Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad – Freeport, Illinois - Atlas Obscura
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Freeport, Illinois

Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad

The only place in America where anyone who wants can shovel coal aboard an antique train. 

Founded in 1982 as a not-for-profit educational organization with a mission to preserve America’s historical railroad heritage, the Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad operates several antique locomotives on the Midwest’s forgotten rails, allowing passengers unparalleled access to the inner workings of driving a train. 

Freeport’s local Stephenson County Antique Engine Club operates the Stephenson and Silver Creek Railroad, running their assortment of original engines, covered flat cars, and cabooses along a 1.72-mile stretch of rail purchased from the defunct Milwaukee Road in 1983. There was just one catch; before the railroad sold their right-of-way, the company tore up the tracks.

For the next two years, members spent their spare time salvaging rail and ties from throughout Illinois, and sometimes as far away as Mankato, Minnesota. This means that though they had an operational fleet of enviable engines and cars, the first track wasn’t laid – all by the blood, sweat, and tears of members of the club’s own hands – until May 28th, 1985.

Today, the crown jewel of Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad’s collection is the 1912 Heisler 36-ton, gear-driven steam locomotive, which takes passengers for a 3.4 mile out-and-back ride. For many passengers, the highlight is the option for a few extra dollars, to ride in the cab with the engineer and fireman, who may give you the “privilege” of assisting with shoveling coal.

The station is located across the road from the club’s building which houses a museum containing, among other stationary steam engines, an operational 130-Ton Cooper Corliss, which is one of the largest in the country.