Mid-Continent Railway Museum
The Mid-Continent Railway Museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the railroad legacy for the educational benefit of the general public. Its primary focus shall be on railroading of the Upper Midwest during the Golden Age of Railroading, 1880-1916.
The Museum adheres to the following principles:
-To collect and preserve rolling stock, structures, and other artifacts that meet the Museum's focus;
-To restore the equipment based upon sound scholarship;
-To operate a demonstration steam passenger train in an historically accurate environment of a turn-of-the-century rural railroad;
-To interpret, through Museum display and educational programs, the history, equipment, skills, and the human facets of the rail industry;
-To maintain a library and archival collections in the interest of promoting historical studies of the industry;
-To hold the Museum's collection in the public trust, ensuring long-term care of historic objects entrusted to its collections.
Mid-Continent is a not-for-profit, membership society. Its members have been the driving force behind its establishment and growth since its inception. Founded in 1959 as the Railway Historical Society of Milwaukee, its sole purpose has been to perpetuate the heritage of steam railroads through the operation and display of authentic railroad equipment. The first attempt to fulfill this mission took place at Hillsboro, Wisconsin, in 1962. But the rules of the rail line owner required the fledgling group to pull its coaches with gas power and leave the steamers for display only.
In 1963 the society purchased 4.2 miles of track from the Chicago & North Western Railroad and moved its operations to North Freedom, Wisconsin. That year society members offered steam train rides under their new name, the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc. The year 2000 marks our 37th season of operation at North Freedom. In 1998, more than 44,000 visitors enjoyed the sights and sounds of railroading as it was done in the early part of this century.
Longtime member Jim Neubauer has compiled a historical timeline of Mid-Continent's development, giving an in-depth presentation of the museum's development from inception to present.
Over the years, the society has added to its collection of rolling stock, laid new track, and constructed shops and display sheds in an effort to create a reputable railroad museum. The members have maintained a very narrow scope in their purpose statement to focus on those railroads that operated in the upper Midwest during what is popularly called the "Golden Age of Railroading." This has given the museum a unique look so that a visitor today feels like they have stepped back in time. It has also helped to keep the museum's limited resources committed to a manageable task versus trying to save everything from everywhere.
The membership roster averages nearly 700 people each year. Volunteer hours have steadily grown as society members continue to impact every aspect of museum work. A board of twelve directors governs museum operations. They in turn supervise a paid staff, who handle the day-to-day business of the museum. And funding is being sought through a federal program to underwrite the cost of adding a curator to the staff; the next major step in securing Mid-Continent's position as a true railroad museum.
Mid-Continent is operated for the benefit of the general public. This primarily means Wisconsin residents. But the guest register shows that it is visited each year by people from around the United States and Canada. This is aided by the museum's proximity to both Baraboo, where the Circus World Museum and the International Crane Foundation are located, and the Wisconsin Dells, a popular tourist destination.
During the 1998 season more than 3,000 students, teachers and adult chaperones rode the rails on the Mid-Continent Railway. At the other end of the age spectrum, the number of senior citizens visiting the museum also increased considerably. Mid-Continent will continue to promote ridership among both groups through discounted fares and special events.
What a wonderful place for a quiet day of activity. I brought my kids for a ride on the Santa Express and it was so great to see their faces light up when the train started moving. The staff is all very knowledgeable and I think most of them are volunteers. I would love to come back without the kids just so I can spend some time looking at the details.
This is the only place that I've seen with a Shay in beautiful condition. If you don't know, a Shay is a steam locomotive designed for logging railroads, because it uses a complex piston and gear system instead of the normal piston/drive shaft system hit see on regular steam engines. Anyway, due to the rarity of these it's extremely rare to find. On top of that, they have numerous engines, cars, and other such, and it's completely free to view. There is a tour, on rails, with two coach cars that are over a hundred years old, fully restored for use. Currently it is pulled by a diesel locomotive, but I've been told by staff next year (2018) they hope to have a few weeks where they can operate a steam locomotive (shamefully, coal prices are 3-4 times higher than they have been in the past few years). Tickets are $20 for adults, with child and senior discounts. Wheelchair users are welcome, they have a full lift system. All in all, well worth the visit
Easily one of my favorite date nights of my life so far! Everyone there is so passionate about antique trains! They can't wait to share their passion with others! Can't recommend highly enough!
I won't try to pretend like I am all that interested in "trains", but I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 hour stop here. The museum was not merely about trains, but the history of the advancement of transportation and technology in transportation. I found it thoroughly interesting and would stop in again.
We had such a fun day! The lady conductor was so friendly and nice. Everyone was so accommodating and they have a place to get souvenirs. It is a great place to take young and old who enjoy the history and fun of riding trains.