A Brief History of Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society’s Magazine

Gazette masthead

Gazette masthead

The Mid-Continent Railway Gazette is a publication distributed free to members of our historical society. Extra copies are printed and made available for sale to the general public on-line through our webstore or in the museum’s gift shop located inside our authentic Chicago & North Western depot.

The earliest surviving copies of the Mid-Continent Railway Gazette show that it began as a monthly newsletter, although an occasional lapse resulted in a semi-monthly issue. This format was the best way in the 1960s to keep a growing number of members informed with the least amount of cost.

1961 Gazette preview

The oldest surviving example of the Mid-Continent Railway Gazette in Mid-Continent’s archives is this December 1961 (Vol. 1, No. 6). Early on in the publication’s history it existed as a simple newsletter format.

In this easy-to-produce-format each volunteer editor was able to fill the newsletter’s pages with information about volunteer opportunities and meetings taking place for a scattered group of enthusiasts working together to establish an operating railroad museum. Members were also encouraged to use it as a forum for discussing the many challenges they faced as they attempted to organize a credible historical society.

The newsletter took on its more familiar magazine format with the publication of the February 1968 issue. The cover photo was taken over the cab of the Chicago & North Western No.1385 as it approached the Summit station. The caption on the inside of the cover confidently proclaimed that the locomotive was propelling the museum towards a promising future.


February 1968 Gazette cover

The February 1968 issue introduced the familiar magazine format.

The magazine’s content remained the same as that of the newsletter along with the goal of maintaining the same aggressive publishing schedule. The new addition of both photos and drawings helped to illustrate the vibrant life at the ever expanding museum in North Freedom. Hot topics continued to be debated in its pages, but the majority of the news concerned acquisitions, operations and the acknowledgement of member participation in each project.

Drawing of Wisconsin Central coach #63

The artistic ability of editor Stan Mailer was a factor in helping raise the Mid-Continent Railway Gazette from an informal newsletter into a well-crafted magazine.

Mid-Continent’s 15th anniversary in giving summer train rides was the inspiration behind the historical society’s first attempt at a special issue Gazette. Editor Geoff Blaesing increased the size of the pages of the July 1976 issue to a standard 8½” by 11” and focused the content on the single topic of the organization’s history. This same material was re-worked three years later in the April 1979 issue, when Blaesing marked the 20th Anniversary of the organization’s founding. The cover’s color photo and the Mid-Continent logo on the back panel was the first use of color since the red-letter masthead of the old newsletter.

Other firsts continued to take place over the years as successive editors made their mark on the magazine’s appearance and quality of reporting. Many of these changes were fondly remembered as our March 2007 Gazette paid tribute to itself, celebrating 40 years of continuous publication in its magazine format. The informative story and attractive layout, assembled by Editor Paul Swanson, chronicled the high points in the magazine’s history, revealing the innovative contributions made by each volunteer editor as it transitioned from an informal publication on ragged stock to a glossy magazine with pages now routinely filled with color images.

The idea of focusing on a single topic in an expanded edition of the magazine occurred with the publication of the December 2003 Gazette. Our goal was to provide our members with an enhanced benefit, while emphasizing our educational purpose. Entitled Sauk County Iron Mining, this issue celebrated the 100th anniversary of the construction of the North Freedom spur on which Mid-Continent operates its passenger trains. It also served as a means to honor the many years of volunteer service by member and Curator Don Ginter, whose research into the history of the iron mines along our route formed the basis of the magazine’s content.

Once this precedent was set a series of other special editions followed each December for the next four years: The Copper Range Railroad (2004); Louis Hill’s Business Car, the Great Northern A-22 (2005); Badger #2 and the Fish Car Era (2006); and Paul Swanson’s vintage Postcard Collection of Midwest railroad locations and equipment (2007). In 2011 the concept was renewed with the publication of Chicago & North Western No. 1385, Facing Up to a New Challenge as a means to promote the campaign to meet the Wagner Foundation’s $250,000 challenge grant and restore this prestigious locomotive to operating condition.

The Mid-Continent Railway Gazette inspired one other special publication, the Mid-Continent Compendium. This guidebook, printed in 1995, retained the Gazette format but required more than 100 pages to tell the story of Mid-Continent’s achievements in collecting, restoring and operating the equipment and structures that demonstrate our mission to retain the heritage of railroad’s Golden Age.

The magazine’s content has always relied on volunteer submissions of articles, news reports, photos and drawings in order to keep our members informed of current activities and expand their awareness of the history we seek to preserve. And each issue still has as a lead item an appeal for new material that supports our mission. Anyone interested in submitting articles or photos for consideration may contact Mid-Continent Railway Gazette editor Jeffrey Lentz by email or write to:

Attn: Gazette Editor
Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society
P.O. Box 358
North Freedom, WI 53951-0358