Mid-Continent’s Baraboo River Bridge Rehabilitation

A Key Connection

Mid-Continent Railway Museum will soon be entering its 56th year of operating historic railroad equipment for the public on its 4.2-mile ex-Chicago & North Western branch line at North Freedom. Located just 500 feet east of Mid-Continent’s North Freedom depot and between the depot and the museum’s interchange with the former Chicago & North Western mainline, Mid-Continent’s tracks cross the muddy Baraboo River using a museum-owned bridge.

Locator map

Baraboo River Bridge location.

The Baraboo River bridge, also known by its C&NW designation Bridge #386-1/2A, is comprised of three sections – an approach span on each side and the main center span. The main (center) section is an 85-foot, 105-ton steel riveted thru plate girder span that up until now has been resting on a combination of wooden (original) and concrete (built in 1977) piers. The bridge was built in 1929, replacing the original wooden Howe design pony truss bridge installed in 1903.

The aging bridge was subject to weight restrictions in more recent times. Finally in June 2008, record flooding of the Baraboo River damaged the bridge to the point of requiring it to be completely taken out of service. The inability to cross the bridge severed Mid‑Continent’s link to the state-owned line which is operated by the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad (WSOR), thus making it impossible for rail shipments of coal, ballast, and other supplies to reach MCRM. It also prevented Mid‑Continent’s trains from accessing WSOR’s network, eliminating any possibility of excursions beyond the museum’s own North Freedom-La Rue spur line. Additionally, some of Mid‑Continent’s railcars became trapped on the east side of the bridge, cut off from the museum.

The Baraboo River bridge girders are just visible above the water at the height of severe flooding that damaged the bridge in June 2008. A string of cars on the other side can be seen in the distance and have remained stranded ever since. Jim Conner photo.

Yet another reason the bridge needed to return to service soon was the impending return of steam locomotive #1385. At Mid-Continent, each demonstration train ride starts with the locomotive in the front of the train when departing North Freedom. Upon reaching the far end of the line at Quartzite Lake, crews disconnect the locomotive and use a passing track there to slip past the train cars and connect the locomotive to what was previously the last car of the train. The locomotive then pulls (rather than pushes) the train back to North Freedom. At North Freedom, another passing track is used to get the locomotive back to the opposite (front) end of the train again so it is ready for the next departure.

This “run-around” maneuver, however, would not be possible with steam locomotive #1385 unless the bridge were back in operation. Limited clearance between the end of the North Freedom passing track and the start of the Baraboo River bridge allows just enough room for the shorter diesel locomotives to complete the maneuver without encroaching onto the bridge span. The longer #1385 would not be able to get to the passing track without at least partially driving onto the bridge span.

Without the bridge operational, #1385 would instead have to push its trains back from the end of the line. This drastically impairs the visibility of the engineer to see what lies ahead since there would be anywhere from three to nine cars blocking their view of where the train is going. Also, because the headlight and whistle would be located at the back of the train rather than the front, the train would be required to stop short of each and every public road crossing so that a crewmember can “flag the crossing.” This adds labor costs, reduces fuel efficiency, and causes unnecessary wear on the equipment.

Gathering Support

Fundraising efforts in the wake of the flood focused on repairing the trains, buildings, and the remainder of the museum-owned route on which the demonstration trains operate. With the museum once again fully operational, fundraising attention next turned to resuming restoration of steam locomotive #1385. With the steam engine soon entering the final stages of restoration, fundraising attention was able to finally be turned to the Baraboo River Bridge.

Credit goes to Harvey H., a Mid-Continent fan living in Florida, for believing in the importance of the Baraboo River bridge project enough to make a modest unsolicited donation and becoming the very first person to make a financial contribution for the bridge well before the project was announced. Harvey’s trust in Mid-Continent to put his donation to good work was not in vain and in late 2016 and 2017 museum leaders were able to secure two major grants to allow rehabilitation of the bridge to move forward.

Initial engineering estimates predicted bridge rehabilitation costs would be roughly $1.2 million. The first breakthrough for funding was a $600,000 pledge by the Wagner Foundation, a private foundation and major supporter of the museum’s ongoing C&NW #1385 steam locomotive restoration project. With a healthy start to the fundraising, bids were then collected from a number of bridge contractors and a winner carefully selected, providing a firm price of $677,000 to repair the bridge. With the lower than expected price tag, the end goal was suddenly very much within reach. The final $77,000 was secured in late 2017 via a grant from Sauk County which officially allowed the project to be green-lit.

