About the Whiskey River Railway
The Whiskey River Railway is a Grand Scale railroad operation located in Marshall, Wisconsin. It’s part of the Little Amerricka amusement park, and train rides begin under a large covered train shed in the heart of the park rides.
After departing the station, trains quickly leave the sound of the amusement park behind as they travel over two miles on 16” track. Rounding a curve, trains approach what appears to be a row of storefronts, which is actually a false facade covering the car storage building. At the end of this row of faux buildings the track enters a long tunnel.
Emerging from the tunnel portal, train riders will discover they are in a totally different world – a green rural scene filled with domestic farm animals, along with some zebras and other exotic creatures in a 400 acre setting of agriculture, ponds, and wooded countryside. The tracks pass barns, a windmill, and other typical country structures, as well as railroad structures including a four stall roundhouse.
The amusement park and railroad were founded in 1991 by the late Lee W. Merrick. Mr. Merrick had a decades long hobby with Grand Scale railways before establishing Whiskey River.
Also on site is the Merrick Light Railway Equipment Works, a company specializing in building and restoring light railway locomotives and rolling stock. Number 1919, a 4-6-2 Pacific and the largest steam locomotive on the Whiskey River, was built here. Merrick’s chief engineer is Darrell Klompmaker, who we interviewed in our Wisconsin Steam Stories DVD chapter about Grand Scale Railroads. Other notable steam locomotives built by Merrick include #801 at the Arborway TT & Northwestern (ATT & NW) in Missouri and #5 at Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad in California. Several diesels have also been constructed here.
Three older steam locomotives which operate at Whiskey River came from other builders and were restored by the Merrick Equipment Works.
It’s always a good day to ride a train at Whiskey River, but there’s one very special day in July called Whiskey River Railway Day. On that day, all four Whiskey River steam locomotives are operated. We were invited to visit and to record footage to make our program on Whiskey River Railroad Day.
Whiskey River Railroad is operated with minimum park staff during normal times, but for special events like this, volunteers converge from all over the country.
Our visit on Whiskey River Railway Day
This was my third visit to Whiskey River, and I arrived very early in the morning to watch as the four locomotives were steamed up, and later brought outside the roundhouse for some last minute service and polishing.
The first locomotive to come out onto the turntable was #1956 Melody Ranch Special. This 4-6-2 in SP Daylight colors is certainly an eye-catcher. It was built by George Reddington in 1956 for singing cowboy and movie star Gene Autry. Melody Ranch was the name of a movie starring Gene Autry, Jimmy Durante, “Gabby” Hayes, and Ann Miller. It was also the name of his farm and motion picture studio in Newhall, CA, where he constructed his miniature railroad. The locomotive is oil-fired and weighs about 8,000 pounds.
Since it was ready first, Melody Ranch was put right to work pulling a maintenance of way car out on the line along with two volunteers to do some track work.
Next out was Lee W. Merrick #1919, the largest locomotive onsite at about 16,000 pounds. This is a coal-fired 4-6-2 Pacific class locomotive completed in 1996 by Darrell Klompmaker. It’s a beauty and several volunteers were kept busy polishing its shiny surface.
Next came Rio Grande #12, also called the Gracy after its builder Norman F. Gracy. Completed in 1969, the coal-fired 4-4-2 Atlantic class locomotive tips the scales at about 6,000 pounds.
Finally making an appearance on the turntable was Whiskey River #12, also known as The Acorn. This 4-6-2 Pacific was also built George Reddington. It’s oil fired and completed in 1950.
Soon all four locomotives were at sufficient steam pressure and they began traveling to the car barn. Number 1919 pulled a matched consist of coaches throughout the day, while the other three engines provided a much greater variety of trains. First they pulled a triple-header for a number of trips with a very long string of cars. For the rest of the day there were double headers with different locomotive pairings, and each locomotive pulled trains by themselves. Cars were added or removed to create many different consists as the motive power changed. This provided us with a lot of variety for our documentary.
It was my pleasure to meet Ed Taylor who is one of the Whiskey River volunteers as well as an accomplished videographer. Ed showed me his GoPro camera, which he mounted on several of the locomotives throughout the day. This camera produces amazing quality and Ed kindly allowed us the use of his footage in our production. Spectacular stuff!
With full access to all areas of the property, most of which is always off limits to the public, we were able to shoot extensive footage of the entire railroad with a pair of tripod-mounted hi-definition cameras. The farm is a beautiful setting for the Whiskey River Railroad and even a non-railfan will enjoy viewing trains traversing the territory.
See the Whiskey River Railway
Of course you should visit the Whiskey River Railway in person to really see this magical place. Visit the Little Amerricka website for hours and directions.
Our Whiskey River Railroad documentary is available on the Grand Scale Steam: Three Miniature Railways DVD from Yard Goat Images. The DVD also has two other chapters featuring beautiful scenes from the Redwood Valley Railway in California and a day at the Milwaukee Zoo with 4-6-2 #1924 and diesel #1958. See the Preview here.
Thanks, Steve Mitchell – www.yardgoatimages.com