Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
MT. PLEASANT — On Sunday afternoon, crowds of people filed into the Amtrak station in Mt. Pleasant to see a presentation on the Mark Twain Zephyr a train that had been in Mt. Pleasant for 17 years between 1962 and 1979.
The presentation was given by Robert Tabern of Great Wisconsin Northern Railroad, who is restoring the train.
Introduced by Ron Graber, the Amtrak agent in Mt. Pleasant, it wasn’t lost on him or the audience how big this project was to the community.
“Some of us who grew up here never thought that we would see it run again, but here we are,” Graber said. “They’re the ones that actually did it.”
For most of its life, the train ran between Burlington and St. Louis delivering passengers at stops along the way. It ran this route daily.
The five-car train included two passenger cars that carried around 95 passengers on its route.
The train was in service for 23 years before it was retired to the Burlington train yard in 1958.
“It’s unbelievable what these guys did in five or six months, these guys did more in 10 months than anyone has in the last 60 years,” Graber said.
Renovations are nearly complete on the train. The crew is working on getting a working engine in the Zephyr. It will be up and running in the early spring.
“Thanks to these guys, it will be up and running on its own power in early spring,” Graber said.
Graber talked about the history of the train in Mt. Pleasant, its tattered history in Mt. Pleasant was its longest stretch in a single place, but according to Graber, it left in subpar condition.
“We were the longest caretakers of the train, but unfortunately, we weren’t very good caretakers,” Graber said.
The train sat in Burlington until it was bought by Ernie A. Hayes, of Mt. Pleasant in 1962.
Hayes was an avid advocate for the community and an insurance salesperson in town who wanted to bring a tourist draw to Mt. Pleasant.
Interstate 80 had been built to the north, and he was worried that would pull the tourist draw from Mt. Pleasant.
However, Hayes wasn’t able to renovate the train which had a price tag of $4 million to $6 million.
So in 1968, Hayes sold it to the Midwest Central Railroad, which faced a similar problem with funding.
The train was sold to the Old Threshers Foundation in the mid ‘70s but they ran into a funding issue and weren’t able to run the train due to a difference in gauges of track.
It stayed there until 1979, when it was sold to another owner. It stayed in Mt. Pleasant for 17 years.
For the next 40 years, the historic train would pass between no less than four different private owners; none of whom had the resources to complete the multimillion-dollar renovations needed.
The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad stepped in last summer, purchasing the five train cars and bringing them to northwest Wisconsin for repair. In the future, the Mark Twain Zephyr will be fully operable, giving passengers rides on the tourist railroad’s mainline out of Trego, Wisconsin.