The Bancroft Depot
by
Don Kottke


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A Little History

        The Bancroft depot was erected on the old Portage Line which ran from Stevens Point to Portage, Wisconsin. The line was known as the P-line and served the towns of Plover, Bancroft, Plainfield, Hancock, Coloma, Montello, Packwaukee and Endeavor. Dating from the very early 1870’s, it was originally developed by the Portage, Winnebago & Superior railroad. On February, 1871 it became the Wisconsin Central, Inc.

        No exact date exists for when the depot was built but estimates point to 1897. The last train to use this line arrived in Stevens Point, November 8, 1945. The following year dismantling began.

 The Wisconsin Central was operated by the Soo Line beginning April 1909, but retained its own corporate identity until January 1, 1961 when it merged into the Soo Line railroad company.

And Now the Rest of the Story

        It seems like years ago (1987) when murmurings about a depot being available for restoration and to be moved to become part of the Portage County Historical village in Plover. Upon seeing the old dilapidated building, I thought this was going to take a miracle and with the expense to get it Bancroft Depot at original sitemoved - a miracle plus.

        Well things seemed to come together fast, with Wisconsin Public Service agreeing to move the power lines, the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society donating money, and the Portage County Historical Society allotting money for the move. The Central Wisconsin Model Railroaders were then asked to attend a Portage County Historical Society meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to inquire if the CWMR would become a source of help in this venture. The agreement that evolved was that as a result of a $1000 donation for the basement and foundation, the CWMR would be allowed to construct a clubhouse in the basement of this historic structure.

1989 - Year 1

        In the summer of 1989, everything came together and Pukal Trucking of Wittenberg got the contract to move the structure.

1990 - Year 2
Bancroft Depot crossing I-39 on Hwy W

        When spotted being moved on June 13, 1990, the cry came loud and clear to the CWMR! The depot had arrived; it was finally here and our apprehensive enthusiasm was triggered.

        After the structure was set on its foundation the work on the exterior began.  First, all of the damaged and destroyed material was removed. Doors and windows that were added to the structure throughout the years were also removed, returning the structure to it original design.

        Let me tell you, there was work to be done virtually everywhere. The first order of business was to shore up all main structural damage, supporting outside walls, corners, sills, etc. This prepared Bancroft Depot on foundation at Heritage Parkus for replacing the siding where needed. Feltz Lumber special cut the siding planking to the original sizes. There was a big problem with regard to the batting strips needed to cover the planking. Where do you get batting designed in the late 1800's.  An old friend, Jerome Kobishop, came to mind; he surely would know where to get this. As things turned out, he not only knew but also volunteered to make it - 500 ft of batting, exactly as the original. At this point we knew this project was to be a real challenge!

        With the onset of winter, the depot had only received its new repaired siding and work ceased until the spring of 1991.

1991 - Year 3

        Work began immediately as the weather became conducive to working outdoors. This year would see the scraping of old paint and applying the primer.  The open doors and windows were Bancroft Depot in gray primersealed off - lots of broken glass. Chuck Oswald was hired to repair the damaged roof structure and he proved to be a very capable repairman - do you know how high it is up there? New rafters, roof boards and fascia were installed where needed. Tarpaper was put over suspected leaks. A major leak problem over the agent area was identified and repaired.

        The building was beginning to gain a foothold against the elements, which had had their way for several decades. We now felt if only we could get a roof on this thing, we would be out of the woods. It was not to happen in 1991. The fall was approaching fast and winter was once again upon us.

1992 - Year 4

        The year 1992 would become a very demanding year for the CWMR. Things began to happen at a rapid pace. Because we had only primed the exterior, it was imperative that the building receive a finish coat of paint. Enter a new dilemma - what color.  Some felt from pictures it should remain gray with white trim - others thought it was originally a brown with yellow trim. Unable to determine the exact shade of brown used originally, it was decided to go with the yellow with maroon trim of Soo heritage.

        Carl Whittaker, a CWMR member, began communicating with the Soo Line Historical Society. Larry Easton had depot paint chips. These were analyzed and computer matched. With the approval on the colors from the SLHS, paint was purchased and finish coats were being applied when we ran into another delay. The PCHS halted the painting procedure until they were sure the color was correct.  Two weeks passed and a PCHS committee meeting was called to resolve this issue. Carl presented all the facts to the PCHS, who agreed we should go ahead with the color scheme of yellow and maroon.

        During the period of waiting for the final okay on the paint issue, work continued on the freight doors and sills. During one of our work sessions the Waupaca Model Railroaders volunteered their time and came to help. We sure appreciated their help, as we completed rebuilding one of the large freight doors that evening. Work was also completed on repairing all damaged sub-flooring inside the agent’s office of the depot.

