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Flood Emergency: North Freedom

By: Dana Brueck Email
By: Dana Brueck Email

UPDATED: Saturday, Febuary 14, 2008 --- 5:00 pm

It's been eight months since floods devastated our area and today there is finally a sign of life for one of the groups hit hardest.

North Freedom's Mid-Continent Railway Museum is up and running and they're hoping this time it's for good.

The water came quickly and continued to rise.

Millions of dollars worth of history were underwater and a city struggled to survive.

Museum General Manager Don Meyer says, "It was crushing. The flood itself was just devastating."

In August there was sign of hope for everyone. Railway museum volunteers in North Freedom got their 100 year old train back on track but it was too much too soon.

Meyer says, "Things just kept going wrong and for the safety of our passengers we just decided to shut everything down. I frankly thought we were through."

After months of hard work and long hours and one failed attempt, volunteers finally believe they've recovered from June floods.

With each ticket punched they're moving further away from their flooding nightmare and showing everyone there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Passenger Diane Hermann-Brown says, "I think you put everything in perspective because they had to deal with that back in the early 1900s and you realize how much work and what is lost."

Heidi Lichter says, "It's great. It's beautiful."

A countryside hammered by floods just 8 months ago now serves as the attraction. A railway museum and an entire community back on track.

Meyer says, "It's just that much more special for our own members."

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UPDATED Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009 -- 5 pm

A local museum says it's "on track" for an annual Winter activity. The Mid-Continent Railway Museum suffered extensive damage during the flooding of last June.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum is ready to rev its vintage engines.

Within two weeks, it's all aboard these coaches for the museum's 34th annual Snow Train -- a ride through the snow-covered countryside near North Freedom.

"Snow Train was started 34 years ago just to get us some revenue to get us through the Winter. It's become more important now because we were out of operation since June 8th last year."

This time lapse shows floodwater rising over almost everything at the museum in June of last year.

"Every building took water. Of our 120 pieces of equipment, only 22 did not have any water damage."

Repairs to the hardest hit building -- the depot -- keep chugging along.

Don Meyer, who runs the museum, says the flood damage derailed the museum's special event rides last Fall.

"Everything had to keep getting cancelled. So, this is our first opportunity to be back."

The museum needs to fill these seats to raise revenue. It tried to get back on track with limited service in August but never got very far.

"Our attempt to do weekends in the summer when we're normally running daily, it didn't work."

Now, it's moving full steam ahead with volunteers lined up to make the Snow Train Valentine's Day weekend -- a sweet -- and successful ride.

Meyer says damage estimates could reach as much as 3-million dollars. He says donations have helped compensate for the loss of revenue since the flood.

If you'd like to make reservations for the Snow Train, check out the link below.

http://www.midcontinent.org/

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Posted Wednesday, June 11 --- 2:40pm

For the first time in its 46 years of operations at North Freedom, the Mid-Continent Railway Museum has had to cancel its train rides.

On Tuesday, all but one road leading into North Freedom in Sauk county was closed and many homes were still under water.

The Mid-Continent Railway Museum, the North Freedom Park and several roads were also underwater and temporarily closed.

One homeowner says the community has come together to help the residents and sandbag the homes.

The water crested 3:30pm Tuesday afternoon.

Shelly Robinson said: "When I pulled into town, I was just amazed. It's devastation. But we don't have it as bad in our home as our neighbors, and I feel really sorry for them."

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Posted Wednesday, June 11 --- 2:30pm

Statement from Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

We've Met Our Match!

For the first time in its 46 years of operations at North Freedom, the Mid-Continent Railway Museum has had to cancel its train rides.

"This is a point of pride for us," says Don Meyer the museum's general manager. "We have always told our guests that the train runs, rain or shine." Even last February's blizzard did not prevent the museum from holding its celebrated Snow Train event. But in this year's flooding Meyer admits the museum has finally met its match.

"The extent of the flood damage is so excessive," he reports, "that it looks like it will be a severe challenge for us to even stage our Autumn Color and Pumpkin Special events in October."

By the time the water crested Tuesday night every building except for the office, the highest point of the property, was inundated with water. The worst hit was the museum's 1894 Chicago & North Western depot.

"This is probably the most recognizable building on our property," Meyer says. "Every visitor walks through its doors to purchase their tickets for the ride. It's where your journey always begins." Now this historic icon has standing water in each of its rooms several inches deep.

Also hard hit is the museum's equipment. "We will literally be stuck in the mud once the water recedes," he admits. "We will likely need to truck our diesel engines to another site for clean-up and repair. The work will simply be too big for us to do ourselves."

The damage from the mud and water will also affect the coaches people ride in. "Nothing will move," Meyer promises, "until each car has its wheels and bearings cleaned and lubricated." So the work will have to take place outside right where the vintage equipment is currently standing for fear of doing further damage.

What is totally unknown at this time is the extent of the damage done to the museum's track. This includes the two bridges that are part of its four-mile route. In the final analysis, the rebuild of the bridges may confront the museum with its most costly repairs. It will depend on what a physical inspection reveals once the water level has gone down far enough for an informed assessment to be made.

All the main roads leading to the museum have been closed due to the high water. Still there have been a few venturesome people who have found a way to get there by locating the back roads that have not been affected by the flooding.

Everyone who makes it has camera in hand. The site of steam locomotives and railroad cars waist deep in the muddy current is just too amazing not to record. Meyer's weekly web log message ruefully refers to the museum's facility as Lake Mid-Continent.

Ironically something else that has been inundated is the museum's web site. Their service provider has asked Mid-Continent's webmasters to remove the link to its two web cams located on the property. Visits to the site were just too numerous for the provider to handle. As an alternative, a gallery of still images is being archived so people can view the water's invasion of the once active rail yard. Follow the links on our home page to view the pictures of the damage.

The museum is operated by the Mid-Continent Railway Historic Society, a Wisconsin not-for-profit corporation founded in 1959. It's collection of wooden cars is purported to be the largest in the country, many of them one-of-a-kind pieces that have been saved from destruction by the dedication of the society's members. Now that same task is confronting them again.

"We'll survive," Meyer says. "It's that point of pride we have about what has been accomplished here since we first moved our collection to North Freedom in 1963." The commitment of the society's members can be summed up in just four words, "The trains must run." And given time they will again.

Donations to aid with the clean-up and repair of the facility are tax-deductible and can be sent to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum's mailing address at PO Box 358, North Freedom, WI 53951. Donations can also be made via credit card through our website, www.midcontinent.org. All gifts are gratefully appreciated and will be properly receipted.


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