Larry Lerch is a step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream.
A longtime railroad buff, he hopes to build a full-sized replica of the Elkader Railroad Depot that once stood on the southeast side of town.
“When I was little, I remember hearing stories from my uncles, who worked for the Milwaukee Railroad,” he said. “That got me hooked on trains and the railroad at an early age, and the interest has become a passion.”
In 1989, Lerch bought and relocated a 1949 Ribside caboose to the Elkader City Park, just south of where the old depot once stood. It was torn down decades ago.
This month, Lerch, with the help of many volunteers, added a 1953 boxcar, weighing 23 tons, to the park. The cars sit on 90 feet of track newly laid by volunteers.
The railroad reached Elkader in 1875 with the narrow gauge tracks of the Iowa Eastern Railroad. The Milwaukee Road Railroad later bought the Iowa Eastern Railroad, and its first train entered town in September 1889.
For more than 90 years, the railroad brought passengers and supplies to Elkader merchants. Railroad service ended in 1973.
Elkader donated the land where the depot will be built, but no city funds are involved.
Since Lerch wants the depot to adhere as closely as possible to the original design, the Milwaukee Road Historical Society provided him with depot blueprints. When completed, the depot will contain railroad memorabilia, a train layout donated by past MRHS members and memorabilia from the area, which will be exhibited on a rotating basis.
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“The depot will also be a welcome center and a teaching tool for many generations to come,” Lerch said.
The project will cost about $70,000 to $80,000 or more. The organization is applying for grants, and an annual model railroad show is planned as a fundraiser. This year’s event will be Aug. 23.
“I will also accept any public donations,” Lerch said.
“Now that we have the boxcar and caboose here, the next step is to begin to build the depot. I am planning to start that project sometime this year.”