It has been thirty years since Mid-Continent’s ten-wheeler, ex-Chicago & North Western No. 1385, was on the head end of the Circus World Museum’s Great Circus Train bound for Milwaukee. The 1987 event marked the end of the popular passenger excursions Mid-Continent held in conjunction with the Chicago & North Western Transportation Company. Beginning in 1982 with the Prosperity Special, the locomotive had made annual trips throughout the North Western’s rail system, with an ever growing list of dates and destinations making No. 1385 a star of steam excursions and helping Mid-Continent reach an ever larger audience. But the collaboration between the two museums, dedicated to preserving two of our nation’s most iconic institutions, the railroad and the circus, traveling on one of the Midwest’s most prominent railroads, was to be short lived. Economic factors would derail a promising relationship of mutual benefit.
Circus World and Mid-Continent’s respective histories ran on parallel lines. The Historic Sites Foundation established the Circus World Museum in 1959 on a historically significant site in Baraboo, the former winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus. The Milwaukee Railway Historical Society was founded that same year and moved its operation to North Freedom in 1963, establishing the newly named Mid-Continent Railway Museum on a spur built by the Chicago & North Western. Side-by-side the two museums grew their priceless collections and made rural Sauk County a destination for those who love the glamor of a three-ring circus and the romance of riding the rails It would take a return trip to Milwaukee, however, on the trackage of the North Western, to unite these two cultural entities in a spectacle public relations specialist Ben Barkin dubbed the Great Circus Train, carrying passengers and historic horse-drawn wagons to a revived and enhanced Great Circus Parade.
Barkin began his involvement with the Circus World Museum in 1963, when he helped Charles “Chappie” Fox fulfill a dream by staging a circus parade in the streets of Milwaukee. Barkin was friends with Joseph Uihlein, president of the Schlitz Brewing Company, whom he persuaded to become the parade’s primary sponsor. For the first two years the circus wagons were trucked from Baraboo to Milwaukee. But in 1965 the drama of a circus train was added to the show, which allowed more people to see the wagons, loaded on special flat cars, as the train passed through several towns and villages on its cross-state venture. This arrangement lasted until 1973, when Schlitz – for internal reasons – withdrew its support. And with this loss of its corporate sponsor the parade and the train came to a sad end. Both had become popular attractions and helped draw people to Baraboo to see the Circus World Museum’s growing collection firsthand.
Eight years after the demise of the Schlitz sponsored parades, there was an attempt to revive Circus World’s flagging attendance by staging a new parade, though not in Milwaukee. The honors went to Chicago, where in 1981 and 1982 a scaled down version of the parade took place. The main drawback to this event was that Circus World’s formidable collection of rolling stock, its flat cars specifically designed to transport circus wagons over the rails, could not be used. The loan of commercial flats, designed to carry a different kind of freight, reduced the number of wagons taken to Chicago and the parade there failed to reach the proportions desired by Circus World’s management. But the 1982 circus train did produce an eerily auspicious event, described by Bruce Nelson in his 2013 book, America’s Greatest Circus Train.
“In the murky grey dawn of Monday, May 25 the eastward Circus Train met homeward bound Ten-Wheeler #1385 and its Prosperity Special consist at Monona Yard. Few could have predicted then that three years hence the Circus Train would again call on Madison using the museum’s historic rolling stock, powered by none other than #1385.”
While the circus train and parade were once again moribund, Mid-Continent and No. 1385 were literally high rollers, as Chicago & North Western’s Chris Burger, the Assistant Vice President and Wisconsin Division Manager, assembled an ever expanding itinerary to showcase Mid-Continent’s locomotive and the North Western’s own modern rolling stock. The Prosperity Special had achieved limited exposure in 1982, when the locomotive and its consist made a few stops in Wisconsin as part of the National Transportation Week held in May of that year. Then in September it made a trip to Boone, Iowa to participate in that community’s first annual Pufferbilly Days. But even this modest achievement was sufficient to inspire a far more aggressive strategy for taking the business of rail transportation to the communities along the North Western’s system, with No. 1385 being the draw to bring people trackside.
