I. The Beginnings

METRO has its origins in the enthusiasm of a couple of people, Clarence Porath and Don Dobberfuhl, for model railroading. Certain that other people shared their interest, they decided to see if some type of a club couldn't be formed. They talked to the manager of a local hobby in Grafton. He liked the idea and arranged to put up a box to see what interest for a club existed. After a while, the use of a storefront at the mall was arranged, some notices were mailed out, and on 16 July 1981, the first informal meeting was held.

The Club minutes state that "8 members [were] in attendance", although the minutes have the signatures of 15 people on the reverse. After getting to know each other a bit and exchanging ideas, the decision was made to start the club. More notices were mailed out for the first formal meeting on August 4th. At that time 15 people appeared, 13 of whom submitted membership applications.

Much of the early meetings centered around the club's meeting place. The members quickly learned that they could not build any kind of a permanent layout at the mall since there was only one exit from the room in the basement of the mall. Other options were explored, but none panned out. The club continued to seek members, and even had a table at the Train Fest in 1981. About 10 people regularly came to meetings and work nights. But the lack of a home was frustrating. Finally, in February of 1982, a decision was made to build a portable layout.

II. The Portable Layout.

Initially, the idea of a portable layout was to have something to exhibit at a model train show scheduled for County Fair Mall in April of 1982. At the February meeting, the decision was made to build the layout and devote all future work nights to getting it ready in time. By the March meeting, the benchwork was finished and track almost completely laid, but the April show was canceled. The members pressed on anyway.

Initially the layout consisted of only 4 sections, totaling 7 feet by 11 feet. In the present layout, those sections were the two end sections (the mill and the river), the town, and the hill. The cancellation of the April show probably didn't hurt as the July minutes show members asking for authorization to purchase structures. The club also built the dual power pack to operate the portable layout, and a trailer to take it around.

Finally on October 8-10, 1982, the portable received its first public showing. At that time, the layout was 25 % finished. The remainder was completed shortly thereafter, and in March of 1983, the club voted to add 4 additional sections to reach its present size of 7 feet by 25 feet. The layout is capable of handling four trains simultaneously.

METRO's portable layout joined a number of others that regularly showed at malls and train exhibitions around southeastern Wisconsin. The club received an invitation to exhibit the layout at the NMRA's 50th anniversary convention in Milwaukee in September of 1985. At the convention, after set-up, someone asked if the club was entering the layout in the judging for awards. That hadn't entered anyone's mind prior to that time, but the paperwork was hurriedly filled out. To everyone's amazement, the portable received first prize in the group modules category. A much-cherished plaque now hangs in the clubhouse.

Improvements were constantly being made to the portable layout. The banner with the club's name and location was created in October of 1988; a significant refurbishing with some track and building changes was undertaken in the summer of 1990. New skirting replaced the original burlap. Animated crossing gates, lights in the watertower and the schoolbus, and the rotating Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket were added during this period.

The portable has averaged more than 4 shows per year, and remains one of the club's best means of promoting itself and the hobby of model railroading.   In 2001, the portable layout was entered into the contest at the National Train Show, which is a part of the annual NMRA Convention, held that year in Madison, Wisconsin.  A panel of judges named METRO’s layout the blue ribbon winner over outstanding layouts from across the country, the second national award the club had received.

III. Changing Locations.

Once it became clear that the club couldn't build at the Mall, a permanent home became a prime focus of the club's activities. The minutes show many locations considered and rejected, and some accepted that fell through for other reasons. Finally, the club managed to get a lease on the basement of the building at 126 West Wisconsin Street in Port Washington. The decision to move was made in December of 1982, but it unclear when the first meeting was held in the new location.

Originally owned by the Smith family of the Smith Bros. Restaurant fame, the building was made available to the club on a month-to-month basis. The owners didn't want a long term lease since the upstairs was unrented and they wanted the basement to be available for a prospective tenant. When Discovery World Travel moved in upstairs in October of 1984, the club was allowed to sublease the basement from them.

