New Wheels for Locomotive No. 1256

A Fundraiser to Keep Mid-Continent Rolling

Ever since being acquired by Mid-Continent Railway Museum in 2006, ex-Army locomotive #1256 has been the workhorse of Mid-Continent’s fleet. [See roster page for full history.] The 60-ton diesel locomotive has pulled nearly 99% of the museum’s passenger trains since 2007. With that much use, maintenance needs have finally caught up with the locomotive. To complete this urgent work and get #1256 back in service, we are initiating a fundraising campaign with a goal of $35,000 and hope you will join us in making this yet another success story.

MCRY #1256 pulls nearly all of Mid-Continent’s passenger trains. Seen here near Ulrich Road crossing in 2007. Tim Martin photo.

The Plan

In spring 2018, #1256 was sidelined and locomotive #7 began pulling trains in its absence. #1256 had to be removed from service due to its heavily worn wheels. Cranes were brought in to lift the locomotive and remove the wheels so they could be taken to L&S Electric, a railroad equipment rebuilding company in Wisconsin, for disassembly and inspection. Often wheels can be reprofiled using a lathe to extend the life of the wheel – a step akin to rotating tires on an automobile. However, just how tread on a tire eventually wears to the point of needing replacement, the wheels under #1256 can no longer be reprofiled and now must be replaced.

Two cranes lift the 60-ton MCRY #1256 to facilitate wheel removal. April 2018.

A side-effect of operating historic locomotives and railcars is that often the parts are no longer readily available. That holds true in this case as wheels of the necessary size for #1256 are no longer commercially available. Instead, eight custom-made wheels must be cast. This work is already underway at McKees Rock Foundry in Pennsylvania, the same company that forged custom wheels for Mid-Continent’s steam locomotive #1385 currently under restoration.

Created using the Donation Thermometer plugin$35,000$26,32075%

When the new wheels are done, they will be sent to ORX Rail Services, a company specializing in assembling and rebuilding wheelsets. There the wheels will be machined to final specifications and pressed onto axles before being shipped back to L&S Electric for reassembly. The wheels will then be ready to return to Mid-Continent where two cranes will be used to lift #1256 to allow the new wheels to be rolled into place beneath the locomotive.

The cost to cast the new wheels is $26,000. Between previously donated funds and pledges, we have enough to cover this cost. The remaining cost from ORX, L&S Electric, and hiring cranes to install the new wheels under the locomotive is estimated to reach $35,000 and is beyond Mid-Continent’s ability to pay using just train ride ticket sale revenue. For this, we are turning to you for help.

Please consider supporting this crucial project. The public image of Mid-Continent revolves around our train rides, but for that to continue we must have a reliable stable of locomotives like #1256 ready to pull those passenger trains. Any gifts, large or small, are greatly appreciated.

Fundraiser started: July 5, 2018
Fundraising thermometer last updated: October 17, 2018

There are several ways to contribute to MCRY #1256 and help us reach our $35,000 goal:

By Mail

Mail a check made out to Mid-Continent Railway Museum with “Locomotive #1256” written in the memo line to:

Mid-Continent Railway Museum
PO Box 358
North Freedom, WI 53951-0358


Donate online securely using Paypal. A Paypal account is not required – also accepts Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express.

By Phone

Credit/debit card donations can be made by phone by calling 608-522-4261 or 800-930-1385 during business hours Monday-Saturday.


Mid-Continent is a not-for-profit, educational entity, incorporated in the state of Wisconsin and accredited by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible. Consult your tax adviser.

Tom E. Dailey Foundation Awards Grant for DULUTH

We are happy to share that on May 26th, Mid-Continent Railway Museum was awarded a $3000 grant from the Tom E. Dailey Foundation. We are very pleased to receive this grant as it will be combined with the recent Emery Rail Heritage Fund grant (see: DULUTH Project Earns $9000 Grant from ERHT) to help restore interior of the DULUTH sleeping car. The Tom E. Dailey Foundation has previously awarded Mid-Continent grants for our restoration projects, including helping to move the DULUTH to North Freedom in 2016. This grant is a great boost toward our $75,000 fundraising goal for the car’s restoration. The present fundraising balance stands at $27,351 [updated – 7/19/2018] with an overall goal of raising $75,000 to cover material acquisition and some paid labor – to compliment volunteer labor – over the next three years.

Thanks also goes to MCRM volunteer Peter B. for completing and submitting the grant application to the Dailey Foundation.

Friends and Neighbors Day 2018

Come discover the nationally-renowned railroad museum in your own backyard! Mid-Continent Railway Museum appreciates the support of our nearby communities and want to thank you with discounted train rides during our FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS DAYS.

Residents of BARABOO, WI are invited to join us for a discounted train ride on JUNE 2, 2018 while residents living within the REEDSBURG, WI school district can enjoy discounted fares on JULY 28, 2018.

Just show the ticket agent your ID with Baraboo or Reedsburg-area address on the appropriate day and receive special pricing: $10 for adults and $5 for children (ages 3-12). This is 50% off our regular fares. Train rides depart at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm.

No reservations necessary. Coach Class only. Discount only valid on the appointed day.

DULUTH Project Earns $9000 Grant from ERHT

We are very pleased to announce that Mid-Continent Railway Museum has received a $9,000 grant from the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust (ERHT). These funds will be used to kick off the interior restoration work in the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic sleeping car “DULUTH”. We sincerely thank the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust for their most generous grant. Mid-Continent is seeking donations to match the ERHT grant so the restoration process can move ahead at a faster pace and additional restoration tasks can be performed. Learn more about what’s next for DULUTH.

DSS&A original interior

As-built Interior photo of DSS&A DULUTH.

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Anyone interested in supporting the project is encouraged to make a contribution to the DULUTH Fund so Mid-Continent can restore the DULUTH sleeping car to its former glory. Make your donation via mail or donate online using the Donate button.

Be sure to write in “DSS&A Sleeper DULUTH Fund” on the printed form or check memo line if sending a donation by mail. Credit/debit card donations can also be accepted by phone at 608-522-4261 or 800-930-1385 during museum office hours. All donations are tax-deductible.

Additional information on the country’s oldest and most complete sleeping car can be found on the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic “DULUTH” Roster Page

Grant match fundraising goal announced May 7, 2018.
Grant match fundraising goal achieved on August 11, 2018.

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.