The 1983 schedule started in June with an appearance in Albert Lea, Minnesota before heading into Iowa, where it could be viewed in Hampton, Des Moines, Ames, Grand Jct., Fort Dodge, Moorland, Rolfe, Marathon, Eagle Grove, Webster City, Jewell, Ames, Marshalltown, Waterloo, Oelwein, Waverly, Hampton, Sheffield, and Mason City. In July No. 1385 took its train to West Chicago, Illinois for their Railroad Days event, and then went on display for a few days at the Chicago Passenger Terminal. In September it was back to Boone, Iowa for the second annual Pufferbilly Days, with a final run to Duluth, Minnesota via Marshalltown, Albert Lea, St Paul, Altoona, and Spooner. For two days the train carried passengers between Duluth and Superior for the Lake Superior Transportation Museum before heading home to North Freedom.
The proposed 1984 schedule was even more expansive. It included an August trip to Kansas City, Missouri for the National Model Railroad Association convention. Unfortunately that trip was never realized but it makes for an alluring prospect to send the fully restored No. 1385 to the NMRA’s 2018 convention for a much belated rain date. The convention will appropriately be taking place in KC.
The success of the 1982/83 excursions brought Mid-Continent and the North Western into a stronger relationship. Ed Burkhardt, Vice President – Transportation, and Chris Burger were the guest speakers at Mid-Continent’s 1982 members’ banquet. Honorary life memberships were awarded to Burkhardt and to James Zito, Senior Vice President – Operations (Burger already being a Mid-Continent member) for their support of No. 1385’s appearances on the North Western system. And to improve on train conditions for the 1984 excursions, the North Western donated two railroad cars to Mid-Continent. The first was a 1930 Pullman-built business car, numbered 440, to be used for crew accommodations during the locomotive’s extensive travels. And the second was baggage car No. 8903, which the museum’s members converted to a combination tool, display and gift shop car. Where No. 1385 went Nos. 440 and 8903 followed.
The year 1983 brought one other promising development to Mid-Continent. The cover photo for the November-December 1983 issue of the Railway Gazette (Volume 16, Nos. 11-12) showed a couple of loaded Circus World flatcars, which were part of the 1967 circus train. A brief article on page 3 of the members’ magazine provided background information on Chappie Fox, who was the guest speaker for the Mid-Continent members’ banquet that year. And the magazine’s center spread contained two photos and a brief account of Circus World’s car shops in Baraboo. This was just the start of the magazine’s reporting on activity taking place at the Circus World Museum, which hinted at a courtship apparently underway between the two museums without any public explanation being given.
One year later the November-December 1984 issue of the Railway Gazette (Volume 17, Nos. 11-12) contained the article “C&NW Gift Aids Restoration of Historic Circus Train.” Circus World was the recipient of $175,000 worth of wheels, axles, couplers, and other railroad equipment to help with the restoration of its historic but non-compliant rolling stock. The goal: return the equipment to operating condition so that Circus World could use their own train set to transport their circus wagons to Milwaukee for a new edition of the circus parade in 1985. Mid-Continent’s interest in reporting on these activities was revealed in the February 10, 1985 Board Minutes as part of the Vice President – Operations Report.
“[Tom O’Brien, Jr.] reported that all dates for 1385 train operation in Nebraska have been cancelled. The 1385 is now available to pull the Circus Train in July. The Circus World has offered Mid-Continent a $10,000 donation for the use of our steam locomotive.”
Not everyone at Mid-Continent was elated, however. The extensive excursions on the North Western placed a heavy burden on those who were left behind to cover the daily operations in North Freedom. John Gruber, the Railway Gazette editor, tactfully published an article in the May – June 1985 (Vol 18, Nos 5-6) edition of the magazine entitled “Burger talks about 1385 Benefits as 4th Season Opens.” Based on a personal interview he allowed Burger to point out three benefits of the North Western’s program of leasing No. 1385 for these extensive trips: the popularity of the locomotive adding to Mid-Continent’s prestige as a rail-themed museum, the spirt of cooperation between the museum and the North Western bringing in extra revenue and the donation of Nos. 440 and 8903, and the opportunity museum members gained by growing their railroad skills in operating No. 1385 on the North Western system.
