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© December  21, 2002 

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Riverside & Great Northern Railway

Written by Karen Taylor     

photo by Karen Taylor

The late Elmer Sandley and His son the Late Norman Sandley founded the Sandley Light Railway and Equipment Works, in the late 1940’s in Riverside Park in Janesville, Wisconsin. Norman was an engineer for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Norman saw there was an interest for 15” gauge trains so, he quit his job and went in to business with his father. At the same time they opened up Riverside & Great Northern Railway, as a demonstration railway for the steam trains they were manufacturing for sale. The 15” gauge trains were sold to amusement parks and zoos.

In 1952 the Sandley’s were forced to move out of the park, because there were complaints of noise and smoke from the neighbors who lived around the park. The Sandley’s had to look for a new location. They came upon the old Milwaukee & La Crosse Railroad right of way that was abandoned in 1902. The Sandley’s purchased the land and moved their manufacturing shop and demonstration track to the Dells. In the early 1980’s, after the death of Elmer and fewer demands for the trains, the Sandley Light Railway closed. Norman went bankrupt and the bank foreclosed on the property

photo by Karen Taylor  click to enlarge

The land was unused until 1988 when a group of volunteers, led by the late Bill Fitt, took over the grounds from the bank and formed the non-profit Riverside and Great Northern Preservation Society. In the improvements that were made to the property, the right of way needed to have 5,000 ties replaced before they could run again. In 1989, the volunteers were preparing to reopen the railway but they still had no train. For a diesel locomotive a member of the group had made, the Milwaukee Zoo traded steam locomotive #82. One of the other members bought three of coaches made by Sandley Light Railway. In the spring of 1990, they opened the operation.

The train ride is approximately 3 miles long round trip. On the ride through the North woods, you will see Canyons and other beautiful scenes of nature. I enjoy going often to see all the things people have donated. The Sandley steam trains, they now run are #82 4-4-0 1957, #98 4-4-0 1953 and Tom Thumb 1940. They have a diesel #95 SW switcher by R&GN. If your interested in this story, and you want to know more about this railroad, visit their web site at or come out and enjoy the excitement of live steam in Wisconsin Dells, WI.



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