Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Ride on the Coopersville & Marne Railway

Yesterday, I discussed our trip to Western Michigan, and the railroad history I discovered during our visit. I chose to split the trip into two blogs due to its length, and secondly, because the Coopersville & Marne Railway is alive and well, having preserved a section of the old Grand Trunk Western route between its namesake towns. 

We visited on Memorial Day before heading home, and in a nice touch, all veterans, uniformed or not, were granted free passage on the train.

The first thing I noticed upon driving up to the Coopersville station wasn't the train itself, but rather, a big, beautiful, but rusting steam engine on the opposite side of the platform, which I learned was once Canadian National 1395.

CN 1395, one of a few pieces of rolling stock on C&M property. Not used, nor are there any current restoration plans.
Here's a postcard of what it looked like in its heyday, via eBay. (Clicking the link may earn the site a commission)
There were a few other pieces of rolling stock that weren't in operable condition either.

An ex-C&O caboose is also among the rolling stock in the yard.
I can honestly say I'd never heard of the Cornpike Express before.
As I had a little time to kill before departure, we walked up the street to the Coopersville Historical Museum, which I talked a little about in the last blog. Located in what was once an interurban depot, they have a GRGH&M car on display, as well as a neat little crossbuck. 

I can honestly say I'd love to have something like this in my backyard. I wonder how old it is.

According to their website, the Coopersville & Marne Railway began in 1989. The line was chartered in 1848 as the Oakland and Ottawa Railroad Company. By 1858, operations had begun, but not before the name was changed to the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad. As many railroads changed hands early in their life, the D&M was no exception, becoming the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee Railway under the financial control of the Great Western Railway (the Canadian company, not to be confused with its British counterpart). In 1928, it finally became part of Grand Trunk Western, which itself was CN's American subsidiary at the time. 

The line was to be abandoned, before being purchased by the Central Michigan Railway, a short-line, in 1987. CMR then sold the line to the C&M, and operations began one year after their purchase, in 1990.

Which brings us to today, or more specifically, Memorial Day. The train consist was C&M 7014, two cars and a caboose. According to the C&M website, "Our train is usually pulled by a 1950's era,125 ton General Motors SW9 switcher locomotive, #7014. This locomotive had been owned by the Grand Trunk Western Railway and served in Battle Creek, Michigan. The 1200 horsepower diesel engine turns a generator, which feeds electricity to the traction motors, which are geared to driving wheels. As much as possible, we stress vintage operation of the equipment, including proper dress for members of the train crew."

We sat in the second car.

C&M 7014 was our power for the day.
The train departed a few minutes late as they waited for a few late showing guests. Once operations got underway, even though it wasn't a particularly warm day, I immediately felt gratitude for living in a time of air conditioning. The old coaches warm up fast! Thankfully, the windows were opened, allowing for a fantastic breeze as we slowly made our way through the countryside.

This friendly conductor (I believe his name was Tom Anderson) checked tickets and discussed a little of the history behind the line during the trip.
The conductor explained that the C&M is an all-volunteer heritage line, with the engineer, brakeman and conductor being able to run one train. This train had a brakeman trainee as well, as well as two volunteers dispensing (free!) refreshments aboard the train, which I thought was a fantastic touch.

CMRY 75009, the operating caboose.
Once the train pulled into Marne, we could get out and watch 7014 make the turnabout trip to connect to the caboose. Unlike at the Illinois Railway Museum, they uncouple the engine, allowing the engineer to see out front, without the need for control from the caboose. I made a video of the operation taking place:

Throughout the trip, you can see a bit of transportation history on either side of the tracks. Looking south, you'll see I-96 in spots, as the interstate was built to follow the trackage itself.

I-96 crosses over a road, which also goes under the C&M right of way.
Look north, and you can see electrical poles, which are the only remnant of the parallel Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon Electric Railway left along the route.

As you may have guessed with all the growth here, there's plenty of deer and other wildlife nearby.
Look to the ground, and you can occasionally see water, being the oldest transportation route along this corridor. According to the C&M website, "the track follows an ancient water route first cut into the earth by glacial events." making that the oldest route by thousands of years!