In that same issue Mid-Continent members were treated to a separate article entitled “The Star of Screen and Circus Train”, which celebrated Mid-Continent’s new role in making the Great Circus Train a very public spectacle. The article painted an awe inspiring image of the locomotive at the lead end of this alt-parade on rails by stating, “Headed by Mid-Continent’s 1385, carrying a priceless cargo of 75 historic circus wagons, and stretching almost a half-mile long, the 1385 circus train will make a 2-day, 222 mile journey through Wisconsin and northern Illinois.” Given that this sentence was published in The Railway Gazette, it is understandable that the museum’s member-editor would enthuse about “the 1385 circus train” as opposed to it rightfully belonging to the Circus World Museum. But the more formal publicity issued by Ben Barkin’s public relations company would be all about Circus World, Milwaukee, and – of course – the event sponsor.
The longer, two-day route proposed by the North Western’s Burger was new. The trains of the 60s and 70s took a more direct route and made the trip in one day. New also was the sponsorship. Harry Quadracchi, president of Quad/Graphics, Inc., and his wife Betty, publisher of Milwaukee Magazine, were lauded by Ben Barkin for responding magnificently to the need to find a sponsor for the event. If Barkin issued any news releases promoting Mid-Continent’s role in providing steam power to his Great Circus Train, none were discovered prior to the publication of this current issue of the Gazette. But John Gruber was careful to note the gratitude of Circus World’s board chairman, Paul R. Ingrassia, who had made a personal visit to Mid-Continent in May 1985. Quotes contained in the magazine’s photo captions stated Ingrassia’s belief that the train would be “a spectacular prelude to the Great Circus Parade.” And of his understanding of the value to be found in a partnership between the two museums, he said, “We look forward to a new era of close cooperation with the Mid-Continent Railway Museum,”
Ingrassia met with the Quadraccis on April 18, 1985 at Quadgraphics in Pewaukee to thank them for their total commitment of $130,000 to the parade and train. During that meeting he learned about their terms in making the donation, which he then outlined in a letter to Ben Barkin, Greg Parkinson (then acting Executive Director at Circus World) and others involved with the parade and train. Item 7 of Ingrassia’s letter was of concern to the North Western. Harry Quadracci wanted “a Milwaukee Magazine flag placed on the front of the engine or somewhere of prominence on the front of the train. (He will provide the flag).” But item 5 was of grave concern to Mid-Continent and would lead to an episode that has become legendary in the museum’s oft-told tales of adventures past. Ingrassia wrote “That [Quadracci] be able to ride in the cab of the steam engine.”
What all Paul Ingrassia heard in response to his letter stating the Quadracci’s terms for their gift is unknown. He did write to them and in a letter dated May 6, 1985 he let them know that their terms were “in general, agreeable to all parties.” The one item that he did say required an alternate remedy concerned the placing of a flag on the front of the locomotive. He wrote “The railroad indicates flags on the engine would be a problem. Parkinson suggests two painted signs approximately 2’ to 3’ high by 10’ to 12’ long painted on wood and screwed onto each side of a stock car.” There was no reference to the request about Harry’s riding in No. 1385’s cab. But Mid-Continent’s Board of Directors had made it very clear about how they felt about it. In the June 8, 1985 Board minutes, Tom O’Brien, Jr.’s report to his fellow directors was bluntly recorded as follows:
“The Vice President of Operations is opposed to a request by the financial backer of the Circus Train to ride in the locomotive cab on the Circus Train. The C&NW has indicated that if this gentleman rides the locomotive, museum crews on the locomotive will be limited to one person. This is an unsafe and intolerable condition. O’Brien recommended that the C&NW allow five persons in the cab during the time that the gentleman wished to ride in the cab. He also recommended that no future operations of the #1385 permit a limitation of one Mid-Continent crew person in the cab of the #1385. If such limitations are suggested, he will recommend that the operation of #1385 for that particular event be denied.”
Those of us who knew Tom can sense his righteous indignation represented in this account. And how the issue was ultimately resolved, preventing an influential Wisconsin businessman from indulging in his own railroad fantasy, is not documented. But the encounter has lived on in Mid-Continent folklore as the day museum members kicked Harry Quadracci out of the cab of the 1385.