The travel agency had a five year lease on the building, and the club was given to understand the agency had given them the same on the basement for a rent of $100 per month. On that basis, the club started finally to build the permanent layout it had so long discussed.

The concept for this layout was to model the Chicago and North Western Railroad from Milwaukee to Green Bay. Sketches of a proposed track plan were circulated and approved. Benchwork and track laying began in late 1984.

The club finally got around to formal elections in January of 1983, and Clarence Porath became the new president. In February of 1984, he was succeeded by William Stadler. The club was jolted by the deaths of founding members Clarence Porath in September of 1985 and Don Dobberfuhl in December.

But the biggest jolt came in July of 1987 when Discovery World announced it was raising the rent to $150 per month starting in August. The club had had difficulty in making expenses prior to this time and the rental increase was intolerable. A protest was lodged with the landlord, but nothing could be accomplished. The club reluctantly began to look for a new home.

IV. The Old Theater.

The search for a new home quickly focused on the upper level of a building on Grand Avenue in Port Washington only a block from the club's prior home. The Professional Building at 116 W. Grand Avenue was a former movie house built in 1926. Sometime in the 50's the use was changed to professional offices. A spancrete ceiling was put in to lower the ceiling height, leaving about 8' of unused space above the offices.

The space was large (about 110' by 41'), but totally undeveloped. There was no heat, no electricity, no water, not even a single light. Nonetheless, the rent was only $25 per month (including electricity) and the chances that the club would be evicted for another tenant seemed very small, so the decision to move was made.

The unfortunate part of moving was that no significant part of the work done on the permanent layout to date was salvageable. As much of the materials as could be saved were moved to the new location.

The move was made and completed by December 1st of 1987. An electrician was hired to run in a circuit box for the club. All the lighting from there was done by club members.

At the same time, the club began discussing the outline for a new permanent layout. The previous project of a particular road over a particular topography was felt to be too confining, and the club quickly agreed to develop a more generic layout. Initially a layout in the shape of an M was proposed; however, when it was laid out on the floor, it was found that the aisles would be too narrow, as little as 3 feet. Hence an E shape was chosen.

A sample of the benchwork was shown to the club, and sometime in February of 1988, work actually began. Benchwork went quickly, followed by lighting which was aided by ballast provided by the West Bend Club. In return for this help, METRO built a turntable for West Bend, which reciprocated in turn by donating 180 plugs for the layout. A substantial part of the backdrop was put in, and then painted on 26 July 1988.

It wasn't until September of 1990 that a full loop around the layout was complete and wired sufficiently to sustain operations. To do that, the section of the layout designed to be a large city was bypassed. The club felt that it was time to hold an open house for the public, and the pressure was on to get trains running. In fact an open house was held on October 14, 1990; more than 300 people visited the layout. Open houses became an annual event each November. In some cases, food for the Food Pantry was the price of admission. 1992 was designated as a steam show. The 1993 show was especially memorable for the display of name passenger trains the Club set up.


The building of layouts has not been the club's only activity. Seminars and clinics, track walks, shows, and trips to railroading points of interest have been included in the club's activities.

Seminars began early in the club's history. The very first was held on December 1, 1982. "Getting Started in Model Railroading" was the topic and the public was invited to an open storefront in the upstairs portion of County Faire Mall. 22 people attended and the club was sufficiently satisfied with the result that a second was quickly scheduled for January 12th. The topic of this second seminar was benchwork, roadbed and track planning. No report of this second seminar is found in the minutes, nor of two other scheduled seminars on electrical wiring and scenery, set for March and April of the same year.

The subject of track walks sponsored by the club came up at the March 1986 meeting, and sometime in March or April of that year, a walk was held from Ulao to Port. It was an enjoyable and educational experience and a second walk was quickly scheduled for May 31 to walk the Soo Line between Saukville and Fredonia.

Trips to outside points of interest were also a club function. Two notable trips were to Union, Illinois in August of 1986, and one to tour the EMD plant and visit Chicago's railroading hot spots in September of 1989. Members attended the C&NW Historical Society conventions, and began to win prizes for modeling and railroad photography.

