Faron Wahl, Manager
There’s nothing quite like a steam whistle echoing across the prairie to make your day.
Such has been the experience of many of us over the past two weeks at the Village. Our locomotive number 29 scored a healthy report card from the state boiler inspector a few weeks back, thanks to much work over the winter by a Fargo boilermaker who made several trips to our roundhouse.
Having not seen much light of day for nearly a year due to some structural issues, 29 emerged from her stall a couple of weeks back, was nursed to steam, and that day passed her first round of operations tests with flying colors. A bit of brake work and a week later she made several trips around the property, much to the heartwarming delight of many July 4th weekend campers and a manager who couldn’t resist her every pass.
And then we arrived at our 50th anniversary weekend / Railroad Days. The goodwill and excitement generated by the whistle and chuff of 29 amidst the Saturday crowds was pulsatile. Stares of wonderment prevailed among families and railroad aficionados alike. Cinder dust filled the breeze and peppered the eyes of many, but no one seemed to mind.
The glory of seeing our 0-6-0 locomotive pacing the property, much less doing so in excellent health, is a fitting tribute to the very phenomenon that created virtually every little town that popped up on the prairie, just as we emulate at the Village. It is one thing to offer our circa 1900 lineup of historical buildings and artifacts in a format so affordable and accessible for families and school kids. It’s quite another to do so with the experience of live steam integrated into the exhibition of the very type of settlement it founded.
Consider then that our #11 Alco tank engine, having spent the winter in Cheyenne under rebuild, may be back with us and running as she did originally yet this summer, and you’ve got a truly incredible setup about to unfold. Few places anywhere can offer the prairie town / railroad package that will soon be offered at Prairie Village.
Most of our staff had never had the opportunity to ride our rail equipment or see it up close first hand. One can’t explain to a visitor what a doodlebug is if you haven’t ridden one yourself. To that end, I arranged a staff-only train retreat a few weeks back after closing time, thanks to a couple of our railroad volunteers who helped make it happen. We had pizza together while riding the train, a motorcar, and a doodlebug, and we spent time taking in the function and form of the roundhouse and turntable. We had a great time together, and our staff are now doubly excited about our railroad offerings at the Village.
Next time you see that billowing column of black smoke advancing steadily just west of Madison, stop to ponder how fortunate we are to provide this level of uncommon historic experience right here in Lake County.