Riverside and Great Northern Railway

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4-4-2 1916 Harry J. Grant waiting for passengers at the station, October 11, 2003.

The Riverside and Great Northern Railway (R&GN) is a 15 in (381 mm) gauge miniature railway and heritage railroad in Wisconsin Dells. The railway is operated by the Riverside and Great Northern Preservation Society and includes the former shops of Sandley Light Railway Works.


The railroad was started in Janesville, Wisconsin,[1] as a demonstration railroad for Sandley locomotives. In 1952 the Sandleys relocated to the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee and La Crosse Railroad near Wisconsin Dells, which was abandoned in favor of a route with a smoother grade 500 feet (152 m) to the west.

The Sandleys built their factory, a replica and C&NW depot (scaled down), and a train line to demonstrate their products. The system and workshop attracted visitors from around the world.[2] They built about 15 locomotives and over 30 pieces of rolling stock. Trains that once ran at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and the Knoxville Zoo were produced at the Dells facility. The locomotives and rolling stock currently running at the Milwaukee Zoo were made here as well.

In the early 1980s, new locomotive and rolling stock orders dropped off and Norman was forced into bankruptcy. The train ride closed as well. In the early 1990s a group of enthusiasts began working to purchase the property. The Preservation Group was formed, and members began replacing ties and repairing buildings, but they still had to find a train. One of the group's members had built a diesel locomotive and this was traded to the Milwaukee Zoo for the #82 steam locomotive, which had not been running as the zoo found it too small to pull their longer trains. #82 is still owned by the society. The society has since acquired another steam locomotive, former Hoot Toot & Whistle Railway#98, from the Old Wakarusa Railroad in Indiana. Both locomotives were built at the Wisconsin Dells shop facility in the 1950s, with #98 being originally the motive power for the Hoot, Toot & Whistle Miniature Steam Railway near Elgin, Illinois.

The railroad includes an operational joinery building where coaches are restored and maintained, a picnic area, and a gift shop.


The tracks ending at Riverside Canyon.

On June 11, 2004, the railway's main line was severed by a washout. Railway operations had to be terminated just short of the site and trains were stopped near the canyon's edge for passengers to get a closer look. The washout has since been repaired, and a full-length train ride is once again available.

Another washout was caused by heavy rainstorms on August 28, 2018, allowing only a 1/4 mile ride on remaining tracks. Repairs are being undertaken as donations permit. The organization relies on donations for its' operation.[citation needed][3] Kay James, Wisconsin Dells Events newspaper September 13 2018 page A4


  1. ^ "Riverside & Great Northern Railroad", IBLS.org
  2. ^ Shaw, Frederic, and Sandley, Norman, "The Sandley Story," (1960, Hesperian House).
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference undefined was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

Further reading[edit]

  • Shaw, Frederic Joseph. Little Railways of the World. Berkeley, Calif: Howell-North, 1958. (Contains construction photographs of #98)

External links[edit]