Internal clinics also became a club function. Some of the clinics sponsored by the club included:

Car building (Bill Stadler) May 1989
Scenery (Kevin Kroll) October 1989
Engine Repair (Roger Aultman) February 1990
Car trucks and couplers (Bill Stadler)
Airbrushing (Roger Aultman) May 1991
Detailed Car Clinic (Ray Meyer) June-August 1995


The club also set out to develop its resources for research. Over the years, a number of magazines had been donated to the club. In March and April of 1989, an opportunity to purchase library discards was acted upon, with the additional receipt of a number of bound volumes of the early issues of trains. A librarian was appointed, organization of the library began, and indices were collected for the years 1960 to 1988. A video library was also established in February of 1989.

The social aspects of the club were not neglected either. In 1988, the club held its first Christmas party, an annual event since. A picnic was held in 1989 and again in 1991 to today.

VI. The Dream Crushed

The club members really believed that the layout in the Professional Building had a chance of becoming a world class layout. Lockers for the members equipment were built, the library expanded and cataloged, new chairs and tables were purchased, and the club member area was made more pleasant. A Lionel layout was also built. METRO seemed to have a home.

However, in March of 1994, the building was sold, and the new owner decided that the upstairs area could be developed. The Club was given until April 30th to vacate.

With heavy hearts, the layout and all the clubs' facilities were dismantled. Initially, three sections of the layout were saved, but within months, it was decided that they were of no use and also demolished. None of the scenery other than buildings and accessories could be saved.

A local dentist without a tenant gave the club the use of his basement, a former pizzeria. While searching for a new home, the club spent considerable time upgrading the portable layout, using the remote controllers recently purchased, and adding considerable animation and scenic details. The construction crew scene, the town park, the railfan scene, the sandtower and yard buildings, animation of the scrap crane and grain truck, the campfire scene, and the line shed were just some of the details added at this time. All the animated and lighting effects were changed over from batteries to outside power. Shown at TrainFest '94, it earned the notice of many. As a result, it was requested for a WISE Division meet in Port Washington, and for a private show at Sturtevant, Wisconsin. The addition of localized lighting was all that was needed to make the layout really stand out, and it won First Prize at TrainFest '95.

The basement at the dental office disappeared and the Club found a new temporary home below another pizza parlor on Grand Avenue. That also was rented, but not before a new home panned out at last.


The Club explored many possibilities for a permanent home. The basement of the Depot at Pioneer Village was at one time offered and then withdrawn. President Don Laubenstein knew of a club in Quincy, Illinois that used the basement of a nursing home. The developers of a new local home were contacted and prospects looked good. Suddenly, they wanted large amounts of cash from the club and the project was quickly dropped. But new owners took over the home, and they had a different attitude.

The Harbor Club/Harbor Village was a senior citizens' condo development with a managed care facility attached. It was house in the former St. Alphonsus Hospital. Gus Anntonneau took over the operation of the facility, and canceled plans for a shopping area in the basement of the building. Having no use for this floor at this time, he offered METRO a chance to use some of the space. The deal was quickly arranged, and the Club got a ten year lease - no more being kicked out by better paying tenants.

The Club built the wall enclosing its space and totally refurbished the area, installing lighting and electrical service. Plans for a partially double-stacked layout with a floor area of 16.5' by 52' were approved. The club is now engaged in building that layout.

The new layout saw the golden spike driven in its mainline in October of 1997.  DCC control was installed at the outset, and radio control added in 2002.  This new layout is freelanced, but is based on the concept that it represents what a trans-Wisconsin railroad might have looked like if some of the dreams of the early pioneers actually came true.  The original concept paper is below.  As of mid-2003, most of the trackwork has been done, and a substantial amount of the scenery has been started.  The club is also in the process of developing various operating schemes, each of which depends on the era being operated.

The history of METRO is extensive, but many chapters have yet to be written. We hope to add to this in the future.




VIII.     The Original Concept Paper for the Harbor Club Layout.



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        [This scenario is premised on some of the assumptions of the early pioneers of Wisconsin, as if their expectations came to pass.  The reasons why they didn't is explained later.  The concept is designed to include every industry and type of scenery found on the old generic layout, save only the desert.  It is also designed so that the layout can operate as a division of any one of a number of different railroads and, by choosing the right scenario, run almost any railroad's equipment.]