One interesting thing about the C&M is that they also have a freight operation east of Marne, continuing into Grand Rapids. West of Coopersville, however, the line is abandoned into Spring Lake, MI, immediately north of Grand Haven, where it once connected to the Pere Marquette Railway, later becoming part of the Chesapeake & Ohio.

The entire trip took about 90 minutes, after which we headed home for the weekend. I hope one day that the C&M expands their station a little in Coopersville. It would've been nice to pick something up from their non-existent gift shop. A bigger pipe dream would be for them to restore CN 1395 into service, but I understand restoring a locomotive takes more than just throwing money at it.

That being said, the trip was more than enjoyable, the staff was friendly, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, except for the screaming babies. I learned a lot and definitely recommend the trip if you happen to find yourself in southwest Michigan.

Thanks to the C&M for the experience, and thanks a lot to you for reading!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Forgotten Railways of Western Michigan

This Memorial Day Weekend, we stayed with a friend in Southwest Michigan. For me, it was a chance to step outside of the Chicago area and take in some of the history and ambiance of the other side of Lake Michigan, including its significant railroad history. I even managed to learn a thing or two!

I had not traced the right of way where the Blue Bridge now stands today and learned it was a former GR&I line into downtown Grand Rapids, for example.
Just like many places in the United States, Michigan is full of abandoned railroad corridors. While there are many differing reasons for abandonment, the majority of abandonments in Michigan mirror the rest of the United States; competition from the US Highways and Interstates, as well as the ongoing efficiencies and technological advancements that the railroad industry is undertaking.

One of the really neat exhibits at the Grand Rapids Public Museum is a map of what Michigan's highway system looked like in 1920, 1960, and today.
While this blog would be far too long to touch on every forgotten railway the Grand Rapids region, I did devote a significant part of the trip to taking pictures and finding historical information on some lines. I also found this artistic map of Grand Rapids from 1868, which is worth checking out.

An ad for the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railway on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.
I'll start off with the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railway, as that was the line I learned most about during our trip. At its height, this line connected Cincinnati, OH with the Straits of Mackinac, which separate the two Peninsulas of Michigan. It opened service along a 20 mile stretch of road between Grand Rapids and Cedar Springs, MI in 1867, with much of this line having been abandoned and converted into the White Pine Trail.

A board on Arrivals & Departures of the GR&I, part of their Streets of Old Grand Rapids exhibit, my personal favorite.

By 1909, a branch to Traverse City was opened up, however, the GR&I was never profitable, and would be purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad nine years later. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Bridge over the Grand River in Grand Rapids was once part of the GR&I, before being abandoned by Conrail, PRR's eventual successor.

The Blue Bridge before receiving its paint job, still in service as of 1978. Photo: Tom Carter.
If you ever happen to find yourself in Grand Rapids, I highly recommend visiting the Public Museum. It has quite a few exhibits on the history of the area, many of which are rooted in the transportation breakthroughs of the day.

In addition to large passenger lines, our trip also featured a few remaining pieces of trolley & interurban lines from Western Michigan. 

Grand Rapids Street Railway Co. #54, on display at Grand Rapids Public Museum.

An interurban car of the Grand Rapids Grand Haven & Muskegon Electric Railway, on display at the Coopersville Historical Society.
My best attempt to recreate an image showing the GRGH&M trolley tracks in Grand Haven, MI, from a photo on display at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum.
The Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon Railway connected all of its namesake cities, starting in Grand Rapids and branching just west of Nunica, one branch heading to Grand Haven, the other Muskegon. The Grand Rapids-Muskegon line generally followed present-day I-96 while the GR&I also had a Grand Rapids-Muskegon line, it traversed a different route.

