For many 19th-century railroaders, holidays were workdays like any other. / THF286590 As we gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays this year, many of us will enjoy a day (or several days) away from the job. But for our essential workers, time off may not be an option. For those who do the daily work that makes modern life possible, a holiday is just another day. In the mid-19th century, the railroader was America’s preeminent essential worker. (Don’t get me wrong—railroaders are still essential workers in the early 21st century, but their industry isn’t as prominent in today’s culture.) Trains had to roll, tracks had to be kept clear, and freight had to move—no matter what the calendar said.
The railroad’s timetable was gospel, holiday or not. / THF203346
Mainline railroading was a 24/7 operation. It was possible to shutter most operations at a roundhouse for a day, and railroads could cancel the local trains that served nearby industries, but longer-distance through freight and passenger trains had to keep moving. Stop a train somewhere and you block that track—and all the other trains that need to use it. Before long, the whole system grinds to a halt. (Today’s passenger airlines experience the same problem when bad weather shuts down a hub airport. Delays cascade throughout the entire network. But airlines can “reset” each night when far fewer flights operate. That’s an advantage railroads have never enjoyed.)
Conductors, engineers, fireman, brakemen, and others often spent their holidays either out on the line or bunking in a railroad dormitory far from home, waiting for their next run. And there might be miserable weather to contend with too. In northern states, December meant cold and snow. Consider the plight of a mid-19th-century brakeman. In the days before George Westinghouse’s air brake, the only way to stop a train was to manually set the individual handbrakes on each car. When the engineer gave the signal, brakemen had to scramble along the roofs of the railcars and spin the iron wheels that applied those brakes. It was a dangerous job in fair weather, but it could be deadly when ice and snow made everything slippery. On a windy night, a brakeman might be blown off into a snowbank below—where he hoped his crewmates noticed his absence before the train went too far.
The firebox kept a locomotive’s cab warm throughout the year—a decided advantage in winter. / THF286564
For the engineer and fireman in the locomotive cab, life was somewhat better. They stayed warm even through the coldest winter days due to the heat from the locomotive’s firebox. (There were surely more than a few enginemen who preferred the cold to sweltering summer days, when cab temperatures were hellish.) But there were still challenges. Snow and ice on the rails required extra skill to keep the locomotive’s wheels from spinning when climbing a long grade. Falling snow obscured the track ahead, making it difficult to see signal lights and lanterns—or an unexpected stopped train.
Polished passenger cars were aesthetically pleasing. They were also highly combustible, should the coal stove (at lower left) tip over in an accident. / THF176785
Riders on passenger trains also stayed out of the weather, but even they had their struggles. Wooden passenger cars were drafty. In the mid-19th century, heat came from a single coal stove in each car. Inevitably, those seated far from the stove shivered, while those seated nearest to it sweated. Given that cars of this period were heavily varnished and trimmed with any number of flammable fabrics and surfaces, coal stoves also posed a serious fire hazard.
Two of America’s worst railroad disasters involved December fires. On December 18, 1867, an eastbound express train derailed while crossing a bridge near Angola, New York. The last car plummeted off the bridge and its stove came apart, scattering hot coals over the wreckage. Forty-nine people are believed to have died in the wreck—most of them burned in the resulting inferno. Newspapers referred to the carnage as the “Angola Horror.”
Nine years later, another bridge-fire accident occurred at Ashtabula, Ohio. On December 29, 1876, a faulty bridge collapsed under the Pacific Express as the train headed west. This time, 11 passenger cars fell into the chasm and an estimated 92 people lost their lives. Some were killed in the crash itself, but others succumbed to the fire ignited by spilled coals and fueled by wooden wreckage. The “Ashtabula Horror” exceeded that of Angola and would remain America’s deadliest railroad accident for more than 40 years.
Clearing snow was the most backbreaking task on the railroad in winter. / THF120726
Trains didn’t go anywhere if the track was blocked, so in snowstorms track crews battled fiercely against falling and drifting snow to keep the way clear. Brute force and backbreaking effort were their best tools. Large plows, pushed by powerful locomotives, threw snow clear of the right-of-way. When the crew encountered a particularly deep or stubborn blockage, there was little choice but to back the plow up for some distance, then open the throttle and hit the drift hard and fast. With luck, the plow pushed through and continued on its way, or at least made a sizeable dent before another try. The worst-case scenario had the plow stuck so deep into a drift that it couldn’t be extracted. When that happened, crew members simply had to shovel it, however long it took. Powerful rotary plows—essentially, snowblowers for railroad track—made the job easier when they arrived in the 1880s, but these expensive machines were generally only used on mountain railroads in the American West.
Artist (and automotive designer) Virgil Exner captured a more romantic vision of winter railroading in this painting from about 1970. / THF36304
Later in the 20th century, as working conditions and passenger safety improved, and as steel coaches and steam heat replaced wooden cars with coal stoves, the railroad found a happier place in our holiday culture. Trains became synonymous with trips back home to visit loved ones, and electric train sets became staples under the Christmas tree—whether as gifts or as decorations. More recently, popular movies like The Polar Express have continued the trend. It may be that there were no holidays on the railroad, but it’s equally true that our holidays wouldn’t be what they are today without it.
Passengers rush to board the Overland Limited, which ran between Los Angeles and Chicago over the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway, ca. 1905. / THF207763
Between 1865 and 1920, America’s railroad network increased sevenfold, from 35,085 miles to an all-time high of 254,037 miles in 1916. The rapid expansion of the national rail network corresponded with major technological improvements—including double tracking, improved roadbeds, heavier and faster locomotives, and the elimination of sharp curves—which allowed trains to operate at higher speeds. Travel times were steadily cut year by year. To emphasize time savings, railroad companies began to give their faster lines special names like “flyer,” “express,” and “limited.”
This 1913 timetable for the St. Louis-Colorado Limited line of the Wabash-Union Pacific Railroad boasted that it was the shortest line with the fastest time between destinations. / THF291441
However, increased speed came with disadvantages. High speeds resulted in an increasing number of gruesome railroad accidents caused by both discrepancies in local times and mix-ups between different railroad companies’ timetables.