        On arriving at the depot one night for a work session there came another surprise; someone had left approximately 30 square of asphalt shingles in the freight room. We didn’t know where they came from until a week later - the Wisconsin Central Limited Railroad had donated them for use on the depot. This in turn brought up another controversy, as the depot was to be refurbished to a time Carl working?period around the turn of the century and this decided upon cedar shingles. "Old Yeller" as it now became to be known, would have to wait again for its much needed protective headgear. The Wisconsin Central said it was all right to use the shingles on another roof.

        It was now up to the PCHS to make its decision as we were approaching mid-summer and another year without some sort of roof would start reversing all the fine work already done to preserve the structure. It was finally decided that cedar shingles would be the proper application but the expense proved to be another hurdle. Excellent planning by the PCHS overcame this hurdle, and Boyles Roofing of Wisconsin Rapids was contracted to install the roof the second week in August.  Well...it would be the second week in September before work began, but with great jubilation, as the roofers began taking off four layers of shingles and other types of roofing, exposing the original roof boards for the first time in about 100 years.

        With the painting in its final stages and the roofing going on, along with some final trim, it was a sight to behold for the work crew to see it all come together at once.

1993 - Year 5

        It has again become that cold time of year and "old yeller" has spent its third winter at Heritage Park. Much still had to be done to bring the depot all the way back to its original status but the refurbishing was well on its way!

        Still planned for the Bancroft depot would be the reinstallation of the windows, a replica of the Window workplatform out front, and the interior work for the waiting room, operator’s bay, and freight room. Several other ideas, and/or dreams were already being conjured up to give it atmosphere, such as an operating semaphore, a spur along the front of the depot with the possibility of an old caboose being spotted there. Other artifacts pertinent to the era could also be placed in or outside the depot.

        It had been a productive three summers and results had been somewhat spectacular. The Bancroft depot probably looks as good now as anytime since the early 1920's.

1994 - Year 6

        It is now the spring of 1994 and we are to begin the arduous task of restoring the waiting room. All trim and doors were removed. Walls were repaired where needed, again with the help of Feltz lumber; we were able to duplicate the wainscot needed for the walls. While Don Kottke worked on the room trim and doors, Jerome Kobishop and Fred Haase worked on replacement doors parts. Enter another fellow who was able to reproduce the damaged window and doorsills.  Dennis Lauer gave of his own time to reproduce exact duplicates of the sills in his fine workshop.

        During this time, many members, along with Mike Eiden and his "have sander will travel", began the endless task of power sanding the entire waiting room to get it ready for it first coat of paint in many, many years. At the same time, many members began the gruesome task of cleaning the hardwood floorboards. Don Anderson, even took flooring home to clean...there were tests on him for normalcy.

        After a month of sanding and puttying, Jerry Rohlinger’s paint crew, along with second-story men, Carl Whittaker, Dean Sauve, Scott Janz, and Mike Rutta, started priming the room. With the completion of the painting, it was time to think about getting started on the windows.

        With the aid of Anton Anday and the PCHS providing the $1200 needed to make the sashes for the building, Carl Whittaker provided the measuring and ordering of the sashes from G & S Woodworking. Exact duplicates were produced to re-window the entire depot.

        This produced another endless task of giving each sash five coats of paint before installation. Because there are six panes in each sash, the painters, Fred Simons and Jerry Rohlinger’s eyes began to cross. If you don’t believe me, take a look. We now know why they call these panes (pains).

         It was now time to install the windows (no problem) except these are the type with counter weights. Ask Fred Haase and Larry Misiewicz how simple it is to get the sash ropes installed. I’m sure you will get a chuckle out of them.

        With the waiting room windows and trim installed and the room painted, we have almost attained our goal for the summer.

        Larry Misiewicz and his crew started the hardwood floor project September 10. During the month of September, work was begun on the heavily damaged portion of the agent's room, an area where a tree had grown through the entire side of the building and caused excessive damage and dry rot. New ceiling joists and wall construction was completed, a new window casing, reproduced by Dennis Lauer, was also installed. New wainscoting was installed on the south wall and ceiling where needed.

        Next was to replace the landing to the upstairs stairwell, and the two stairways between the freight room and agent's room.

        The agent's room is close to being ready for puttying and sanding. Since this work was not scheduled for 1994, we were ahead of schedule and it allowed us a good chance to finish the agent's room sometime during the summer of 1995.

1995 - Year 7

        The summer of 1995 will be devoted to the ticket agent's room. In 1994 the room had been site cleared and all repairs had been competed except for the main structure between the two large bay windows.

        Sanding began with sometimes 4 sanders going at once. The noise was awesome. Jim Miller, Carl Whittaker, Mike Rutta and Mike Eiden looked like ghosts, shrouded in old paint chips and dust.

        Meanwhile, Don Kottke, was up to his old tricks of completely redoing all the windows and door trim. Most of these had been removed. The boards were first power sanded and then every board was checked for cracks and splits. These were all re-glued and straightened as well, as could be. It seemed each board had a hundred holes to re-putty. The boards were then re-sanded and re-puttied and sanded again. This had to be done for 10 different components for each of the 5 windows in the agent's room alone. After this, they were primed and given two coats of trim paint.

