Railroad Motor Cars Transport Nature Lovers To Tiffany Bottoms

By Andy Soth | October 2, 2015


“Some people play with trains in their basement. We play with big trains,” says Terry Yust, treasurer of the Chippewa Motor Car Association.

Motor Cars run on full gauge track and were typically used by railroad work crews maintaining tracks. 

“If you were a railroad employee and you worked on the railroad your entire career, you might spend, thirty-five, forty years working on the same seven miles of rail,” says Yust, a retired firefighter who didn’t know much about railroading when friends recruited him. “They said, ‘you need to come down and play with us.’ The play turned into work, but that’s OK.”

The fun part of that work is taking birders and naturalists into Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife Area, an otherwise inaccessible wetland. “It’s a swamp.  It’s a railroad built in a swamp,” explains Yust.

The tracks date from the late 1800s when they were constructed to haul lumber from northern Wisconsin.  “When Chicago burned, most of that town was rebuilt from Wisconsin hardwood and softwood forest,” notes Yust.

The railroad line was eventually bought by what is today Xcell Energy when they were contemplating building a power plant in the area.  The company allows the association use of the tracks making the Chippewa Motor Car Association the only organization of motor car fans with their own stretch of track.

“We are the only ones that has use of the tracks anytime we want,” says Yust.  But sharing the motor car experience on those tracks with environmentalists has also paid off for Yust.  “I’ve learned a lot about birds that I never knew before.


Explore Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife Area

The Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife Area in western Wisconsin is a 13,000 acre jewel and the largest and most important floodplain forest in Wisconsin. It’s a birders’ paradise and you can find nearly every species of bird that lives in Wisconsin. One of the best ways to view this remote location is by train.

Andy Soth

Andy Soth

Andy Soth is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who grew up in a neighboring state but now loves Wisconsin because it’s like Minnesota without the smugness. 

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