Another photo on display at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum showing downtown Grand Haven buried deep under snow.
Who would've expected a piece of railroad history to be found in an upscale chocolate shop? We stopped in Patricia's Chocolate (which has fantastic chocolate and unique flavors, albeit pricey), and found this hanging on the wall: 

A map of 1883 Paris. Note the partially-abandoned Petite-Ceinture around the outer ring of the city.
Grand Haven was also a stop on a branch of the Grand Trunk Railway, whose station still stands as a historical marker. The property that once belonged to the railroad is now shops, restaurants, waterfront, and the newly completed Waterfront Stadium

Before and after pics: The top is thanks to the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, the bottom was taken by me.
While the redevelopment along Grand Haven has signaled an end to railroad operations, that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of historical markers left; in fact, just north of here lies Pere Marquette 1223 (sister to 1225) on display.

Note the coal tower in the background, also preserved.

As soon as I got to see this beauty it started raining, however.

Placard next to PM 1223.
Note the cabooses pay homage to two of Grand Haven's Fallen Flags: Grand Trunk Western & Pere Marquette.
We spent the night seeing the Grand Haven Musical Fountain, and made our way to Holland the next day. Holland has much railroad history as well, some of it preserved. 

Pere Marquette A967, the second preserved PM caboose I've seen on the trip, at Holland's Amtrak Station.
But what I find most interesting is that two of its nearby abandonments haven't been in service since 1881, with little to no trace of their existence. Had I not had people send me lines to trace, I wouldn't have known about either of them.

Note the Chicago & Michigan Lake Shore Railroad between Holland and Nunica on this map of Ottawa County from "Railroads of Holland Michigan, vol. 1" by Donald L. Van Reken. Thanks to Chris Kooyers for finding this!
The section of rail line between Fruitport Twp and Holland in the center of this map was abandoned in 1881 and leaves no trace of its existence.

Taking a look at the ROW near Ottawa Station, one would be hard pressed to find any trace of railroad.
The second was abandoned somewhat later, although the last mention of it was in 1897. A line from downtown Holland to Ottawa Beach was part of the Michigan Lake Shore Railroad, which became the Chicago & Michigan Lake Shore Railroad later on. It almost perfectly follows the right of way of present-day Ottawa Beach Rd.

The end of current operations along this branch. Part of the trackage survives as industrial operations.
The west end of the beach. It's impossible to tell where the railroad operations were exactly, being covered with rocks and sand, but it was in this general vicinity.

I hope you enjoyed today's blog as much as I did writing it. There are indeed many abandoned lines and historic points of interest that I didn't cover in today's blog, and plenty of interesting local history all around us.

Tomorrow I will write Part II of this trip blog, as on Memorial Day, we took a ride on the Coopersville & Marne Railway. Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Railroad Art and Artists: Scenes of Fantasy and Bygone Days

Railroad scenes, both historic and contemporary, lend themselves to those who have the gift of the artists' touch, something I learned that I do not have very early in life.

Being a fan of steam engines, history and steampunk, I created Steampunk Railroad as a side project to share interesting artworks. Given I've joined a few Facebook groups and websites devoted to the subject, I figured it was time to share and discuss some of my favorite works of railroad art, and the artists who made them.

"A 'Thompson' B1 Class Moving Empty Stock On A Cold February MorningPainting by David Nolan
While my focus is generally on the abandoned and forgotten railroads of the world, and their history, I also like seeing rolling stock in action, and I'm definitely not alone in that, given how many people traveled across the country just to see UP 4014 in action.

7) Philip D Hawkins

Philip D. Hawkins is a British Railway artist and member of the Guild of Railway Artists, who's talent pool is heavily featured in this blog. His website states that, "he was born and brought up in the West Midlands where, after leaving Lordswood Boys' Technical School, he attended Birmingham College of Art and Design graduating as a Technical Illustrator. As such he worked in the railway industry at Metro-Cammell Ltd at their Washwood Heath, Birmingham headquarters. This was a time when the company were still involved in locomotive and rolling stock design and construction."

"Snow Hill meeting County Class 4-6-0 'County of Wilts' Glides into Platform 7" Painting by Philip D. Hawkins
Much of his work is commissioned, and his process for creating works is mentioned here.

