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Greenfield Village Perimeter Railroad: Completing the Plan

May 31, 2013 Think THF

In 1974 construction of the Main Street and Suwanee Stations was completed and operational for the season. Main Street was a covered platform intended to provide train access for guests near Greenfield Village’s entrance (Main Street, which was the road leading from the Greenfield Village entrance in that period is what we now call State Street). The third stop near Riverfront Street was a covered platform that facilitated guest access to the new Suwanee Park. Probably because of its close proximity to the new stations, the Smiths Creek Station was no longer used as a train stop.

A fourth train platform near “Gate 14” (or Windmill Gate) was removed from the plan just as overall Greenfield Village construction started.

As a part of the original planning for the perimeter railroad, a facility for maintaining and storing the locomotives was included. This building had been strongly recommended in a report generated by the consulting firm that was contracted to provide a risk assessment and analysis for the new railroad. Interestingly, the main issue in the report was preventing guest access to the locomotive during the off-season as well as maintenance issues.

The Train Shed was built in 1974 and located by the Village entrance gate. In 2000 train maintenance was shifted to the DT&M Roundhouse and the building now houses the Antique Vehicles Garage.

The Train Maintenance building was completed in October of 1974 and for the first time an on-site facility was available for maintenance work and winter storage of the locomotives. From 1974 to 1982, all train maintenance and repair was handled or directed by the Edison Institute Plumbing Shop Supervisor, Ralph Schumberger (a licensed plumber and boiler engineer).

In 1982, John Scott, a recognized train maintenance expert (who had been working with the Illinois Railroad Museum) was hired to exclusively supervise maintenance of Greenfield Village’s locomotives and rolling stock.

The train crew at this facility tackled more than normal maintenance. Two of the early restoration projects Scott and his crew handled were the reconversion of the two locomotives to coal; the Edison in 1986 and the Torch Lake in 1987.

In early 1990 a study was made to establish if the Torch Lake cab was in fact the one installed by C&H in their 1909/10 rebuild. This investigation included Tom Fisher, from Train Operations, going to Michigan Technical University to review the drawings from C&H (Union Oil had bought up all property rights for the C&H and had donated all the records to Michigan Technical University). The research concluded that it was the 1910 cab. A replacement cab, of the same configuration, was ordered from an outside supplier. At the same time a new smoke stack was built in the shop and the water tank was modified to reflect the 1909/10 configuration.

The new cab was a disappointment. Substandard material was used in the construction and serious deterioration began to appear within a few years. In 2001 Train Operations began making drawings for a new cab. In 2006 a major reconstruction of the cab began at the Roundhouse. Train Operations personnel, with Bill Town and Kirk Brosch of the Carpenter Shop, began rebuilding the cab with appropriate materials. The now-new cab was installed in 2007 and remains in service.

Through the years other aesthetic and functional changes were made to the locomotives and rolling stock to improve their reliability and authenticity. One of the original passenger cars was sold after finding that the company that had rebuilt the car but had left a section of badly deteriorated wood frame underneath some newly added structure.

The adding of the new train stations was not without incident. When the Main Street Station was first completed a trial run was made to check clearances and step-up height. As the locomotive pulled into the station, it was quickly discovered that there was insufficient clearance as pieces of the platform deck began flying across the station.

Gate 14 (now Orange Gate) was finally constructed. The new Susquehanna Station was constructed in that area to provide more convenient guest access to the historic homes on Maple Lane (In 1974 Maple Lane was known as South Dearborn Road), historic base ball games and other events at Walnut Grove.

In 1998, the Riverfront Street (Suwanee Park) Station was being converted to 11th and 12th grade classrooms for the new Henry Ford Academy and was no longer used as a train stop. The train stops for the Perimeter Railroad were now Main Street Station, Susquehanna Station and Smiths Creek Station.

Don LaCombe is Supervisor of Transportation and Crafts Programs

railroads, trains

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