Significant Progress

In January 2018, a mere three months after Mid-Continent secured the needed funding, the J.F. Brennan Company mobilized to begin rehabilitation work on the bridge. As of April 3, 2018 construction progress is now more than 50% done and is expected to be fully completed by late May or early June 2018. Below is a brief photo montage showing work completed to date. Photos courtesy Pete Schierloh.

A view of the existing through plate girder (TPG) span that will be preserved resting on a temporary support bent after the existing timber Pier 2 was demolished. Visible near the water surface are the tops of the permanent steel casing for the two 7’-0” diameter drilled caissons that form the foundation of replacement Pier 2. Pete Schierloh photo.

A close-up showing the construction of the downstream caisson. Each caisson was drilled no less than 7’-0” into solid bedrock to provide a sound foundation. The drill arm, or kelly bar, of the drill rig is visible to the right in the photo. The casing pipe visible in the photo was a temporary casing that was used to aid in the installation of the permanent casing. It was removed once the permanent casing was set shortly after this photo was taken. Pete Schierloh photo.

After the caissons were drilled down into bedrock, a heavy reinforcing steel cage was lowered into the caisson. The reinforcing is designed to resist flood forces, ice impacts, and the force of the train starting and stopping on the bridge. All of these forces are attempting to overturn the pier and some of them are rather large forces, so the amount of reinforcing steel required is substantial. Pete Schierloh photo.

Once the concrete in the caisson was sufficiently cured, work began on the pier cap. The pier cap must transfer the weight of the spans and train out from the bearings to the caissons. The design loads in this case are very large, well into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, so once again a significant amount of reinforcing steel is required. This photo also shows the very little freeboard that was available above the river. Even a small increase in water level could easily overtop the bottom of the formwork. Pete Schierloh photo.

The pier cap after the completion of the concrete placement and partial stripping of the formwork. At this point the crew has started work replacing the timber tie deck on the TPG span while they wait for the concrete to reach sufficient strength to support the dead weight of the TPG span. Once the concrete has enough strength, the TPG span will be lowered down on top of the new pier and the temporary steel support bent will be removed. After decades of being vulnerable to flood and ice damage to the timber pier that once supported it, this historic TPG span now rests on a stable foundation that is far more resilient. The new pier contains 87 cubic yards of 5000 psi concrete, 15,000 pounds of reinforcing steel, and nearly 11,000 pounds of steel casing pipe. Pete Schierloh photo.

Additional Photos

All photos courtesy Pete Schierloh unless otherwise indicated.

New approach span beams. 4/6/2018. Nancy Kaney photo.

New pier and approach span. 4/6/2018. Nancy Kaney photo.

The above time-lapse video shows how construction crews moved the crane across the bridge on April 26, 2018 to begin rehabilitation of the east side of the bridge.

View the Construction Progress in Real Time

A webcam has been placed along the museum’s passenger platform and exhibit area pointing north toward the Baraboo River bridge worksite. The image updates every few seconds.

For your safety, if visiting Mid-Continent please obey all warning signs and do not enter the restricted worksite area. This above images and the live camera are provided so you can see what’s going on without putting yourself in danger.

Netcam

Shop Amazon – Support Mid-Continent

Through the AmazonSmile program, you can select to have each and every purchase you make from Amazon directly help Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

Amazon Smile logo

AmazonSmile is the same Amazon you know. Same products, same prices, same service, just a different web address… smile.amazon.com.

For each purchase you make through AmazonSmile, Amazon will donate 0.5% of your checkout price to Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

Limited Time Offer: Triple Your Support! 

AmazonSmile is currently running a triple donation promotion through March 31, 2018. When customers make their first eligible smile.amazon.com purchase, Amazon will donate 1.5% of the purchase amount to Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

How to Sign Up

Just click on one of the smile.amazon.com links in this page to automatically select Mid-Continent as your beneficiary organization.

 

Alternatively, on the AmazonSmile website you can search for charities to support. Note that when searching for Mid-Continent, you’ll find us listed under our formal name, Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc.


Conductor next to baggage cart

Mid-Continent Railway Museum is not a government-funded museum. The largest single slice of Mid-Continent’s budget comes from the support of individual donors and private and corporate grants. That is why we take part in programs such as AmazonSmile.

