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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Steaming on down the line. © T/Maker Company

October 1999

On track with autumn color

Try riding the rails for a closer look at Wisconsin's fall color this year.

Steaming on down the line.
© T/Maker Company

Once a mainstay of transport, the train has faded gracefully into our sepia-toned image of a slower, more genteel past & when gentlemen repaired to the library after dinner for brandy and cigars while the ladies played whist in the parlor, and the children were seen – but never, ever heard. (Those were the days!)

In the wake of the automobile and airplane it's easy to forget just how dynamic a change the rails wrought upon America's physical and social landscape. The great steam engines hurtling across the miles swept vitality into every corner of the country. Companies great and small laid track to scratch many a community's itch for access to modern life.

Most of the mighty lines are now gone, but in Wisconsin there are places where the rails still shine from regular use. These short lines and spurs carry railroad enthusiasts, the nostalgic and the curious on trips that move forward, but take passengers backward to the Age of Rail.

All aboard! © T/Maker Company
All aboard! © T/Maker Company

There's no better time than autumn to take an excursion on a Wisconsin train. The long, low whistle, a sharp "All aboard!" from the conductor, the "chukka-chukka, chukka-chukka" of the engine as it picks up speed – and you're off to watch the fall colors unfold at a measured pace, accompanied by the rhythm of the rails. To be assured of a seat, call ahead to reserve tickets.

Hop on the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway and you can travel along the St. Croix River bluffs, a prime fall color viewing area. The company's vintage steam and diesel engines pull passenger cars that recreate rail service in the St. Croix Valley in the 1940s and '50s. "Fall Leaf Watcher" trips depart from the historic 1916 Osceola Depot at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through October 10. The route runs between Osceola and Dresser, Wis. and Marine, Minn. A charter service is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays. $9 for adults, $5 for children, $23 for a family of 2 adults and 2-5 children. Minnesota Transportation Museum 1-800-711-2591

The East Troy Electric Railroad offers a number of rail experiences this autumn. Savor the elegance and romance of dining by rail on the "Oktoberfest Dinner Train," leaving the East Troy depot at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 2. $45 per person. An "Autumn Leaves Dinner Train" is scheduled for departure at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 23. $45 per person. Through October 31, the ETE Railroad offers "Fall Fun Days" on Saturdays and Sundays, featuring an electric trolley ride through charming fall scenery to the Elegant Farmer farm for an afternoon of hay rides, apple and pumpkin picking. Round trips depart East Troy at 11:20 am, 12:40 pm, 2 pm, 3:20 pm and 4:40 pm. East Troy Electric Railroad Museum (414) 548-3837.

Gaze at the beautiful scenery of the Baraboo River Valley during a seven-mile, 50-minute round-trip ride on a former branch of the Chicago & North Western Railroad built in 1903. The Mid-Continent Railway Museum offers autumn color tours that pull out of a restored 1894 C&NW depot in North Freedom on October 1-3, 8-10, and 16-17 at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Fares: $9 adults; $5.50 children 3-12; $8 seniors; $25 family (two adults and two or more children). Meals are available: first class service is $18.50 per person, which includes hors d'oeuvres and drinks; dinner is $55.00 per person. The train is wheelchair accessible. (608) 522-4261. Mid-Continent Railway Museum