During the mid-1980's several railroads around the country rediscovered the steam engine as a promotional and public relations tool and began operating various excursions using restored steam power.
The C&NW, at the urging of then-Vice President Chris Burger, decided to hop on the steam bandwagon and struck a deal to "borrow" R-1 #1385, the only remaining operable C&NW steamer in existence, from the Mid-Continent Railroad Museum and use it for a series of excursions around the C&NW system along with various equipment from C&NW's business train. As part of this program a series of excursions were operated over one weekend out of Madison, going alternately north to Waunakee and south to Oregon, the first towns in either direction.
These photos show the Oregon leg of one of those trips at various locations along the way. The train is a somewhat bizarre collection of equipment including the 1385, two of the C&NW "Presidential" F's, and passenger cars borrowed from Janesville-based Golden Arrow Tours which included an ex-Milwaukee Road Super Dome and the dome-observation car Big Ben which had operated for a number of years on Rock Island's Quad Cities Rocket.
If I recall this was the only series of public excursions operated out of Madison during the two years or so that C&NW continued their steam program, but because of the close proximity of Mid-Continent to Madison and the fact that the 1385 was usually returned to the museum between trips, it was a relatively common occurrence to see the 1385 pulling a couple of crew cars through town as it deadheaded to another event somewhere in the Midwest.
The article and pictures featured here were provided by long time railfan Craig Bluschke, Madison, WI. Craig has a large collection of railroad photos from all around the Midwest and his stories are always interesting. Thanks to Craig for providing the information for this page and bringing back some fond memories of an excursion I went on a long time ago. Jim Kalrath, Webmaster
Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group.