If you prefer to make a direct contribution to Mid-Continent Railway Museum, head over to our Donation page. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational corporation. Donations made directly to Mid-Continent are tax-deductible.

Mid-Continent Wins Chamber’s Pride and Promotion Award

We are excited and honored to have been awarded the 2017 “Pride and Promotion” from Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce at the Chamber’s banquet held February 27, 2018.

Pride and Promotion Award 2017 plaque

Pride & Promotion Award plaque awarded to Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

The anonymously written nomination letter praised Mid-Continent’s efforts to expand dining services and special event offerings:

…the last few years they have offered many more special rides, like the Taco Train, Pizza Train, Beer Train, Margarita Train and Macaroni Train! It seems like they are really trying to attract more people to the area all of the time, and it is easy see why tourists would want to come! Everything they have come up with sounds like so much fun, and I hope they just keep doing it.

The award was accepted on behalf of Mid-Continent by Jeffrey Lentz, Office Manager, and Bobbie Wagner, Director. Lentz gave a brief acceptance speech, sharing the museum’s appreciation of the recognition and news that the museum will soon be doing even more to bring visitors to the Reedsburg area. In particular, the museum’s steam locomotive #1385 is anticipated to be back in operation in time for the 2019 season which is expected to bring in additional visitors to the museum and surrounding areas.

Lentz also shared with the banquet audience that Mid-Continent is also affecting repairs to its bridge over the Baraboo River. This will reestablish the museum’s connection to the Reedsburg-Madison railroad line, opening the possibility of future museum steam train excursions to Reedsburg. The C&NW 1385 steam locomotive last visited the city in 1998 for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration.

C&NW 1385 at Reedsburg depot

C&NW 1385 at Reedsburg, WI for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration. May 1998. Don Meyer photo.

Our New Display Building

Mid-Continent Railway Museum has one of the largest restored wooden car fleets in North America and is continuing to obtain and restore additional wooden cars. Nowhere else is there anything like it, and its potential is tremendous. At the present time the restoration department is actively restoring two wooden passenger cars and has many more cars waiting to be restored. Of those cars waiting restoration, many are stored outside and subject to further deterioration by the elements. The Car Shop, where the restorations take place, has room for approximately 8 cars and is currently full. If you would see, or have seen, the wooden cars that have been restored by the member volunteers, you would agree that the restored cars are works of art.

Currently once a wooden car is restored, there is no place to display or store the car. Mid-Continent has only one building on the property that is currently used for the display of restored cars, the Coach Shed, and that building is filled to capacity (13 cars). Three of the cars currently stored in the Car Shop are fully restored and take up room where other wooden cars could be stored pending restoration. It would be totally impractical to place a restored car outside, subject to the elements, especially a Wisconsin Winter, as the car would have to be restored again in just a few years. The only reasonable solution is to build additional indoor railcar storage and display space.

Tarped train car

A shortage of indoor storage and display space leaves tarps and temporary coverings as the only means of providing a modicum of protection to many of Mid-Continent’s treasured collection items – obscuring them from public view in the process.

In 2016, Mid-Continent received the final payment from a bequest from the estate of Laurence H. Dorcy totaling $968,046. The funds received from the Dorcy estate were restricted, but could be used to build “a structure for the restoration and storage of railroad cars.” The Board of Directors of Mid-Continent approved the building of a new structure, Coach Shed #2. As of February 2018 great strides have been made toward the completion of Coach Shed #2 and it is expected to be completed in summer 2018.

Proposed site plan for new display building.

Site plan for new display building.

 


UPDATE: October 20, 2017

Site grading for the structure is complete and concrete subwalls are poured. Construction of the structure is now underway. The creation of the fire access road paralleling the building is underway as is installation of the subgrade for the interior railroad tracks. Over 1,100 new railroad ties for the project have been ordered and are expected to arrive in late October. The final phase – construction of the nearly 1/3-mile of new railroad tracks to access the building – is anticipated to occur in spring 2018, assuming adequate funding is available to complete the task. Your support toward completion of this final stage is appreciated!

Wall posts going up on the morning of October 20, 2017.

