On Saturday, May 11, 2019, Mid-Continent Railway Museum celebrated the first crossing of its new bridge over Seeley Creek bridge. The bridge measures nearly 100 feet in length and is located along Mid-Continent’s train ride route near the quiet unincorporated town of La Rue – once a bustling iron mining community.
Museum members and the public were invited aboard the first train to cross the bridge, which departed the North Freedom depot at 11 AM. Local government representatives and project contractors were joined by museum leaders in the train’s first-class cars. After the crossing, the train stopped just clear of the bridge to allow invited guests to view the bridge up close while project leaders gave a brief speech before the train continued on its way.
New Seeley Creek Bridge.Taken May 3, 2019. MCRM Photo.
At a total cost of over $800,000, the bridge represents one of the larger infrastructure improvements ever undertaken by the organization in its 60-year history and comes less than a year after the completion of a major rehabilitation of the museum’s other bridge over the Baraboo River, which itself was a nearly $700,000 project. The two projects were made possible thanks to major financial support from private foundations and individuals and the Sauk County Economic Development Committee.
Balancing History with Usability
The new bridge, made of concrete and steel, replaces a wooden trestle that had been in use since 1927. Decay of the wooden components over time had weakened the structure. The bridge had been closely monitored by structural engineers and it was expected that the weight limit would need to be lowered within a matter of few years. This would have effectively closed the bridge to all train traffic.
One of Mid-Continent Railway Museum’s “Santa Express” trains rolls over the former Seeley Creek trestle on December 2, 2018, the final day of use of the wooden trestle. MCRM Photo.
Repairing the existing bridge was an option, but the shorter lifespan of wooden components would have locked Mid-Continent into a continuing cycle of expensive maintenance on the bridge every 20-30 years. Finding a design that could easily withstand flash flooding on Seeley Creek was also an important consideration due to increasing numbers of extreme weather events in recent years. Lastly, the anticipated return of steam locomotive operation to Mid-Continent’s rail line also meant that fire-resistance had to be considered as well. Given these factors, museum leaders looked to long-lasting and relatively maintenance-free steel and concrete bridges as the safest and most economical choice.
Ballast-deck design bridges began to appear in common use on the Chicago & North Western Railway in the 1920s. The general design has remained largely unchanged since that time and many such bridges constructed in that era remain in use today. The new Seeley Creek bridge is expected to not require more than minor maintenance during its first 100 years. Cosmetic details of the bridge such as the shape of the concrete tubs, pier caps, and reinforcing walls were modeled after designs of the 1920s versus more current designs to keep the bridge’s appearance as era-appropriate as possible.
New Seeley Creek bridge. Photo taken May 2, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz Photo.
Aerial view of new Seeley Creek Bridge. Photo taken May 2, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz Photo.
This ex-Chicago & North Western Railway Bridge over South Blvd. in Baraboo, Wis. was built in 1928. It was one of many such ballast-deck bridges that inspired the design of the new Seeley Creek bridge. MCRM photo.
With the new Seeley Creek bridge and rehabilitated Baraboo River bridge both complete, Mid-Continent Railway Museum can look forward to offering historic train rides for many decades to come without any major investments in bridge maintenance.
Construction of the new Seeley Creek Bridge is functionally complete. Only some minor landscaping and other small details are yet to take place in the coming weeks.
New Seeley Creek bridge. Photo taken May 2, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz Photo.
Aerial view of new Seeley Creek Bridge. Photo taken May 2, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz Photo.
Aerial view of new Seeley Creek Bridge (foreground) and unincorporated town of La Rue in the distance. Photo taken May 2, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz Photo.
New Seeley Creek Bridge.Taken May 3 2019. MCRM Photo.
New Seeley Creek Bridge. Hwy PF crossing at La Rue is visible in distance. Taken May 3 2019. MCRM Photo.