A catastrophic collision occurred between two passenger trains on the Providence & Worcester Railroad when they failed to meet at a passing siding as scheduled, 1853. / THF622050
Facing governmental intervention to address the problem, the railroads took it upon themselves to enact a single standardized time across the country by dividing the nation into five roughly even time zones. Some people at first rebelled against this arbitrary imposition, especially when the newly drawn time zone designations did not align with local practices. But most people found it increasingly convenient to set their clocks by this new “standard time.”
Residents of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, would have synchronized the time on their personal clocks and watches to the railroad depot clock seen in this ca. 1916 postcard. / THF124830
Another disadvantage, some people complained, was that the increasing speed of railroad travel was unhealthy. Many believed that the rapid pace of life contributed to new forms of stress and anxiety and that the railroad was a key cause of these problems.
Railroad passengers ascending the staircase after arriving in Chicago, via the Illinois Central Railroad, ca. 1907 / THF105820
By 1920, railroad passenger travel was at the highest level it would ever attain. But, with the exception of the unique conditions during World War II, the railroad would never again be the dominant form of personal transportation in America. Within a few decades, the American public would embrace automobiles with the passion they had once given over to the railroads. How did this transfer of allegiance from railroad to automobile occur so effortlessly and completely during the early 20th century, and how does it relate to Americans’ changing concepts of time?
A group of motorists travelling from Davenport, Iowa, to New York, ca. 1905 / THF104740
At first, many railroad managers did not take automobiles seriously—and for good reason. When they were first introduced in the 1890s, automobiles had no practical purpose. They were considered amusing and entertaining playthings for wealthy hobbyists and adventurers.
1909 advertisement for the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car, an automobile geared to wealthy motorists who could afford to have a chauffeur handle the driving for them. / THF88377
Most railroad managers were complacent, agreeing with one claim that “the fad of automobile riding will gradually wear off and the time will soon be here when a very large part of the people will cease to think of automobile rides.” But, as it turned out, the public passion for automobile riding did not wear off. Increasingly, Americans from all walks of life embraced automobiles and their advantages over railroads. By 1910, more than 468,000 motor vehicles had been registered in the United States.
Automobiles would have not achieved the level of popularity that they did without major advancements in the roads on which they traveled. As far back as the 1890s, bicyclists and early motorists had tried to alert the public to, and lobby the government for, better roads—roads that the railroads had ironically either replaced or rendered unnecessary.
The Bulletin and Good Road, the official organ of the League of American Wheelmen, kept bicyclists up to date on advancements relating to the “Good Roads” movement. / THF207011
One reason that people embraced automobiles was because they revived the promise of individual freedom. Compared with railroad travel, motorists were unhampered, free to follow their own path. Elon Jessup, author of several motor camping books, wrote, “Time and space are at your beck and call, your freedom is complete.”
Motorists enjoying life on the road in the Missouri Ozarks, 1923. / THF105550
According to a 1910 American Motorist article, no longer were people tied to intercity train schedules, “rushed meals,” and “rude awakenings.” The motorist was “his own station master, engineer, and porter.” Riding in his own “highway Pullman,” he had “no one’s time to make except his own.” Automobile advocate Henry B. Joy wrote in a 1917 Outlook article that motoring promised “freedom from the shackles of the railway timetable.” Automobiles were also considered a particular advantage for women, who were increasingly venturing out into public spaces to shop, work, socialize, and take pleasure trips.
Four women in a Haynes automobile, travelling from Chicago to New York, ca. 1905. / THF107595
In addition to restoring people’s personal control over their own time, automobiles succeeded in slowing down the fast pace of modern life. Early automobile advocates claimed that railroads were simply too fast. Elon Jessup, in his 1921 book, The Motor Camping Book, described the view from the train as “a blur.” In his 1928 book, Better Country, nature writer Dallas Lore Sharp remarked that railroads rushed “blindly along iron rails” in their “mad dash across the night,” offering passengers only “fleeting impressions.” Automobiles, on the other hand, promised a nostalgic return to a slower time. Harkening back to the “simpler” days of stagecoach and carriage travel, automobiles were “refreshingly regressive.” Instead of being rushed along by “printed schedules and clock-toting conductors,” motorists could stop and start whenever they wanted, or when natural obstacles intervened. A car trip was leisurely, allowing heightened attention to regional variation and uniqueness.
Motorists take a leisurely drive through the countryside on the cover of this September 1924 American Motorist magazine. / THF202475
All told, the automobile liberated the individual who “hated alarm clocks” and “the faces of the conductor who twice daily punched his ticket on the suburban train.” In his 1928 book, Dallas Sharp even claimed that motoring was, in fact, more patriotic than railroad travel because it encouraged people to enjoy the country “quietly” and “sanely.” As a result, the slower tempo of automobile travel was thought to be restorative to frayed nerves brought on by the increasingly hectic pace of life in an urban, industrial society.
No automobile had more impact on the American public than the Model T, introduced in 1908. Envisioned by Henry Ford as a car for “the great multitude,” the Model T was indeed “everyman’s car”—sturdy, versatile, thrifty, and powerful. While Model Ts sold well from the beginning, the low price, extensive dealer network, and easy availability of replacement parts led to a leap in Model T sales after World War I.
Brochure for the 1924 Ford Model T, promoting its use as a vehicle for family pleasure trips. / THF107809
The need and demand for better roads corresponded with the unprecedented rise in Model T sales. The first and most widely publicized of the new, independently funded cross-country highways was the Lincoln Highway (1912), which ran (at least on paper) between New York City and San Francisco, California. In 1916—ironically, the same year that national railroad mileage reached a peak—the U.S. government passed the Federal Aid Road Act, providing grants-in-aid to several states to fund road improvement. The railroad companies watched helplessly as the government subsidized improved roads that extended to villages and hamlets the railroads could never hope to reach.
Effie Price Gladding recounts her cross-country trip on the Lincoln Highway in this 1915 book. The cover points out the states she passed through along the route of this highway. / THF204498
By the end of the 1920s, due in large part to the unprecedented popularity of the Model T, automobiles had gained a “vice-like grip on the American psyche.” Total car sales had leaped from 3.3 million in 1916 to 23 million by the late 1920s. Motorists were not only opting to take cars rather than trains for their regular travel routines, but they were also beginning to take longer-distance trips than they had ever attempted before. As the 1920s closed, Americans were traveling five times farther in cars than in trains. Enthusiasm for the automobile remained high throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, when massive new road and highway construction projects were initiated to stimulate employment.
