Mid-Continent News

Soo Line Convention Coming to North Freedom. (8/05/04)

Armed with ladders, paint scrapers, and paint brushes, volunteers of Mid-Continent Railway Museum are busy preparing for an upcoming special event: the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society annual convention to be held at North Freedom, Wisconsin on August 21, 2004.

The museum is a prime destination for the Soo Line group. More than a dozen historic wooden freight and passenger cars, and one steam engine from the Soo Line Railroad are in the museum’s collection.

The Soo Line Railroad, first known as the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie & Atlantic Railway, was incorporated on September 29, 1883, by several Minneapolis businessmen. Their goal was to link the flour mills of the Twin Cities with the Great Lakes shipping port of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. By the end of 1887, the line was completed across the northern part of Wisconsin to reach the road’s namesake. The next twenty-five years saw much expansion and consolidation with other smaller roads. Neighboring railroad Wisconsin Central was leased in 1909 to reach Chicago. In 1961, the Soo Line merged two connecting lines to form a system reaching from North Dakota, through the Twin Cities to upper Michigan, Wisconsin, and Chicago, Illinois.

In 1985, the Soo Line successfully purchased the remains of the Milwaukee Road, forever changing its system map. Two years later, the new Wisconsin Central Ltd. purchased the old Wisconsin Central route and other track from Soo Line. Today, the Soo Line exists only on paper, under the Canadian Pacific banner. Most of its original trackage is now operated by other companies or abandoned.

Enter the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society. Although formed in the early 1970’s, the group’s membership keeps the memories of the Soo Line alive through its quarterly magazine, an archive, and an annual convention where more than two hundred Soo fans can commiserate, ride and photograph trains, and attend modeling workshops and the annual banquet.

This isn’t the first time that the Soo Line group has been to North Freedom. They made a visit back in 1988 when the museum was able to put together a rare four-car wooden passenger train hauled by one of the museum’s steam engines.

In 2004, there won’t be a steam engine running (all of the museum’s operable engines are down for repair), but there will be a cosmetically restored Soo Line steam locomotive and ore car for the first time.

Mike Harrington has served as the Soo Line group’s treasurer for more than twenty years and was instrumental in getting them to come to North Freedom. He has also been active at Mid-Continent for many years. “We try to visit sites where the Soo Line existed or there are significant collections of Soo equipment, such as Mid-Continent. We have been to Escanaba, Michigan; North Fond du Lac, Stevens Point, and Hudson, Wisconsin; Minneapolis/St. Paul; and Chicago. We’ve even revisited some of these places several times. This year it’ll be fun.”

Why North Freedom and Mid-Continent of all places? Mike says the convention will coincide with the Badger Steam and Gas show in Baraboo, if members wish to make a stop there. But the real reason, according to Mike is that “Mid-Continent has the largest and finest collection of wooden railroad equipment in the U.S. Fortunately for us, a great deal of this equipment is of Soo Line origin. It is a great place to see what the railroad was like one hundred years ago.”

Don Meyer, the museum’s General Manager, concurs. “The Soo Line group’s visit to our museum presents a great opportunity for us to show off our unique collection of Soo Line equipment, and also offer a train ride for a diversion. It’s taken years to accumulate these historic cars and engine. Now they can be enjoyed for years to come.”

The museum’s members have been busily preparing for what they are calling “Soo Line Day” for the past several months. The “star” of the show will be Soo Line steam locomotive #2645. This locomotive was built in 1900 for subsidiary Wisconsin Central, and later was merged into the Soo Line. It was last used as a switch engine in Neenah, Wisconsin in the 1950’s. In that capacity, it was one of the oldest steam engines on the entire Soo Line system. The Soo Line donated the engine to the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, and it was quickly placed on display at Frame Park. Fast forward to 1989. The engine had by then been moved again to another location in Waukesha and now was in the way of new railroad construction. It had to go. Mid-Continent came to the rescue, and moved the locomotive to North Freedom. Today, it is finally gleaming in a coat of fresh new paint, ready for the Soo Line convention.

Several parts were put back on the engine, such as the bell, headlight, and covers for the sand and steam domes on top of the boiler. They had all been in storage since the engine’s arrival.

“The Soo Line group’s visit gave us the impetus to get old #2645 put back together,” relates Paul Swanson, who has helped with painting. “There’s been more than a dozen volunteers who have really made this all possible, and that includes working on several other Soo Line cars that will be on display.” Old #2645 was thirsty for paint. After cleaning up the boiler with wire wheels and scrapers, twelve gallons of red primer, and another twelve gallons of gloss black paint made her look like new again.

Other Soo Line cars on display August 21 will include: a steel ore car built in 1916 believed to be the last of its type in existence, a 1920’s wooden stock car that was used to haul cattle and other livestock, and several wooden passenger cars. There’s also a Soo Line crossing tower originally. Years ago, the tower housed employees who manually activated road crossing gates for vehicular traffic at Neenah, Wisconsin. Today, gates are all automated.

The museum will be conducting guided tours of the passenger cars on Saturday, August 21, 2004. Admission for those tours will be $2 for adults and $1 for children (ages 3-12).

The museum’s regular train will be running on its daily schedule as well, departing at 10:30am, 12:30pm, 2pm, and 3:30pm. Train fares are $12 for adults, $7 for children (ages 3-12). Parking is free. All ticket and gift shop proceeds help support the museum’s many programs.

The general public may register for the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society’s annual meet as well. Details may be found on their website www.sooline.org.
Lettering applied to Soo stock car.
1926 Soo stock car featured at convention.
Soo steam locomotive #2645 in the 1950's.
#2645 next to Soo crossing tower.
Members ready Soo caboose for the meet.
1916 Soo ore car restored for the meet.