Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Visit to the New Buffalo Railroad Museum

Today the Mrs. and I visited the New Buffalo Railroad Museum, a replica Pere Marquette Depot in New Buffalo, MI. The Depot is located near where the original PM station was for New Buffalo. 

From the exterior, the grounds appear unkempt, and the parking lot needs work. Looks are deceiving though.
This was one of the smaller railroad museums I've visited, although I highly enjoyed the little time I did spend there. There may not be any heritage operations running out of here, but they did pack a lot of history into a small space, and the potential for further renovation is quite easily visible.

Adjacent to the museum is the former roundhouse used by the Pere Marquette, which was in service until 1984. The roundhouse, and its relocated turntable served none other than Pere Marquette 1225, made famous in the book and film adaptation of The Polar Express.

Back of the roundhouse. Currently abandoned, it would be an amazing restoration project. A brewery perhaps?
Image: PM 1225 and the historic turntable, now part of the Steam Railroad Institute.
Also adjacent to the museum are the active CSX tracks. In 1869, the Chicago & Michigan Lake Shore railroad built the tracks, which later became part of the Pere Marquette Railway. The PM became part of the Chesapeake & Ohio, which became part of the CSX Railroad it is today.

Today, the museum has the station depot and three pieces of rolling stock, two of which are available for the public to enter. The caboose unfortunately had graffiti all over it.
The Chessie System Boxcar was one of the rolling stock you could walk into. It looks a lot bigger from the inside!
Both interiors were decked out with information on veterans from the New Buffalo area and beyond.
The interior of this Pullman Troop Sleeper was renovated to look like it did in the early 20th century, and the amount of troops transported per car would make anyone claustrophobic by today's standards.

Seriously, 6 people bunking in that little space. I couldn't do it!

An ex-Chessie Caboose that we couldn't walk into. Not yet at least.
On the walls of the boxcar was a map of New Buffalo from 1857. It's information like this that make museums and libraries so important, because despite believing that I'd discovered all the abandoned rights-of-way near the New Buffalo area, there were actually several I was missing, including two bridge wharfs out into Lake Michigan, which were owned by the Michigan Central Railroad.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any other trace of them. They appeared to have been long gone by 1930 according to USGS topo maps. 
I've made a map of New Buffalo abandonments and points-of-interest that I'm aware of. Unless there's a historical reason to do so, I don't add rights of way under a mile in length to my worldwide. abandoned railroad rights-of-way map, so a second map is necessary.



Anytime I can say I've learned something, I can always say its worth my time. That said, even if I hadn't found the map, I've saved the most entertaining part of the museum for last, a very large model railroad, which occupies most of the upstairs of the railroad depot.

Who can resist?
Quite a lot of other pieces of railroadiana can be found upstairs as well. This is what my basement would look like were I much richer!


Pere Marquette 1223, sister to 1225, and currently on display in Grand Haven, MI.
...and a steam engine I've visited before as well!
It takes about an hour to see everything here, so it's not a full-day trip, however if you find yourself in New Buffalo, I definitely recommend checking it out despite its small size. The New Buffalo Railroad Museum is located at 30 S. Whittaker St., New Buffalo, Michigan, and open weekends between April and the end of October. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Thanks as always for reading!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

4 Railroad Lines Which Only Ran A Handful of Times (or Less)

Without attempting to sound needlessly pessimistic, most railroad proposals were doomed from the start. That isn't always a bad thing, as it's important to assess the needs of the route, capital and ongoing costs in running any business.

Usually if a proposal is going to be unsuccessful, the reasons are discovered in the planning, engineering, construction or completion phases before more cost is sunk into the project. There are many examples of these unbuilt railroads all across the world.

What is extremely uncommon, however, is for a railroad proposal to pass beyond each of the construction phases and then fail. Today we explore four examples of lines that only ran a handful of times before their abandonment.

If anyone knows of any other lines with an extremely short lifespan, let me know in the comments. This list doesn't include lines that were meant to be temporary, such as those in mining or construction.

4. Rosstown Railway
We begin Down Under in the suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, where the Rosstown Railway was proposed in 1875 by entrepreneur William Murray Ross, who owned a sugar beet mill. 

Ross tried unsuccessfully for years to get approval for a line to run from his mill to the Port of Melbourne. Eventually, he gained approval for a line between Elsternwick Station, and a soon-to-be-built station at Oakdale, both of which are still in service today. By 1883, he was largely in debt, but nonetheless began construction on the route. He "completed" an unballasted right-of-way by 1884, however it was deemed substandard for rail transport.