Black Americans embraced automobiles to avoid discrimination and humiliation on public transportation—at least until they had to stop to eat, sleep, and fill up with gas. Beginning in 1936, the Negro Motorist Green Book listed “safe places” for Black motorists to stop in towns and cities across the country. / THF99195
Conversely, the Depression was devastating for the railroad companies, who abandoned a record number of miles of existing track during this decade. By the late 1930s, railroad companies were optimistically attempting to revive business by embracing modern new streamlined designs, which claimed to reflect aerodynamic principles and promised a smooth ride incorporating the latest standards of comfort and convenience. A new emphasis on speed led to numerous record-breaking runs.
For its speed, as well as its beauty, comfort, and convenience, the Wabash Railroad’s “Blue Bird Streamliner” of 1950 was touted as “The Most Modern Train in America.” / THF99239
After World War II, the lifting of wartime rationing, the inclusion of two-week paid vacations in most labor union contracts, pent-up demand for consumer goods, and general postwar affluence ensured the automobile industry “banner sales,” which lasted into the 1950s.
Travel brochures like this one abounded after World War II, appealing to family vacationers. / THF202155
State-endorsed toll roads met the immediate postwar demand for motorists’ “right to speedy and accident-free travel over long distance.”
The Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first state-endorsed toll road, officially entered service on October 1, 1940. It currently stretches three times its original length. / THF202550
But the U.S. government’s long-time obsession with highway improvement truly reached a “dizzying crescendo” in 1956, with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act. This Act called for 46,000 miles of state-of-the-art, limited-access superhighways, to be funded by public taxes on fuel, tires, trucks, buses, and trailers. Although justified for military and national defense purposes, the interstate highway system made it possible for average citizens to reach their destinations faster in their cars than by taking trains.
Although the new urban expressways were promoted as modern advantages, as seen in this 1955 “Auto-Owners Expressway Map” for the Detroit area, in fact, these same expressways cut through and often devastated poor and historically marginalized communities. / THF205968
Ironically, as automobiles became the standard vehicle for long-distance transportation, and highways beckoned motorists with higher speed limits and improved surfaces, the slow, leisurely pace of motoring—so lauded 50 years earlier—had transformed into an outpacing of even the “blurring” speed of railroads.
The wonder of the fast and efficient new expressways is evident in the child’s expression in this 1959 promotional photograph, as he views a futuristic model highway envisioned by researchers at General Motors. / THF200901
For the most part, travelers rejoiced as four-lane divided highways replaced the older two-lane highways. With the new speed and comfort features of cars and improved highways, the impulse toward getting somewhere as rapidly and efficiently as possible, along the straightest path, became the new end goal.
Sources consulted include:
Belasco, Warren James. Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1979.
Douglas, George H. All Aboard: The Railroad in American Life. New York: Paragon House, 1992.
Gordon, Sarah H. Passage to Union: How the Railroads Transformed American Life, 1829-1929. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996.
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This blog post is adapted from her M.A. Thesis, “American Dreams and Railroad Schemes: Cultural Values and Early-Twentieth-Century Promotional Strategies of the Wabash Railroad Company” (University of Michigan-Dearborn, 2013).
As any member of the railroad operations team in Greenfield Village will tell you, there’s never a shortage of work to be done at the roundhouse. Learn more about a typical day of making sure everything is running smoothly from early in the morning to late in the evening.
The beginning of a day in railroad operations starts when the scheduled fireman arrives at 6:30 am in the morning. Upon arriving he’ll look over the day’s locomotive for anything that might be out of place. When he’s satisfied, he will begin by cleaning the remnants of the previous day’s fire from the firebox.
A fresh bed of coal will be laid down and he will then light a new fire. For the next two hours, the fireman will continue to tend this fire as the boiler builds steam pressure. He will also fill oil cans, clean the cab, and tidy up in general around the engine. At 7:00 am, the morning mechanic reports for duty. He’ll wash and assist in oiling the engine.
The morning mechanic is also present for any mechanical failures that may arise as the locomotive “wakes up.” At 7:30 am the engineer arrives; he starts his day by inspecting the passenger cars that will be pulled behind his locomotive. After this, he will proceed to the locomotive and look the engine over before beginning the process of oiling and greasing. Around 8:45 am the fireman will have the boiler near operating pressure; at this time the locomotive is ready to start its day. The engineer with fireman onboard will take the locomotive from the roundhouse area out onto the railroad to retrieve the train cars. Once coupled up, a test of the air brakes and a final inspection is performed. This is done to ensure that the brakes are operating correctly.
At 9:00 am the conductor reports for duty and boards the rear of the train, which then proceeds up to Firestone station to receive the first passengers of the day.
Did you know that the train will make 13 trips around the railroad in a single day, covering just over 30 miles? Amongst these trips the engine crew takes on water four times and will take on coal only once. Throughout the day the fireman will maintain a steady, hot fire, adequate steam pressure, and a safe water level in the boiler.
The engineer will replenish oil and grease to important components of the locomotive, as well as ensure a safe and comfortable ride to our passengers.
Meanwhile, back at the shop, our mechanical department will perform various duties to keep the railroad up and running.
These duties include rebuilding spare parts, manufacturing new parts, boiler washes, boiler water testing, and disposing of dumped ash; just to name a few. Like we said, there is never a shortage of work to be done at the roundhouse.
As the day ends, the train pulls into Firestone station at 5:00 pm to unload the last of its passengers. This signals the end of the day for regular train service; however, there is still much to do for railroad operations. The train crew will back the train from Firestone station to near the roundhouse. They will park the passenger cars for the night and turn the locomotive over to the evening mechanics, also known as hostlers. The locomotive will be run back to the roundhouse where it will receive a thorough inspection, a good wiping, and any repairs that need to be made.