6) Howard Fogg

Often referred to as the Dean of American railroad artists, Howard Fogg came from a railroading family and his love of railroads was reflected in his art. Many of the artists that preceded him used exaggerated colors and proportions to emphasize the power and drama of a locomotive. Fogg broke with that tradition and became known for his startling detail and accuracy.

"Denver & Rio Grande Western #3707 along the Colorado River" by Howard Fogg, c/o Richard Fogg

He had an extensive library of railroad books and would research his subject matter to ensure that every detail was correct, yet his work lost none of the drama and excitement of his predecessors. Howard Fogg was employed by ALCO as an artist during the late 1940's after serving in World War II.

During his life, Fogg created many dozens of prints, many of which involved American steam scenes from the West. This particular one is actually of an Autumn scene from the southern US, specifically the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

"Matched Pair of Land N Class J-2 Mikadosby Howard Fogg
5) Claude Monet

French Artist Claude Monet is one of the world's most famous Impressionist artists, having begun the genre during his time painting French countryside scenes as they changed over time. As such, he painted quite a few scenes of bridges, roads, railroad stations and steam engines over the course of his lifetime.

"Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazareby Claude Monet
This 1877 painting of the Saint-Lazare station in Paris is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. During this period, he noted how steam, smoke, fog and mist all play a part in color perception of scenes, which would become a staple of his painting style throughout the course of his life.

4) Terence Cuneo

Another member of the Guild of Railway Artists, Terence Cuneo was a British artist known for painting railroad, military equipment, and horses, among other things. Born in 1907, the horrors that Britain (and the whole of Europe) endured during World War II surely impacted his work. During the war, he was stationed with the Royal Engineers, but also completed some of his artworks during this time.

"On the Water Column" by Terence Cuneo
His realist style translated well to painting railway scenes once the war was over, with many of his works being commissioned by British Railways for ads.

"An Engine Is Wheeled" - Terence Cuneo
 Perhaps the highlight of his career, however, was that he was the official artist for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

3) Vadim Voitekhovitch

Vadim Voitekhovitch is a name you might not have heard of if you're more into traditional railroad art. However, he's one of my personal favorite artists given how much steam engines are incorporated into his steampunk style.

"Expressby Vadim Voitekhovitch
Steampunk doesn't exactly have a singular definition, but in essence, it incorporates stylistic design from the 19th and early 20th centuries into Science Fiction technologies. This aesthetic can create some truly wild designs for steam engines.

"The Road to Babylonby Vadim Voitekhovitch
While Votiv's designs for steam engines are more grounded in reality than some steampunk artists, his backgrounds, full of airships, robots, and other strange objects truly subvert the more realistic renditions that most railway artists strive for.

2) Malcolm Root
Yet another disciple of the Guild of Railway Artists (I love British Steam, what can I say?), Malcolm Root left school at 16 to train as an apprentice artist. By 1981, it would become his full-time job.

"North British Railway J37" by Malcolm Root
His clean, almost photo-realistic depictions of steam engines evoke exactly what these machines meant to the average person. According to his website, his work has been featured calendars, greetings cards, collectors’ plates and jigsaw puzzles.

1) Andy Romano

I first noticed Andy Romano's work on Facebook groups, and was mesmerized by what his art style. I was able to ask him a few questions about his inspiration and how he came to be a railroad artist. According to him, he saw a copy of a Lionel Trains catalog early in his life, and was forever mesmerized by railroads from then on.

"C&NW Chicago & North Western ALCo DL109 action scene" by Andy Romano
Later, a friend of his from the model railroad world exchanged some 35mm slides, and his collection grew into the thousands. This library would be the catalyst for much of his artwork, and ensured accuracy in his scenes. My favorites of his are obviously the ones inspired by railroads and places close to my home, but his work encompasses the entire country.

"CSS&SB Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Boxcab Electrics street-running, rainy day scene" by Andy Romano
After his career, he began creating railroad scenes full time. His work is still ongoing and frequently goes on sale on eBay. (Clicking on links may earn this site a commission.)

