The rails from the Ex-Illinois Central rail line that runs from Madison, WI to Monroe, WI are scheduled to be removed sometime later this year. This action will bring to an end over 100 years of rail history in Green County. It may also end the tremendously popular and successful "Green County Depot Days" which has run for the last 3 years. This year, over 2,300 people rode the line for the last time and I am proud to have been a part of that!
Below, are some of the reactions I have received from people after learning about the removal of rails from the ex Illinois Central.
If you have any reactions or stories you want to see posted here, let me know.
My e-mail address can be found on the bottom of this page.
The 3rd. annual Depot Days of Green County, WI which was held on April 23-25 was a booming success with events in all eight villages and cities in Green County. We offered train rides and speeder car rides. The speeder car rides drew over 2200 riders in two days. The tracks we run on have been scheduled for removal for another trail.
The speeder car rides ran out of two towns, Monticello and Belleville. The speeder rides were the most popular event in the county because the rides took participants through the Stewart Tunnel.
With the knowledge that many people came for the speeder car rides the removal of the tracks guts the event for three communities. New Glarus is between Belleville and Monticello but not on the tracks. New Glarus drew its crowd from those traveling to or from Belleville. All three of these towns are approximately 22-25 miles from Brodhead where the train rides start and finish making them off the beaten path.
Apparently we have developed a good reputation for our event. Given that we can no longer offer the speeder rides does it make any sense to continue with the event knowing that people come for the rides through the tunnel?
thought is that because of what we have presented for three years
will no longer be we can't live up to the expectations of the public.
Our county already has enough oversold and under produced tacky
tourism with more to come. Quitting now lets us go out with a sense
of dignity and pride and those who attended will have good memories
of what Depot Days was but would in all probability go away
One of our critics expressed his thoughts in the local paper this way: "To those who opposed it, I recommend that Depot Days can live on, even without those unsafe tracks. We still have depots, the historic Stewart Tunnel, and the rail right-of-way preserved for future generations."
The personal anger here from me is, we could have had the right-of-way preserved just as easily with the rails still in place. And the tracks can be minimally be certified as meeting FRA class 1 standards. The rail transit commission chair has also stated that "if the DOT gets the ROW they will just blow the top off the tunnel." Actually the DOT already owns the ROW.
Your thoughts and suggestions are appreciated.
Your note says so much. This weekend was a booming success because of people such as yourself. The one thing they can never take from us is that we went out with style and elegance. Something the other side will never have or do.
Looking at the faces of the people riding the cars south, knowing the fun they were having, enjoying a bit of history, reliving their memories of the past added to the sadness of this occasion. The thought came to me about how those Black families now in Madison and what their ancestors must have thought as they came north on the Illinois Central Freedom Trains.
The questions the little ones must have asked, why they had to leave 'home" to find a new home. The parents trying with all their might to reassure the little ones that all would work out knowing that they were as unsure as their little ones.
Never again will anyone have the opportunity to hear the train whistle in the night as the locomotive pulls the grade to the south portal of the tunnel.
Never again will little boys and girls be able to have grandpa's take them through the tunnel to be told stories about how to hide if the train should perchance happen through the tunnel while they are walking through.
Never again will the 125 year old oak trees roots feel the treble of the earth as a long train heads south toward the gulf.
The cost to our human well-being is far too high a price to pay for yet another bike trail.
It's places such as Stewart Tunnel which instill in us as a people, a sense of time, place, being, family and community.
I question how future generations will look upon this decision with loathing for what we have done to future generations. Hopefully history will correctly record that some of us fought with all we had for what was right and just in a world where greed, petty self-interest and contempt rule.
You're the people who
fill our sails with winds of time and history.
Subject: Depot Days of Green County Obituary
Author: Kim Tschudy
Date: 4/27/99 1:00 AM
Depot Days of Green County, Wisconsin has come and gone. Unfortunately, due to several political decisions over the past two weeks Depot Days 99 was the last run as those decisions may put to death Depot Days.
To those who supported our efforts a big thanks for the support you've shown us. The weather this weekend was great. But there was a thick cloud hanging over the weekend. Good friends were unable to face each other because we knew the tears would flow and they did. Tears shed for the loss of an old friend.
By Sunday the word spread
that the three decisions by the Green County Tourism Committee,
the Green County Board and on the day before Depot Days a decision
by the rail transit commission to rip out the tracks for another
trail was a fatal blow to Depot Days.