Finally, the engine will be parked next to the roundhouse on the washing rack. Its boiler will be topped off with water and a large mound of coal, known as a bank, will be shoveled into the firebox. With the smokestack nearly capped, allowing only a small amount of smoke to escape, the bank will slowly burn overnight, maintaining a small amount heat in the boiler. The evening hostlers normally finish their day at 6:30 in the evening. However, this can be much later depending on the extent of needed evening repairs; every day on the railroad can lead to something new.
Mac Johnson is Roundhouse Foreman at The Henry Ford. Matt Goodman is Assistant Manager of Railroad Operations at The Henry Ford.
Model T mechanics are restoration artists in their own right.
The Henry Ford has a fleet of 14 Ford Model T’s, 12 of which ride thousands of visitors along the streets of Greenfield Village every year.
With each ride, a door slams, shoes skid across the floorboards, seats are bounced on, gears are shifted, tires meet road, pedals are pushed, handles are pulled and so on. Makes maintaining the cars and preserving the visitor experience a continuous challenge.
“These cars get very harsh use,” said Ken Kennedy, antique vehicle mechanic and T Shed specialist at The Henry Ford. “Between 150,000 and 180,000 people a year ride in them. Each car gives a ride every five to seven minutes, with the longest route just short of a mile. This happens for nine months a year.”
The T Shed is the 3,600-square-foot garage on the grounds of Greenfield Village where repairs, restoration and maintenance magic happen. Kennedy, who holds a degree in restoration from McPherson College in Kansas, leads the shed’s team of staff and volunteers — many car-restoration hobbyists just like him.
“I basically turned my hobby into a career,” quipped Kennedy, who began restoring cars long before college. His first project: a 1926 two-door Model T sedan. “I also have a 1916 Touring and a 1927 Willys-Knight. And I’m working on a Model TT truck,” he added.
April through December, the shed is humming, doing routine maintenance and repairs on the Model T’s as well as a few Model AA trucks that round out Greenfield Village’s working fleet. “What the public does to these cars would make any hobbyist pull their hair out. Doors opening and shutting with each ride. Kids sliding across the seats wearing on the upholstery,” said Kennedy. Vehicles often go through a set of tires every year. Most hobbyist-owned Model T’s have the same set for three-plus decades.
With the heavy toll taken on the vehicles, the T Shed’s staff often makes small, yet important, mechanical changes to the cars to ensure they can keep up. “We have some subtle things we can do to make them work better for our purpose,” said Kennedy. Gear ratios, for example, are adjusted since the cars run slow — the speed limit in Greenfield Village is 15 miles per hour, maximum. “The cars look right for the period, but these are the things we can do to make our lives easier.”
In the off-season, when Greenfield Village is closed, the T Shedders shift toward more heavy mechanical work, replacing upholstery tops and fenders, and tearing down and rebuilding engines. While Kennedy may downplay the restoration, even the conservation, underpinnings of the work happening in the shed, the mindset and philosophy are certainly ever present.
“Most of the time we’re not really restoring, but you still have to keep in mind authenticity and what should be,” he said. “It’s not just about what will work. You have to keep the correctness. We can do some things that aren’t seen, where you can adjust. But where it’s visible, we have to maintain what’s period correct. We want to keep the engines sounding right, looking right.”
Photo by Bill Bowen.
RESTORATION IN THE ROUND Tom Fisher, Greenfield Village’s chief mechanical officer, has been restoring and maintaining The Henry Ford’s steam locomotives since 1988. “It was a temporary fill-in; I thought I’d try it,” Fisher said of joining The Henry Ford team 28 years ago while earning an engineering degree.
He now oversees a staff with similarly circuitous routes — some with degrees in history, some in engineering, some with no degree at all. Most can both engineer a steam-engine train and repair one on-site in Greenfield Village’s roundhouse.
“As a group, we’re very well rounded,” said Fisher. “One of the guys is a genius with gas engines — our switcher has a gas engine, so I was happy to get him. One guy is good with air brake systems. We feel them out, see where they’re good and then push them toward that.”
Fisher’s team’s most significant restoration effort: the Detroit & Lima Northern No. 7. Henry Ford’s personal favorite, this locomotive was formerly in Henry Ford Museum and took nearly 20 years to get back on the track.
“We had to put on our ‘way-back’ hats and say this is what we think they would have done,” said Fisher.
No. 7 is one of three steam locomotives running in Greenfield Village. As with the Model T’s, maintaining these machines is a balance between preserving historical integrity and modernizing out of necessity.
“A steam locomotive is constantly trying to destroy itself,” Fisher said. “It wears its parts all out in the open. The daily firing of the boiler induces stresses into the metal. There’s a constant renewal of parts.”
Parts that Fisher and his team painstakingly fabricate, cast and fit with their sturdy hands right at the roundhouse.
DID YOU KNOW? The No. 7 locomotive began operation in Greenfield Village to help commemorate Henry Ford’s 150th birthday in 2013.
One of the key issues for the decision to begin the work on Number 7 was the availability of the skill sets and facilities required to accomplish a high quality restoration. This was a major undertaking and as one of the most respected transportation museums in the world it is necessary to only do things that you can do very well. Fortunately, The Henry Ford had a group in place (Railroad Operations) that was responsible to maintain two operating steam locomotives, rolling stock, tracks and signal system to provide historic railroad transportation on a daily basis.
The facility where the Railroad Operations personnel performed this maintenance was the Greenfield Village’s Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Roundhouse. Built in 2000 to closely replicate the 1880s DT&M facility in Marshall, Michigan; it was well equipped and had the necessary tools and machines to maintain the Village’s railroad operations.
The expertise to maintain this railroad goes well beyond the service and replacement aspects of a shop. Since there is no steam locomotive “AutoZone”; if something has to be replaced you make it. This requires extensive machining and fabrication capability. Additionally, since replacement of castings or other items sometimes requires detailed relationships with outside suppliers, extensive design and drafting skills were often required.
The physical aspects of Number 7’s restoration began in 2007 with the disassembly process. Disassembly of a locomotive is a time consuming and physically demanding process. Before the major assemblies could be removed many tubes, valves and ancillary systems had to be removed. The fact that these parts had not been touched for over 80 years made this especially challenging.
