MENDOTA - There is big news happening in the world of railroading, as one of the most historic trains in the Midwest is currently in the process of being transported more than 600 miles by semi-truck to a new home where it will be restored to welcome passengers aboard for the first time since the late 1950s.
The Mark Twain Zephyr was one of nine stainless steel passenger trains built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in the 1930s. For most of its two decades in regular passenger service (1935-1958), it traveled between Burlington, Iowa and Saint Louis, Mo. generally following the scenic course of the Mississippi River.
Since 1959, it has been owned by a number of private individuals who have attempted to re-build the train’s exterior and interior, but for one reason or another were never able to complete their dream of getting it to be fully operational.
The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, located in Trego, Wis., completed its purchase of the Mark Twain Zephyr on June 29. Greg and Mardell Vreeland, owners of the WGNRR, plans to restore the engine and four passenger cars over the next year using their team of full-time experienced electricians, carpenters, and mechanical engineers. The Vreelands say their goal is to have the Mark Twain Zephyr up and running by late 2021, providing passengers scenic rides on the Wisconsin Great Northern’s main line in Washburn County, Wis.
On July 31 and Aug. 1, the engine called “Injun Joe” was transported from a railroad yard in St. Louis to the Wisconsin Great Northern in Trego, Wis. via Interstates 55, 39, 94 and U.S. 53.
Later this month, the four other passenger cars, “Becky Thatcher,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Effie Dean” will follow. While the exact timing and route of the upcoming moves are currently unknown, those interested in catching a glimpse of railroad history in motion should follow Facebook and Twitter (@MarkTwainZephyr). More information about the history of the train and restoration plans are now available at www.MarkTwainZephyr.com. There is even a section where people who remember riding the Zephyr back in the day can post their memories.
Besides giving passengers the chance to experience a ride on the Mark Twain Zephyr, there are also plans to turn the train’s former baggage car into a museum featuring various displays about the Burlington Zephyrs. Once complete, visitors to the railroad will be able to walk through and enjoy various displays, maps, timetables, photographs, blue prints, and much more. The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad is proud to partner with the Midwest Rail Rangers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, who will be designing some of the museum displays and working to raise and oversee donations for the museum car.
Research teams at the railroad have also been busy since the start of this year putting together a 400-page book that tracks the history of the Mark Twain Zephyr from the first blue print to now. Once published in early September, the book will be available at www.MarkTwainZephyr.com with purchases benefitting the museum car displays.
Next year will mark the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad’s 25th season of providing unique experiences for passengers through the Northwoods. The WGNRR is currently home to America’s only moving Bed & Breakfast Train. Travelers also enjoy the Elegant Dinner Train, Sightseeing Excursions, Santa Trains, wine and cheese aboard the bi-level Sky Parlour Car, and much more.