Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Mysterious Oulu Railway Car

The other year, while exploring an abandoned Finnish homestead on Hoover Line Road I came across an amazing find - an ancient railroad boxcar!  Not having been aware of Oulu having ever had a railroad, I had no idea how it got there.  I posted photos of it on my facebook page in an album titled "The Magic of Oulu".  The mysterious boxcar garnered a lot of interest, so I've been researching since to try and figure out what its story was.

For those who haven't had the good fortune of visiting beautiful Oulu, it's a rural farming community in northern Wisconsin that was settled primarily by Finns a century ago.  It's roughly half way between Superior and Ashland, just a few miles north of Hwy. 2.  While it was once one of the most densely populated rural townships in the state, with a 1000 farmers crammed into a mere thirty five square miles, today a lot of the farms are abandoned.

But back to the story of the railroad car, that was seemingly randomly plopped on this old farm.  Well, it turns out Oulu did in fact use to have a railroad!  It was a very simple and crude railroad, which was used for hauling out logs to area sawmills.  Originally it only had wooden rails (!) and its cars were pulled by oxen, but later, around 1900, a more modern steel rail line was built. It ran along the Muskeg Creek in central Oulu, running north to south.  The railroad also took on local passengers at one point, and a crude depot of sorts was set up along the creek consisting of a then already old boxcar taken off of its carriage.  It was simply meant as a place where passengers could get some shelter from the elements while they waited for the train.

It appears that the boxcar/depot was on or near a farm along the Muskeg that was homesteaded by a Finnish farmer named Konsta Jaakola.  Jaakola was a Communist, and he emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, along with hundreds of other Finnish-Americans at that time. In 1940 his farm was bought by William Sillanpaa. A Toivo & Wilho Sillanpaa owned the Hoover Line Road farm, which is less than half a mile away from the old Jaakola farm. I'm assuming Toivo & Wilho were related to William (perhaps they were his sons?), and judging by the remnants of a 1920s issue of the Tyomies newspaper that I found on the sauna floor, that they too were Communists.

Not sure why, but after the railroad shut down and was dismantled, they must have installed the metal rimmed wagon wheels on the boxcar that are currently on it, and turned it into a wagon. Then at some point they pulled it from the Jaakola to the Hoover Line Road farm, where it has sat, by the looks of it, for decades.

So, to the best of my knowledge, this is the story of the mysterious Oulu railroad car!