Train rides at the Riverside & Great Northern Railway, Wisconsin Dells, run a shorter route since the rainstorms of Aug. 28 washed out part of the tracks and caused landslides and erosion there.
Steven Bradley, president of the R&GN Preservation Society called the damage a disaster for the non-profit attraction. Until Aug. 28, the little railroad was having a great year, but now the train can only run about a quarter mile and then must back up to return to the station, track, Bradley said.
“We have a major wash out at milepost 21 leaving our tracks hanging in the air, and at milepost post 5 we’ve had a landslide and on shelf we have a slow-moving active landslide going on that is threatening our entire operation,” Bradley stated in a post on the R&GN Facebook page.
The society does not yet know how much it will cost to repair the sections of track. Bradley said an MSA engineer looked that the damaged tracks and presented several “good ideas” on Friday. Next step will be to contact contractors about doing the work to repair the damage, he said.
The work may have to wait until spring, Bradley said.
In the meantime, R&GN started to solicit donations with a Go Fun Me page at www.gofundme.com/disaster-at-the-rampgn-railway and also appreciate donations sent to R&GN, N115 Highway N, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965.
The railway will also continue to be open weekends through October. Prices have been reduced with adult tickets now $10 and seniors and children $6. Children under 3 and active military with a military identification ride free. The society will also continue to have its October Pumpkin trains. During October, the station is decorated for fall, and a “pumpkin patch” is set up. Children after riding the train can pick their own pumpkin to take home.
The railway closes for the winter and then reopens on the first weekend in May.
The washout this year is not the first for the railway. In 2004, a bridge over a canyon washed away with heavy rains. The society had to construct a trestle bridge over that section and put in a turnaround at the end of the tracks.
Riverside & Great Northern is a 501©3 organization and a museum. It is the site of the Sandley Light Railway Equipment Works, Inc. Elmer and Norman Sandley first started building 15-gauge railroads in Janesville, but in 1952, they moved the business and built a demonstration railroad on the Milwaukee and La Crosse Railroad right-of-way in Wisconsin Dells. They also built a depot and began offering train rides in 1953. The Sandleys built 15 locomotives and 30 pieces of rolling stock, and trains built by the Sandleys ran at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and the Knoxville Zoo.
In 1982, After the death of Elmer Sandley, the company went bankrupt and the business closed. In 1988, a group of volunteers ed by William C. Fitt formed the Riverside & Great Northern Preservation Society, Inc. and went to work to save the Sandley Works by turning it into a museum. It reopened in 1989, and steam and diesel 15-gauge trains have been running since then.