Riverman's illustrious career revisited

Error message

  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 133 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to get property 'settings' of non-object in _simpleads_adgroup_settings() (line 343 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 157 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/simpleads.helper.inc).
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in include() (line 24 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/templates/simpleads_ajax_call.tpl.php).

The Guttenberg National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium opened to the public in 1940. It was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi River, and the only one of its kind into the 1950’s. Above, one of the many school groups that went through the Guttenberg National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium in 1960. (Photo from the State Historical Society's collection of Eldon's papers)

By Caroline Rosacker

The Guttenberg Press would like to thank Vance Polton, IA-DNR Fisheries Management Technician of Lake Darling Fisheries Office/Fisheries Bureau, in Brighton, who has generously shared historical information he unearthed on Eldon Saeugling of Guttenberg while researching the history of fisheries management in Iowa. 

Longtime riverman Eldon Saeugling was born Nov. 30, 1906, in Guttenberg to Henry and Christina (Roth) Saeugling. His father worked in the button factory and later became a commercial fisherman, and his mother's family ran a brewery in Guttenberg. 

Fish Rescue Stations

Eldon began his impressive career on the Mississippi River as a high school student. He worked on a fish crew out of the Guttenberg Federal Fish Rescue Station from 1921-1923. John Chrysler led the  project. The rescue crews, comprised of six men, were stationed about every 30 miles along the Mississippi River from Wabasha, Minn., to Andalusia, Ill.  The Guttenberg crew consisted of seven men according to Eldon's notes.

"Fish rescue was started in the 1880's by Iowa’s first Fish Commissioner, B.F. Shaw. It was used to rescue fish that were caught in low water areas when the Mississippi River dried up each summer," explained Kevin Hanson, Iowa-DNR Fisheries Management Biologist, Guttenberg. "Soon after other Upper Mississippi states and the federal government got involved, and fish rescue was popular for over 70 years. During that time specialty railroad cars (in Iowa they were named Hawkeye I and Hawkeye II) were used to transport fish to stocking locations. Once the Lock and Dams were built the backwater areas remained flooded, and the practice of indiscriminately displacing fish was discovered to be bad science, fish rescue was eliminated."

Early in his career Eldon requested details at 42 of the 92 hatcheries across the United States, and at one time worked at Yellowstone National Park, but nearly always returned to Iowa to work on the Mississippi River in fish rescue work. 

Fish Hatchery Manager

In 1938, Eldon was promoted as Manager of the Guttenberg National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium. The Aquarium, first opened to the public in 1940, was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi River, and the only one of its kind into the 1950’s. "Eldon managed the Aquarium and Hatchery until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to close down the hatchery operation in 1971, the year he retired. The Aquarium remained open until the  Iowa DNR acquired the facility in 1974 and restarted northern pike hatchery operations in 1975," noted Hanson.

Alligator snapping turtles

During Eldon’s time managing the aquariums many interesting animals and fish occupied its tanks. 

In 1955 two large alligator snapping turtles, the largest weighing-in at 103 pounds, had their photo taken in front of the Guttenberg Aquarium during a stop over on their way from Dallas, Texas, to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. These were not the only reptiles that found temporary homes in Guttenberg.  A four-foot long alligator also took up temporary residence at the aquarium. In 1957, a 50-pound locally caught flathead spent the summer at the aquarium before Eldon and another worker personally transported the big fish to the National Aquarium in Washington D.C. for the winter. 

His way and the highway

Eldon often irritated his bosses, because he liked to personally deliver the fish as opposed to sending them by freight. "Taking a hatchery truck and spending a week driving to D.C. and back to Guttenberg was frowned upon by the boys in D.C., but reading his letters I think Eldon didn’t want to miss out on the show," said Polton.

Gold/gar fish

One other notable occupant of the aquarium took up residence in August of 1953. "Earlier that year, one of the hatchery ponds out on the island had flooded and several gar and other rough fish had taken up residence in the pond which had been stocked with goldfish," Polton noted. "When Eldon and the boys seined the pond in early August along with their harvest of goldfish were several gar of normal gray-green color and one rather 'orange' gar – now known as a 'Xanthic Gar', which is nothing more than a rare genetic color phase – similar to albino or melanistic (black) color phases."

Polton went on to say, "But Eldon wasn’t one to let a good yarn be wasted. Soon the tall tale of a cross between a goldfish and gar inhabiting the aquarium and Guttenberg soon circulated through town. This drew many more visitors to the aquarium."

One of Eldon's favorite activities was giving children who visited the aquarium a free goldfish to take home with them. "It's hard to say how many of those young guests were told that their new little pet might also turn into one of those “toothy” gar/goldfish crosses," Polton said with a laugh. 

Friend to all

Children were not the only guests to get preferential treatment. "For several years patients from the Veterans Hospital in Iowa City were brought down in groups of 30 to 40, and were treated to a private barge ride out to the island, a tour of the ponds, and a day of fishing on the river," Polton pointed out. 

Serving those in need

In 1970 and 1971, two years before Eldon retired, he hauled between 50 and 70 thousand pounds of adult carp taken from the backwaters on the Mississippi down to St. Louis and stocked them into the park lakes in the poor areas of the city. “This was done in an effort to promote youth fishing and fight juvenile delinquency in the area,” noted Polton. 

Hatchery days

During the 50’s and 60’s, the fish hatchery and aquarium, on average, hatched out a little more than 31 million fish per year. This included about 15 million northern pike; 12 million walleye; 3 million bluegills, and 1.5 million largemouth bass. The  fish were stocked in the waters of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and South Dakota. 

Special delivery to the Crown Prince of Japan

“Guttenberg also supplied fish and other ‘critters’ to 14 aquariums across the nation including the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., and Aquariums in Dallas, Texas,” Polton told The Press. “Guttenberg was also called upon to provide yellow bullheads to Korea in 1964, bass and bluegills to Germany that same year, and in 1960 Eldon personally delivered bass, bluegills, and yellow perch to the Crown Prince of Japan at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. That particular personal delivery did not go over so well with the officials in Washington D.C., as they thought they should be the ones to present the requested fish to the crowned Prince, and not somebody like Eldon.”

Tales too numerous to share

Vance’s extensive research revealed many entertaining stories.  “Eldon’s stories are too numerous to tell. From the 1965 flood, to sending fish to Germany, Japan, and Korea, not to mention being the main supplier of fish to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, taking fish to the World Fairs, shooting off sky rockets over at the island to scare egrets off the hatchery ponds, possession of 5,000 WPA axe handles used as barter currency during the Depression, raising and giving away millions of goldfish, 100 plus pounds of snapping turtles, alligators, the pranks he played on his superiors and so on,” Polton listed. “You can’t tell the story of the Guttenberg Fisheries Station without Eldon. It would be like making an apple pie without the apples. The Guttenberg Hatchery was Eldon and Eldon was the Guttenberg Fish Hatchery.”

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (3 votes)