I’ve been doing research on some interesting notes from Yosemite Valley Railroad history to include in my presentation at the RPM Chicagoland event in October. One piece that I recently ran into was some information on a “Fish Car” having been on the YV in July or 1921. I wanted to know more about that car, the what, where, why of it all, so I started digging.
The general use of Fish Cars cars was to haul fish eggs or fry from locations where the fish were farmed to other locations where the fish where then used to populate rivers and lakes. The fry and eggs were shipped in modified milk cans and those cans were placed in “fish racks” inside purpose built or modified rail cars were typically lined in galvanized metal so that ice could be packed around the cans to increase the likelihood that the stock would survive the trip.
The notes on the YV hosting a fish car included a car number of SP 6263. I needed to find out some information about that car, then, in order to understand what the SP might be doing with fish.
My research developed a description of the fish racks in SP 6235, a likely sister-car to 6263 (which might have been 6236 as 6263 was a horse car). SP 6235 still exists at the Niles Canyon Railway, owned by the Pacific Locomotive Association. Doug Debs provided some information on the fish racks included in that car:
“One end of SP 6235 is equipped with a “fish rack”: The floor at one end is covered with a watertight wall-to-wall sheet metal pan about 2″ deep. The pan drains to the track. Removable heavy-duty wooden duck boards were inside the pan. The fish rack allowed wooden boxes of iced fish, iced early-season asparagus, and other high-value perishable freight to be transported by express car, and prevented these shipments from getting other items wet.”
It’s also interesting to note that these Harriman-era 60′ baggage cars, 6235 and likely 6236, were both built for the Central Pacific.
It’s likely that the car on the YV would have been very similar to 6235, and the fish racks might have been the same as the above description.
With all that sorted out, then, and knowing some about the cars, I wanted to find out some information about the shipments and what they were doing. A little digging produced a few documents of interest.
First, this document, which is a 1917 journal of the California State Assembly.
Starting pn page 74, this document discusses hatcheries being built in Southern California, and on page 77 and 78 it discusses that the fish will be transported by rail, specifically calling out several railroads on page 78 for thanks for free transport of the crews and state-owned distribution cars. The Yosemite Valley Railroad is specifically mentioned on page 78.
Next, this document, from 1922, and is from the California Fish & Game:
Starting on page 114, this document discusses establishing a hatchery to restock and provide fish for rivers and lakes that were “depleted”. My conversation with Jack included that this is likely a bit of propaganda, as many of the types of fish being shipped and put into the rivers around Yosemite National Park were not native to the area. That aside, page 121 describes fish cars, and discusses the construction of the first fish car owned by the state, at the SP Sacramento shops. Eventually, CA did have 2 of these cars. Photos of them are in the CSRM collection.
Photos of the California Fish & Game Commission 01 car ca be found here:
To bring all this together, I found this document:
Searching this document for “Yosemite”, the first hatchery that appears is cited as being built at Wawona in 1895. While near the National Park, this is still a haul for any shipping of fish on the YV. The note indicates this location was established by the Yosemite Raymond Stage Line, which puts it not out of the realm of possibility that this hatchery, which shut down in 1928, was being stocked via some other means other than railroad shipment on the YV.
The next entry, though, is what I think is likely the hatchery that the noted fish car is supplying. The Yosemite Experimental Hatchery and then the Yosemite Hatchery, which operated from 1918-1956 at Happy Isles. The first fry were raised in 1918, but the permanent site was not secured until 1926 and put into use in 1927.
My feeling is that the 1921 shipments may have been to Yosemite Experimental Hatchery or someone in that vicinity.
It’s likely that Fish Cars were not in every train, or moved every day, on the YV by any stretch. However, building a model of a Southern Pacific baggage car equipped with fish racks, and maybe even California Fish & Game Commission 01 would be fun and would add some interest into operations occasionally.
Fascinating what one finds when you start looking at interesting loads and cars!