I hope you enjoyed today's blog, and given just how many railway artists are out there, it's something I might do again in the future. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any favorite artists not mentioned here!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

My Visits to the Illinois Railway Museum

The Illinois Railway Museum is one of the largest railroad museums in the US, located in Union, IL. It has active rolling stock along what used to be the right of way of the Elgin & Belvidere Electric Railway, having been in its current location since the early 1960's.

IRM 1630 - An ex-Frisco steam engine, running during my 2014 visit.

According to its website, "the mission of the Illinois Railway Museum is to educate the public as to our nation’s railroad and railway history by collecting, preserving, and restoring rolling stock, artifacts, structures, and related transportation equipment for display to the public; exhibiting and operating restored rolling stock and equipment on a demonstration rail line; and collecting, preserving, and maintaining a reference library of publications, technical information, and other materials regarding railroads, railways, and related forms of transportation for research and other purposes."

The museum has dozens of engines, many restored, some soon to be restored.

In its infancy in the 1950's, the Railway Museum was located along the former right of way of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee, another interurban railway, in North Chicago, IL.

The museum's history is noted on this sign along what was once the entrance to the museum.
As one might guess from the fact that it's been located along two abandoned interurban rights of way, the museum tries to keep the history of Chicago's interurban network alive, and puts a major focus on these
passenger operations, as well as the CTA and former city trolley/electric lines.

This is the oldest surviving piece in IRM's collection; a relic of horse-drawn trolley cars from Chicago's earliest street railroad.
I'd visited the railway museum twice before 2019; once in 2014 and again in 2017. One thing that's always struck me about the museum is that each time I've visited, I've learned something new, or seen things in a different light than I had previously. My first visit, I was most interested in the steam engines. My second, I was looking for historical documents, maps, and books for sale (something the IRM has improved on with their new gift shop)., and this last time, I spent much of my time looking at the interurban cars. With that in mind, I figured I'd share my photos of my visits.

IRM 1630 lets off steam as it backs onto the mainline of the Illinois Railway Museum. Obviously, it's an ex-Frisco locomotive.
My most recent visit was on a day that was supposed to be sunny and warm, but it wound up storming through a majority of my visit. I didn't stay long, and all of the rolling stock managed to remain operational.

One of the operational diesel engines running during 2017.
A US Army Transportation Corps switcher on display each of my visits.
The trolley is a fully restored remnant from Chicago Surface Lines, saved only after it was converted into a storage shed, as all other trolleys of its type were scrapped. The restoration also includes ads from the days of when they trolley was in service. This helps to capture what a typical day was like riding those trolleys.

Including this ad for Riverview Park in Chicago.
There are nine barns for displays; three of which are devoted to interurban rolling stock. Trolley trips do a circle around the museum, allowing you to see some of the areas of engines yet to be restored as well. The steam and diesel engines runs for about 4 miles south along the aforementioned Elgin & Belvidere Electric Railway ROW.

The exterior of the in-service trolley.

There are all sorts of pieces of rolling stock, many of which would be difficult to spot were they not preserved here.
One thing I wish the museum had was more maps and books. But that's the history buff in me talking.

J. Neils Lumber Co. #5 at the IRM in the rain.
Leaving the IRM in 2017, I managed to catch the tail end of a diesel run.

Ultimately, there are enough static displays and train rides to keep the family of all ages occupied for an entire day, even in the rain, and plenty of railroad history to be learned, with many volunteers willing to discuss things further if you ask. I didn't picture everything, and like many things, visiting them in person will leave much more of an impression than seeing pictures and videos.

US Navy Steam Locomotive, one of the displays in the steam barn.
In addition to being huge, these wheels, and the tires on them, make for some interesting YouTube videos. FIRE!
A boxcar which appeared to be undergoing restoration on the tracks north of the steam barn.
Unfortunately, this beauty wasn't in action on our most recent visit.
A functioning wig-wag crossing, one of several at the museum.

It appears the museum is undergoing further expansion as of our last visit. I wonder what's coming!
The museum is well worth the drive to Union, and hopefully it's an enjoyable visit you learn a thing or two from.

Thanks as always for reading!