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.

UPDATE: April 4, 2019

Flood damage ravaged Mid-Continent Railway on August 31, 2018, forcing the museum to close for nearly five weeks as repairs were carried out. The track construction contractor working building the tracks into Coach Shed #2 was diverted to instead focus on emergency washout repairs along Mid-Continent’s line and elsewhere in the region. This, combined with saturated ground conditions, introduced further delays to work on the tracks into Coach Shed #2. Despite all that, the contractor was able to subsequently complete most, but not all of the track into the new building during November 2018 before ground freeze and snow cover halted further work.

With spring now here, work will soon resume again. A great deal of snowmelt has generated very soft ground conditions which are currently preventing contractors from resuming work immediately, but they are expected to be able to resume work within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, volunteers have started work producing new display signs to be installed inside Coach Shed #2 in preparation for the grand opening which is not yet scheduled.

UPDATE: July 16, 2019

Track work in and around Coach Shed #2 is now complete and has been approved for use by Mid-Continent’s roadmaster, officially adding nearly 1/3 of a mile of tracks to Mid-Continent’s North Freedom yard.

Next up on the To-Do list is pouring the concrete walkways. This is tentatively scheduled to take place later this month. Bollards will also be added to protect the building corners from any errant vehicles.

After the concrete is poured, railcars will begin being moved inside. This is expected to take a significant number of hours by our volunteer switch crews and will likely occur over numerous days. What seems straightforward – putting rolling stock in a building – is going to actually be an intricate switching puzzle. In order to fully utilize the available space and maximize presentation value, the rolling stock needs to be positioned in the new display shed in a specific order. These cars (and one locomotive) will be drawn from all around the museum yard, including some items from the existing Coach Shed #1 and Car Shop buildings (which in turn will have other cars moved inside those areas to make sure as many items are stored indoors as possible). Because track space mostly all occupied, nearly every switch move involves making multiple additional moves in order to gain access to the desired item and then put the other cars back in place.

For those that enjoy puzzles and think this sounds like a fun challenge, try out some switching puzzles for yourself with these online Classic Shunting Puzzles.

Additional work ahead includes completing ditch shaping, final landscaping and seeding, adjusting the overhead doors (to account for the concrete floor height), installing fire extinguishers and egress signage, and installing interpretive signage.

UPDATE: August 15, 2019

The pouring of Coach Shed #2’s concrete walkways and entryways began earlier this week. In all, over 4,700 square feet of concrete walkways are being installed in and around the building. Concrete work is expected to wrap up around August 21st.

Watch for more updates in the next week or two as we start to firm up contractor completion dates and prepare a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open Coach Shed #2 to the public.

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.

Two New C&NW 1385 Displays Up, More Planned

Just in time for Snow Train visitors, two new displays about the C&NW 1385 have been put up in the depot. One new display breaks out all the parts of the locomotive and describes the restoration status for each element. The second display discusses the importance of the 1385 to the museum as its “Ambassador of Steam,” traveling around the Upper Midwest in years past providing a chance for thousands of people to experience steam railroading in their own cities and towns.

Additional displays on the 1385 (and other equipment) are planned for the 2014 season as well. Special thanks goes to volunteer Randy Long (Long & Associates Creative Services) for doing the lion’s share of work on getting these together!

Speaking of the Ambassador of Steam, a new 1385-exclusive special edition of the Mid-Continent Railway Gazette is at the print shop and is expected to be going in the mail to Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society members sometime next week. At 52 pages, it is the largest Gazette ever and covers the locomotive’s 1983 travels over the Chicago & North Western system to events at Butler, WI, West Chicago, IL, Boone, IA, Marshalltown, IA, Marathon, IA, Duluth, MN and many other points along the way that year. Once it arrives from the print shop, the issue will also be made available for sale to non-members by calling the Mid-Continent office.

Cover of Mid-Continent Railway Gazette No. 46, No. 4. The issue recounts the C&NW 1385's travels around the Upper Midwest in 1983. Cover photo by Brian Allen shown is the 1385 leaving the Wisconsin State Capitol behind on Sept. 6, 1983.

Cover of Mid-Continent Railway Gazette No. 46, No. 4. The issue recounts the C&NW 1385’s travels around the Upper Midwest in 1983. Cover photo by Brian Allen shown is the 1385 leaving the Wisconsin State Capitol behind on Sept. 6, 1983.

Chassis Sandblasted, New 1385 Displays Taking Shape

Following a premature end to sandblasting on Friday due to cold weather conditions causing equipment hiccups, Howard Grote & Sons’s Surface Preparation Division was back on site at SPEC Machine in Middleton, Wis. on Monday, January 20th. While last Thursday’s sandblasting featured work on the driving wheels, Monday’s work centered on clearing grease, paint and rust form the chassis.

Sandblasting of C&NW No. 1385’s running gear continued on Monday, January 20th. This time, efforts centered on the locomotive’s chassis. Click on the image to browse more photos from January 20th on photographer Brian Allen’s Flickr album.

Not all work on the C&NW 1385 involves grit and grime. There has been a great deal of work lately on 1385 in the non-mechanical realm. A meeting date later this month has been set with officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Village of North Freedom to inspect the rebuilt tender and associated display. The 1385 project has had the fortune of being aided by a TEA-21 grant administered through WisDOT and the Village. The successful completion of the tender rebuild and its subsequent display is anticipated to release the final set of funds from the grant which began during the locomotive’s initial overhaul work shortly after being pulled from service in 1998.

Design work on additional displays about the 1385’s career and current restoration efforts has been an ongoing effort with members of the restoration team and volunteers coordinating their efforts. A special tip-of-the-hat goes to Randy Long of Long & Associates Creative Services. Randy and wife Lynn have been a boon to the 1385 project since joining Mid-Continent in 2013. The Long’s have been crucial in the creation of the new display sign created for the 1385 tender and is currently making headway on new 1385 displays planned for inside the depot. The 1385 project team is putting forth a great deal of effort to not only put 1385 back under steam, but also make sure museum visitors are able to appreciate why the locomotive is worth restoring.

First Element of New C&NW No. 1385 Displays Installed

Visitors to Mid-Continent in 2014 can look forward to new exhibits during their visit. The rebuilt C&NW #1385 tender, delivered in November 2013, now has an accompanying interpretive sign in place. Additional displays about No. 1385 and other museum pieces are also in the works!

Initial response to the new sign has been positive. The C&NW 1385 team received the following message from a Mid-Continent member: “By the way, I don’t know who came up with the new sign for the 1385 tender, but I just wanted to say it’s probably the most professional looking informational sign we have the property!… Please pass my compliments along to whoever designed it.”

For the record, the sign was a collaborative effort between the numerous members of the C&NW 1385 Task Force and volunteers Randy Long and Jeffrey Lentz lending their talents.

New display sign for the C&NW No. 1385 tender, located in the display structure just outside the depot. Photo courtesy of Randy Long.

New display sign for the C&NW No. 1385 tender, located in the display structure just outside the depot. Photo courtesy of Randy Long.