Nevertheless, the shared attitude about returning to Milwaukee after a twelve-year absence was highly euphoric. Hyperbole in describing both the train and parade were the norm and probably justified. Just as Mid-Continent’s Railway Gazette elevated No. 1385 to star status, Circus World’s own communications were of a spectacular nature. Parkinson wrote to Ingrassia in a letter dated January 11, 1985: “It has been over 50 years since that many parade wagons, acres of canvas, circus railroad cars, horses, and elephants have been assembled on a circus lot.” And in his March 12, 1985 letter to Michael Durham, editor of the Americana Magazine in New York, he described the mechanical work taking place in Circus World’s car shops to prepare the rolling stock for the rail journey. He told Durham, “Then our little jewel of American history will be ready to roll through the Wisconsin countryside once again.” He stated further that “In past years when the train traveled overland it drew an estimated one to two million spectators down to the railroad rightaway [sic] to view its passing.” In reality the trackside attendance was more likely to be measured in the still respectable hundreds of thousands. But Parkinson was right in ending his invitation to Durham to ride the train by touting it as a “spectacular opportunity for photography.”
The logistical requirements for assembling the train and organizing the parade and showgrounds were truly spectacular. Parkinson served as Circus World’s trainmaster, which meant that he designed and oversaw the placement of every wagon on every flatcar to meet the needs of how they were to be unloaded and displayed at the showgrounds in Milwaukee to best facilitate the sequence in which they would take part in the parade. His carefully crafted diagrams and maps, along with a list of every horse owner and their assigned wagons to pull, are preserved in Circus World’s archives and were graciously made available for our research purposes by their current archivist, Peter Shrake.
Of particular interest to this account of the three years Mid-Continent was involved with the operation is the multi-page diagram of the trainset No. 1385 headed. Both the loading sequence in Baraboo and the unloading sequence in Milwaukee were illustrated with briefly stated instructions about the movement of each seven to eight-car section of the consist, labeled as “cuts” by Parkinson. All of the train handling was done with a North Western crew, the Circus World “train crew” doing the loading of the wagons onto the flatcars. We know that the day before the train was scheduled to depart No. 1385 with its extra tender or canteen car, baggage car No. 8903 and business car No. 440 made the move from North Freedom to Baraboo based on Chris Burger’s description of the initial train preparations as recorded in Bruce Nelson’s book.
Burger informed Nelson how, “The steam locomotive and Mid-Continent cars were brought down from North Freedom and parked near the Baraboo freight house where water could be run into the tender all night. The morning of departure #1385 would be moved to the head end, the Mid-Continent cars cut in behind the diesels, another brake test made on these cars and the rear end, and we’d be ready to go.”
Special guests, sponsors and invited media reps were loaded into five Circus World passenger cars, which followed the long line of flats and two stock cars. The North Western’s own business car, provided for use by their own crew and Circus World staff, marked the rear of the train.
Day one of the itinerary had the train departing from Baraboo at 9:00am and arriving in Janesville at 4:00pm, with inspection stops at Lodi and Madison. In Janesville passengers on the first leg of the trip were boarded on buses for the return to Baraboo. The trainset was available for public viewing in what is known as Five Points, before moving into the North Western’s yard for the night, where there was no public access. The 6:00am departure for the second day’s run left the yard from the Reed Road Crossing. There was an inspection stop at Crystal Lake, Illinois before reaching Arlington Heights, where a new group of guests embarked to be joined by others at Kenosha and Racine during the final leg of the journey into Milwaukee.
Riding the train was by invitation only. For the 1985 trip Ben Barkin’s public relations firm prepared the invitations on The Great Circus Parade letterhead. Their gift for hyperbole was expressed in the letter with the claim that “You’ll talk for years about the highlights of your trip aboard The Great Circus Train pulled by Steam Locomotive #1385 — a happy circumstance made possible by a grant from Milwaukee Magazine.” It was also a happy circumstance made possible by the members of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, but that went unstated until the 1986 excursion.
