Chicago and North Western Rockford station. We filled the car with petrol on the way back to the hotel and later called it a night.