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Greenfield Village's One-Way Railroad

April 25, 2013 Think THF, Archive Insight

Today’s post comes to us from Don LaCombe, our Supervisor of Transportation and Crafts Programs at The Henry Ford. Don has been documenting the history of all-things train-related at The Henry Ford. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing his articles here on the blog.

In November of 1969 a gift from the Universal Oil Products arrived at Greenfield Village. That gift was a locomotive once used by the Calumet & Hecla (C&H) Mining Company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. C&H Mining was a Boston, Mass.-based organization that was also a key player in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula copper mining. The Torch Lake, built in 1873 at the Mason Machine Works, Taunton, Mass. (factory #518), was initially used for switching and periodically on the C&H main line (until 1885); then exclusively as a switcher in the company yards. The Torch Lake is the last-known Mason-Fairlie locomotive in the world. The Mason Machine works had built more than 700 of these locomotives (mostly narrow gauge) that had a unique “bogie” system that allowed the wheel trucks to swivel under the locomotive when turning. This had the advantage of allowing the engine to make sharper turns-a distinct advantage when negotiating railroad tracks in the Upper Peninsulas “copper country.”

The last time the Torch was fired-up by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. was in 1933. Being the last of their steam locomotives and after 50 years of service, it was decided to place the Torch Lake in indefinite storage. The locomotive had to be towed on the mainline part of its journey to storage due to it not having air brakes. When the main line portion of the trip was completed, it was left on a siding at Lake Linden. The boiler was fired up and it continued under its own power. As they crossed a bridge and main highway on the way to Ahmeek, Mich., engineer Edward Carter blew a long whistle thinking this would be the last steam train whistle heard in the Keweenaw Peninsula. It was placed in a storage shed at the C & H facility in Ahmeek, drained of water and left there untouched until 1966.

That same year the Torch Lake was pulled out of the shed and towed to Calumet, Mich., to become part of the Calumet & Hecla Centennial. The train was cleaned, painted and put on display. After the Centennial, C & H offered the locomotive to the Edison Institute (now The Henry Ford) as a gift.

The train was to be used for a new ride known as “The One-Way Railroad.” The Torch Lake arrived at Greenfield Village in November of 1970 (shown in the featured photo), but before it could be put in service at Greenfield Village the boiler had to be replaced as it could no longer pass state inspection. This kept the locomotive out of action for a year. During this time, the Johnston Brothers, Inc., of Ferrysburg, Mich., were contracted to replicate the boiler, firebox and steam dome. The new boiler was delivered in June of 1971, installed here, and the Torch Lake was converted from its original wood burning to being oil fired.

The Torch Lake is setting at Smiths Creek Station picking up passengers on its first day of operation July 3, 1971.

On July 3, 1971, the Torch Lake was fired up for its maiden run at Greenfield Village. With a consist of three open passenger cars, the train would run along a half-mile track from Smiths Creek up to the duck pond behind the Ford Engine Engineering building (later known as the POEE building). To return, they backed the train to Smiths Creek where they would unload and load passengers. That first day the train carried 900 passengers.

The three passenger cars were retired Soo Line oil tank cars that were rebuilt and converted to carrying passengers with decks and seating fabricated by Crown Metal Products in Wyano, Penn. Each car had seats for 70 passengers. The cars were covered with a curved metal roof and the sides were open to allow easy entrance and exit.

Passengers got off and on the train from a raised wooden platform that was located by the Smiths Creek Station approximately where the current platform is located.

Engineers for the Greenfield Village railroad were recruited from a list of retired railroad engineers provided by railroad companies. The first engineers were Frank Petrosky, formerly of the New York Central, and Ivan D. Meade, formerly of the Grand Trunk Western.

The train operated from July 3 to Sept. 12, 1971 (67 days), and during that period provided steam train rides to 80,447 guests. The train ran from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and there was no set schedule. When they felt enough people were on the train they made the 12-minute trip.

There is no information that indicates that the One-Way Railroad operated in 1972. In August of 1972 the One-Way railroad ride was replaced by a new 2.5 mile “Perimeter” railroad ride.

Research Notes

1. Universal Oil Products (U.O.P) is a multinational corporation primarily involve in petroleum production and development of oil drilling technology. U.O.P. had purchased Calumet & Hecla Mining in 1968.

2. What they couldn’t know at the time was that steam locomotives would be heard again decades later (1960-1971) for Keweenaw Centrals’ scenic tours of the area.

3. Ahmeek is located in Keweenaw County which is the most northern county in Michigan.

4. The boiler that was removed from the Torch Lake after it arrived here is on display in the A&S Yard.

5. Initial instructions to Crown metal Products was for cars capable of 50 passengers but it appears that this was modified and the cars as delivered were capable of carrying up to 70 passengers.

Additional Readings:

Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village, by Don LaCombe, trains, railroads

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