The Strong-Corneliuson Capital Management Corporation was the new event sponsor and for them Barkin’s firm produced a colorful invitation, which included a prominent photo of No. 1385 and the notation that the locomotive was “owned by the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society of North Freedom, Wisconsin.” Unfortunately the1987 invitation regressed in its content as far as Mid-Continent is concerned. Photos of the 1385 and the circus train were replaced by a caricatured silhouette of a train, ala Disney. And no mention of the railway museum was made at all. We do know from a May 24, 1985 letter written by Parkinson to Jim Rudek, Director of Marketing at Milwaukee Magazine, that a stylized front-end view of No. 1385 was chosen as the promotional image of the train, which the magazine intended to place on 135 billboards in the Milwaukee area. But if there is a downside to Mid-Continent’s participation in powering the Great Circus Train it would be in the lack of recognition in much of the publicity distributed for promoting the train and the parade.
The omission was not the fault of the North Western. To Burger’s credit he provided Barkin’s firm with plenty of background information about No. 1385 and its role as the Goodwill Ambassador for the North Western. He wrote in his April 22, 1985 letter to Joseph T. Weinfurter, Senior Vice President at Barkin, Herman, Solechek, Paulsen, Inc., “In addition to Chicago and North Western crew members, the locomotive is accompanied on the road by volunteers from the Mid-Continent Museum, who handle maintenance, firing, and other duties with which today’s railroaders are not familiar. When the 1385 is not in use on the North Western, it may be found along with other operating steam locomotives and a large collection of other equipment on Mid-Continent’s tourist railroad, a former North Western branch line at North Freedom, Wisconsin.” And he closed his letter by noting that anyone could ride behind No. 1385 when it pulled hour-long train rides between Butler and Sussex during the upcoming Railroad Days celebration hosted by the Butler Area Chamber of Commerce.
The popularity of riding behind No. 1385 on the Great Circus Train was immense. In his written review of the 1986 parade and train, Parkinson informed the Historic Sites Foundation Board of Directors and the Circus World Parade Staff in a letter dated July 28, 1986 about improvements needing to be made for the following year. The last item in his list of things to do was entitled Space on the Coaches. “The CWM’s five railroad coaches were extremely crammed and jammed on some segments of the train trip. We need an additional open air observation car to accommodate the invited guests on the train. In the long run, the expense of restoring an additional coach would likely be offset by having the ability to more comfortably accommodate a larger number of parade sponsors and VIP’s. The train ride is one of the best tools which can help to instill a sense of “let’s do it again” with parade sponsors.
The solution can be seen in the consist diagram for the 1987 Great Circus Train. Inserted between Circus World’s five passenger cars and the North Western’s business car was The North Star, a privately owned sleeper/lounge. Built as a sleeper by Pullman in 1947 for the Great Northern Railway’s Empire Builder, the car had gone through a few changes in its floorplan configuration as it changed ownership over the years. It made its circus train debut after a major rebuild in 1985 in the shops of Bill Gardner’s Northern Rail Car Corporation and is noted in the 1987 contract between Circus World and the North Western as being leased from Gardner’s company.
The train’s popularity with non-passengers, who viewed No. 1385 as it passed by or at one of its inspection stops, is equally important as the number of people who were on board the train. Its impact on the communities it passed through can easily be measured by two letters the Circus World Museum received following the 1986 version of the Great Circus Train. Frank Balisteri, Chief of Police in Waunakee, Wisconsin wrote to Greg Parkinson on July 9, 1986 to complain about the speed with which the circus train passed through his community. While the incident was in Balisteri’s mind unsafe, it served to point out an issue generated by the train’s popularity; the large number of people who were there to see the highly publicized No. 1385 and its circus consist crowded the tracks as the train approached, oblivious to the danger created by their own enthusiasm. Balisteri asked Parkinson to do something about the train’s speed during future trips so that this type of incident would not happen again.
