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NORTH FREEDOM — To the thieves, perhaps the metal hauled away from the Mid-Continent Railway Museum was junk that could be sold to scrap yards to make a quick buck.

In reality, some of the items were priceless antiques that are nearly impossible to replace.

“This wasn’t scrap,” said Mid-Continent lifetime member Dick Goddard. “These were locomotive restoration parts that are impossible to replace. It’s making restoration at Mid-Continent impossible.”

The thefts occurred in 2008 after floods ravaged the museum. Mid-Continent staff hired additional staff to assist with the cleanup. Little did they know, the “help” they received ultimately would hinder the museum’s progress.

A museum employee noticed parts missing from a locked car, and reported it to museum directors.

Not long afterward, Goddard found himself with other museum members at a scrap yard in Mauston looking for clues. They found a barrel full of parts, and that’s when they notified the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department, he said.

Working with a team of museum members and a Sheriff’s Department detective, Goddard visited scrap yards as far away as Illinois, and took photographs of everything taken from the museum.

The parts they were able to locate were worth somewhere between $100,000 and $125,000, Goddard said. But the grand total might be much more. Some of the missing items have stalled restoration efforts on two steam engines, and others were replacement parts for working trains.

To date, there have been three convictions related to the missing parts, including 28-year-old Joe T. Atkinson, who was convicted of felony burglary of a railroad car, 30-year old Aaron G. Boldon of Wisconsin Dells, who was found guilty of entry into a locked vehicle, unauthorized entry into a building, and theft of less than $2,500, and Scott K. Hinze, 29, of Baraboo, who has been convicted of felony theft.

Recently, 25-year-old Allen M. Dixon was charged with felony theft in relation to the missing parts.

The tragedy, Goddard said, is that the cash netted by the thieves for the stolen items was much less than the true value of the stolen items.

For example, a lifting injector that was taken from the museum cost nearly $12,500 to replace. Scrap yard records show the thieves received less than $250 for the part.