Doug Hanson, Baraboo, keeps busy in the freight house, handling two phone calls for the Chicago & North Western. Today, the community station is a thing of the past. Most customer contact is by computer from a remote location.
Photo by John Gruber.

Ralph Keppler (1922-1999), nicknamed Dugan in typical railroad fashion, sits at the operator's desk in the Milwaukee Road's Madison office. Keppler started as a telegrapher in 1944, retired in 1982.
Photo by Henry Koshollek.

Marc Deneen started with the telegraph key, ended on a computer keyboard. He sits at a computer at Monona Yard in Madison on April 28, 1983. Three years later, he retired. He spent all of his career working for the C&NW in Madison or nearby, never moving from the house he grew up in at Riley, on the present Military Ridge State Trail west of Madison, where he lives today. His father was station agent at Riley for many years.
Photo by John Gruber.

Charles Shorty of Madison began work on the Wisconsin & Southern on August 25, 2000, at the Monona Yard. Asked to describe his maintenance-of-way position, Shorty said that he is a "rail technician." Railroad work is "a learning experience; there is a lot to learn," he added.
Richard Gruber photo.

Gary Cooley of Milton likes working on the track, so he once turned down an opportunity to go into train service. He is shown in Madison on the Wisconsin & Southern in a photo of a railroader by a railroader in 2005. Cooley, who has been fixing track since 1970, comes from a railroad family. A brother and nephew also work for the railroad, a second brother formerly was employed. Track workers usually know when they will start work in the morning, but often don¹t know when the work will end. Track maintenance is a vital, but unsung part of railroad work.
Richard Gruber photo.

Mid-Continent Hosts Photo Exhibit of Madison Railroaders.

They’ve been workin’ on the railroad all the live-long years. But it’s not just to pass the time away. Working for a railroad has been a career and a way of life for many Dane County-area residents for over a century.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum, which has preserved and operates the equipment used by railroaders, is hosting an exhibit about railroad workers from August 1 through September 10. The exhibit was prepared by the Madison-based Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

The thirty-seven photographs, on view inside Mid-Continent’s 1894-built railroad depot at North Freedom, first appeared at the Wisconsin state capitol during June. They examine the historic role railroaders have played in Madison and its service area over the years.

“In the early years of railroading, railroaders often had to live within a mile of the roundhouse, so that the ’crew caller’ could walk to their homes to tell them personally when to come to work. This pattern shaped the character of neighborhoods long after the callers began using the telephone,” says Carson Burrington, the Center’s executive director.

The number of railroad workers living in Dane County has declined from 911 in 1950 to 265 in 1970 and 74 in 2003. Only two companies operate into Dane County today: Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., based in Milwaukee, and the Canadian Pacific which has a crew base at Portage, just outside of Dane County.

“We are pleased to present this exhibit to our visitors,” says Don Meyer, Mid-Continent’s manager. “Mid-Continent itself has served as a springboard for many a railroad career over the years with our training program and the opportunity for newcomers to learn railroading basics.”

Visitors to Mid-Continent may witness railroaders in action up-close by riding the museum’s train. Four departures are made daily through Labor Day, at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2:00 and 3:30 p.m. Weekend operations will continue through mid-October. Reservations are not required.

From Baraboo, take Highway 136 west five miles to Highway PF and turn left. Then two miles further to the west side of the village of North Freedom. Parking is free.

The Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit corporation founded in 1959 to preserve the “Golden Age” of railroad history (spanning the years 1880 to 1916) for the upper Midwest. Membership is open to anyone interested in supporting our mission. All ticket and gift shop proceeds help support the museum’s restoration programs. On the web at

The Center for Railroad Photography & Art is a nonprofit arts organization that preserves and presents significant images of railroading. This focus on visual representations sets the Center apart from most other historical and preservation organizations. It does not maintain its own museum space but instead collaborates with other institutions and scholars. It maintains an office in Madison, Wisconsin, and an archive at Lake Forest College in Illinois. The Center, incorporated in 1997 in Wisconsin, has received 501(c)3 status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Its board of directors represents a broad range of interests and professions. On the web at

A grant from the Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of the Capital Times, has provided partial support for the Center’s exhibit and heritage project, bringing attention to railroad heritage—an otherwise overlooked aspect of Madison's history—during its sesquicentennial. The Madison/Dane County exhibit is part of “Representations of Railroad Work, Past and Present,” a larger national program. The center, with support by the North American Railway Foundation, has created exhibitions across the country, including Grand Central Terminal in New York City, that tell the public about the past and present importance of railroads in their own communities.