Remembering the derailment
March 4 event planned in Weyauwega
By Angie Landsverk
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the train derailment on the north side of the city of Weyauwega.
It was in the early morning hours of March 4, 1996, that a Wisconsin Central freight trained derailed there.
“I found out when I was coming to work at the telephone company. They didn’t want me to get out of the van,” said Mary Jane Baehman, president of the Weyauwega Area Historical Society.
The train was carrying a large quantity of hazardous material and started on fire immediately.
The fire burned for more than two weeks and resulted in the emergency evacuation of about 2,300 people for 18 days.
This included the entire city of Weyauwega.
Two local organizations are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the derailment with an event near the railroad tracks.
The Weyauwega Arts Organization (Wega Arts) and the Weyauwega Area Historical Society are the two groups organizing the Thursday, March 4 event.
It begins at 4 p.m. at the Cenex Co-op, 706 Mill St., in Weyauwega.
If there is inclement weather, the event is taking place at the Community Center in City Hall.
Open to the public, those who attend are encouraged to wear any train derailment clothing from that era.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, physical distancing and masks are recommended.
Scheduled to speak at the event are Judy Wiesman, Jim Baehnman and Tom Cullen.
Wiesman was Weyauwega’s mayor at the time, and Baehnman was the assistant fire chief.
Cullen, Weyauwega’s current fire chief, was also involved in fighting the fire.
The program also includes music by Brayden Grimm and a group from the Weyauwega-Fremont High School Band playing.
A plaque is being presented to the fire department to be displayed at City Hall.
“The key to this is it is history,” said Kathy Fehl, of Wega Arts.
She said a member of their board brought the idea to their attention.
Wega Arts film
Fehl and her partner Ian Teal talked about it and decided to bring their skillset forward to help make a film about the derailment and the community.
The March 4 event kicks off the project.
The film is to include people recounting memories, news footage and a report on the national impact on fire department training and other safety issues.
They plan to show the film on March 4, 2022, at the Gerold Opera House.
Working together on this project is natural, said Baehman.
“We have lots of VHS tapes from the derailment, interviews from people, news clips from different news stations,” she said.
Fehl said it will be interesting to see the interviews from that time contrasted with interviews 25 years later about the event.
The interviews will be done in a safe environment due to the continuing pandemic.
This year’s 25th anniversary also includes a historical society display from the 1996 derailment in the lower level of City Hall after Feb. 26.
In addition, W-F High School graduate Sabrina Loehrke is creating a display for the opera house’s window.