Although CERA was not able to squeeze a trip to the East Troy Electric Railroad into our busy schedule of 75th Anniversary events, we naturally support their efforts in keeping this very historic line running. The six miles of electric track between East Troy and Mukwonago is the last remaining vestige of an extensive interurban system in the southeast part of Wisconsin.
What is an “interurban?” We will write more about that in future posts, but at its heart, it means a railway, generally electric, running between cities in the early part of the 20th century, before autos and highways predominated. The interurban era in Wisconsin came to a close in 1963, when the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee ceased operating. But the trackage between East Troy and Mukwonago has been in more or less continuous use from 1907 to today- a remarkable history, but one not without a few bumps in the road, both literal and figurative.
When passenger service to Milwaukee ended in 1939, the city of East Troy bought the six miles of line to Mukwonago, in order to keep trolley freight operations going serving local industry. In 1970, the Wisconsin Electric Railway Historical Society, Inc. (TWERHS) moved its operations to East Troy with the intention of running a railway museum there. The East Troy Trolley Museum operated from 1972 to 1984, when East Troy cancelled their contract. The group had experienced some infighting, and East Troy questioned their ability in continuing to operate the museum, which was then still sharing the tracks with freight operations.
Over time, the TWERHS historical collection was removed from East Troy, and much of it eventually sold to the Illinois Railway Museum and the Fox River Trolley Museum. However, TWERHS still exists and continues with other activities.
A new group, the East Troy Electric Railroad, was formed, in part with some members from the old group, and has continued trolley museum operations since 1985. You can read the entire history of the line here. Over time, East Troy sold the railroad to the museum. Freight operations were dieselized in 1970 and ended some years ago.
The museum’s collection includes a number of different passenger and work cars. Two former Chicago “L” 4000-series “L” cars provide much of the service, along with some Chicago, South Shore and South Bend interurbans of similar 1920s vintage. A Sheboygan interurban car from 1908, which had served as a family summer cottage for 50 years, was finally restored to former glory in 2005 and is a particular standout of the collection.
You can also read more about the history of the East Troy collection here, although this page on Don’s Rail Photos is still under construction.
Double-ended cars work best on the line, which does not have turning loops at the ends. Two single-ended PCC cars that had been acquired by the East Troy group were sold to Kenosha in 2011, where we are likely to ride at least one of them on our September CERA fantrip there.
Unlike many museum operations whose tracks end in the middle of nowhere, the trolley takes you to the Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago, where you can buy pies, cheese, deli meats, sandwiches, or drink a cup of coffee while waiting for the return trip to East Troy. The railroad also operates a schedule of dinner trains during the summer.
Having lasted more than a century, we hope the line between East Troy and Mukwonago will continue into the next one. If it is to do so, however, it will need both your help and continued support. Several pieces of equipment, including CNS&M car 761, are currently inoperable and in need of extensive restoration. And there are, as I mentioned, a lot of bumps in the roadbed, which could probably use rebuilding. I understand the overhead wire is original to the line and that too could use some replacement.
The railroad has a wonderful depot and gift shop in the original substation, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. I hope you will agree with me that a trip to East Troy is always a good thing. The museum has some enthusiastic young volunteers who seem ready to carry the torch and ensure that the East Troy Electric Railroad has a bright future.
Categories: Chicago Area