[Originally published in the Winter 2008 issue of Club Car newsletter.]
“I stole lots of rides on the Soo Line, and I can still feel the thrill of riding the 400.”
He will tell you about hitching a ride on the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha atop the oil tender in the days when his father was a Soo Line engineer. Although not a railroad man himself, he once told a Pioneer Press reporter, “I stole lots of rides on the Soo Line, and I can still feel the thrill of riding the 400.”
Ray is probably best known around the museum for his scratch-built model of the Hiawatha, a beautifully engineered masterpiece of ten passenger cars and locomotive stamped from galvanized sheet metal. The Museum now owns the model, which stands proudly on a shelf above the layout.
Why the Hiawatha? “Because that’s the train I hoboed on many times,” he says. Back in 1940, while looking for a ride from Milwaukee to Chicago, he asked the fireman on the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha if a fellow could hitch a ride, and he was told to wait until the railroad police were finished checking for hoboes, then climb aboard the tender. “Whether designed for the purpose or not, there was a sort of a bench where I could ride in comfort on the 75 mile trip.”
Today, Norton is the unofficial goodwill ambassador for the museum, answering questions and spinning steam train yarns for visitors. Ask him just about anything concerning railroading, and he will draw from his encyclopedic memory to give you the answer.