The Milwaukee Road in Preston and “A Day on the Railroad” are two of the headlines of a new interpretive display sign being unveiled and dedicated on Sunday, June 30 in Preston. The sign is a project of the Preston Historical Society (PHS) and is located adjacent to the historic rail campus being developed by PHS at the Preston DNR Trailhead. The sign was jointly funded by the Preston Historical Society and the Preston Area Community Foundation (PACF).
The Milwaukee Road in Preston story tells the role of the railroad in the development of Preston and Fillmore County. It also profiles the historic rail campus which began with the designation of the Milwaukee Elevator to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Since then PHS has restored the elevator and added rail displays including a 1939 box car, a 1951 caboose, and a Fairmont “speeder” motorcar. An elevator bagging shed/scale house and office as well as motorcar trailer are in planning.
The “A Day on the Railroad” story is a commemoration to the Milwaukee Road employees that served Preston whose names have been gathered from family members and historic records. To date 25 employee names have been identified and listed on the sign. These names are accompanied by a picture of train operations in Preston on a typical spring day in 1963 – including turning the engine, assembling the train, and traveling to Isinours – the historic rail junction five miles north of Preston.
Two speakers who donated pictures and maps to the sign will share their recollections — Cecil Cook and Walter J. Dunlap. Cook, rail author, grew up in Waukon and with his brother photographed the Milwaukee Road, including the Preston branch, in the transition years from steam to diesel. He has also provided a map of the Dubuque and Illinois Division, including Preston, and will be autographing his newly reprinted book Final Steam Years at the event.
Dunlap grew up beside the Chicago & North Western railroad in Rochester. He is the son, grandson and great-grandson of men who worked for the railway and has provided his 1963 photographs of the railroad in Preston. He volunteers at the Minnesota Transportation Museum and has contributed photos to six of author John Luecke’s historic books on Minnesota railroads. Mr. Luecke has provided maps for the sign, including one showing the businesses in the railroad yard in Preston and one showing the rail route to Isinours from his book More Milwaukee Road in Minnesota.
The dedication event will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 30 at the restored Milwaukee Road caboose adjacent to the Milwaukee Elevator and Preston DNR Trailhead on East Fillmore Street and River Street in Preston. The public is invited to tour the caboose, which will be open from 2-4 p.m. and attend the ceremony at 3 p.m. Mr. Cook and Mr. Dunlap will be available to visit before and after the ceremony. Refreshments will be provided.
The event will also include “throwing the switch” for the lighting of the caboose. Both the display sign and the historic caboose will be lit in the evening going forward, providing a friendly and historic welcome to Preston.
Many individuals, firms, and organizations have made this historic display possible including: Preston Historical Society and Preston Area Community Foundation, funding; Mayor Kurt Reicks and City Administrator Joe Hoffman, City of Preston, site and utilities; Cecil Cook, Walter J. Dunlap, John C. Luecke and Fillmore County News Leader, pictures and maps; Milwaukee Road Historical Assn. (MRHA), heralds; Ron Schroeder, Quality Construction, contractor; Kevin Ostern, Morem Electric, sign and caboose lighting; Abbey Norby, Kelly Printing, graphic design; John Carlin, historic depot gable and sign; Jon B. DeVries and Flossie Schultz, railroad research; and Sheila Craig, PHS president.