In September of 2007 the removal of the major components began with the separation of the cab (pictured below) from the chassis. In early December the boiler was removed so it could be worked on with unobstructed access to the areas that would need to be replaced (pictured below).
Early in 2008 the process of removing the sections of the boiler and firebox was started along with the removal of hardened scale from the boiler walls. Work on the boiler proceeding through the year removing the sections that would be replaced and preparing the surfaces for installation of the new ones.
After the preparation phase, fabrication of the new sections of the boiler began. One of the most complicated and demanding sections was the rear tube sheet. This is the part that faces the firebox and holds the heat tubes in place so that the heat generated in the firebox can be drawn through the boiler to heat the water and develop steam.
The first phase of the tube sheet forming began with the use of McCabe flanging tool. This pneumatically powered machine, built in 1921, was a common tool in roundhouses of that period. This machine has the capability of forming flanges on sheet steel up to ¾ of an inch thick. The flanging tool would save a significant amount of work but was limited as it could not flange the tight radius needed for the top corners. Forming those portions of the tube sheet would require hand forming.
To facilitate the hand forming an approximately 1.5 inch thick metal die had to be fabricated. This was done by an outside company to Train Operations developed drawings. The partially formed steel sheet was then rigidly attached to the die and the remaining forming was done after the immediate area being formed was heated to red hot by acetylene torches. The heated portion could then be formed by the use of special hammers. These hammers were made of reinforced hard wood that would not put dent marks in the metal when it struck the red hot steel. Dent marks would structurally weaken the metal. The upper corners of the sheet had be cut at the centerline of the curve so that, when formed, there would be a smooth joint that could be welded with integrity.
After the forming process was completed the sheet would have to be drilled to accept the heat tubes and stay bolts. Since the heat tubes were almost 12 ft. long and required a very close fit at each end to assure sealing; locating and drilling the holes had to be accomplished with complete accuracy.
Work on the boiler continued through the end of 2008 and into 2009 with fabrication of the firebox floor and door sheet. Throughout all of this fabrication the parts had to be very precise to provide accurate fitment. Repairs like these are critical to the safety of a trains operation. Boilers are very closely regulated by the government and all welding has to be done by a boiler certified welder. These welders will not compromise on flushness and alignment of the components to assure high quality welds.
The welded elements of the boiler are only part of the story. The non-cylindrical parts like the firebox and crown sheet have to be held in position inside the boiler by a device called a stay bolt. Stay bolts are threaded rods that hold the firebox and crown sheet into position while still allowing the water to circulate around it. New stay bolts would have to be sized and machined for each individual location by the roundhouse crew.
Once the stay bolts are installed (above) the exposed ends are “upset” like a rivet so they are sealed and fixed into position. When the stay bolt is fabricated it is drilled down its center (above)so that if it cracks or breaks during service, a small trail of water or rust will appear on the head indicating an internal failure of the stay bolt.
A locomotive boiler like the one in Number 7 has hundreds of these bolts that have to be individually machined to assure proper fit and sealing. Many of these would have to be replaced due to the new sections of the boiler.
Once the components of the boiler were installed it was painted with high temperature epoxy paint and the insulation blocks began to be installed. The “calcium silicate” insulator blocks (above) replaced the asbestos removed in 1997 and was necessary to help keep heat in the boiler and provide an insulated barrier to protect the “jacketing.” The “jacketing” was decorative but primarily served to keep the insulation blocks in place, heat inside the boiler and protect train personnel.
Parallel to the work on the boiler was the restoration of the tender. To ensure that Number 7 would have a tender that would hold up to daily use it was decided that a new frame would be required. Additionally, the original frames wooden construction would be replaced by a stronger all steel frame assembly, an option on the original factory builds.
The upper part of the tender was sand blasted to bare metal and the 3,350 gallon water tank was tested to assure integrity. After the sandblasting was complete, it was painted the “as delivered” green with the name Detroit & Lima Northern hand painted on the side along with the painted trim indicated by the Baldwin photos.
Although the Baldwin “as built” information identified a specific color name there were no color chips to tell exactly what that name actually looked like. The color established was the result of significant research and the color mix selected came from Chris Dewitt of the Nevada State Railroad Museum. A 1913 Baldwin in their collection had a small section that provided the only known “color chip” of the original paint. This sample was analyzed and they provided a chip from that analysis for our restoration. For the railroad purists it is important to note that each Baldwin painter mixed his own paint; it is unlikely that anyone could point to a replicated color and say “this was an exact match.”
The tender restoration was completed later in the year and the work on Number 7 locomotive started to show real progress.
Don LaCombe is former Supervisor of the Transportation and Crafts Program at The Henry Ford.
On June 12, 2013, the fully restored 1897 Baldwin Locomotive, affectionately known by The Henry Ford employees, volunteers and frequent roundhouse guests as “Number 7,” went onto the Greenfield Village railroad tracks under its own power. The last time this engine had run under its own steam was 83 years earlier at the Ford Rouge Plant.
Despite its almost regal dark green cab, Russian Iron jacketing and extensive gold and red hand painted trim, Number 7 did not initially live a pampered existence. Besides the 1910 “combination” accident that saw our locomotive buried under a caboose body from another train; its history is typical of many locomotives of that time when railroads were owned by investors that were only interested in squeezing out as much profit as possible. Bankruptcies of these railroads were common and diligent maintenance of equipment was not.
Unlike Number 7's counterparts it had a much brighter ending. This ending was created by Henry Ford and his acquisition of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railway in 1920.
According to The Henry Ford's registrars file the construction of this 4-4-0 American class locomotive (Baldwin Order No. 15317) and tender was completed sometime in May of 1897. Delivery to its original owner, the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway, was most likely in early July of that year.
The company that manufactured the locomotive and tender was Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. This massive facility that eventually covered 7 square blocks of the “Bush Hill” industrial district produced 501 locomotives that year. Baldwin was the world’s preeminent manufacturer of steam locomotives with 40 percent of what they manufactured being exported. Their customer base included railroads in France and Japan. In 1897 they employed 3,200 men with the vast assortment of special skills required to manufacture the giant locomotives with the precision required.
