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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Some Newspaper Accounts of Railroad History

by Fr. Dennis Morrow

Muskegon Chronicle 

“Still on Track:  Michigan Shore a Reminder of City’s Railroad Heyday,” by Dave LeMieux, Muskegon Sunday Chronicle 12/05/2004, 1A & 4A.  Also “Short Line, Tall Order,” ibid., 1-2D.  

The Michigan Shore is all that remains of Grand Trunk Western’s 135-mile Durand-to-Muskegon line.  Grand Trunk was one of three Class 1

railroads that served Muskegon in its rail heyday before World War II. Engineer Dave Kemler and conductor Ben Vainavicz operate the 6-mile-long freight train with a 40-year-old switch engine No. 73.  One of the train’s daily functions is to deliver about a dozen hoppers filled with almost 1,500 tons of sand from the Nugent Sand Co. to CSX. 

They become part of the nightly freight, still known as the Cannonball after over 50 years, from its past service to the Campbell Wyant & Cannon Foundry Co., once the largest producer of auto castings in the world.  The Cannonball is probably the only train on a Class 1 railroad which still has a caboose.  A CSX crewman rides the caboose to Grand Haven, where he reopens the swing bridge over the Grand River once the Cannonball has crossed.  When it reaches Grand Rapids via Holland, the hoppers will be switched to trains headed for downstate auto foundries.  

Michigan Shore has a 10 mph speed limit.  It is also bisected by the CSX Holland-Fremont main line.  It makes 40 grade crossings each day, serving the Webb Chemical Service Corp. and the Dana Corp. in addition to Nugent.  The route to the CSX North Yard passes the remains and ghosts of the Shaw-Walker Co., the Anaconda Wire & Cable Co., Continental Motors Corp., and the Lakey Foundry and Machine Co., which together once employed 20% of Muskegon’s manufacturing jobs. 

In the 1930’s, it took Grand Trunk approximately 100 employees to handle about 200 freight cars in and out of Muskegon every day.  Now administrative duties, track work, and equipment overhauls for the Michigan Shore are all handled by employees at RailAmerica’s three other Michigan subsidiaries--the 50-mile Grand Rapids Eastern, the 67-mile Mid-Michigan, and the 100-mile Huron & Eastern.  The only railroad in Michigan shorter than the Michigan Shore is the 1-mile Delray Connecting Railroad in the heart of Detroit’s rust belt.

A brief Muskegon railroading history (from Chronicle article, p. 2D):

  • 1869.  12-mile-long Muskegon & Ferrysburg built.
  • 1881.  Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee; Chicago & West Michigan; and Muskegon, Grand Rapids & Indiana railroads reach Muskegon.
  • 1900.  Chicago & West Michigan merges with Pere Marquette.
  • 1921.  Muskegon, Grand Rapids & Indiana merges with Pennsylvania RR.
  • 1930’s.  Grand Trunk Western merges with Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee.
  • 1933.  Grand Trunk moves car ferry operations to Muskegon from Grand Haven.
  • 1946.  Grand Trunk begins using Pennsylvania RR tracks to Muskegon.
  • 1947.  Pere Marquette merges with Chesapeake & Ohio.
  • 1950.  Pennsylvania RR discontinues passenger service from Muskegon to Grand Rapids.
  • 1968.  Pennsylvania RR becomes Penn Central.
  • 1970’s.  Penn Central files for bankruptcy.
  • 1972.  Chesapeake & Ohio becomes Chessie System.
  • 1976.  Penn Central successor Conrail sells Muskegon-Grand Rapids line to Grand Trunk.
  • 1978.  Grand Trunk discontinues car ferry operations to Muskegon.
  • 1980.  Detroit, Toledo & Ironton merges with Grand Trunk.  Chessie System becomes CSX.
  • 1987.  Central Michigan RR, a subsidiary of Straits Corp., buys Grand Trunk’s Grand Rapids-Muskegon line.
  • 1989.  Central Michigan abandons Muskegon-Grand Rapids line.
  • 1992.  Michigan Shore begins operations in Muskegon as RailTex Inc. subsidiary, taking over Central Michigan’s last 14 miles of track.
  • 2000.  RailTex purchased by RailAmerica Inc., based in Boca Raton, FL.

The Pere Marquette Railroad Co. came into being through the consolidation of the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad, the Chicago & West Michigan Railway, and the Detroit, Grand Rapids & Western Railroad.

The G.R. & I. bridge in downtown Grand Rapids (between Fulton and Pearl Street bridges) was built about 1892.  It was designated a local historic landmark in 1991.  The last trains passed over it in the 1970’s.

The old G.R. & I. tracks through the Sand Lake area were torn up in August, 1991.  This was the line that went north from Grand Rapids through Comstock Park, Belmont, Rockford, Cedar Springs, Sand Lake, and on to Reed City and Cadillac.

The Chicago, Kalamazoo, & Saginaw (C.K. & S., or “Cuss, Kick, and Swear,” as an old resident of Woodland in the 1980’s told me what the locals called it in the 1930’s when he was growing up) never reached either Chicago or Saginaw.  However, it did serve the Kalamazoo Stove Company, as this photo shows.  The stove company’s slogan, “A Kalamazoo Direct to You,” was the slogan for WKZO-TV, Channel 3, in the early days of television in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Some Grand Rapids Newspaper Accounts

  • "Will Move Rail Stop," Grand Rapids Press, 08/19/59 56.  C & O rail passenger shelter to move from Elliott & Blaine to east side of Kalamazoo Avenue at Edna.
  • “Union Depot:  A World All by Itself,” Grand Rapids Herald, Sunday, 08/14/1947 feature section.  Photos.  By James Idema.
  • “Union Depot:  Nudged into Oblivion,” Grand Rapids Herald, Sunday, 10/12/1958 part 2.  Photos.  By James M. Mudge.
  • "Road to Nowhere Ends at the Depot," Grand Rapids Press, 03/21/73 1C. Imminent demolition of Hudsonville depot.
  • "Depot's Conversion in Hastings Wins Award," Grand Rapids Press, 05/05/74 13A.  1922 Michigan Central depot converted into Depot Law Offices.  Replaced 1882 train station.  Passenger service discontinued in 1959.  Now on Penn Central (Conrail) freight line.
  • "Sparta’s Old Depot Will Turn Back the Clock," Grand Rapids Press,  08/04/74 1B.  West Michigan chapter of National Railway Historical Society purchases century-old Toledo, Saginaw & Muskegon Railroad depot; once used also by Grand Trunk Western and by Pere Marquette.
  • "Coming to the End of the Line," Grand Rapids Press Wonderland, 01/05/86, 1-6, 35.  The demise of the caboose.


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