Picnic will celebrate area's rail heritage|
|By JOE HERMOLIN|
Historical Society president
The Langlade County Historical Society will honor an important part of the community’s history Wednesday at the annual railroad picnic.
This year the celebration will take place on Wednesday on the museum grounds, rain or shine. Beginning at 5 p.m., museum volunteers will be serving brats and hamburgers, potato salad, ice cream, and soft drinks for $6.
When pioneers of the late 1870s first settled in what would become Antigo, the region showed very little promise for development. Most of the development in the newly formed Langlade County was along the Wolf River since it was the waterways that provided the major traffic arteries for the logging industry.
But the use of railroads was expanding and the Milwaukee, Lakeshore and Western Railway was extending its line in Eland north to Ashland. Francis Deleglise was able to convince the MLS&W to go through Antigo. It was not the best route due to the grade but Deleglise’s offered the right of way through his land and an outright gift of eight blocks. The first MLS&W locomotive pulled into the Antigo depot on Aug. 15, 1880. It was greeted with sandwiches and lemonade. Deleglise was big on temperance.
In 1892 the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad took over the MLS&W and major additions were planned for the Antigo rail yards. By 1907 Antigo had the look of a major rail hub and, in fact, was made headquarters for the Ashland Division of the C&NW. This marked the beginning of a 50-year period of Antigo’s importance to rail passenger and freight travel.
A series of buildings stretched from Seventh Avenue to well north of the courthouse. In addition to the depot there were two roundhouses, blacksmith, machinery and carpentry shops, and various repair and storage buildings. An ice house stored blocks of ice taken from Antigo Lake and used to refrigerate freight cars of produce and to air condition passenger cars traveling throughout northern Wisconsin. A total of six crews based in Antigo were assigned to “bridges and buildings” and worked on the nearly 1,000 bridges and culverts in northern Wisconsin.
Antigo became an important station point for transfer of carloads of freight shipped north from Chicago. Loads of goods would be broken up here and redistributed for shipment to locations further north. In the 1940s at least 2,000 refrigerated cars of potatoes went out on the railroad annually.
A network of constantly changing spur lines radiated out to numerous lumber camps in the area and brought timber into the many wood product factories of Antigo, including the Crocker Chair Company, the Kellogg Lumber Company, the Antigo Screen Door Company, Frost Veneer Company and Wisconsin Handle and Manufacturing Company. During the peak years of the lumber industry in Antigo (around 1916) 50 to 60 carloads of logs were delivered daily.
In the 1940s the railroad was Antigo’s major employer with a monthly payroll of over $100,000. By the 1950s, with the introduction of diesel, the importance of rail and Antigo’s central role began to decline. By the end of the 20th century there were few reminders of Antigo’s years as a major rail hub. Even the tracks and the large roundhouse are now only memories to old timers. The passenger depot has been re-purposed and redesigned but still stands.
In 2004 the Langlade County Historical Society decided to commemorate the railroad’s importance to Antigo’s economy by purchasing and restoring a steam locomotive for the museum. A fund-raising campaign was launched to purchase a steam locomotive; a Union Pacific 440 which had been constructed in 1900 and was a close relative to the C&NW 175, the last steam engine to travel through Antigo in 1957. The locomotive began life as the Union Pacific 1660. It was a compound 2-8-0 Baldwin. Compound locomotives use steam twice. Steam is first admitted into a set of smaller high-pressure cylinders then exhausted into larger, low-pressure cylinders. This resulted in greater fuel efficiency but increased maintenance costs. Other methods of increasing fuel efficiency, such as “superheating” the steam were developed and, in 1915, the 1660 was modified and renumbered as the 440.
The 440 was retired in 1955 and first displayed at the Nebraska State Fair and then at the Cornhusker Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. In 1975 the 440 was moved to North Freedom restoration and display at the Mid-Continent Railroad Museum but those plans were dropped due to a lack of funding.
That’s when the Langlade County Historical Society stepped in by mounting its campaign to purchase and restore the 440. The museum was able to raise the necessary $75,000 and more and received offers from people willing to do much of the work of restoration. The 440 arrived in Antigo on Oct. 31, 2005 via two flatbed trucks with a third flatbed bringing the tender a few weeks later. Over the course of the next 18 months it was lovingly repaired and restored by a largely volunteer cadre. A new 440 cab was constructed to replace the original, which was too badly damaged for restoration, and by late May, 2006, it once again resembled what it had been in its glory years.
The celebration to dedicate the 440 and acknowledge all those who contributed in so many ways took place in June of 2007 at the museum at what became the first Railroad Picnic. It was so successful that we made it an annual event-rain or shine. At times weather forced picnickers to scramble and move indoors. It is an opportunity for the Langlade County Historical Society to thank its supporters and for people to visit the museum.
The 440 steam locomotive is shown arriving on the museum grounds in fall, 2005. Its restoration will be celebrated at the annual railroad picnic on Wednesday.
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