Baldwin had developed a manufacturing process that would allow them to build a locomotive from “order to delivery” in an astoundingly short eight weeks. They did not build a “standard” locomotive but instead treated each order as a new design with components designed and manufactured by combining common templates and processes to match the customer’s unique specifications.
The first three of the eight-week manufacturing process were used to create the drawings required for the ordered locomotive. During the following two weeks all the materials and outside sourced components or subassemblies were ordered. These purchased items represented about 50 percent of the total cost for the project. In the following two weeks the boiler shop would fabricate the boiler as the other Baldwin shops completed the castings, forgings, and required machining. The eighth week was used in the erection facility where all the components and subassemblies would be assembled into a complete and functioning locomotive. It would then go through a brief prove-out prior to delivery to the customer.
Baldwin 15317 went through this process and when assembled; the cab and tender were painted dark green with gold trim and the tender had Detroit & Lima Northern Railway in gold letters on both sides. When build number 15317 left the Baldwin factory it carried the D&LNR designation #7 on its number plate. Number 7 was a steam-powered coal burner that was designed and built to pull passenger cars. Besides the passenger cars its tender would carry up to seven tons of coal and the 3,350 gallons of water necessary for its operation.
The Detroit and Lima Northern Railway started its short-lived existence in Ohio sometime during 1896. Chase M. Haskell, Ohio attorney and prominent Democrat, along with other promoters began selling bonds to create a new railway called the Lima Northern. It would haul freight and passengers from Lima, through Ohio and into southern Michigan. Shortly after, plans were made to extend the railway to Detroit and Columbus with the name being changed to the Detroit & Lima Northern Railroad. Within a few months the contractors for the extended rail lines took legal action because they had not received any money. In 1898 the railroad was placed in receivership. Haskell moved on to Oklahoma and in 1907 become its first governor.
The D & LNR operated under receivership until 1901 when it was purchased by New York banker Frederick J. Lisman and the name was changed to the Detroit Southern Railway Company. The banker was an authority on railroad finances and had been prominent in that field for years. As was typical at the time of Lisman’s ownership, he was involved in numerous acquisitions and mergers to extend the systems routes and profits. All went well until a bad economy in 1904 once again forced the railroad into receivership. Following a sale in 1905 the company became the Detroit Toledo & Ironton Railroad. The new DT&I name would continue to exist under various owners until December 1983 when the railroad was assimilated into the Grand Trunk Western Railroad and the DT&I identity disappeared.
The DT&I went into receivership in 1908: elements of the business were sold off but the company continued to operate. In 1914 the company was reorganized and some of the elements that had been sold off were reacquired. The next few years would see a number of significant improvements as heavier railing were installed, buildings were improved and many trestles rebuilt.
As a part of these improvements; the locomotives and other rolling stock (freight cars, tank cars & etc.) that had been very poorly maintained during all the financial trauma, were given some much-needed attention. This effort did not last; in 1918, in order to better support the war effort (WW I), the federal government took over control of the nations railroads. This control was in place until March of 1920. During those years, rail traffic significantly increased with war production goods and much-needed maintenance of the rolling stock was absolutely minimized. DT&I equipment seemed to suffer more than others and according to Scott D. Trostel in his book; Henry Ford: When I Ran the Railroads “the fleet was described in such poor state of repair with drive rods and cross heads that pounded so badly they could be heard for miles.” One of the results of this was that our Number 7 was barely operable in 1920.
In June of 1920 the ownership of the DT&I Railroad was transferred to the Ford Motor Company where Henry would transform it into one of the best managed and financially successful railroads in the country.
Ford’s reason for the purchase of the DT&I was to extend its terminating point of Flat Rock to Dearborn and use it to help supply his new sprawling complex, the Rouge Plant. This ultimately supported Henry’s vision to have a manufacturing facility where coal, iron ore, rubber and all raw materials required to construct an automobile, would come in one end of the Rouge and a completed vehicle would roll out the other end. To accomplish this, the rolling stock (80 locomotives, 2,800 freight and 24 passenger cars) would have to be completely rebuilt to Fords impressive standards. A new building was constructed (the Fordson Shop) at the Rouge to facilitate the rebuild and maintenance of the new acquisition. The facility was opened in 1921 with a staff that eventually reached 475 men with the first locomotive to undergo a Ford transformation being DT&I engine Number 7. It was completely stripped down and inspected. Anything that needed it was replaced. Aesthetics were also a part of the transformation; drive rods were draw filed and polished, exposed iron pipes were replaced with bright copper, new boiler jackets were finished in a lacquered Russian Iron and the outside of the metal tires were painted white.
When the rebuild was completed “Number 7” was put into service at the disposal of Henry Ford who had assumed the roll of DT&I president. It was frequently used to take Henry to various points along the line to attend meetings or visit with friends such as Thomas Edison or Harvey Firestone. Some of these trips would include his private rail car the “Fairlane” as part of the “consist” (listing of locomotive and attached cars). According to staff and others along the route, Henry could be seen in the cab during some of these trips. Some who witnessed these trips said Henry could occasionally be seen setting in the engineer’s seat with his engineer Harry Cochran a step away.
Ford owned the railroad until June of 1929 when he became irritated with the intervention of the Interstate Commerce Commissions over shipping rates and other issues. The DT&I was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad for $36 million. Besides the profits and rate advantage enjoyed during the Ford ownership he turned his initial $5 million purchase price and approximately $8 million of improvements into an impressive $23 million profit.
Number 7 was not a part of this sale. Sometime in 1930 it underwent a restoration at the Ford Rouge’s Fordson Shops and was donated to the Edison Institute (now The Henry Ford) and put on display in the Henry Ford Museum. It remained in the museum until 1985 when it was moved to our train shed (now the Antique Vehicles Garage).
Number 7 remained untouched in the train shed until 1997 when the train staff began a preliminary investigation to see if it was practical to attempt to make the locomotive operational. The jacketing was taken off, the asbestos insulation was removed and metallurgical tests were done to asses the boilers condition.
The 1930 restoration at the Fordson shops was originally thought to have been a complete mechanical and cosmetic upgrading. A later examination revealed that the 1930 restoration was primarily cosmetic but some other elements of that restoration would lead to some real surprises during the recent one.
