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Local author to discuss history of area branch line railroads during ‘Thursdays at the U’

| Linda Tollefsrud and Diane Walkoff

Photo caption: After retiring from teaching at Barron High School, Arlyn Colby found time to pursue his interest in railroads — specifically the abandoned branch line railroads throughout west-central Wisconsin. He has had seven books published on the topic since 2008.

Growing up in Trempealeau County, Arlyn Colby was fascinated by railroads. Whenever he noticed a train passing through town, he’d wonder, “Where does that train go?”

“I would have loved to have a train ride to see past my limited world at the time,” says Colby, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1966 with a degree in mathematics and a minor in physical education.

After retiring from a fulfilling career as a mathematics teacher and coach at Barron High School, Colby found time to pursue his interest in railroads — specifically the abandoned branch line railroads throughout west-central Wisconsin. He has since become an expert in the field, having published seven books on the topic over the last 15 years.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, Colby will discuss his railroad research and writing as part of the “Thursdays at the U” series at UW-Eau Claire – Barron County. The presentation, which will be from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the Blue Hills Lecture Hall in Ritzinger Hall, also will be livestreamed.

Colby’s first book, “The Mondovi Line,” about the railroad that ran between Fairchild and Mondovi, near where he grew up, was published in 2008. It was so well received that he continued to research and write about other abandoned branch line railroads in “The Chippewa Valley Line,” “The Blueberry Line,” “The Cornell Line,” “The Park Falls Line,” “The Spring Valley Line” and, most recently, “The Ellsworth Line.” The books, which will be available for purchase at Colby’s presentation, detail the history of the towns along the lines, as well as photos, charts, diagrams and maps.

The successful author enjoys sharing his research and writing with the public. 

“I love doing presentations for groups and have now done more than 60 of them,” Colby says. “I enjoy seeing the interest shown by attendees and hearing their experiences with railroads. Many have given me information that would have been great to use in the books.”

For more information about Arlyn Colby’s books, visit the Wisconsin Railroad Books website

The “Thursdays at the U” weekly series is free and open to the public thanks to support from the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Foundation. Neither seating reservations nor parking permits are needed for campus guests.

The next presentation in the series will be Thursday, Dec. 1, with David Yorks presenting "Warren Commission Report: Fact or Fiction?"

For more information about the series, call the campus at 715-788-6244 or email Dr. Linda Tollefsrud, the series organizer, at tollefla@uwec.edu.