From gandy dancer to passenger, iron and ballast to the lap of luxury, railroad fans can experience it all at "Depot Days of Green County" April 23-25.
The celebration in eight Green County communities on Friday night through Sunday, recalls the days when railroads were the only way to move people and cargo.
Events include train rides and rides on the small rail vehicles called "speeder cars," depot tours, stories, music, displays and much more. Five of the eight communities still have vintage train depots.
This is the third celebration of Depot Days, which started with a conversation on a miserable bus ride to Boscobel between Kim Tschudy of New Glarus and Sue Diesch of Monroe.
"By the time we got back we had it all laid out in a notebook," Tschudy said. "It's grown to being the only railroading event of its kind in the country."
Each year, he said, it has grown and evolved. A committee of rail fans, community promoters, local historians and others put together the celebration, which drew thousands last year.
"We can take people through the heart of the railroad from the ground up," Tschudy said. "From the lowest railroad worker to the richest passenger."
Visitors can find events in Albany, Belleville, Brodhead, Brooklyn, Browntown, Monroe, Monticello and New Glarus.
Low-riding speeder cars can take passengers through the quarter-mile Stewart Tunnel near Belleville. Wisconsin and Southern Railroad will take passengers aboard its 1950s-vintage excursion train on a 7-mile ride starting from and returning to Brodhead's restored railroad depot.
In the depots at New Glarus and Monticello, visitors can send telegraph messages back and forth with the help of some of the last of the railroad telegraphers.
"That's a lost art," Tschudy said. "Most of the telegraphers are in their 70's or 80's."
Quintessential railroad hobo Larry Penn will also be at the restored Monticello depot to show youths how to make train whistles.
Tschudy, 52, who grew up in New Glarus, inherited the railroad bug from his grandfather, who never owned a car because the train was always there to take him where he wanted to go.
Tschudy is also involved in documenting railroad depots and has photographed more than 600, mostly in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. He is updating information about Wisconsin's depots. He is also involved in the project that will restore the New Glarus depot to the way it appeared before 1900.
Green County's rails have been the center of a debate over the future of trains. Rails of the old Illinois Central line from Freeport, Ill., to Madison are being removed to make way for a bicycle path. Without the rails, Tschudy said, the event may be finished.
"We know if we lost those rails, it could spell the end to Depot Days," he said. "If we don't have rails, we've lost the biggest single draw we've got."
Hours at all "Depot Days" sites are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 24-25, with night train rides offered April 23.
Admissions buttons can be purchased at all venues for $3 and will get bearers into all events on both days, except train and speeder car rides, a bluegrass concert and New Glarus Historical Village, which require separate admission.
Ticket prices for 90-minute train rides from Brodhead to Monroe are $25 and will be offered Friday and Saturday nights.
Attractions in each town are as follows:
Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group.