A photo of the line under construction. Image: Rosstown Rail Trail
Ross offered to sell the line to Victorian Railways, however they rejected the sale. He was given more time to properly construct the road and incorporate it into the Victorian Railways system, however, he was unable to acquire enough credit to construct the line to standards of the State.

The only trains which ran on this route were construction trains using rented equipment. After 1891, no construction would continue. After Ross' death in 1904, it was offered up at auction, receiving no bids meeting the reserve price.

Today, part of the right of way survives as the Rosstown Railway Heritage Trail, which somewhat ironically preserves the line which never ran to began with.

A plaque commemorating the construction of the Rosstown Railway. Image: Wikipedia Commons
3. Port Penn Railroad

The Port Penn Railroad ran between Mt. Pleasant, DE and Port Penn, DE. It connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Mt. Pleasant and the Delaware River at Port Penn. It was only 8.5 miles long, constructed over a months-long period in 1918.

It was completed in September of that year, hauling supplies, materials and weapons to/from a proposed ammunition plant, as part of World War I. Passengers would've mainly been members of the US Military.

In Red: The ROW of the Port Penn Railroad during its 1918 run. Image: Port Penn Historical Society
The armistice ending the Great War was signed in November of that year, rendering the Port Penn Railroad and the rest of the project obsolete.

The line ran for a short period after the war in the dismantling of what construction had occurred, and was torn up afterwards, with the right of way returning to the original landowners. The railroad had one of the shortest lifespans of any operating railroad in the US, and yet, among railroads in this list, it had the most trains run along it, having been active for months.

As far as I know, no surviving photographs remain of operations along the line, as it was unknown to the Delaware Department of Transportation, who discovered it during an area archaeological survey.

Image: Delaware Department of Transportation, 2011

2. Rio Grande Northern Railroad

The Rio Grande Northern Railroad was chartered in 1893 and fully constructed two years later, running 26 miles between Chispa, TX and San Carlos, TX. It was built to connect with the Rio Grande south of its terminus, as well as tap into coal deposits, but no further trackage would be completed beyond San Carlos.

The ROW of the RGNRR on an 1892 USGS Topo Map. Image via Texas Transportation History
Ultimately, it would be all for naught, as the coal deposits proved uneconomical. Rio Grande Northern would never run a revenue train along the line. The San Carlos Coal Company used rented rolling stock to transport a few carloads of coal along the right of way, but traffic was otherwise completely barren.

The right of way included one of the very few railroad tunnels within the State of Texas at Bracks Canyon, making it a somewhat interesting historical footnote in Texas railroad history, even in spite of its abject failure as a railway.


A view of the abandoned RGNRR Tunnel, one of the only railroad tunnels in Texas. Image: Rim Rock Press
While this line lasted the longest between completion and abandonment, it still only ran one train along its right of way. On January 4th, 1897, less than two years after completion, its right of way was sold and abandoned.

1. Iron Range & Huron Bay Railroad
We've mentioned this line before, and it's truly fascinating. The Iron Range & Huron Bay Railroad was the brainchild of several businessmen from the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, who were looking to tap into the rich iron ore deposits of the Upper Peninsula. The IR&HB was chartered in 1890 to construct a line from Champion, MI to Huron Bay, ironically on the shores of Lake Superior.

One of the two used Baldwin locomotives used for the IR&HB Railroad. Image: Baraga County Historical Museum
The route was just over 30 miles in length, but construction proved tricky. The land was hilly, and required dozens of rock cuts and fills to make as smooth a grade as fiscally possible. What was a 500 man work force hired to build the road swelled to 1500, with the company struggling to pay them all.

"An 1890's photo of workers at Rock Cut" Image: Baraga County Historical Museum
Construction took three years, as well as a toll on the workers, as typhoid broke out. Cost overruns coincided with the Panic of 1893, which caused ore prices to plummet.