 


UPDATE: November 16, 2017

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, Cleary Builders wrapped up installation of the walls and roof and windows. The building looks fantastic, although there is still a lot of work before the building can be put to use. The walk doors, three overhead doors in the rear of the building, lighting and electrical are yet to be installed. There is also no floor in the building as of yet. The building will have concrete walkways running the length of the building (an improvement over the brick walkways found in Coach Shed #1). With colder temperatures setting in, the pouring of concrete has been pushed back to the spring.

Outside the structure itself there is still much work to be done. Many truckloads of rock need to be hauled in to form the roadbed of the new tracks and the ballest. Trackwork will be completed next spring by Knapp Rail Builders, a railroad construction firm used by Mid-Continent numerous times in the past few years for larger-scale track projects. Ditches need to be further shaped and seeded and culverts installed. Walkways must also be placed between the entrance of Coach Shed 1 and the new building.


UPDATE: January 22, 2018

Progress on the new display building has continued through December 2017 and January 2018. Walkdoors and the roll-up train doors have been installed. Inside the building, electricians have been busy installing wiring and lighting throughout the structure. Outside, as weather permits, the excavator has been adding finishing grading to the fire access lane that runs alongside the length of the structure.


 

UPDATE: March 28, 2018

Since the last update, electrical service has been installed throughout the building. In addition to the translucent panels along the top of the walls, primary lighting is provided by 31 energy-efficient LED overhead lights. As a result, Coach Shed #2 will be noticeably brighter inside than Coach Shed #1.

Abundant electrical outlets along the walls provide easy-to-access power sources for lighting and displays for the car interiors. Electrical outlets were also installed on some of the trusses for easy access to power for cars located on the middle track.

Automatically activated temperature control fans have been installed on the south end of the building. The fans, combined with the screened windows on the north end of the structure, will create an air flow through the building, maintaining more comfortable temperatures without relying on keeping doors open for air circulation – unlike Coach Shed #1.

Additional landscaping, track installation and pouring the concrete floor is still on hold pending proper ground conditions and temperatures. Because of the uncertainty of the weather, it is not known when the work will be completed, but it is anticipated the building will be open to the public within 3-months time.


UPDATE: June 11, 2018

The building sign has arrived. Coulee Signs of Holmen, Wis. has generously donated their time and materials for the creation of the sign pictured and a similar new sign to replace the faded and peeling Coach Shed #1 sign. The design of the new signs mimic the appearance of the Chicago & North Western depot signage style, present on the museum’s North Freedom depot.

The new building is named in honor of the late Laurence Dorcy for his generous contribution that made constructing the structure possible.

Sign that will be installed above Coach Shed #2’s main entry doors.


UPDATE: July 11, 2018

Rainy conditions persisting for much of early summer combined with the characteristically wet soil in the area slowed progress toward grading the new tracks servicing the building. However, dry ground inside the building did allow crews to install track within the structure. Crews also installed a new switch on the museum’s mainline that will connect the new structure to our existing track network.

With the wet conditions finally subsiding, work on installing culverts and grading the final few hundred feet has resumed, after which, the track construction contractor can return to complete installation of the remaining track and final landscaping work can begin.

crews installing track switch

Crews install a new switch in the Mid-Continent mainline which will connect the new display building. The new building is visible at far left.


UPDATE: July 17, 2018

Grading for the new track is now complete. The next major step will be installation of the track from the mainline switch to the new building. Once the track is in place, the top layer of ballast will be added.

railroad grade

New railroad grade leading to Coach Shed #2.

In the meantime, some additional grading is being done to install a walkway to the new building from the existing Coach Shed #1.

walkway grade

Grading work for walkway from Coach Shed #1 to Coach Shed #2.


UPDATE: August 21, 2018

Scheduling conflicts have prevented our rail construction contractor from being able to come and complete the installation of the rails connecting the building to the museum’s mainline in July as planned. With the end of our 2018 operating season now less than two months away and time running short to complete the building and still have a chance to plan and send out invites for a grand opening ceremony, it has been determined that the building will not officially open until spring 2019. While a party to celebrate the official opening of the building will have to wait, depending on construction progress, a “soft opening” may still be possible in 2018.


Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc., a not-for-profit Wisconsin Corporation, is an outdoor living history museum and operating railroad, and is accredited by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization. All contributions to Mid-Continent are tax deductible. To make a contribution, visit our Donation page.

This is an update to our original post: Your Help is Needed to Complete Our New Display Building.