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Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad

View of inside of Coast Starlight rail car on the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad

Once upon a time, in the deepest, dark-green northern parts of the Northwoods, there lived a “Little Engine That Could”.  It isn’t quite ready yet for its debut run on the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad (a certain virus delayed it…). But there are alternatives.  Read on!

According to Wikipedia, The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad operates a historic railroad line centered in Trego, Wisconsin, on 26 miles of track between Spooner, Wisconsin and Springbrook, Wisconsin. Founded on April 1, 1997, the line runs dinner trains, bed and breakfast trains, wine and cheese trains and scenic sight-seeing tours, just to mention a few.

OK, so it’s not right in Rice Lake… but its only a short distance to the north and right off Route 53.  Takes about 30 minutes to get there.

A Very Special Design

lounge cars on the Wisconsin Great Northern RailroadOne of the premier trains on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad when it was put into service on Oct. 25, 1935, was a shiny stainless-steel design that was proof-positive the shovel-nose locomotive was new and modern – perhaps even a bit ahead of its time. The locomotive and train were named after author Mark Twain, the train ran between Burlington, Wisconsin and St. Louis, through Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s hometown.

As one of the last remaining trains of that ilk (and part of an Amtrak fleet that was too costly to maintain), it was not so long ago (like circa 2019) purchased by the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, to be refurbished and put into their fleet.  Unfortunately – and as with many other delights and some delights yet to be – SARS 2-Covid 19 put the kibosh on things for a while.  WGN is now working feverishly on the restoration project, and the Mark Twain is scheduled to be pressed into service next summer (2023).

Perfect Day For A Train Ride

However,  and as I mentioned earlier, there are several other alternatives available at WGN.  One of those is the Wine & Cheese Train. Currently, that train is scheduled to run weekly, from May 15 through October.  Don’t worry kids… there are also special train rides just for you. These include a Family Pizza Train and a special Santa Train!  And after all, if there is anyone who does not like a train ride, I have no idea where they are hiding!  WGN has rides available for a wide-ranging group of people.

mead samples

In any case, back to the Wine & Cheese Train.  We were fortunate enough to obtain tickets on this season’s maiden voyage of this particular adventure.  It was a glorious morning in Northern Wisconsin – Rice Lake, to be specific.  And especially true after what seemed like a never-ending winter this year.  But the crisp and cool 48-degree air promised to give way to a high temperature in the low-70’s – a perfect day for a train ride.

After the easy drive north, we were invited to have a seat in a smallish movie theater, located beneath the domed portion of the “Sky Parlor” train car that was built circa 1956.  By coincidence, that was also just about the time I received my very first Lionel train set.  I have been in love with trains and train rides ever since.  But that is a story for another day…

Relaxing, Slow & Easy, Scenic

Before the ride began, we watched a nine-minute video.  We heard the story of how this particular car came to the Trego/Spooner, WI area, as well as some of its amazing history prior to 2019.  I suggest you take the ride and hear that story for yourselves. Part of that amazing tale is told by Robert Tabern, the WGN’s Director of Passenger Development. I wouldn’t want to spoil it by telling you now.  I will share this: Robert’s father once rode in this very car on the Starlight Coast train that for many years ran a route along the west coast of California.looking out the window of the train

Perhaps you are seeking a 60-mph ride through the woods of northern Wisconsin. If so, this is definitely not the train ride you are looking for.  Maybe you’d instead prefer a slow and easy, relaxing trip along 13 miles  of scenic track through the Northwoods. A trip on which you enjoy one of several samples of wine and some tasty bites of Wisconsin cheese? Then this is a ride you should not miss!  On this morning’s ride, we were imbibing some excellent mead provided by the White Winter Winery in Iron River, WI.

And maybe your eyes are directed to a crossing of Potato Creek or the Namekagon River below. It might be an amazing auto salvage yard hidden in the pines. Perhaps its an occasional glimpse of Wisconsin wildlife that distracts you. In any case, I highly recommend a ride on the historic train car that is now the Wine & Cheese Train.  It is a great way to relax with a glass of wine and some delicious Wisconsin cheese!

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Visit Rice Lake Design Team

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We became full-time residents of the City of Rice Lake in 2021. It has been our goal and desire to contribute and give back to the City in a manner that will be as helpful as possible. It is also our goal to dedicate our efforts – and a steadily progressing and growing website – to the people and businesses of Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

Yvonne & Richard