Although rails would be laid around the route, facing $2 million in construction costs and an inability to recover operating costs through ore sales, this railroad became an extremely unusual example of a line which was fully completed, but never had a revenue train run on it. In fact, the only train along the route ended up crashing during a test run. A railroad watchman told newspaper reporters about the first (and only) trip on the new railroad. “The engines were unloaded from the boats at Huron Bay. As the last eleven miles of the road was downgrade, it was decided to make a test run.” The engine was fired and Beck climbed into the cab with the engineer. “We had proceeded up the grade when the roadbed gave away and we went into the ditch.” The engine lay in the Peshekee. (Classen)

The company was sold for pennies on the dollar to Detroit Construction Company, and the rails were reused in some interurban railways in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. One of the chief promoters of the road, Milo Davis, ran from lawsuits by going into hiding and living a fugitive's life.

Further Reading, "The Railroad that Never Ran: The Iron Range & Huron Bay Railroad" (Amazon)

Let me know of any other routes which had little to no trains in spite of completion. Thanks as always for reading!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Scanning Old Railroad Photos: Keeping Railroad History Alive


In any industry, media preservation is an ongoing issue, particularly when it comes to film and photography. For example, many early Hollywood films have been lost to history.

To its credit, the railroad industry has been quite proactive about keeping its history preserved, at least when it comes to the largest companies and routes, as have the numerous historical societies that have existed long before the digital age.

That said, much of the history of smaller short line railroads can be much tougher to come by, some of it is all but gone. It was only this week that a user clued me into a small railroad in the Chicago area I had no idea existed; The Midlothian and Blue Island Railway. Certainly, given the size of the ever-changing rail network, railroad historians have had their work cut out for them keeping up with the changes.

The internet and digital media have been a fantastic tool to this end. Without it, my map of abandoned rights-of-way couldn't exist, at least not in a searchable and shareable format.

I've recently acquired another tool to help preserve the past, at least in a minuscule way, a photo scanner to move Kodachrome slides to the digital age.

Union Pacific 7663 near what I believe is Lawrence, KS in the early 1990's. Original photographer: Dan Warren
Much like film, old photographs allow for an important window into our past. In addition to the scanner, I've also purchased about 3,000 photos, many of which I still have yet to process, but in the month or so I've worked on this hobby, I can definitely say it brings me joy that these photos won't be lost to history. 

A view from inside the MetroLink St. Louis shops. Image: Larry Stiles
Slide scanners are nothing new, and there exist dozens on the market, ranging from smartphone scanners to professional grade scanners that cost hundreds of dollars. Mine was on the low end of price; the DigitNow! 135 Film and Negative Scanner. Each of the historic photos in this blog were scanned using that scanner, and while it certainly isn't perfect, it's perfect for what I need it for.

The DigitNow Scanner in all its glory.
It can fit in your hand, although its quite easy to slide slides (or film) into one end, hit scan, and insert another one afterwards. It actually doesn't even need a PC to function, just a USB or power cord, both of which are included. It does need a memory source, and supports SD cards up to 32gb

On the highest setting, each photo is about 3 megabytes in size, so memory shouldn't be an issue with even the largest collections of photos. The quality depends on the photo itself, although with a little work in Photoshop or another photo-editing tool, it's usually good enough for what is necessary for sharing slides.


If you try to remove images too early, quality issues do come into play, like the image below of La Plata, MO.

This one didn't turn out so good, but that was mainly my fault. Original photographer: Dan Warren.
So far I haven't come across any images that I can honestly say have preserved railroad history, but I've also only scanned about 1,500. For those of you with vast collections of slides and photos, I'm more than certain that some of them are one of a kind photos, or nearly so.
A steam-engine tire being put on, using fire to make the metal expand, than cooling it to secure it to the wheel. Unknown photographer, 1988.


UP X3985 during a 1993 excursion trip. This image, and many others like it, were taken in what appears to be rainy and foggy weather. Image: Larry Stiles
I have seen a couple views that you can't really see today, at least legally (and safely). Below is a view from the McArthur Bridge over the Mississippi River. While it is still in service as a railroad bridge, it also used to carry auto traffic.
A shot of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis' right of way. This shot is from the now-defunct McArthur Bridge, once part of Route 66. Original photographer: Larry Stiles
NKP 587 during a 1990 excursion trip. Original photographer: Larry Stiles
There are many ways, and many media, to preserve all kinds of history. I'm thankful to live in a time where I can share photos with the rest of the world. My plan is to use this scanner to create a searchable database of photos and allow them to be shared with the world. I'm still early on in the project however and thus have nothing more to share on that end, but much like my abandoned railroads map and all the other maps I've created, its main end is to bring transportation history to a wider audience. 

Thanks as always for reading!