Badger #2 at Antigo, WI, 1921.
A.J. Kinsbury photo, MCRM collection.

Badger #2 while owned by Knapp.
Paul Swanson collection.

Badger #2 in service at Hillsboro, 1962.
Photo by Jim Neubauer.

The interior of Badger #2 while in use as a passenger coach at North Freedom, 1963-1985. The museum added walk-over seats.
MCRM collection.

Badger #2 at the museum in 1976. It was later painted Pullman Green to match the museum's steel coach fleet. It was last used in service during Snow Train 1985.
Ron Jones photo.

Mid-Continent Receives $475,000 Grant for Fish Car.

Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc., will receive a $475,000 grant next week from the Jeffris Family Foundation, Janesville, to help restore an almost century old fish stocking car, the state Department of Natural Resources announced today.

The grant presentation to the North Freedom-based railway historical society will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, August 11, on the grounds of the Nevin State Fish Hatchery, 3911 Fish Hatchery Road, Fitchburg.

“It’s fitting that this grant be awarded to Mid-Continent at the state’s oldest fish hatchery which, like the fish stocking railway car, played such an important role in enhancing the fishery resources of Wisconsin,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett.

The Nine Springs State Fish Hatchery, now called Nevin after Wisconsin’s first Superintendent of Fisheries, James Nevin, was established at Fitchburg in 1876.

Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc., (MCRHS) aims to “preserve and interpret the legacy of railroad history for the educational benefit of the general public,” noted the historical society’s general manager, Don Meyer.

“Our primary focus is collecting, preserving and interpreting the railroad history of the Upper Midwest during the Golden Age of Railroading, 1880 to 1916,” he added.

The Jeffris Family Foundation is dedicated to Wisconsin’s cultural history and heritage through preserving regionally historic buildings and decorative arts projects. The Foundation supports significant projects that strive for high preservation standards and show a strong degree of local support. Founded in Janesville in 1979, the Foundation currently has more than $20 million in assets, and grants about $1 million annually, according to the Foundation’s Web site.

The $475,000 Jeffris grant is the largest gift that MCRHS has ever received, befitting as for what will be the historical society’s most ambitious restoration project and will fund about one-half of the estimated $950,000 needed to accurately restore the fish car, according to Mr. Meyer.

MCRHS has 18 months to raise the remaining $475,000 and the DNR will serve as “promotional partners” by publicizing the project in the agency’s Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine and on its Web site, said Mr. Hassett.

Wells Fargo Bank in Baraboo has agreed to provide a drop box service for the MCRHS fund raising campaign so that donations for the fish car–called Badger #2–restoration can go directly to the bank.

This will make for easier handling which should in turn provide donors with a sense of security about how their money is being taken care of,” said Meyer.

Donations should be made out to Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc., and mailed to Wells Fargo Bank, 502 Oak St. Baraboo, WI 53913, and Attn: Cathy Althoff.

The Fish Car Era

MCRHS bought its first collection piece, the Wisconsin Fish Commission Badger #2 car in 1960, and “the society knew that it had rescued a significant railroad artifact from Wisconsin’s past. It wouldn’t be until much later that the society would understand the full significance of the state and national treasure it had saved from the scrap heap,” pointed out Meyer.

That’s because now nearly 100 years old, the Badger #2 is the last authentic fish car known to exist in the country. While other institutions have recreated fish cars for museum exhibits, the Badger #2 is the only original example of a fish car.

Nowadays a fleet of modern tank trucks transport millions of fish a year from DNR hatcheries to stock many of Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers, streams and the Great Lakes. Hatchery reared fish are carried in cooled, oxygen-aerated, constantly circulated and cleansed water. The science of fish transportation has been so highly developed that virtually all of the fish arrive at stocking points in sound condition.

Things were different over a century ago. Because of transport limitations, fish were generally stocked in areas near the rearing stations. In 1874, the first successful transportation of fish by railcar was achieved by Dr. Livingston Stone, when he accompanied 35,000 shad fry from the east coast to the Sacramento River in California. Dr. Stone’s success marked the beginning of what would be known as the Fish Car Era. The railcar that Dr. Stone and his shad fry traveled in was merely a baggage car, but within seven years the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had commissioned its first specially built “fish car.”

Prior to commissioning custom built fish cars of its own, Wisconsin’s standard practice was to transport fish fry in milk cans carried in baggage cars. Every 20 to 25 cans were attended by a “messenger,” or fisheries specialist, whose duties included aerating the water in each can by hand with a ladle to help insure the survival of fish fry. In most cases, railroads hauled the baggage cars and milk cans for free as space allowed. Often the messengers accompanying the fry were granted free fare as well.

Wisconsin bought its first fish car, the Badger #1, in 1893. At this time, several states already had fish cars of their own and the federal government had four cars in active service. Making its debut in 1912, the Badger #2 was the second official fish car used by the state and featured improved technology which proved considerably better for both the fish fry and crews that cared for them.

The Badger #2, built by the Pullman Company at 72 feet in length, was 18 feet longer than Badger #1 and featured a wood and steel structure which provided additional strength that enabled it to travel safely at passenger car speeds, as well as carry more cargo. It was built with 15 fish tanks and was unique in that five of the tanks were removable if necessary. Not only did these tanks carry more fish fry, but the survival rate improved from hatchery to stocking location.

Besides fish tanks, the Badger #2 had a salon, observation room, kitchen and ample sleeping accommodations for a crew of four and often several guests. The Badger #2, with a final price tag of $13,500, cost more than double its predecessor.

Though the Badger #2 was introduced at the height of the Fish Car Era, its services became obsolete with the advent of another method of transportation–the automobile. Hatcheries became more spread throughout Wisconsin by the 1930’s and the use of trucks for distribution became a more efficient way to cover short distances. By 1935, the Badger #2 had spent the majority of the last few years dormant and the car was contracted out to east coast hatcheries, though it remained Wisconsin property.

The Badger #2 was finally decommissioned as a fish car by the state in 1945 and sold to Milwaukee-based private railroad contractor Walter H. Knapp, Inc. MCRHS bought the Badger #2 for its collection from Mr. Knapp in 1960.

The car has been out of service due to its deteriorated condition since 1985. Initial preservation and stabilization work was performed in the 1990’s and the car is currently in storage on the Mid-Continent property in North Freedom, awaiting full restoration.