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Private, personal carnival
Times photo: Tere Dunlap Tri-Brothers Farm Fun carnival rides on Wittenwyler Road near Monticello begin to light up each night and can be seen from Wisconsin 69. The 1930s non-electric Ferris wheel was part of the Mound View Shows out of Platteville.
MONTICELLO - Drivers coming to Monticello from Monroe on Wisconsin 69 can see a Ferris wheel lit up in the distance. No signs point the way to it, because it's not open to the public.

The carnival rides include a WW II vintage Schiff Coaster, which Wade Wittenwyler said is "labor intensive" to construct, an octopus ride, Venture Tubs of Fun and a King Rides Pony Ride. The 1960s King Rides Tiger Shark is Wittenwyler's favorite.

The antique Ferris wheel, its accompanying carnival rides and a mile-long railroad are the hobby and property of the three Wittenwyler brothers, Kurt, Mark and Wade, of Monticello, who form the Tri-Brothers Farm Fun LLC.

The Illinois Central and Milwaukee railroads ran through the Wittenwyler family property for three generations.

"We like trains; we like to ride trains," Wade Wittenwyler said.

The carnival was started in reaction to the railroad being discontinued and Green County Tourism having the rail torn out to make bicycle paths.

The Wisconsin Heritage Rail had 15 motor cars that were used until 2000. Wittenwyler unsuccessfully tried to stop the rails from being torn up.

"We told them, when gas gets up to $4 to $5 a gallon, they'd need them again. They told us we were nuts," Wittenwyler said. "Now there's commuter rail all over."

So with all the antique railroad equipment and with the help of other fellow motor car owners, the Wittenwylers sought to preserve the heritage of the railroad they had known all their lives, and in 2003 started the Badger Northern Railroad, a mile-plus of track running along and through the family fields. The brothers finished it in 2006.

Ballast and about 4,000 ties were purchased to keep the rails in place. The railroad has motion-triggered crossing warnings with bells and flashing lights. Concrete cattle guards were constructed and installed. In 2006 a 16-foot turntable was installed to reverse the rail cars.

"You can't go around the same direction the whole time; it wears out the wheels," Wittenwyler said.

In 2007 the brothers built a depot, with a Monticello sign telling people where they are boarding.

Tri-Brothers recently added a 16,000-pound 1943 locomotive and a caboose built by a son of a retired Santa Fe Railroad engineer. This year they built the Scenic Pleasure Lounge car, which looks like a backyard deck on wheels.

Seated in engine at eye-level with 7-foot corn, Wittenwyler takes The Badger Northern through the corn fields and "Wild Animal Park" cattle pastures, at about 15 miles per hour. But the train has no cow catcher.

"Don't dare run over them," Wittenwyler said.

While the carnival rides and train are not open to the public, the brothers do put on a fundraiser for Monticello Empty Stocking Fund, in conjunction with the Washington Reformation Church the first Saturday before Memorial Day.

The brothers get together with family and friends about twice a week to ride the rails.