It was painful that day and as I write this 36 hours after the last depot closed it is even more painful. We failed the public, our ancestors, ourselves and future generations.
Standing inside the 1888 Belleville IC Depot watching the people mill about waiting for the next motorcar run it brought back memories of a photo shot at this same depot of a WW1 Victory Train. A time of joy and homecoming.
I reflected quietly on what was happening and all the people who had gone through that depot. Those early Madison Black families who had taken the Illinois Central Freedom Trains north to a better life.
Turning out at the switch at the West Freeport Wallace Yard what went through these peoples minds. This was the last leg on a 1200 mile journey north to what they hoped would be a better life. Coming to Wisconsin with nothing but a threadbard carpet bag a lot of fear and a world of hope. Hope for a better life. Scared that this could be worse than what they left behind in Mississippi, Louisana and Arkansas.
Here they were welcomed with open arms and jobs. I think of what Mr. Hill, the Black grocer in my grandparents Blair Street neighborhood would have said today if he were here to find out that the tracks which brought him his freedom were to be taken for scrap.
Leaving Belleville after shooting some last day of service photos I stopped at Ross Crossing where the very first passenger hopped on the train in 1888. There at trackside were three of my neighbors sitting in their lawn chairs.
We lamented the loss of
our collective history, memories and future. One neighbor commented
that she hoped she was gone before they tore up the tracks. To some
who see the need/greed of another grossly under used bike
trail this makes no difference. But to those who loved this
line in their backyards it is the end of a wonderful era.
I think back to the time when I was 5 years old and my grandfather took me on my first walk through that tunnel. "If a train comes go to the outside wall of the tunnel and get flat or lay down on the ground and make yourself as flat as possible." Of course he knew that there would be no train but is certainly did teach an impressionable kid how to respect trains and our history.
There will be no more
grandpa's taking grandchildren reared on Thomas the Tank Engine
through the tunnel.
There will be no more
90 year old grandma's getting one last look at the tunnel where
that handsome young buck took her 75 years ago.
We fought the good fight,
for all the right reasons. We have learned the painful lesson that
greed and lies can and do win out far too often.
I loathe those who of late preach historic preservation at the same time they destroy our mental hitching post to the past.
I know that posterity will not treat us kindly nor should it.
I read with great interest your piece on depot days. I felt much the same way when Soo Line closed Shoreham yards and later the shops. I warmly remember watching the sunsets over the yards from a gas station fence along Central Ave. Shoreham had such appeal with the old buildings and the incessant movement of trains and switch engines. This was the same place where Soo was able to find work for their shopmen in the great depression by contracting to build three (?) steam locomotives for the Wisconsin Central.
Whenever I pass by there today and see the quiet, deserted buildings, I can't help but think about the generations of Soo Line employees who called Shoreham home. Pipefitters, Boilermakers, Machinists, Electricians, Clerks, Dispatchers, Switchmen, Conductors, Engineers...
My heart is heavy with the loss of a friend. Sometimes we can take solace in knowing something, if only memories, have been preserved. But I still know the hollow feeling of loss. I used to ride Soo Line's "Transfer 1" at New Brighton (Minneapolis) in the early 80's. With the exception of one person who works as a Trainmaster in Glenwood, MN, the original crew whom I rode with has retired after long and colorful careers. I still keep in contact with them from time to time. I can't emphasize how important it is to talk to them now and document their stories for future generations.
The Railroad has had a colorful and glorious past, and from all signs I see, a bright future.
Thank you so much for sharing those stories with me. You have helped me to relive some of mine.
Dennis J. Holmes-Engineer-Wisconsin Central Ltd.
WON'T BE BACK
To State Rep Rick Skindrud
From Marlene Schmalbeck's "On the Streets of Monticello"
"Members of the Railroad Heritage Corp. kept their motorcars going for extra rips each evening, in an attempt to give all those who had come a ride. These people have worked diligently for the past few years in an attempt to save the rails.
On Friday when they attended a
meeting of the South Central Rail Transit Commission, they
heard the vote to remove the rails. However, these good sports had
advertised they would give rides to the public this weekend, and
true to their word they provided a pleasurable trip for one and
TOURISM COMMITTEE COMMENT
SOMETHING FROM SUSAN
Why is this not resolved in some way where the communities the trail will run through feel a sense of pride and excitement at its coming? What Monticello ends up with is a divided community at the very time a sense of vision and planning should be taking place.
