Byron Bobb: Union & Railroad Ties Fuel Lifelong Hobby
Nestled in Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s, Carson Park between Halfmoon Lake and the Eau Claire Express baseball stadium, the Chippewa Valley Railroad Association (CVRA) turns back the clock to a time when America thrived on steam and steel ties. The railroad is celebrating its 42ndyear in operation in 2018 and Local 1074 honorary member Byron Bobb has been involved since the start.
While most retirees go to Florida for the winter to escape the frigid cold of the North, Byron spends his winters working on a pair of quarter-sized, steam-powered trains, and a diesel-powered train of the same size. He’s joined by several other members of the CVRA in a barn heated by nothing but a mutual passion for railroads.
The members of the association, ranging in age from 16 to 75, meet every Sunday and Thursday in the winter to make repairs to the engines, passenger cars, tracks and buildings around the track, giving it an authentic feel. Most of that authenticity comes from the fact that many of the buildings and features surrounding the track were donated from actual rail lines throughout the years, or built as to-scale models of actual rail lines.
An original member of the CVRA Board of Directors, Byron has seen amazing growth at the railroad. Starting with a one-eighth mile point-to-point track with one steam engine in 1976, today it offers guests rides on a half-mile multi-track loop with three different trains and multiple buildings. Some buildings, such as the donated interlocking tower, are there for aesthetic purposes, while buildings like the depot and six-stall roundhouse that Byron helped build are there for maintenance of both the track and the trains themselves.
“The organization started in 1974 and I joined it right away,” Byron said. “I met Dave Peterson (original president of CVRA) at the mall and was interested because I came from a railroad family.”
Growing up in that railroad family, Byron has always had a keen interest in trains, but carpentry became his career. He started his apprenticeship in 1961 and was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from his Local to attend University of Wisconsin-Stout. In his 40-year career he worked as a foreman and superintendent, and did finish work and cabinetwork.
As a proud member of Local 1074, he always kept with the values held by the Union. Every building, rail tie, and engine was either hand built by the CVRR, donated or built by local unions.
“I grew up in a Union family,” Byron said. “The Union has been very good to me and I’m very proud to say it’s something I’ve been part of for more than 50 years.”
Joining the Chippewa Valley Railroad Association helped Byron keep in touch with two passions in life, his work as a carpenter and his love of the railroad industry. However, the joy the park brings visitors is what keeps him coming back.
“Building around the track is second to the smile on the kids’ faces,” Byron said. “When they come around and see the train they are jumping up and down with excitement.”
The track is open every Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is also open July 4thand for the entire weekend on Labor Day, welcoming families and exciting children of all ages.