If Number 7 was ever to run again many parts of its now 80-plus-year-old boiler would have to be replaced and this would require complete disassembly of the locomotive. The new sections of the boiler that would have to be fabricated and installed were the boiler floor, rear tube sheet (boiler end), firebox door sheet, and all of the boilers heat tubes. These are all large parts that must be formed from heavy gauge steel sheet or tubing. The only parts that could be purchased from an outside supplier were the 167 heavy walled heat tubes. All other parts would be fabricated here and an attempt would be made to produce them with the same processes that would have been used in roundhouses of that period. To fabricate these parts and install them would require hundreds of man hours. Even the hammers that would be used for forming the heavy metal would have to be fabricated here.
There were some additional issues that needed to be dealt with before the locomotive could be placed in service. The most labor-intensive was that the frame of Number 7s tender was made of wood and had deteriorated to the point where it would not be able to handle day to day service at the Village. The only viable solution was to fabricate an all new metal frame. The second issue was that: in order for the much longer Baldwin to navigate the tight turns of the Village’s 2.5 mile railroad, modifications to the front truck and drive wheels would have to be made. These changes included making swing links for the front truck and additional thrust clearance was provided by machining the drive axles.
Don LaCombe is Supervisor of the Transportation and Crafts Program at The Henry Ford.
References Henry Ford: When I Ran the Railroads (Scott D. Trostel) The Baldwin Locomotive Works 1831 – 1915 (John K. Brown) DT&I The Railroad That Went No Place (William C. Pletz - The Inside Track 1979) The Sad Romance of the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway Age, July 1920 THF Object Report # 30.235.2 Registrars File Acc. 30.235.2 Curators File Acc. 30.235.2
Over the years, the number of locomotives began to grow. In 1979 the Edison Institute obtained a 1927 Plymouth Gasoline-Mechanical locomotive. The locomotive, built by the Fate-Root-Heath Company of Plymouth, Ohio, had been used to shuttle coal cars at the Mistersky Power Station in Detroit (The Mistersky plant was run by the City of Detroit Power and Light Department until 2010 when it was sold to DTE). It was to be used at Greenfield Village shuttling locomotives and rolling stock.
In 1993 the Edison Institute added a fourth engine to the Perimeter Railroad program. This 1942, 50-ton diesel electric locomotive was manufactured by General Electric in Erie, Penn. It was first used at the United States Naval Ammunition Depot in Charleston, S.C., to shuttle ammunition to the Navy ships during World War II.
The Edison Institute obtained the G.E. locomotive from the Luria Brothers & Co in Ecorse, Mich., where it was being used to switch scrap cars. It was to be used in Greenfield Village to shuttle cars and fill in for the steam locomotives when necessary.
The Detroit & Mackinac Railway Caboose
This Detroit & Mackinac caboose, originally built circa 1912, was probably in service until 1964 when caboose service was ended by that railroad. After its railway service ended, this caboose was displayed in Tawas City Park for five years. The caboose was then taken back to the D & M shops were it was restored and made a prominent display in their own museum.
In 1979 D & M donated the caboose, three other cars and a 1914 Baldwin locomotive to The Henry Ford.
This Greenfield Village Water Tower is a 39,000-gallon replacement for the original 14,000-gallon water tower. The original water tower was a gift from the New York Central System and was installed in the mid 1950s.
When the D & M caboose (currently undergoing restoration in the Roundhouse) first arrived at Greenfield Village, it was used as an operational member of the Perimeter Railroad program. When in use it was attached behind the regular passenger cars and for a special price guests could ride in the enclosed car and purchase snacks to eat along the way.
The Greenfield Village Water Tower
Between the Smiths Creek Depot and the Roundhouse stands an impressive red structure (Figure 9). That structure is the Greenfield Village Water Tower.
The original water tower for Greenfield Village's railroads was a 1943 gift (Accession 43.36.1) to Henry Ford from the New York Central System. The water tower had been used inside Michigan Central Railroad’s Bay City Junction repair facility in Detroit. The 14,000-gallon water tower was installed in the same location as our current tower sometime in the mid 1950s. Since there was no operational railroad until 1971, it was not functional but part of the Smiths Creek exhibit.
An Oct. 12, 1971, memo indicates the water tower was to be inspected, caulked and repaired as needed for “Perimeter Railroad” operation.
The Michigan Central tower was used for train operations until 1993 when it had become deteriorated to the point it was no longer practical to maintain it. In 1993 a new 39,000 gallon water tower was purchased. The new tower was supplied in kit form from the Rosenwach Tank Company of Long Island City, N.Y.
This water column, across from Firestone Station, is one of two supplied water by the Greenfield Village Water Tower.
The old tower was disassembled and the new one was constructed on the same foundation. This tower is still used today to supply water directly to our steam locomotives or through two water columns. The water tower is supplied by city water that is conditioned by two large softener units in the basement of the Smiths Creek Station.
The Firestone Water Column
Water Columns were used to supply water to steam locomotives in areas where space is too limited to have a water tower. This unit (Accession: 2002.171.1) was made by The American Valve and Meter Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Firestone water column and one outside the DT&M roundhouse (accession: 93.204.1) are connected to the water tower by pipe. The one pictured is representative of columns produced by American Valve and Meter between 1925 and 1955.
Don LaCombe is Supervisor of the Transportation and Crafts Program at The Henry Ford
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 at The Henry Ford.
In 1971 Henry Ford Museum Administration Management began to implement a new master plan program for significant improvements to support the Museum and Village's upcoming celebration of the United State's Bicentennial. Greenfield Village improvements included construction of a new area called Riverfront Street (later known as Suwanee Park), new or improved visitor amenities, and a railroad that would circle the perimeter of Greenfield Village.
The Perimeter Railroad element of the project included the requirement for two operational locomotives, three new passenger cars, building a train maintenance facility (train shed), and the construction of 2.5 miles of track.
One of the major influences in deciding to develop a Perimeter Railroad was a 1968 presentation given by Edison Institute employee Tom Urban. Urban independently developed a plan and went as far as hiring an airplane with his own money to take aerial pictures of the Village. The photographer for this venture was a young man by the name of Rudy Ruzicska - our current photographer. These pictures were used by Urban in a presentation to Finance Director Lyle Hughes to demonstrate the feasibility for the routing of the railroad. Hughes was so impressed he set up a meeting with other members of senior staff to present the proposal.