Mostly, though, many people in Monticello and rail enthusiasts feel like a bully just beat them up.
And I'm not sure but what I agree with them.
YOU GAVE IT A GREAT SHOT. TO BAD THAT THE BOARDS OF GREEN COUNTY BELIEVE THAT MONEY ONLY COMES FROM THOSE WHO LIVE IN MADISON. I HAD A GREAT TIME THIS WEEKEND. WE CAME TO THE BRODHEAD DEPOT ON FRIDAY NIGHT TO GET SHOTS OF THE TRAIN. CAME BACK ON SATURDAY, RODE THE SPEEDERS TOWARDS MONROE (MISSED THE TUNNEL THIS YEAR, I GUESS I CAN "BIKE" THRU IT NEXT YEAR !!!), THEN MY KIDS MADE WHISTLES WITH A GREAT MAN & MUSICIAN IN LARRY PENN.
WE THEN WENT BACK TO BRODHEAD FOR A TRAIN RIDE. ALL TOLD, I SPENT ABOUT $100.00 IN ABOUT 8 HOURS IN GREEN COUNTY. HELL, I AM NOT EVEN FROM MADISON !!! HOW MANY MORE "ME'S" WERE OUT THERE LAST WEEKEND !!! I LIKE TO RIDE ON THE "SUGAR RIVER TRAIL" BUT I CAN GUARANTEE THAT I WILL NOT BE COMING TO THE "GREEN COUNTY TRAIL DAYS" !!!
KIM, I PERSONALLY WANT TO THANK YOU & ALL OF THOSE OTHERS WHO MADE THE "DEPOT DAYS" HAPPEN. THE LAST TWO YEARS WERE AWESOME !!! SORRY I WON'T BE OVER TO RIDE THE RAILS OF THE OLD "IC" ANYMORE. I GUESS ALL I CAN TELL YOU IS THEY CALL THIS "PROGRESS". HOW I SEE IT IS THROWING THE POSSIBILITY OF "REAL" JOBS & HISTORY OUT THE WINDOW. OH WELL, I GUESS EVERYBODY CAN MAKE A LIVING ON SELLING T-SHIRTS & ICE CREAM CONES IN THE SUMMER. LATER !!!
You may have seen several articles in the papers recently on the issue but there is so much more to the issue that has been reported.
The Wisconsin DOT is willing to give at no cost to the State of Illinois $3.2 million of real estate which they don't own. There is one potential shipper willing to ship 3 million bushels of grain on the line each year and he can't get a fair audience with the rail transit commission. That business alone would take 3,000 semi's off the road. There are also three other shippers who would use this line and no doubt other business could be grown.
The Towns of Mt Pleasant, Exeter and Montrose and the Village of Monticello have passed resolutions to keep the rails in place. We have brought three railroad operators to the table and the commission has blown each of them off.
There are two recreational trails in Green County already and neither of them have reached anywhere near their capacity. The Sugar River State Trail peaked at 58,000 users in 1985 and in 1997 the use had dropped to 31,000. The same year the Cheese Country Trail sold a total of about 152 bike passes all season.
There are conflicts of
interest of all sorts. The new commission chairman is on the Bank
of New Glarus board. He appoints the commission members and one
of the two appointees is the loan officer at the same bank and the
bank president is
In Green County there
is a continual push for tourism and our plan would take care of
bringing a new and very unique tourism entity to the county as well
as provide an economic development tool to the county as well and
The DNR continues to tell the public that they have the money for building a new trail yet we know that they don't have a cent for the trail and on at least one occasion the DNR representative told the public that to build the trail would mean cutting back other state park budgets or closing a state park.
Wisconsin Railroad Commissioner Kruenen has talked out of both sides of his mouth depending upon who the audience is. Uncle Rodney and Tommy who serves as chairman of the Amtrak board have been of absolutely no help either.
May 12, 1999
To: Honorable Senators and Representatives:
I find myself writing to you with the need for immediate attention to be given on saving the Ex-Illinois Central rail line that runs between Madison and Monroe.
As I write to you, with only Five weeks left to save a very endangered historic site, that of which is the railroad tracks and the railroad corridor that runs from Madison, WI. to Monroe, Wi. And until last fall went onto Freeport, ILL. This section of rail line is in grave danger of being permanently dismantled for scrap. The corridor is to then be used for another DNR bike trail . This area has already lost one of it's rail lines to a bike trail that already runs almost parallel to this corridor.
