October 26, 2009

Sturtevant railroad depot takes its final journey

Sturtevant Depot makes a wide load

It was dark around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night, and the weather forecast's "scattered showers" had turned not into a drizzle, but into rain. Steady rain.

Still, there was an air of anticipation in Sturtevant, at the corner of Hwys 11 and Wisconsin Street as the old railroad depot was about to take its last journey, scheduled to begin at one minute after midnight.

The old wooden station, two waiting rooms, turret and all, had been cut into four ungainly pieces in recent days, and loaded onto flatbed trucks by Heritage Movers. Now all that remained was the go-ahead to start the trip.

A final freight train came through from the north about 11:35, with one more scheduled. Workers in their yellow slickers waited patiently. Then, about 11:50 p.m. came the word from the railroad: there would be no more trains; the move could begin.

Police cars with their flashing red and blue lights blocked off the highway, the trucks were started up and the caravan began... first one flatbed, then another, and another and then the one with the turret, which had been removed this weekend, to lessen the need to move utility wires during the move.

They were led by workers in utility trucks with long vertical measuring sticks mounted on the rear, to check the height of each set of cables over the highway. A Time-Warner bucket truck rose to the occasion as necessary, lifting the wires up above the tallest piece of the depot as it drove under.

The old depot rides past the new one...

The railroad station wasn't expected to reach Caledonia's Linwood Park on 5 Mile Road before about 4 a.m. It took almost an hour to reach Hwy 20. Waiting there under a black umbrella was Chuck Snyder, 80, a member of the Western Union Junction Railroad Club. The club had lacked the funding to preserve the building, but Snyder, a retired railroad man -- he was a freight agent for the Northwestern in Chicago in the '50s -- was documenting the move with his camera, hoping to get a shot of the old depot as it drove by the new Amtrak station, which could be seen through the rain -- barely -- in the background.

The project, according to Michael Michna, president of the Caledonia Historical Society -- who was present overseeing the move Sunday night -- cost $46,000: to take apart the station, move and reassemble it. The new concrete foundation erected in Linwood Park cost another $14,000. It's been estimated that another $50,000 will be needed to restore the station, built at the turn of the century but made redundant when Amtrak's new station in Renaissance Park opened in 2006.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad, which sold the station to the Historical Society for $1, kicked in $18,000, which was half of the estimated moving cost at the time. Canadian Pacific wanted to demolish the station to make room for a dormitory for railroad workers on the site.

The depot has no direct connection to Caledonia, Michna said, but "it relates to the general area. It's the last remaining wooden station with a turret hereabouts." One President came through it, he said, although he was unable to recall which one, "and hundreds of servicemen used it during the war."

The Historical Society has big plans for the park, hoping to eventually create a historical village. The railroad depot joins the 1877 Caledonia Town Hall, moved to the park in 2003.

The Society will hold a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for the depot's restoration: Special guest First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt will highlight a home-cooked meal and 1940s “period” music. After dinner, Mrs. Roosevelt, as portrayed by Racine actress Jessica Michna, will give a first-person presentation.

The dinner will be Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Franksville United Methodist Church, 10402 Northwestern Ave. Advance sale tickets are $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Limited door sales will be available for $18. Anyone joining the Caledonia Historical Society that evening will receive a $5 discount on membership.

Call 262-758-2131 or email Michael Michna for tickets.

The depot last week, before the turret was removed


  1. Nice story! Thanks for burning the midnight oil for us, Pete.

  2. Pete, are you going to attend the fundraiser? I think that would be a nice followup to this historical story. You take such nice photos too.