The popular image associated with Mid-Continent Railway Museum is that of steam trains.
Steam power is the appropriate image for Mid-Continent Railway. Our mission is to represent the “Golden Age” of railroads in the upper Midwest, an era that was powered by the iconic steam locomotive. Our collection of steam locomotives is adequate for the task, but the challenge before us is the restoration of each piece in compliance with current standards established by the Federal Railroad Administration.
You can access status updates for the locomotives by clicking on their names or photos below.
You can also help us complete this monumental task with a gift to Mid-Continent. One hundred percent of each contribution is applied directly to the cost of purchasing the requisite materials, supplies and contracted services that bring us closer to the day when steam will once again dominate the experience at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum.
The image most people have of Mid-Continent involves the Chicago & North Western #1385 under steam, pulling either the Prosperity Special or the Circus Train or one of our own special excursions like Snow Train or the Santa Express. The power of this image is so strong that museum guests still come here expecting to see the R-1 sitting in front of the depot, ready to make the day’s runs, even though she has been out of service since June of 1998.
We knew by the mid-1990s that her time was limited and began a fundraising campaign in 1996 entitled “Help Steam Live.” The campaign goal was a mere $250,000, when we thought the needed repairs would simply be tube and flue replacement plus patching the interior side-sheets of the firebox. But once the work commenced, the extent of the firebox damage from over eighty years of service became apparent. The result of a visual inspection by the State’s boiler inspector was the condemnation of the firebox.
While Mid-Continent’s volunteer shop crews wrestled with the decisions on how to proceed with the repair work, federal guidelines for steam boiler operation changed, mandating even further major repairs. The museum engaged Steam Services of America in 2001 to perform a complete inspection of the boiler in light of these new requirements. The result was a significant expansion of the repair plan to encompass a major overhaul of the entire boiler. The new price tag rose well beyond the money raised by the “Help Steam Live” campaign. In addition to the boiler, significant repairs or replacement of other major components such as the cab, running gear, and tender were also found necessary. The R-1 was parked in favor of repairing less costly locomotives.
This changed in June 2011 when a $250,000 matching grant was received from the Wagner Foundation of Lyons, Wis. The Wagners approached Mid-Continent with interest in supporting the restoration of a museum-owned locomotive. The presence of existing funds raised during the original “Help Steam Live” campaign and the allure of bringing Mid-Continent’s iconic locomotive back to operation led the foundation to name 1385 as their project of choice. With a significant infusion of cash in place and incentive for others to join in giving as well, repair work resumed shortly after.
Since that time, significant progress has occurred on the project which is projected to cost nearly $2 million by the time it is complete. That will make it by far the most extensive and expensive project ever undertaken by Mid-Continent. Listen for C&NW 1385’s whistle to once again echo across the Baraboo River valley in the not-too-distant future.
Western Coal & Coke #1 last operated on February 15, 1992. It is currently disassembled inside Mid-Continent’s Engine House. Significant work took place on the locomotive in the 2000s. However, a record-setting flood in 2008 caused heavy damage to the museum property, including the museum’s Engine House/Machine Shop. Work ground to a halt as financial and volunteer efforts were directed toward dealing with the damage. WC&C #1’s story has remained mostly quiet, although volunteers continue to work on the project as time and funding permits.
Dardanelle & Russellville #9 is Mid-Continent’s oldest locomotive, built in 1884. It could be found regularly pulling trains at Mid-Continent in the museum’s early years in the 1960s and 1970s and made its last operational appearance in 1991. At that time it was removed from service for boiler and tender maintenance. In the years since then, #9 was kept in the museum’s display yard until the years of outdoor storage caught up with her and she was eventually moved to storage tracks where she has been largely out of public view.
In the long term, it is envisioned that #9 will be returned to operational condition. However, the more immediate need is to stabilize the locomotive’s condition. A cosmetic restoration is planned for the locomotive. When completed, the locomotive will once again be a centerpiece of Mid-Continent’s display yard and will get #9 one step closer to an eventual restoration to operation.