Hughes’ proposal was well received and a study was started to see how to make the plan a reality. Leslie Henry (Curator of Transportation) began a study that included a number of options. Some of those options were: purchasing and moving a complete functioning railroad (with four miles of track), leasing the locomotives and cars or obtaining our own locomotives and building a railroad from scratch.
One of Henry’s inquiries during his study was to contact the Northern Peninsula mining company about an 1873 Mason-Fairlie locomotive. The Calumet & Hecla Mining Company was in the process of celebrating their 100th anniversary and had the 1873 locomotive on display in Calumet, Mich. After the celebration ended C&H agreed to donate the locomotive to The Edison Institute where it would be restored and maintained in running condition.
The restoration of the Torch Lake was to be completed in 1971 for exclusive use in an interim ride known as the One-Way Railroad. For the following year it would become the secondary locomotive for the next phase of the plan, the Perimeter Railroad.
For the primary locomotive it was decided to take the Mason #1 locomotive out of the museum and make it operational.
The Mason #1 was originally a wood-burning 0-4-0 locomotive built by the Manchester Locomotive Works in Manchester, N.H., in the 1870s. Ford purchased the locomotive and tender from the Edison Cement Corporation in 1932.
After the purchase, Ford had the locomotive sent to the Ford Rouge Shops were it was rebuilt and significantly modified to its current 4-4-0 configuration. Additionally, the boiler was enlarged and the sand dome was moved forward. The tender was rebuilt and appears to be in its original configuration.
After the restoration/modification of the locomotive and tender was completed, it was moved into Henry Ford Museum and put on display with the number plate and designation of “Mason #1.”
The Edison Institute did not have the facilities to complete the work necessary to make Mason #1 functional, so bids were requested. Keystone Products of Pittsburgh, Penn., was selected to repair the Mason #1 (Edison) locomotive and tender as well as construct three passenger cars that would be built on used chassis that Keystone would purchase.
The Mason #1 (Edison) and tender were transported by trailer to the Keystone plant in December of 1971. The contract called for replacement of the boiler, rebuilding of the compressor, governor gauge, locomotive/train valves and brakes on the tender. The Edison at that time was oil fired and the fire pan, burner, damper, fire clay lining and oil tank were to be rebuilt. The schedule for the Mason #1 restoration was that all work would be completed and the locomotive and tender would be operational by March 31, 1972.
The construction of the three-passenger cars was a less-than-straight forward process with many design options being discussed throughout the construction. Two of the cars were to be built from existing chassis and a third was going to be built on a soon-to-be purchased obsolete caboose. These cars were to be added to the three already built by Crown Metals for the 1971 One-Way Railroad.
In October of 1971 the landscaping architectural firm of Ecbo, Dean Austin & Williams (EDAW) was given approval to begin developing landscaping plans for the new track. EDAW, located in Los Angeles, Calif., was a highly respected firm with national recognition for their cultural landscaping efforts with universities and national parks.
The architectural firm of Nordstrom-Sampson & Associates from Dearborn was contracted for development of the track layout and grading. Additionally, an engineer from the DT&I railroad was acting as a consultant to N-S&A. Thomas P. McEvilly of N-S&A was chosen as the field superintendent for the project.
The Edison Institute retained Herb Rosenthal and Associates, Inc., as the designers for the new Perimeter Railroad. This project included the track system, a covered platform near Main Street (now Firestone Station), a covered platform at the Riverfront Street area (this platform is now a part of the Henry Ford Academy campus) and a platform at the east end of the Village area. The later platform was removed from the contract just as overall construction was to begin.
The Walter L. Couse Company of Detroit was awarded the contract to build the roadbed and lay the track. In all 12 companies were involved in the project’s construction.
The master plan called for the railroad to be fully functional no later than July 4, 1972. It is unclear if the original intent was to have the new platforms completed by this date, but their actual construction would not be completed until the 1974 season.
Work progressed on the tracks and the roadbed throughout the spring and early summer. Existing water lines, sewers, and gas lines had to be moved as well as filling in some soft clay areas with compacted sand backfill. Several weeks of exceptionally wet weather served to slow progress and put the scheduled July 4 completion date in jeopardy.
In late June track and roadbed construction had progressed to the point where a trial run from Smiths Creek over to the Main Street area was conducted. This run served to identify a number of issues with the curves, rails and switches and the contractors were instructed to make immediate corrections. It was also determined that the public opening of the railroad would need to be postponed to Aug. 23, 1972.
By early August work had progressed to the point where a test trip of the complete 2.5 miles could be conducted. On Aug. 9 the Torch Lake was fired up, cars were attached and a small crew of employees and management rode around the complete perimeter of the Village. (Although the original plan called for the Mason #1 to be the primary locomotive, for some reason the Torch Lake was given that role for the inaugural run even though Mason #1 was on the grounds.) There were a number of issues with the rails, ties and ballast, but not enough to postpone the rescheduled public opening.
The inaugural trip for the Perimeter Railroad was on Tuesday, Aug. 22, when the three cars were loaded with specially invited guests at Smiths Creek Station. The Torch Lake then pulled the consist up to the Main Street crossing were it waited while then-Edison Institute President Dr. Donald Shelley and Board Chairman William Clay Ford drove in the final spikes (painted gold) with chrome plated spike mauls.
The Perimeter Railroad began regular service the following day offering 18 trips around Greenfield Village with each trip lasting about 20 minutes. This schedule provided for a capacity of 3,500 riders per day. For at least the first year of operation, Smiths Creek would be the only stop.
Engineers Frank Petroski (formerly New York Central) and Ivan D. Mead (formerly Grand Trunk Western), who were engineers for the One-Way Railroad, were back to alternate duties on the Perimeter Railroad.
The total number of riders for that first year was 154,761, which were 66,516 more rides than the One-Way railroad had the previous year.
Don LaCombe is Supervisor of Transportation & Crafts Programs at The Henry Ford.
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.
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.
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.