Join us for a first ride over the new bridge on May 11, 2019. The first train will depart North Freedom at 11:00 AM. Due to the step embankment on both sides of the track at the bridge’s location, there will not be a ribbon cutting ceremony. Instead, the train will slow or stop on top of the bridge for a short while to allow viewing from the train and will then continue on its normal schedule to Quartzite Lake and return to North Freedom.
MCRHS members can ride for free during this special trip. Public is also welcome aboard the first train to cross the bridge for the normal coach ticket rate of $20/adult, $17/senior, $15/student, and $10/children (3-12 yrs).
Tickets will be available at the depot ticket window starting at 9:30 AM that day. Tickets can also be purchased online using the Buy Tickets page.
Construction is on schedule to be completed in time for the start of our season on May 11th. Join us for the first ride across the new bridge on May 11th aboard the 11 AM departure! Head over to the Buy Tickets page to reserve your tickets aboard the first train!
As our trains travel to Quartzite Lake, a scenic feature is crossing Seeley Creek, which is nestled in a wooded area near La Rue approximately two-thirds of the way to the end of the line at Quartzite Lake. This bridge has been in place on Mid-Continent’s rail line since 1927, serving us well for many, many years.
The piles of this bridge are over 90 years old, and the timber is over 50 years old. There is also a sharp “kink” in the track near the east side of the bridge that cannot easily be fixed with the placement of the existing bridge. In short, it was time for replacement!
The 90+ year old Seeley Creek trestle’s last day in service was during Mid-Continent’s Santa Express event, Dec. 2, 2018. Jeffrey Lentz photo.
Engineering of a new bridge was completed by SW Engineers in fall 2018 and bid requests sent. The low bid was received from Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, WI., and was accepted. Construction began in December, with a completion date expected just prior to the opening of our new season in May of this year.
Design of new ballast-deck design bridge over Seeley Creek.
The new bridge will be made of steel and concrete, fire resistant, and with new track alignment over the bridge and approaches. Thanks to the new bridge the stream crossing will remain a highlight of the train route for many, many more years!
Full funding for the this new bridge has already been pledged and comes from private foundations and parties, along with a grant from Sauk County.
Removal of the old Seeley Creek trestle. Jan. 11, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz photo.
Aerial view (looking north) of Seeley Creek work site. Jan. 11, 2019. Jeffrey Lentz photo.
Mid-Continent celebrates the reopening of an old bridge and opportunities it presents
NORTH FREEDOM – Mid-Continent Railway Museum celebrated the reopening of a museum-owned railroad bridge over the Baraboo River on Saturday, July 7th with a “ribbon busting” ceremony. Cheers and applause broke out from the crowd of around 40 dignitaries and guests as the first train to cross the bridge in over a decade burst through the ceremonial ribbon and proceeded into the North Freedom station.
The bridge, like most of the Mid-Continent property, was hard-hit by the record flooding of the Baraboo River in June 2008. The bridge was almost entirely submerged before the floodwaters subsided. The already 79-year-old bridge remained standing but had become structurally compromised and was no longer safe for trains to cross. It remained that way for the last decade as museum leaders sought ways to fund its repair.
In late 2017 all the pieces finally came together. A $600,000 grant was received by the Wagner Foundation, a major supporter of the museum’s ongoing effort to return steam locomotive #1385 to working condition by 2019. The Sauk County Economic Development Committee also approved a grant for $77,000 in economic development funds to cover the rest needed to begin repairs. By January 2018, work crews had arrived and began driving new pilings into the bedrock to give the now 89-year-old bridge a new, sturdy foundation. Contractors completed work on the bridge in late June.
The ability to cross the bridge, located adjacent to the museum’s North Freedom depot, provides Mid-Continent greater flexibility for staging its trains. It also restores the museum’s connection to the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad line between Reedsburg and Madison. The potential of being able to take the museum’s historic trains beyond the museum’s 3.7-mile North Freedom branchline to other Sauk County communities and Devil’s Lake State Park is an exciting prospect for train lovers and fans of the museum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.