The Midwest Central Railroad or MCRR, located in Mount Pleasant, Iowa is often forgotten due to its small size and isolated location. However, the railroad might be small but it packs quite an assortment of steam locomotives including an operating geared Shay, a 0-4-0T Henschel, and two 2-6-0 Baldwins (along with a few diesel switchers). The little railroad has also been around for over 40 years now and although it does not operate on much track plays host to thousands of riders annually. With a group of volunteers that has today reached several hundred folks and their own maintenance shop located right on the groups the railroad has the ability to keep their fleet of steam locomotives well maintained. Perhaps the only disappointing aspect about this operation is that they do not have more miles of track on which to run their steam locomotives!
The Midwest Central Railroad dates back to 1959 when a group of railfans known as the Midwest Old Threshers wanted to start a tourist railroad operated with steam locomotives. Not particularly wanting the railroad to be part of the Midwest Old Threshers group they started a new organization called the Midwest Central Railroad to operate their new collection of historic steamers. The original locomotive in the fleet that got it all started was a Erzbergbau Salzgitter 0-4-0 #2056 purchased for $400. The little engine had sat dormant, on display for years in the town of Hillsboro, Iowa. Today, the locomotive is no longer owned by the railroad.
Over the years the railroad continued to add steam locomotives to their roster. Amazingly, for such a small operation, they currently have a fleet that rivals any other tourist railroad in the country and includes four locomotives either in operation or under restoration. Below is a current roster of steam locomotives the MCRR operates:
· Shay #9 - A former West Side Lumber Company is a three-truck Shay built by Lima Locomotive Works in 1923. It remained in operation until the early 1960s with the Midwest Central purchasing the locomotive in 1966. It is currently fully operational.
· Baldwin #6 - A former Surry Sussex & Southampton Railway 2-6-0 Mogul built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1891. It was purchased in 1960 and received complete rebuild and conversion to oil in the late 1980s. Today, it is fully operational.
· Baldwin #2 - A former New Berlin & Winfield Railroad 2-6-0 Mogul built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1906. It was purchased by the Midwest Central in 1960 and operated until 1987 when it went in for a complete rebuild as well. The locomotive is currently still under restoration.
· Henschel #16 - This foreign locomotive, an 0-4-0 type, was built by Henschel & Sons of Kassel, West Germany in 1951. It made it to the States in 1963 and was meant to be used as a tourist attraction around Detroit that never materialized. It was purchased and restored by the group in 1982 and has been fully operational ever since.
Along with these operating steam locomotives the Midwest Central Railroad also runs two former industrial switchers, a 1923 Ford Model T, and 1930 Ford Model A that can operate on rails. All four have been restored and currently operate alongside the steam locomotives. While the Midwest Central Railroad only operates over one mile of home-built track around McMillan Park in Mount Pleasant the short jaunt does not seem to matter to visitors who return annually (between 35,000 to 40,000, a remarkable number for such a small operation) to see the steam locomotives in action and ride behind them. Aside from riding the train this small group of railfans can always use help so if you are interested a donation of money or your time volunteering (they are currently working to restore a number of different projects) is very much welcomed. In any event, if you are ever in southeastern Iowa consider stopping by to see this very unique tourist railroad; I know they’ll appreciate the visit!
For more information about the Midwest Central Railroad and planning a visit please click here to visit their website. There you can find out their seasonal operating schedule and special events they planned. Additionally, the group's site gives a very good history of not only how they got started but also background information on the steam locomotive fleet they maintain. Finally, if you have the time and are located near Mount Pleasant they are always looking for volunteers and would certainly appreciate the help. For more information about excursion trains like the Midwest Central Railroad you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine.