SPOONER– It all began in 1953 when the idea was floated to bring professional rodeo to Spooner. Now, 66 years later, the Spooner Heart of the North Rodeo is one of the largest, most successful, and respected rodeos in the country.
This year, selected by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to be part of the ProRodeo Tour, the Spooner Rodeo has attracted even more of the top talents in the sport.
The action and fun begin tonight, Thursday, July 11, with the Exceptional Rodeo for special needs children at 6 p.m., running right through Sunday morning, July 14, to Breakfast at the Rodeo Grounds and Cowboy Church.
In between, enjoy top rodeo performances as cowboys and cowgirls compete for nearly $100,000 in prize money. Enjoy the Spooner Rodeo Stampede, Pancake Breakfast, the incredible Rodeo Parade, the Block Party with world-class entertainment, Steak Cookoff, Lions Club BBQ, live music from Dirt Road Dixie, and much more.
For the 66th great year, it's pro rodeo time in Spooner!
A town of Stone Lake tractor mower and a Canadian National (CN) train collided on Metcalf Road in Washburn County on Wednesday, July 7, roughly four miles west of Hwy. 27.
The driver of the tractor mower, who was not injured, was eastbound on Metcalf Road and said he did not see the southbound train because a railroad shed blocked his view, and he also said he did not hear any horns from the train warning of the pending collision.
The Metcalf Road crossing has two railroad crossing signs and a stop sign for the westbound traffic.
Two safety measures the crossing lacks that many other highway-railroad crossings have are warning lights and a gate.
If there had been gates at the crossing, it is very likely they would have prevented the tractor mower from moving over the tracks, preventing the collision.
Just to the north where the rail lines cross Cty. Hwy. E at two locations, each has warning lights and a gate on each side of the tracks that drop before the train arrives.
Since the Metcalf collision questions have been raised about why some crossings have more safety measures than others.
On the west side of Washburn County where the CN rail crosses 10 roads with trains moving up to 60 mph, four train-vehicle collisions have occurred since 2001 at un-gated crossings.
In June 2018, a semi truck and train collided at Stanberry Road east of Cty. Hwy. M at an un-gated crossing.
In 2001 and 2002 there were
collisions at the Strabel Road crossing, just north of Hwy. 70. A Sawyer County Record article for the 2002 collision reads, "The crossing is marked with a railroad warning sign and stop sign, but no arms or flashing lights."
According to the Accident Prediction Report for Public at-Grade Highway Rail Crossings by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there are 32 crossings in Washburn County. Most of the crossings are for an excursion train from Spooner to Springbrook where the speed is limited to less than 10 mph, but at 10 crossings CN trains are allowed to travel up to 60 mph, including where the four previous collisions have occurred at an un-gated crossing.
Of the 10 CN-highway crossings in Washburn County, five have a gate. The five un-gated crossings are mostly like Metcalf with just the railroad signs while some have stop signs.
In Sawyer County, there are 11 crossings, and at nine crossings trains are allowed to travel up to 60 mph. Of the nine crossings, five are gated and four are not.
Why no gates?
In 2018 Wisconsin received $6.01 million from the US Department of Transportation for the state's railway-highway crossing program.
The Office of the Commissioner of Railroads (OCOR), part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, controls $4.4 million of those federal dollars that can be used to upgrade crossings, adding safety lights and gates if the office determines those measures are needed.
"We don't have any set criteria," said Heather Graves, office policy analyst for the OCOR on how it determines if a crossing needs additional safety measures. "There isn't a set criteria for each crossing that has to be met. It is our practice to add lights and gates when we find a crossing that needs to be upgraded. That wasn't the case in the late '90s – usually only lights were installed at that time."
In Wisconsin, she said, roughly half of the crossings have no gates.
The OCOR will look at particular crossings after an inspector has raised an issue or after an accident or a highway commissioner or municipality responsible for a road asks for a review of the crossing.
Factors considered for an upgrade are the volume of traffic on the road, the number of trains traveling over the crossing, the speed of the train, and how far down the tracks a driver can see a train before the crossing, the "sight triangle at the crossing."
Graves said her office would receive the accident report for the Metcalf Road collision from the FRA probably late August. They will look at the accident and determine if a visit is required.
In the early 2000s, Washburn County and the towns of Stone Lake and Stinnett asked the OCOR for a review of 10 crossings, including Metcalf Road. Graves said six "signal orders" were given, but a signal order could just mean the review of the crossings determined the six were "adequate" or there could have been an upgrade. (She had no additional information on the review.)
Graves said it appears no upgrade was determined for Metcalf Road.
In Sawyer County, the town of Weirgor asked for a crossing review in 2004, but she had no information on the outcome of that review.
WASHBURN COUNTY– Four people have applied to be the Washburn County Circuit Court judge when Judge Gene Harrington retires at the close of August 2 after nearly 22 years on the bench.
The candidates are Thomas Frost, Andrew Harrington, Aaron Marcoux, and Angeline Winton, the governor's office said in an email to the Spooner Advocate on Monday, July 8.
Gov. Tony Evers will appoint a new judge to serve until July 31, 2020. Then whoever is elected in the spring election will take over on August 1, 2020, for a six-year term.
Harrington had said in his retirement statement in May that he hoped the governor would select his successor before August 15 because the annual Judicial College for judges begins August 19 and every judge, especially a new one, needs that basic education.
He also had two other requests:
• "Appoint a lawyer that has successfully tried cases to a jury," he said. "Not necessarily a lawyer that has won every jury trial, but a practitioner that has experienced the preparation and process of a trial. Many lawyers become judges without real trial experience. The learning curve can be steep. New judges flounder
ing denies due process to both practicing lawyers and their clients."
> "Although historically I was a Democrat, I urge that you appoint a person without regard to political affiliation. Appoint a good student of the law. That is the most important predictor in the long term success of a judge."
Candidates for the election in April can begin circulating papers in December, with the paperwork due by January 2 and the Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) due by January 7. A Spring Primary will be held in February.
Harrington was last elected in 2015, and his six-year term would have been through July 31, 2021.