Riding the rails of history

Eland Day celebration on Saturday
Miriam Nelson | New Media
President of Eland Historical Society Mike Ekern stands next to the drying rack used by the brick making company in Ringle. Clay was molded, put on the racks, the racks pushed into the kilns, the kilns were lit and the clay became bricks.
Miriam Nelson
Wittenberg-Birnamwood News Editor

ELAND — Summer time celebrations define life in Wisconsin and Eland celebrates a nod to the past on Saturday.

The festivities, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., for family friendly Eland Day include food and retail vendors and access to all things railroad. Sponsored by the village of Eland and the Eland Historical Society this offers a chance to reconnect with the past.

Evidence of this life from the 1880s and beyond can be found in the Eland Depot at N7718 Wheeler Ave., which now serves as the museum for the Eland Historical Society. Thanks to the generous donations from descendants of those who lived in the area and were employed by the railroads, there are railroad tools and railroad artifacts, and historic photos of the Eland railroad, businesses and homes.

In the days of steam locomotives, Eland was a major junction for the train lines. The Wiowash Trail from Oshkosh to Ashland intersected with the Mountain Bay Trail from Ft. Howard to Wausau to Marshfield. Eland was the only place where the trails intersected.

Freight would come up from Milwaukee or over from Green Bay and the Eland yard had 13 different tracks where they could switch out engines and cars for a variety of destinations.

According to society president Mike Ekern, around 80-90 trains a day passed through Eland during the steam engine days. The town thrived on the train business. There were two hotels, three churches, and a school.

Local historian Rod Best acknowledged the village started to decline when the line from Green Bay was abandoned in April 1993. There’s a picture in the museum taken on Jan. 30, 1994, of the last train rolling out of Eland with engineer J.J. Zabransky and James Buss, conductor.

Preserving the history is a passion for some. Ekern said that Dave and Kay Norrbom and Gus and Ann Weller have made and sought donations and continue to generate interest for the society.

“We’ve been fortunate to have generous donors over the years,” Ekern said. “What we need now is some fresh blood to take over and carry on the history.”

Ekern and other members of the historical society hope that Eland Day will bring out people interested in getting involved in preserving the history of the area.

On Saturday there will be free access to the museum as well as family-friendly train rides. Rail equipment on display includes a Plymouth locomotive, two speedsters, an 1880s handcar and an rail express wagon.

Food for sale will be provided by Hula Hut, Pack 447 Cub Scouts and Carol’s Kettle Corn. Vendors will have tents set up to sell handcrafted and retail items.