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Interest grows to save Milwaukee Road Train Depot

The Charles City Milwaukee Road Rail Depot sits abandoned. The future of the depot remains unclear. Press file photo by Kelly Terpstra
The Charles City Milwaukee Road Rail depot sits abandoned. The future of the depot remains unclear. Press file photo by Kelly Terpstra
By Kelly Terpstra,

There is still some light at the end of the train tunnel for the Milwaukee Road depot.

The newly formed American Passenger Train History Museum group will hold an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Zastrow Room at the Charles City Public Library to discuss the historic 1912 structure.

The discussion will be about the fate of the depot and whether or not the now dormant building can be saved in an effort to transform it into a museum.

“We’re going to let people know what it’s going to take to save the depot and a ballpark idea of what it’s going to cost and what the effort is going to be,” said Robert Moen, president of the American Passenger Train History Museum, a non–profit organization.

Moen is part of the newly formed museum group that owns the passenger train cars in Charles City. He is working on a effort to create a museum that would feature the Milwaukee Road depot. The plan is for the depot to be moved a couple of blocks south to sit alongside the Charley Western Train Depot at 1006 N. Grand. The Charley Western Depot currently houses Ackerson Insurance on the main floor and furnished short-term rental apartments on the second floor.

“There are railroad museums around the United States. There are no railroad museums around the United States that have complete passenger trains,” said Moen.

The Milwaukee Road Depot was scheduled to be demolished this month, according to Moen. The depot, owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, disconnected its water and sewer lines in May.

“They’ll give us time if we get moving. They’re not going to tear it down immediately. But they are going to tear it down if we don’t make something happen,” said Moen. “We have to show them progress.”

Moen said visitors to the historic site could walk through the train and soak in all the history that comes with the two depots once construction on the proposed museum is finished.

“It would be a great draw for Charles City,” he said.

Moen said the initial plan was just for the construction of a museum. Then the group had a change of heart after much deliberation and decided they’d move forward with an effort to raise funds to save the building and try to have it relocated.

“We just thought the depot was so hopeless, we don’t have the money to save this,” said Moen. “Then people said, ‘No, no – maybe the community would rally.’”

Moen said his group has already spent a substantial amount of money to save the railroad cars. The idea sprung forth that moving the two depots side–by–side and creating a museum would be a perfect fit.

“This whole thing started with a bunch of guys that like to restore trains all day,” Moen said.

Moen said there is a window of opportunity that exists with projects such as this. The clock is ticking on whether the idea can be transformed into reality.

“There’s a different person at the railroad in charge right now and I think he’d like to see this happen, but people above him will eventually tell him, ‘either do it or we’re knocking it down,’” said Moen. “If we don’t make it happen by next spring, it’s over.”