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

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

Badger #2 at the museum in 1976. It was last used in service in February 1985.
Ron Jones photo.

Wisconsin & Southern will provide free train rides on August 12.
Photo by Paul Swanson.

C&NW Gandy Dancers take a break from their work near Shepley, WI about 1910.
Collection of Paul Swanson.

Bluegrass Music Festival to Raise Money for Fish Car.

Madison’s east side will resonate to the sounds of bluegrass music and train whistles Sunday, August 12th when the first annual Gandy Dancer Festival takes place in Central Park, located at the corners of Ingersoll and East Wilson Streets in Madison, Wisconsin. The event will combine free train rides on board the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad with free music in the park during a day-long festival to benefit the restoration of the Badger 2, a fish-stocking car built in 1912 for the Wisconsin Fish Commission.

The inspiration for this unique mix of elements came from the blended passions of Johanna Fabke, a part-time employee at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and a full-time train and music enthusiast. “Some of my earliest memories are of meeting people or taking them to board the “400” at the Chicago & North Western depot at South Beaver Dam,” she fondly recalls. “The doors to those bright yellow and green streamliners seemed to me the doorway to fascinating adventures.”

Johanna first learned about the proposed restoration of the Badger 2 through her job at the DNR. An article was being prepared for the December 2006 issue of the Department’s Natural Resources magazine. The piece entitled “Across the Trestles of Time” revealed that the car was in the collection of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum at North Freedom. So Johanna took the initiative to contact the museum’s general manager to propose a music festival as a fund raiser for their restoration project.

Johanna then contacted close friend, Carolyn Hegeler, a performer in the local bluegrass group “Round the Bend” and past president of the Southern Wisconsin Bluegrass Music Association. Carolyn set to work lining up festival headliner The Alan Munde Gazette and with Johanna’s help began contacting other local groups to round out the festival’s program. Together they assembled a broad range of styles within the bluegrass genre, with a little blues thrown in and something for the kids to add to the festival’s appeal.

Location was the next concern. Johanna’s dream event needed to offer free train rides to compliment the free music. Johanna turned to fellow DNR staffer, Bob Queen, for advice on finding a site that would accommodate an open-air concert and have rail access. Bob is noted for organizing various eastside community events, such as the Fete de Marquette. He suggested The Central Park, which is shaped like a wedge between the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad’s mainline track on the south and a spur going into the MG&E plant on the north.

The setting and the program made the name for the event, The Gandy Dancer Festival, a natural. “Gandy dancers were the hard working section hands, who maintained the track for the railroads,” says Leah Rosenow, Mid-Continent’s Collections Manager. “The name derives from the fact that the tools the section hands used were manufactured by the Gandy Company. And the cadences that they used to work in unison when ‘lining’ the track gave the impression of doing a dance. Hence the term Gandy dancer.”

Leah’s work is also the inspiration for the event. Her research into the history of the Badger 2 revealed its unique nature: a railroad car built in 1912 for the Wisconsin Fish Commission, designed to transport fry and fingerlings from the State’s hatcheries to its waterways in order to help build up the game-fish population around the state. The Fish Commission was the forerunner of today’s DNR, accounting for the Department’s interest in promoting Leah’s work in their Natural Resources magazine, which in turn found a ready audience in DNR employee Johanna Fabke before the magazine even went to press.

This combination of people with their varied interests and skills means that Madison will be host to a new music festival with the peculiar theme of Bluegrass for the Badger 2. The event is designed to be a fund raiser to support the railroad car’s restoration to its original appearance. This will be a significant step in the preservation of a rare piece of Wisconsin and the nation’s history. “Although it is one of many cars that were built for various state and federal fish-stocking programs,” Leah says, “our research indicates that the Badger 2 is the sole survivor of the fish car era.” Once restored, Wisconsin will be home to the only fish car still known to exist, allowing the Mid-Continent Railway Museum to exercise a rare opportunity to interpret railroad history that can be found no where else.

“Except for the food and beverages, the event will be free,” Johanna says in keeping with her dream-come-true event. “But there will be plenty of opportunities for people to donate to show their support for a worthy cause.” Collection points will be set up around the park, staffed by volunteers, to encourage the charitable support of those who love trains, bluegrass music or both.

The music will begin at 11:00am and culminate with headliner Alan Munde Gazette at 6:30pm. Bluegrass music by the Nob Hill Boys, Round the Bend, and Jefferson County will also be featured, along with blues by the Water Street Hotshots and Filisko & Noden, plus train music and a children’s program by renowned singer/songwriter Larry Penn. Train rides will depart hourly from 10:00am until 4:00pm. Tickets will be available on a first-come first-served basis on August 12 only. Train ride tickets are not available in advance.

The Center for Railroad Photography and Art will also have an exhibit on Madison area railroaders at RP’s Pasta, just across the street from Central Park at 1133 East Wilson Street .

Central Park is located at the corners of Ingersoll and East Wilson Streets on Madison’s isthmus near downtown and is administered by the Urban Open Space Found
ation. Generous donations to help underwrite the cost of this event have been received from The Madison Arts Commission, Berghoff Brewery, and Pro Rail of Madison.

To download informational brochure (pdf), click here.