Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lumberjack Special, Laona, Wisconsin

I've been seeing advertising brochures for the Camp Five Logging Museum and Lumberjack Special train in Laona, Wisconsin, for years. Every summer for, I swear, the last 15 years we've talked about taking the grandson(s) there. This year we finally did it.

Camp Five is a logging museum operated by the The Camp Five Museum Foundation, Inc., and is located on the site of a Connor Lumber Company camp and farm. The only way to get to the museum is on the train, which runs from a site right next to U.S.8 on the outskirts of Laona to the camp. It doesn't take long -- the track is probably not much more than a mile in length, if that -- but there are a few curves, and the train moves slow enough that I imagine it does feel longer than it is to little kids. The coolest part, of course, is that it's powered by a steam locomotive (Vulcan Ironworks, 1916)(there was a time when I was enough of a foamer that I'd be able to rattle off the Whyte notation [2-6-2], too, without having to resort to looking at the photo. Not anymore.) so there's the classic "choo choo" noises -- and the occasional humongous plume of black coal smoke. When it's parked at the depot next to the highway the engineer encourages small fry to come pull the cord for the whistle.
Options for passengers include this open air rehabilitated Soo Line boxcar. The outside-braced box car was built in 1920 by Haskell-Barker (Michigan City, Indiana), sold to the Laona & Northern RR in 1955, and rehabilitated into an open car in 2007.

We opted for the padded seats in a regular passenger car. (I shouldn't say this, but as the S.O. ages he's looking more and more like an oversized garden gnome. It must be that Finnish nose.)

Once the train arrives at the "camp," there are a number of interesting exhibits. A diesel locomotive named after a former Conner Lumber Company employee:

A Holt logging tractor with a full sledge of logs.

A big wheel. (The grandson and the S.O. rode in the caboose back to the depot. The grandson said the view from the cupola was a good one. I'm old. I stuck with the padded seats in the passenger car.)

(Small digression: Big wheels suddenly appeared on the logging scene in the late 1860s, early 1870s. Never really thought about the timing, and then when we toured Fort Pulaski earlier this year and I saw the gun carriages. . . bingo. Civil War veterans taking an application they'd seen used to move artillery pieces and transferring the technology to the lumbering industry.)

So what was the grandson most interested in? The petting zoo.

Camp Five is one of those attractions that's perfect for a day trip with kids. Very low-key, the type of place where the adults can sit back and be amused by watching kids attempt to feed sheep who obviously have absolutely no interest in letting anything human near them. The goats, of course, were shameless beggars, total gluttons. Camp Five is still a working farm -- back when Connor Lumber had to worry about feeding hundreds of lumberjacks, Camp Five is where they raised the beef -- and they were making hay the day we were there. There was something incredibly soothing about watching the tractor circle the field, first to rake the windrows of hay and then to bale it.

I had a good time admiring the logging artifacts, the S.O. waxed nostalgic over the display of 1940s and 1950s man-killer chain saws (it's amazing enough sawyers survived using the early models to make it worth manufacturing more) -- apparently the first chain saw he remembers was some gigantic Lombard that to me looked like it could be used to fell redwoods (it had an engine that looked big enough to power a car and one of the longest bars I've ever seen), but he claims his father and brothers used one like it for making firewood. And Logan had fun with a few of the interactive displays, like one that demonstrates how a pulley allows a person to lift a heavy weight without much effort. He thought the blacksmith shop was neat, too. At 8 years old, he wasn't going to be critical about how crude the "horseshoes" were that the smith was creating; he was just fascinated by the process. (Available for sale for a mere $2 each; I asked if he wanted one, he said no.) Signage overall was good -- enough information to explain what you were looking at, but not such much it's overkill.

We also did the "Green Treasure Forest Tour," a leisurely drive through the woods. The forest around Camp Five has been intensively managed for over 100 years and selectively harvested at least 9 times but doesn't look it (at least not to the uninitiated eye, based on comments I heard from fellow tourists. Personally, I'd have taken the number of stumps visible as fairly strong evidence this woodlot was not a pristine wilderness tract). It was pretty with lots of big trees despite being second (third? fourth? fifth? sixth?) growth. The nice young man leading the tour kept throwing out factoids about how much timber the average American uses each year in the form of lumber, toilet paper, plastics, and various food products and reminding us it's got to come from somewhere. They also do a boat tour, a cruise along the river on a pontoon boat, but we decided not to do it. We'd spent enough time sitting already, and knew we'd be sitting again for several hours when we got back to the car. Next time we will.


  1. Not far from where I write this is a narrow guage railroad that supported the coal industry.

    If you want it, $8,000,000 and it's yours! Just think of the hit you'd be with the grandkids!

    Shall I tell them you'll call?

  2. That 2-6-2 was built in the town in which I live -- Wilkes-Barre, PA. Matter of fact, the Wilkes-Barre area school district headquarters is the old Vulcan office building. Some of the old iron works buildings still stand being used as a scrap company.

    Vulcan specialized in making industrial and logging locomotives. They had lost out to the big three (Baldwin, Alco and Lima) by the 1920s. Some of their last engines were meter gauge (?) engines for Turkey. Big 4-8-4s (well, relatively big) which were still in use until the mid- to late-80s.

    Nice looking engine. 2-6-2s were popular with logging companies, but the Prairie-type didn't do to well on main line railroads. They tended to start rocking fore and aft at certain speeds and, once they got rocking, were hard on the track.

  3. The locomotive is supposedly the only Prairie-type surviving in Wisconsin.

    One of these days I'll have to do a post on the railroad logging operations in the Apostle Islands. Either that, or twist Ranger Bob's arm until he agrees to do a guest post -- which would be the better deal anyway because he has access to photos I don't.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.