East Troy Electric
"Railfan Day," June 25

Photos by Dave Ingles

The East Troy Electric Railroad, an operating museum on the outer 7 miles of the former TMER&L (The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co., aka “Milwaukee Electric”) interurban line between Mukwonago (Muck-WAHN-ago) and East Troy, heralded the completion and opening of a brand-new shop and storage building toward the Mukwonago end of the line on Saturday, June 25th. The line was completed to East Troy in December 1907. In 1939 the line east from Mukwonago to Hales Corners, Wis., was abandoned, but the Mukwonago–East Troy segment was kept in service because East Troy had no other freight railroad, then a key to the community’s economy. The electric line interchanged with the Soo Line at Mukwonago. The Village of East Troy wound up buying the line from TMER for $10,000. “TM” crews continued to operate the orphaned line, which hauled up to 1,000 freight cars a week, until 1950, when TM wanted out, so the village took it over as the Municipality of East Troy Wisconsin Railroad (METW). A museum entered the picture in 1985, built a carbarn in East Troy, and agreed to a 25-year operating lease. Today the East Troy Railroad Museum, a 501(c)(3) edutational corporation, continues to maintain and operate the property, owning it since 1995. Volunteers do all the work. For a detailed history, go to www.easttroyrr.org.

June 25, 2016, was also ETER’s annual “Railfan Day,” when many cars not normally used on the summer schedule were outside and operating. With steam trips on BNSF with NKP 2-8-4 765 from Chicago to Galesburg for this weekend having been canceled a week prior, for lack of sales (i.e., not enough lead time for the sponsors to properly promote), we were home and so decided to go see what ETER was operating. This piece of interurban trackage is unique in the U.S. for still being operated in basically as-was (but refurbished) condition. ETER could haul freight if a shipper located on-line, but gradually those have folded up or ceased rail use, leaving the line as passenger-only. The new shop is at Hwy. J, off Hwy. ES (the old state highway 15, parallel to I-43) at the Elegant Farmer store just west of Mukwonago. Carol and I arrived there about 11:45 and found the two Chicago CTA “L” cars, which we’d shot on the way home from the NKP 2-8-4 765 chase to Janesville on June 12 (see separate file), parked at the Elegant Farmer station ready to load and go to East Troy. The festivities at the shop, set for 10:30, had concluded; two pieces of equipment were outside of the previous, adjacent storage building, a small “C/M” 4-wheel (maybe gas?) locomotive and former TMER&L utility crane car L6, a 1911 St. Louis Car Co. product. The locomotive seems to be ETER’s “hostling goat,” since it doesn’t require overhead wires; the only roster on ETER’s website is for cars, and lists no locomotives. The two “L” cars, 4420 and 4453, built by Cincinnati Car Co., date from 1924.

We drove to East Troy on Hwy. ES along the track, went by the substation (depot and gift shop) north of the town square, and saw car 30 obviously loading to leave as the noon departure north. We set up at the Byrnes St. crossing, the last one in town east of the substation before the 4-lane Hwy. 20 crossing, and 30 came by at 12:06. Without lettering but still in South Shore Line colors, car 30 dates from 1929. (Obviously trolley poles for the East Troy interurban line replaced pantographs atop South Shore Line cars.) Five minutes later we caught him passing the old Sawyers market; you can see that except for near road crossings, weeds were already a nemesis.

Car 30 met the CTA pair at ETER’s usual meet spot, Army Lake Siding, which although right along Hwy. ES, is half hidden behind weeds by this point in summer. There is another siding to the north, in a cut that goes under a side-road bridge, but I suspect it is rarely used for meets anymore. The Army Lake siding appears to have spring switches, as I detected no one disembarking to realign a switch. All photos were made, about 12:13 p.m., from the county road shoulder.

We followed car 30 north, and I tried this telephoto view from Army Lake Road grade crossing in an attempt to evoke what the scene might have looked like three-quarters of a century ago, though probably without the power line along what then was likely an unpaved road, and perhaps with the track less ballasted. That shot was followed by a reality close-up as the car tooted across the side road.

We then returned to the first crossing east of the carbarn in East Troy, to find a “yard full” of cars. From left are Twin Cities Rapid Transit car 1583 (which I’m not sure I’d seen in service before, maybe once) a homebuilt car from 1913; South Shore Line car 9, a 1926 Pullman; and perhaps the gem of the collection, Sheboygan (Wis.) Light Power & Rwy. car 26, a 1908 Cincinnati Car Co. interurban. We had a nice chase of this car last year (see “Summer 2015 Local Highlights” file).

As we drove around the block, to the east crossing right by the substation/gift shop/ticket office, and across the track, an ice-cream parlor, open car 21, built by ETER itself in 1975, according to its website’s roster, moved forward about 12:27 p.m. to load passengers. I was also able to get a nice long-distance shot of Sheboygan 26.

With midday sunlight upon us, it was time to begin Phase 2 of our day, getting Carol to her favorite grocery, in Pewaukee. First we went back up ES, and at the old ETER/Soo (now CN) interchange by Indianhead Park in Mukwonago, there was car 30. ETER has only recently began running regularly up into Mukwonago again, where there is parking for a small nearby beach and a runaround track, if needed, and I hadn’t shot a trolley there in years. So we waited until, with the trolley poles reversed in position, 30 headed out at 12:45, then so did we, northbound, taking back roads via the west end of Waukesha up to Pewaukee.

While Carol was shopping, I went trackside as usual but saw no CP trains go by; when she finished, we drove home to refrigerate what was needed, chilled out ourselves for 20 minutes or so, and then, since the sun had swung over to the west side of the electric line, headed back down there to see if we could see any “new” cars for the day. We followed the line into East Troy, seeing nothing along the way, but I wanted to shoot the two TMER&L items “on display” across from the substation, which I did, in one frame, at 3:41, three hours after we'd left Mukwonago for the shopping interlude. The TMER&L items are 50-ton steeple-cab freight motor L8, homebuilt in 1935, and line car D-23, built in 1909 and rebuilt in 1929. (All such data is from ETER's website; take any errors up with them.

Having come trackside off I-43 without checking the northern terminus at Indianhead Park, we drove directly up there since we expected the last run of the day to depart at 4 p.m. And voila! We found a subject I think new to me, in the digital age anyway, Twin Cities Rapid Transit car 1583, homebuilt in 1923. Destination signs were displayed for “Fairgrounds” and “Kenwood.” Beginning with his 4:02 departure, we chased him south and got him 4 more times: Bayview Road at 4:04; Elegant Farmer, where he arrived at 4:07 and left at 4:10; across the field south of Army Lake Road crossing (all shots with the trucks obscured by weeds, alas); and at Sawyer’s Market, at 4:22. At East Troy, nothing else had been left outside, so from Sawyer’s, we turned back to head home, concluding a day full of nice shots of this unique electric line.


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