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In Travel & Visitors Guide

The Dinky lives on in Fennimore


The Fennimore Railroad Museum closes daily operations for the season on Labor Day, but you can see The Dinky outside its doors any day of the year and tour the museum on weekends only in September and October.

What was known as a narrow gauge train, The Dinky operated from 1878 to 1926, far longer than most 3-foot gauge lines in Wisconsin.

Both narrow gauge and standard gauge trains ran daily between Fennimore and Woodman in the Green Valley of southwest Wisconsin. Their routes meandered for 16 miles and connected with railroads that traveled elsewhere, to more distant destinations.

Narrow gauge tracks once were scattered across the country. They provided economy in construction and equipment costs to reach remote areas often in heavily-forested, mountainous or hilly areas.

At the peak of narrow gauge operations, Wisconsin had 150 miles of such track. Some were used in logging operations around the state. All have been abandoned, but the heritage lives on with The Dinky in Fennimore.

The narrow gauge line that included Fennimore was known for a horseshoe curve that made it possible to climb a steep slope from the Green Valley to the ridge west of the town

In its day, The Dinky was known for its versatility. It carried farmers, fishermen, salesmen, school children and other passengers, along with the mail, milk, livestock and other freight.

The narrow gauge line was a remnant of a 92-mile line that ran throughout southwest Wisconsin, owned by the Chicago and North Western Railroad. All but the Fennimore-Woodman line were converted in 1882 to standard gauge (4-feet, 8-inches).

After its "retirement," The Dinky sat unused for years. Then, Dwight Baumgartner, a local historian, approached Chuck Stenner, who was mayor of Fennimore at the time, about purchasing the engine and establishing a museum.

"My first question was what was the Dinky," said Stenner, who still serves as secretary-treasurer of the museum board. "We formed a group, with Dwight as the first president, and went after a state grant.

"Our legislators at the time were very helpful. We were able to use all the work we did on the museum as part of our contribution. So, we established the museum, and it has just take off since that."

The Fennimore museum includes much more than just The Dinky. An exact replica of the original water tank in Fennimore stands near The Dinky.

An operational 15-inch gauge rail with 700 feet of track sits to the south of the museum. Scale buildings complete the miniature layout. Rides are available on this system on weekends and holidays during the Memorial Day to Labor Day season.

All outdoor exhibits can be seen year around. In the museum itself, you can find pictures and information tracing the history of narrow gauge railroads. Two sets of G-scale model railroads with replica buildings are housed in the museum. Also included in the museum are a replica ticket booth, telephone switchboard and blacksmith shop, all done in amazing and accurate detail of their period.

Fennimore has capitalized on the railroad museum to bill itself as "The City On The Move," and includes a graphic of The Dinky with the slogan. There are other attractions in the town and surrounding area.

The Fennimore Doll & Toy Museum is an attraction that rivals the railroad museum. An annual Farm Toy Show is held in September.

The countryside around Fennimore offers great opportunities for sight-seeing, hiking, camping and trout fishing.

Founded in 1849, the town was named after John Fennimore, who settled near the Old Military Road that leads to Prairie du Chien. Fennimore mysteriously disappeared during the Black Hawk War.

Fennimore is located at the crossroads of Highways 18 and 61 in Grant County. More information can be found at fennimore.com.

Talkbacks

OMCreader | Aug. 31, 2005 at 12:19 p.m. (report)

beth said: hooray for doing an article about fennimore! small town, yes. but very friendly. and full of my relatives!

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