Parkinson received an entirely different type of letter from Gerald M. Smith, Executive Director of the Woodstock, Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Dated July 21, 1986 he had hopes of doing something grand for his community in conjunction with the passage of the train through Woodstock. He wrote, “Dear Sirs, for years the citizens of Woodstock have enjoyed watching the circus train pass through Woodstock. When the local paper gave notice, it seemed that hundreds of people would turn out with town chairs early in the morning just to catch a glimpse of history. Knowing that the train would make a stop in Crystal Lake, many of our folks would trek the ten miles to actually study the cars & show their children what true circus spirit was. On behalf of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry we would like to request that in 1987 on your way to Milwaukee you schedule a stop in Woodstock for 20 – 30 minutes. The city has agreed to cooperate with traffic and the possibility of building a real circus day around the event is a possibility. Your consideration in this matter would be appreciated and a response concerning dates and time would benefit our police dept. and allow us to give an advance push. Thank you.”
For each of the three years No. 1385 led the Great Circus Train into Milwaukee, its participation was pretty much limited to this one way trip. The locomotive and the other Mid-Continent rolling stock remained on display at the Summerfest Fairgrounds during the week, allowing people to view and photograph the stationary locomotive up close and to see the displays or purchase museum merchandise in the baggage car. But then it was on to Butler, Wisconsin for that community’s Railroad Days event, and from there on to other locations to fulfill the various commitments of its summer tour. The financial benefits to Mid-Continent were significant. Vice President of Operations, Tom O’Brien, Jr., shared in his October 12, 1985 report to the museum’s Board of Directors that in addition to the donations received from each community where No. 1385 provided train rides, “the gift shop on tour with steam locomotive 1385 has earned $21,957.40 this past summer.”
Discussions were already underway for the locomotive to be used the following year for a new excursion between Madison and Devil’s Lake State Park as part of the Park’s 75th anniversary celebration. There seemed to be no limit to the perks afforded the museum as part of its excursions on the North Western, but 1985 proved to be the locomotive’s high water mark for its mainline adventures. O’Brien’s May 25, 1986 report to the Board was as disappointing in its content as his October report the previous fall had been optimistic.
The minutes record that “O’Brien reported during the end of the month of April, he was notified that the majority of the 1385 program for 1986 had been cancelled due to dramatic increases in liability insurance for the Chicago and North Western. Some portions of the schedule were saved, specifically the trip to the Twin Cities, May 13-20, for display only, the Circus Train, departing July 7 for display at Milwaukee, [as well as] Mt. Prospect in Illinois, and at the Chicago Passenger Terminal. The Museum’s Devil’s Lake excursion was also cancelled.”
Mid-Continent’s $3,000,000 in liability coverage had been adequate until then. The new requirement for running passenger excursions was $50,000,000 equal to the North Western’s own deductible. The cost for this level of insurance was prohibitive for the museum. And the only reason the Great Circus Train could still carry passengers in July was that they, at the last minute, were able to find an underwriter willing to work with them at a premium they could afford to pay. All the other trips on No. 1385’s reduced schedule that year were for display only. The upside to this situation, if there was one, is that the insurance issue did not eliminate the North Western’s program altogether.
The May 1987 Gazette reported on the signing of a new contract with the railroad. The North Western’s good will tours utilizing No. 1385 would continue but at the same limited number of display dates as in the previous year. “The contract stays in effect indefinitely, but has provisions for cancellation with notice. For 1987, the activities include the Circus Train, Butler to Chicago Aug. 2 with stops, a ceremony Aug 3 and display Aug. 4-7 in Chicago for the 150th anniversary of the city charter. Charles Wiesner is responsible for coordinating Mid-Continent’s participation in the program.” This would be Mid-Continent’s last hurrah with the North Western. It would include the most dramatic moment of the museum’s participation with the Great Circus Train, and with the North Western for that matter, and bring the museum and No. 1385 the much desired publicity it lacked the previous two years.
“The Little Engine that Couldn’t BUT DID” is Paul Swanson’s account of the disaster which struck No. 1385 the moment it prepared to pull the 1987 version of the Great Circus Train out of Baraboo, headed for its scheduled overnight stay in Janesville. The article appeared in the September 1987 edition of the Railway Gazette and told how a handful of dedicated museum members, led by Chief Mechanical Officer Rick Peters, repaired a blown superheater unit. Their efforts would keep No. 1385 as the circus train’s appropriate motive power.