        Port Washington started out in the 1840's as a port facility on Lake Michigan, shipping out lumber and farm products and receiving passengers and finished goods.  Early Wisconsin settlers grew wheat as their primary crop, and a way was needed to speed grain to the lake for transshipment to eastern cities.  Hence a railroad started in Port Washington, stretching out to Watertown in the heart of the grain belt.  The "basin" around Port Washington was too small and too steep for yards, which developed west of the city and east of the Milwaukee River.  Port Washington grew up as a port city and Saukville became a railroad town.


        When Madison became the state capitol, the railroad was extended there for the passenger traffic as well as for the westward expansions of the grain growing area.  Resorts began to spring up around Madison's lakes, drawing crowds from the east who wanted to experience the "frontier life".  In later years, when animal husbandry replaced cereal farming, Madison became an important place for meat packing and tanning.


        The one of the most significant markets that early Midwestern railroads wanted to capture was the Galena mining district in northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin.  The PW&D (then the PW & Madison) Railroad extended its tracks to Mineral Point to get its share of this traffic.  It connected to a shortline mining railroad that wandered back in among the camps. Lead was a heavy commodity and non-seasonal, which made it attractive to the railroads.  It also went to Belmont, the territory's first capitol.


        The pattern of the early traffic on the line went from west to east, running mostly empty the other way.  To alleviate the wasteful mileage, the railroad extended its tracks to East Dubuque on the Mississippi River.  In this way, it became part of the water transit system, taking cargos from lake steamers and hauling them over to steamboats on the Mississippi for shipment south, an east to west flow principally.  It also followed the westward movement of the grain growing regions.


        Logging was a big interest in early Wisconsin, and the railroad built a branch line north to Reedsburg [Sauk City?] to capture this traffic.  There it connected with a narrow gauge short line logging railroad.  The railroad also built a spur to the quarries at Rock Springs for ballast ,which ultimately tied in with the circus winter quarters at Baraboo.  When the Koshkonong power plant was built, the PW&D built a branch line to run coal trains to the plant.


        In time the railroad connected to Green Bay and to Chicago, and built a bridge across the Mississippi River to make connections with the western railroads.  A line was sent northwest from Platteville to the Twin Cities [The modelled portion will be from Port Washington to Dubuque, with lines spinning off (to staging) to represent the connections to Chicago, Green Bay and St. Paul.  Three branches, the logging line, the coal line, and the mining line, would also be modelled.].  Other railroads building north and west developed interchanges with the PW&D --the WC at Saukville, the Soo and CN&W at Watertown, the IC at Madison, the Milwaukee Road near Mineral Point, and the BN at East Dubuque.   Direct connections at Dubuque were made with the CB&Q (BN), CGW, M&StL, Rock Island, Milwaukee Road, and later the CCP.  At Green Bay, the road had direct connections with the GBW, LS&I, Soo and WC. Connections at Chicago were made with all the major roads there via the Belt Railway of Chicago.  At the Twin Cities, the railroad changed with the NP and GN.  Ferries across the lake interchanged with the Pennsylvania, Ann Arbor, GTW and B&O.  Because of run through  trains, power sharing, and detour trains, units from almost any of these railroads could be seen on the line.  Even Santa Fe was on the line when their line across the Mississippi at St. Louis was flooded out.


