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or most people today, the initials A&W bring to mind a frosty mug of root beer, but for near- ly a century folks in northeast

Wisconsin knew it as shorthand for the Ahnapee & Western Railway.

Mark Mathu grew up in New Franken, Wisconsin, about 35 miles south

of Sturgeon Bay in Brown County, where the tracks of the A&W line were a fi xture. Lo- cal kids walked the tracks to school each day, and they’d place pennies on the tracks, hoping the train would fl atten them into massive, thin pancakes when it went by.

“We did it all the time,” he remembers fondly,

“but we never did fi nd a penny after it went by.” Long before Mathu and his childhood

friends knew it as part of small-town Wis- consin life, Casco founding father Edward Decker saw building a railroad as a risk worth taking. According to Stan Mailer’s book Green Bay & Western, Decker – who owned 10,000 acres in and around Casco as well as T e Enterprise, a Kewaunee newspa- per – sought to build it to enhance his business interests.

He advanced most of the funds to get it started,

and more was raised through several diff erent bond- ing issues ultimately totaling $671,000 (over $16 million in today’s dollars).

T e A&W was incorporated on August 18, 1890 as

a short line, connecting to the Kewaunee, Green Bay & Western Railroad (GB&W) at Casco Junction. By 1892, track had been laid to Ahnapee (renamed Al- goma in 1897), and two years later it reached Stur- geon Bay. T e line’s 34.5-mile run also included stops in Rio Creek, Forestville, Maplewood and Sawyer.

Mathu is now a civil engineer living in Whitefi sh Bay,

Wisconsin, where he works for HNTB engineers, de- voting most of his time to designing bridges around the country. About 10 years ago his mind wandered toward the idea of building a model train in his basement, and he began researching, soon realizing that the A&W of his youth was one of the most unique in the country.

He started a website,, de-

voted to the GB&W and began getting emails and phone calls from others with information and stories to share about the line. Now he serves as secretary of the Green Bay & Western Historical Society. While his initial interest in the railroad was sparked by nos- talgia, it’s clear when he talks that he is equally fasci- nated by the entrepreneurial spirit and engineering feats of its founding.

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workers from Northern Door to the shipyards throughout the war years, a small contribution to the nation’s war mobilization.

It was only possible because Isaacson

had been intrigued by Door County’s transportation dilemmas way back in 1920. Horse drawn covered sleighs served as winter transportation at the time when roads weren’t yet plowed.

T e young mechanic began tinkering

in his garage (now Sister Bay Automotive) and by 1924 he had created a “winter car” by attaching skis to the front of a Model T Ford and a fi ve-foot caterpillar tread to the

rear. T is early harbinger of the snowmo- bile could make the trek to Sturgeon Bay in two hours and became an important emergency vehicle and his inspiration for public transportation in Northern Door.

In 1927, he launched the Northern

Bus Line, using a seven-passenger Hud- son to transport riders from Sister Bay to Sturgeon Bay, his home serving as the Sister Bay bus depot. A year later he up- graded to a 12-passenger Menomonie bus and hired his fi rst driver, Arnold Nelson. Isaacson renamed his service the Lake and Bay View Bus Line after he added a Sturgeon Bay-to-Manitowoc line.

On summer weekends Isaacson had as

many as four busses running to Manito- woc per day, each carrying 40 to 45 pas- sengers. One bus was usually reserved just for guests going to the Alpine Re- sort in Egg Harbor, hauling large trunks in preparation for stays of weeks and months in Door County.

Winter 2011/2012 Door County Living 23 – Bus line continued on next page >>

“T at was our big business,” recalled his daughter Evelyn Hulbert, who spent many years working as her father’s busi- ness manager. “T ere we met the Chica- go/Northwestern train bringing people up from Milwaukee and Chicago.”

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