Chris Burger arranged for the North Western’s engine crew at nearby Rock Springs to haul No. 1385 back to North Freedom, while the diesel unit that served as the steam locomotive’s backup departed Baraboo with the circus train in tow in an effort to hold to the published schedule as closely as possible. At the museum a marathon repair campaign began around noon in Mid-Continent’s Engine House and ended nearly twelve hours later. Another North Western crew then towed the locomotive to Janesville, Warren Tisler and Stan Nordeng riding in the 1385’s cab during the long overnight trip to see to the locomotive’s lubrication needs and to tend to the fire so that everything would be ready for a hopefully routine departure on the second day’s run into Milwaukee.
The work performed by Mid-Continent members to insure that No. 1385 would retain its proper role on the head end of the circus train received some coverage by Milwaukee television station channel 12, whose crew – making use of a satellite link – had been on hand to record the train’s departure from Baraboo. What they got in the form of bonus coverage was the work that took place in the museum’s dark and gloomy Engine House, giving Mid-Continent the kind of singular exposure it had lacked the prior two years. But the grand rescue mission, which successfully kept No. 1385 in operation that year, was literally the end of the line for the museum’s involvement with the Great Circus Train. The drought conditions, which plagued the entire upper Midwest in 1988, prompted Burger to cancel all steam excursions due to the resulting fire hazard. This decision ultimately brought to a close the locomotive’s six-year run as the Goodwill Ambassador for the North Western.
Mid-Continent would continue to provide passenger excursions over the next few years, but these were limited to community events at places like Brodhead, McFarland and Mazomanie, which were located on the Wisconsin and Calumet Railroad. Still they provided the museum with enough publicity to attract people to North Freedom, where Mid-Continent reached its peak in annual attendance of slightly more than 50,000 passengers in 1992 (nearly double what it was at the start of its collaboration with the North Western), only to see its gradual decline as its excursion program finally came to an end.
There was also one more cooperative effort with the Circus World Museum. It took the form of a joint ticket promoted by the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce in 1988 and marketed under the name Circus, Cranes and Trains. The price of an adult ticket was $12.95 and provided admission to the Circus World Museum, the International Crane Foundation, Mid-Continent, and the Devil’s Lake Tram. But the program was short lived, leaving each entity with only a tenuous connection by way of their Chamber membership.
In the prologue to the Nelson book, Fred Dahlinger, the former Curator at the Circus World Museum, wrote, “While the grand street parades attracted huge crowds, it was the train that expanded the museum’s audience beyond the event itself.” So it is easy to believe that it is no coincidence that Circus World would report an increase in its attendance in 1985 after a twelve year decline, the same twelve years marking a lapse for staging a parade in Milwaukee. This compliments comments made by James A. Zito, the North Western’s Senior Vice President – Operations, when he was the guest speaker at Mid-Continent’s 1985 members’ banquet. About the importance of using No. 1385 on his railroad he said, “In the 41 years I have worked for the North Western, there’s nothing that has helped our image more than the 1385.” He went on to appraise the locomotive’s operation on the North Western saying, “This is one of our better investments, although a small one, in public relations.”
It would seem, therefore, that with the return of a newly restored 1385 in the coming year, it would be a worthwhile opportunity to re-unite the locomotive with the Circus World coaches for another excursion, which would highly benefit both museums. And while insurance costs would likely make it economically infeasible to operate on tracks owned or controlled by another railroad, no such prohibition would exist at North Freedom, where Mid-Continent is the owner-operator. And a collaborative event at the museum would be a huge draw and revive Paul Ingrassia’s original vision of a new era in cooperation between Mid-Continent and the Circus World Museum.
Sources for This Article
America’s Greatest Circus Train, by Bruce C. Nelson, Heimburger House Publishing Company, Forest Hills, Illinois, 2013: for the description of the 1982 meet in the Monona Yard, Burger’s quote about assembling the train in Baraboo, Dahlinger’s quote assessing the importance of the train and all general references to the history of the train.
Circus World Museum, 1980 – 1999, Exec Dir: Great Circus Parade, 1985, 1986 and 1987 files: for all correspondence, artwork, maps, charts and diagrams.
Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, The Railway Gazette: for all references to or quotations from magazine articles and Board of Directors minutes, with officer reports.