        Meanwhile, Bruce Heath did a yeoman job of getting all the sashes painted for this room. Bruce spent a lot of tedious hours getting the 10 sashes done. In all there were 5 different coats of paint.

 It all came together late in June when Jerry Rohlinger’s group got the room primed and gave it the first coat of paint. Shortly after, Don Kottke and Fred Haase spent a long, long Saturday with Ed Bochenek installing the windows. For the most part these fit nicely, but there were big problems on the two small side windows. These were about a quarter inch too narrow. The window casings had to be adjusted along with some shims to the sashes to custom fit these windows.

        Some work was being done to complete the floor in the waiting room by Larry Misiewicz and Bob Bochenek but this was hindered by a lack of correct flooring materials. It was decided to remove enough flooring from the agent's room to finish the waiting room. The big problem was that the material was in many different widths.

        After the waiting room was given its second coat of paint, work began in the stairwell, being sanded and given a first coat.

1996 - Year 8

        We began the spring of 1996 with ardent vigor to complete the first or main floor of "ole yeller". Main targets for this year were to install the final windows, complete the interior of the dispatch office and complete installation of the hardwood floor.

        With the help of Fred Haase, Don Kottke completed the window installation. All windows on the main floor are now operable with locks, pulls, and counter-weights installed. The windows on the second floor were sized and installed, but are only tacked in place.

        At this time, the arduous job of laying the remaining hardwood flooring began. After a big Restoration crewSaturday work session, the task of sanding this 100-year old hardwood was ready to begin. What a job for Larry Misiewicz and his power sanding machine. Larry spent many, many hours traversing this old wood and changing many belts as the old floor had many undetected square nails and sharp uneven corners. But Larry prevailed and so with some hand sanding got the floor ready for sealer. I think Larry may have celebrated a little after this chore. Am I right Larry?

        Now Jerry Rohlinger began the final sealing of the floor and final wall painting. At this time we ran into another problem. The new paint obtained from Fleet Farm did not match the coded paint purchased previously. After several hours with the paint mixer at Fleet, we were able to get the new paint close enough to match the original color and the final touch-up was completed.

        Enter my wife, Judie Kottke. When she saw the rooms, she mentioned that shades were shown in the depot picture we have in the clubhouse. So to improve the looks of the depot, she proceeded to obtain these shades. She and Don installed said shades and "walla"...the rooms now look impressive.

        By July 4th the depot was ready for it first open house scheduled for July 16th. Some work still remains, but we finally have it under control. With the help of the Bochenek's, Ed and Bob, the remaining gaps in the freight room walls were patched up. This has this room looking respectable as well.

        At the time of this writing, work was begun on the platform on the ends and south side of the depot. The Lutheran Brotherhood donated a substantial amount of cash to the PCHS for this project, which allowed the work to begin.

1997 - Year 9
Bancroft Depot painting 1998

        It was a fairly quiet year for the depot. The year began with "ole yeller" getting a brand new NMRA tour at depotcoat of paint. Fred Haase and Don Kottke completed the task in nine days. Fred spent a lot of time during the week on the high ladder. Don and Fred also installed the new ticket window and a new agent's desk.

        Jerry Rohlinger sanded and painted the window and desk. This completed the agent room as far as refurbishing is concerned. Clean-up of the freight room began in July for the national NMRA meet. Tours from Madison would stop here for a dinner served by our club.

        Main entry door locks were purchased and will be installed next spring. The Lutheran Brotherhood has donated planking for the rear platform, one half has been installed. In October the security system for the depot was activated.

1998 - Year 10

        The platform was installed on the south side of the depot. Plans for completing the rest of the platform are being made for 1999. Significant donations from the Lutheran Brotherhood Central Wisconsin Branch # 8101, of approximately $5,500 in the last two years, has made this possible. An additional $2-3,000 is required to complete this aspect of the restoration. The only other major project for completion of the depot is the installation of the chimney.

        July 18 & 19th, the Portage County Historical Society’s first Plover Portage Rendezvous, featuring re-enactors of the Fur Trade Era drew approximately 1,700 visitors to the Park. The depot being of a unique architecture was a high point for many of the guests.

        Artifacts are being restored or obtained for the interior. This portion of the restoration will continue for many years as items are donated etc. Some rail and ties have been obtained for the siding. Trucks were donated by the Wisconsin central Limited  for a Green Bay & Western outside braced wood boxcar that has been given to the Society. Work on this will begin in 1999. The last, and possibly the most important project, is the restoration of the original "two holer privy". This will commence soon?

        This is how the depot looked on Sept. 12, 1998. Photo provided by members of Central Wisconsin Model Railroaders, Ltd.

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