Perf. Arts

Local author traces century of 'Bug Line' railroad
Book is fifth for Waukesha's Robert Duerwachter



By KEVIN PASSON - Special to TimeOut

November 27, 2013


WAUKESHA - Robert Duerwachter never believed the search for a route to a trout stream in northern Wisconsin would lead to a post-retirement hobby and a series of books telling the tales of Wisconsin railroads.

“My son and I were in Langlade County, and when we had to find a trout stream, I pulled out a map,” the Waukesha author said. “I saw what turned out to be an old railroad line, and that’s how it all started.”

Duerwachter recently gave a presentation about his latest book, “It’s Train Time! The Story of the Bug Line,” to a gathering at the Oconomowoc Public Library. He said it was sixth such talk of the year.

The “Bug Line” was originally the Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls and Western Railway, eventually becoming part of the Milwaukee Road. It was in operation from 1885 to 1978. It initially was built from the village of Granville (now part of the city of Milwaukee) to Menomonee Falls and then to Templeton (now part of Sussex). Later, it was extended to North Lake.

“(Local businessman) Richard Weaver said on the first day that people could ride from Sussex to Menomonee Falls and back for free,” Duerwachter said. “A woman on the train compared the ride to a bug following a grapevine, the way it followed the rolling landscape. The name stuck.”

Duerwachter said his book traces the history of the railroad, from its early beginnings when it was used to transport stone, sugar beets and products from the feed mills.

In the beginning stages, plans were to extend the line throughout Wisconsin.

“It was supposed to go to Superior from Milwaukee,” Duerwachter said. “They had great dreams. Those dreams died in North Lake.”

The railroad line saw its last run in 1978. A few years earlier, the North Lake branch became the route for the Kettle Moraine Scenic Railway. That would eventually give way to urban growth, and its last run was in late 2001.

Today, the route is the Bugline Recreational Trail.

“Waukesha County recently spent $950,000 to blacktop the strip from the end of the Merton tracks to Menomonee Falls,” Duerwachter said. “It’s a 10-foot wide strip of blacktop.”

In 2005, Duerwachter published his first book, “The Dousman, Marlboro & Southern: The Tibby Line,” which chronicled the private railroad of the Eagle Lime Products Company in Waukesha County. His second book, “The Whistle Didn’t Blow Long Enough: The History of the Chicago & Lake Superior Railroad,” was published in 2008. “The Ponds of the Scuppernong” was published in 2010. He also wrote a biography of lumber baron Charles Whitwood Fish of Elcho, Wis.

Duerwachter is a contributor to the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society, the Chicago & North Western Historical Society, the Langlade County Historical Society and the Forest History Association of Wisconsin. In 2009, he published “The Ponds of the Scuppernong” for which he was the recipient of the Libbie Faulkner Nolan Award for his scholarly contribution to the history of Waukesha County.

Duerwachter graduated from Marquette University in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in history and a teaching major in English. He was awarded a master’s degree in U.S. history in 1963.

His 35-year career as a high school teacher ended in 1994, when he retired after 28 years at Kettle Moraine High School.

He and his wife, Barbara, live in Waukesha. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

In his free time, he continues to work on two more books, “The History of the Wisconsin & Northern Railroad” and “The Railroads of Langlade County,” the place that inspired his railroad hobby and writing career.