J. Wiener wasn't a public person and yet he was well
known in circles he was known
to frequent. You could go to almost any railroad yard office in at least a three hundred-mile radius
of North Fond du Lac, WI and you could find someone who knew him. You could contact almost
any railroading magazine in the country and his photographs would have been published there.
You could ask almost anyone stopped at the side of the road in Wisconsin taking pictures of
trains and/or railroad structures and they would know who he was. You could ask railroad
presidents who he was and many could tell you.
worked for the Soo Line Railroad for most of his life.
He started out as a brakeman,
worked as number grabber, and, for most of his time on the railroad, as a crew caller. None of
these jobs brought him any of the notoriety mentioned previously, and if anything the notoriety
probably brought him grief from his fellow employees. Most did not understand his love of railroading.
To them, railroading was a job that you did and then you went home. Even more could not
understand why he would go out and take pictures of railroad engines, cars, buildings, trains,
signals, and even track. What a waste of time and money is what most said.
they didn't realize was how much Francis loved railroads.
To him the railroads were a part
of history and a part of many people's lives, which few people today understand. He was out capturing
this history and trying to save it to someday be passed on to the others that caught the railroading bug.
Fox River Valley would never have developed into the paper
center that it is today without the
railroads and he could tell you the names of most of the now defunct railroads that once had track in
Wisconsin, let alone in the Valley.
belonged to every railway historical society that he
heard of in Wisconsin and many from other
parts of the country as well. He had a love of railroads that many spoke of at his funeral. To have
known Francis Wiener was to have known someone that few understood. If you loved railroading surely
you would have understood him. If you love any hobby you would have understood, at least, his passion.
happened to Francis shortly after he retired from
his career at the Soo Line Railroad. The
Soo Line bought up the Milwaukee Road Railroad, sold all their track and holdings that they had and
left the Fox River Valley forever. How would this affect Francis, who had slides of every engine that the
Soo Line had since his son introduced him to modern cameras in 1970? The railroad that he worked on,
that his father and uncles had worked on and that his two youngest sons had worked on while finding
themselves was now gone. What would he do?
around him were shocked. Everyone that knew Francis was
shocked, including his wife. He
surprised everyone by immediately adopting the Wisconsin Central as his railroad. He knew some of the
employees that didn't move with the Soo Line and was on the job documenting that railroad's history
even before it really began.
shook hands, gave out his business cards, learned the names
of all the officials, and gave them all
8x10 photographs for their office walls. He sold himself and railfans to that railroad to the point that
they began calling him whenever anything of interest to a railfan would happen.
a while the railroad wanted to promote itself and they
called on Francis to provide some slides.
He said that they could have their choice of anything that he had that they might want. The railroad
officials' big mistake was asking when they could view some of his Wisconsin Central slides. They came
to his house, he lowered his 8x10 foot screen, and he conquered them. Eight hours later they had chosen
about a hundred slides for a brochure that required 5 or 6. They had not seen a quarter of his Wisconsin
Central slides. They were impressed. They then asked him to choose the slides for them and he did. The
president of the railroad was so impressed with what his executives did for a brochure that he wanted
to pay Francis for his work. Francis refused payment, but he did say that he would like to meet the
president of the company the next time he came to Fond du Lac. They did meet.
President of the Wisconsin Central did pay and pay dearly
for those slides. It wasn't money, for
Francis had a series of framed pictures that he gave to that man. Francis wanted to talk to him, ask
questions, express concerns and even give advice. Who knows what was said or how it was said, but
Francis left that first meeting on a first name basis with the railroad's president. Often that man and
a few other railroads' executives would call Francis for a wall to bounce ideas off of and to ask advice.
in the second year of the Wisconsin Central, Francis
was taking photographs in Minneapolis,
Minnesota and was asked to leave the Central property by a not so friendly employee. Francis complied.
led to the second and as far as I know only other request
made by Francis of the railroad's president.
Francis pointed out to the president that railfans help to make many railroads popular and also unpopular.
Also, most railfans do know what they are doing around trains and that it might be a good policy to
promote railfans rather than throw them off the property. The president by now knew Francis, his history,
and a number of other railfans and knew this was true. He apologized to Francis for the treatment that
he had received and, as Francis later learned, the president sent a memo to be posted at all Wisconsin
Central offices that railfans were not to be bothered unless they were endangering themselves or doing
damage to property.
was one other bonus to this problem. To insure that it
would never happen again to Francis or his
wife, Dorothy, since she was almost always with Francis, the president issued a lifetime pass to Mr and
Mrs Wiener that allowed them on any and all Wisconsin Central Railroad property at any time of the
day or night. This pass included that they could ride any train that operated on the Wisconsin Central.