        Among the industries served by the railroad are:


        Port Washington:  wharves, fish packing industry, bulk oil and coal shipped by lake

steamer, power equipment manufacturers

        Saukville*:  Yard, icing platform, engine facility

        Watertown*:  grain elevators, livestock shippers, meat packing industry, fertilizer

distributors, dry ice plant

        Madison*:  resorts, Oscar Meyer meat packing, tannery, dairy

        Mineral Point*:  mining operations

        Platteville*:  university, mattress manufacturer

        East Dubuque:  heavy industry

        Dubuque*:  barge traffic, yard

        Koshkonong:  power plant

        Reedsburg*:  logging firms

        Rock Springs:  gravel and ballast

        Baraboo: Circus World Museum


        *passenger station (Saukville at east end of yard near Port)


        At some point in its life, the railroad could have been merged with the C&NW, Milwaukee Road, Wisconsin Central, Soo, GN, NP, or CB&Q, all of whom would have been logical merger partners.  It is also possible that an eastern railroad, especially the Pennsylvania or the B&O, seeking direct access to the north western roads at the Twin Cities, could have sought a merger.  UP, seeking a direct east/west connection to Chicago, could have built to Dubuque and merged the route in.  Running the road as a division of any of these railroads would make historical sense.


        The landforms along this route are quite varied.  They start with the bluffs and lake frontage at the east through glaciated Kettle Moraine topography to rolling agricultural lands.  Lakeland and marsh landforms predominate in the Madison area, which then gives way to the driftless area, where many rocky cuts, fills, and bridges will be needed; tunnels are also appropriate in this area of the country.  On the west end is the Mississippi floodplain.  In addition, the railroad would have to cross the Milwaukee, Rock, Pecatonica, and Mississippi rivers (and the Wisconsin on the way to Reedsburg), and a portion of the Madison causeway could be modelled.  Either or both of the logging and mining sections could be narrow gauge, which would historically correct (e.g. Fennimore).  With no significant coal in Wisconsin, the loads in\out would have to be tied tied to staging.






        Why didn't this scenario play out in real life?  First, while Port Washington did have a nice harbor, it was quickly discovered to be a very dangerous place for a sailing ship to be in a southeaster.  Ships moved to a river valley further south where the villages of Juneau, Walkers Point, and Kilbourntown eventually merged to become Milwaukee.  The Milwaukee and Mississippi built to Watertown and beyond, eventually merging with the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien to become the start of the Milwaukee Road.


        Wisconsin was once the leading grain-producing state in the US, but the development of the vast grain-growing areas of the Great Plains combined with declining yields from thin topsoil made wheat unprofitable for Wisconsin farmers and they turned to animal husbandry, first sheepraising and then dairying, products less amenable to rail transport.  The hope of Watertown (once Wisconsin's fifth largest city) to be a great city ended at the same time.  For reasons of distance, Lake Geneva became the resort area on the lake.


        Lead mining quickly saturated the market, and became a less valuable, less needed metal (the early belief that Wisconsin contained vast deposits of copper and iron turned out to be false).  Miners moved on to the more profitable gold and silver trade in California and Colorado (about 1847-49).  Zinc mining returned in about 1877 and lasted up to about World War I.  Nineteenth century logging practices quickly cleared southern Wisconsin of its valuable hardwood timber resources, pushing the operations further north into the less valuable fir trees. Belmont was quickly abandoned as a site for the capitol since the early legislators realized that while it was then the center of population, when Wisconsin became it state it was not going to contain Des Moines and Waterloo (heavily populated at that time and a part of Wisconsin Territory), and the balance thus shifted east.


        The railroads themselves caused the end of the shipment of goods (other than large bulk goods) by lake steamer and paddleboat.  Travelling all the way by railroad once the lines began to connect made the overland route shorter and faster than the lake route, and there was no breaking of bulk (which was done twice in our scenario).  Ferry boats across the lake simply weren't as fast or as economical as going around the lake through Chicago once the connections were made.


        As bridges began to proliferate across the Mississippi, river towns lost their importance as shipping centers.  Granger railroads built 20,000 miles of track in Iowa to gather the grain trade and no one city was able to prosper merely as a gathering point for the railroads.  It was so physically difficult to reach Dubuque from most other points in southwestern Wisconsin that no railroad ever succeeded.  Dubuque became the starting point for the Chicago Great Western, heading northwest to St. Paul, and the IC reached it from the southeast.


        The shorter, tunnel-less Adams line ended Baraboo's life as a railroad center, though not its life as a circus headquarters.  Rock Springs delivers ballast to this day, but now at the extreme end of UP's trackage, it is not as useful to the merged railroad.