BARRON, Wis. -- Arlyn Colby has been interested in trains for as long as he can remember. While he has always liked railroads, he didn’t plan to begin a series of books about local lines.

Colby worked as a high school math teacher.

When I retired I just decided, ‘I wonder what I can do about my interest in trains?’” he recalls.

Colby began his series about local railroad lines with a book about the Mondovi Line, which ran by the high school that Colby attended as a teenager.

“People liked it so much and I enjoyed so much doing it I thought I’d do another book,” he said

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So Colby put together books about Blueberry, Cornell, Park Falls, Chippewa Valley and Spring Valley lines. A book about the Ellsworth Line is scheduled to be published in 2021.

The most recent book written by Colby focuses on the Spring Valley line. He explained that one of his favorite parts of writing the books is the research:

“It’s just so much fun to research, you meet so many interesting people. And, people like seeing that history and are willing to share their knowledge or pictures.”

Colby focuses on local lines because, he explained, “I don’t really care to learn about California railroads or New York railroads. They’re nice to look at in pictures but they don’t mean a whole lot, where this is really meaningful.”

Because the lines are local they are smaller, resulting in fewer pictures and information about them than railroads that span the country. To find information about the lines Colby turns to old newspapers. He’s spent hundreds of hours reading through local papers that have been saved on microfiche.

After scrolling through years of news Colby goes to local historical societies to collect more information.

Arlyn Colby's book, "The Spring Valley Line: Omaha Railway's Branch Lines Extending North and South of Woodville, Wisconsin" includes photos that show the history of the line. This image shows Spring Valley depot, 1957. Photo provided by Pat Thoney.
Arlyn Colby's book, "The Spring Valley Line: Omaha Railway's Branch Lines Extending North and South of Woodville, Wisconsin" includes photos that show the history of the line. This image shows Spring Valley depot, 1957. Photo provided by Pat Thoney.

Along with any data or factual information that he can find Colby likes to interview people with stories and memories about the railroad of focus.

“Sometimes there isn’t real good, factual, exact knowledge that you can use,” said Colby. “But, if you have somebody that has a really good perspective, like Spring Valley book a man, Mr. Pense, wrote some articles for the Spring Valley paper, and he shared those with me.”

Pense, according to Colby, spent many hours at the depot so he was able to tell stories about when the trains would come in and what they would carry.

Despite focusing on small railroads Colby has been able to collect a surprising amount of information. "The Spring Valley Line" has 174 pages, for example.

Most of Colby’s findings are put into his books. “I don’t want to throw anything away that somebody might be interested in,” explained Colby. He added:

“One author in Minnesota told me, ‘if you find it interesting put it in your book. People can decide if it’s interesting for them. They can buy it or not buy it. But do what you enjoy.’”

Along with text, the railroad books include maps from the line's original blueprints, images from newspapers and individuals who heard about Colby’s books, and a variety of charts and graphs to make numerical information easier to understand.

Colby has published six books about west-central Wisconsin lines. So, he explained, he has collected hundreds of photos. He has created slideshows with his photos and findings and attends events, historical societies or senior living homes to give presentations.

Despite the numerous hours that Colby puts into his books they are a hobby for him. “You don’t make any money on these, I guarantee you,” said Colby.

Early on in his publication of books Colby decided to price them so that anyone could purchase the books about local railroad lines and enjoy them.

For more information about Colby and his books visit: www.wisconsinrailroadbooks.com. Colby can also be reached at: barronrrbooks@yahoo.com.