Dorothy had her letter framed, but Francis all but wore his out, showing it to anyone interested.
Francis did go back to Minneapolis and did crawl on the
engines enough so that employee did get
to read the letter. Best of all, the employee didn't believe the letter and called the president for confirmation
and was almost fired for not reading memos.
also went to the North Fond du Lac railroad yards everyday
that he was home, at least once a
day. He got to know the employees, their families, their interests and handed out samples of his work to
anyone who would appreciate it.
sincere kindness was paid back a hundred fold. Employees
kept him appraised of what was going
on with that railroad at all times. Many times he would know things about the railroad long before the
executives would and would share his concerns about things before the officials were given the word.
They always wondered how he knew so much.
and foremen would call him when new cars, engines,
or when special machines were coming
out of construction. He had several telephone calls every time a special train was coming. He liked
almost everyone and almost everyone liked him.
died unexpectedly in his sleep the night after a physical
that said he was healthy. It was how
he would have preferred to die. But this is not the end to this one story, but rather a strange beginning.
funeral was large in nature, but not design. Calls were
made to family, friends, and acquaintances
like every family does. Quite a few people were expected, but the turnout was almost too large. The funeral
director asked Dorothy after the first night if she would like another night for viewing and postpone the
funeral, for people were still standing in line outside at nine o'clock waiting to get into the funeral home
even though viewing was from 4 to 8 PM. There were flowers from the presidents of three railroads,
two railroad employee unions, that Francis did not belong to, and too many individuals to mention.
Wiener had over a hundred requests from men to be pallbearers
and she honored them all after she
found out that many would lose a day's pay for being there if they were not a pallbearer. There were six
that carried the casket and it ended up being over a hundred who lined the church and the walk to the
grave that were also called pallbearers. There were people from fourteen states and four countries - that
the family knows of. There were cards, telegrams, and flowers from people all over the world with whom
he traded railroad slides.
is not the end to this story either. The ending truly
came on a cold rainy October day half a year
later. It started at the funeral as an idea. Some of the Wisconsin Central employees are given credit
with having the idea, and, indeed, did suggest the final selection of the idea. The idea was some kind
of tribute to Francis as a friend and promoter of railfanning and especially with the Wisconsin Central.
At the funeral the pallbearers included the presidents of two railroads and yes, one was the Wisconsin
Central. The idea grew into a rumor and then became reality. The Wisconsin Central President thought
the idea was good, but didn't want to start something that might not be popular with the employees.
So, sometime in the weeks after the funeral, there was a questionnaire sent out to the employees at North
Fond du Lac and the response was predictable. They did want to do the tribute, but they did want to
modify it somewhat. Dorothy was thrilled by the idea and said yes, the employees were right to modify
the original idea.
President of the Wisconsin Central, that Saturday in October
shut down the entire shop operations
so employees who wanted to attend could. All the buildings were open to the hundreds of railfans that
showed for that dedication day. The president of the railroad wanted to name the next new locomotive for
Francis. The employees said no. They wanted to name the oldest, smallest locomotive that the railroad
owned for Francis, because it was purchased just to move things around the shops area and never left
North Fond du Lac. Employees thought they best knew Francis and thought he should stay close to
home and friends.
if you get to North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin go to the Wisconsin
Central yards and ask to see
engine #1, the “Francis J. Wiener.” Tell them you are a railfan and the employees will usually take it
out into the sun for you to get a picture. You see it may be the only locomotive in the world named
for a railfan.
his son, David, gets really lonely he goes and sits in
the cab - with his dad. Francis is always
there. David is sure Francis would like you to visit too.
Addendum March 2002:
the past year the Wisconsin Central retired engine #1 due
to mechanical problems. They were
aware enough though not to scrap out the “Francis J. Wiener.” The Wisconsin Central made special
arrangements with the Laona and Northern Railroad Museum in Laona, Wisconsin that WC #1
the “Francis J. Wiener” would be on permanent loan to the museum.
now, if you want to see the WC #1, you must go to Laona.
The owners assured the Wiener
family that the “Francis” would be restored to operating condition, but it might take a year or so
to do it. Operating or not, David plans on going for a motorcycle ride this summer to visit the
engine, hop into the cab, and talk to his dad again. He knows Francis will be there.