It is my belief that in order to preserve this rail corridor for possible future use as a rail service we must never let them rip out and scrap this antique rail and replace it with a bike trail . Once one lets the bicyclists on the corridor you will never get them off. In the beginning, when people were migrating across America , Horse and buggy teams were the way to travel . Then someone had an Idea. An idea of the need to get somewhere faster. The railroad would prove to fulfill this need. The railroad has proven to be of great benefit to business, industry, and travel.
The need for a commuter rail in Wisconsin is rapidly growing everyday. As our towns and villages grow and the people are forced to commute to larger cities for work and play , I find that our roads and hwys are becoming ever so congested with traffic and pollution. If this railroad line can not be put to use as a commuter railroad project such as DART , then I feel there is a need to preserve History here.
This railroad was built in 1886, on which many people traveled to settle in our area . They made homes, towns and some came to be free, this was their freedom train that brought them to a new life after escaping slavery. These train rails on this corridor brought home our soldiers from W.W.II and our ancestors to a new life. These tracks hauled food , goods , and people.
This rail corridor and rail tracks need to be protected and preserved from destruction. This would greatly benefit the area surrounding the rail corridor much more than another bike trail.
To have Historic Rail Operations would promote tourism for our area for that purpose. The elderly, the handicapped , young and old alike can enjoy the rides. Grandpas can ride the train once more with their grandchildren , boasting the stories of "when I was your age!!" .
There is a desire to preserve this era , as proven by the support during Depot Days of Green County. There is a group of individuals, a non-profit organization called Wisconsin Heritage Rail Corp that has donated years of hours to the preservation of this railroad line on this corridor. The WI Heritage Rail Corp., has a proposed plan for raising moneys that can be used to sponsor the project of preservation. These people have worked very hard to save the railroad heritage, as well as this particular railline. Two villages along the tracks have Depots and fully support Depot Days of Green County. These functions and fund-raisers have proven to be financially beneficial and it is my belief that the Wisconsin Heritage Trust Program should be implemented in this case. As our preservation project for the Madison -Freeport rail corridor is in dire need of their support or we will once again lose another Historical Property in Wisconsin's History.
The preservation of the Madison-Freeport rail corridor and the tracks meets all of the requirements of the Wisconsin Heritage Trust Program and requires immediate protection to prevent the destruction of this Historic Property. This property is historically and culturally significant .
The landscape was given to the railroad company by the landowners with deed for use for the purpose of a railroad. If this is no longer going to be a railroad this property should go back to the land owners not the DOT. With Stewart Tunnel , an archeological feat of their times. These rails of property are antique, about 1/4 mile of rail outside of Monroe , WI. are dated 1949, 38 rails are dated 1886 with the remainder of the 28 mile being of 1903. In four (4) years all but 1/4 mile will be 100 years old, that makes them rare. The tracks and the corridor are ENDANGERED through neglect and impending destruction.
The possibilities of restoration and the use of train and speeder cars make them publicly handicapped accessible. They contribute to the telling and revitalizing of Wisconsin History statewide and serve as a catalyst for related benefits in the surrounding area. There seems to be no other way for us to save this historical property other than getting the support and voice of Historical Preservation Programs.
The sponsor,(WIsc. Heritage Rail Corp.) would be able to sustain the project during and after completion. The sponsor has a proposed plan to match the fund support. The non-profit organization has the support of the communities surrounding the corridor. The signed petitions to preserve this rail line shows support from the citizens, businesses, and municipalities.
I believe that the Wisconsin Heritage Trust Program could bring us the hope and the voices needed to save and preserve this Historical Property. We need your support and immediate attention to this matter as there are only five (5) weeks left before the DOT starts to rip out the rails.
Your time , effort ,and prompt attention to this matter is greatly appreciated. If you could kindly reply with your views and any ideas that may be of help, I would very much thank you.
Thank you for your time and attention to this critical matter.
Rosalee M. Marty
Could change any reference on your web site that this year was the last Depot Days? Brodhead and Monroe are very upset about this and are mad that Monticello, New Glarus and Belleville will not participate any more without the rails! They voted last evening that they want to continue with depot days.
You can put in there that these three communities are not participating because of the rail removal. There would be no significant reason for 2300 people who come to ride the rails to come here just to see our depots!
Unless someone else comes forward to chair in these communities - it will end. Monticello's depot complex will continue on as it's original intent as a hostel for groups wanting to spend the weekend - primitive style!
Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group.