Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Today's DM&M

The current-day - well, 2000's anyway - Saginaw Division comprises of DM&M trackage around the Tri-Cities area of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. This includes Meredith Street (MX) in Saginaw, Carrollton and Zilwaukee, Bay City - including Wenona yard - and the branch to Midland, Mich. with Dow Chemical's large facility on the SE side of town. In reality this is the mid-Michigan former Penn Central trackage that continues to thrive today, with a diverse amount of traffic bolstered by large blocks of traffic for Dow. So too in my proto-freelanced world these lines provide the railroad with many revenue carloads to fill out the otherwise bridge-route nature of this secondary trunk on the CP Rail System.

The layout plan - courtesy of Bob Sprague -  fills a good portion of my (roughly) 13 foot by 27 foot basement train room. This dedicated space will someday in the future host monthly operating sessions, but in the interim I have many months - if not, years - of construction ahead of me. No matter, just as the original DM&M's surveying and construction crews battled the forests, wetlands, and weather (not to mention swarms of ravenous mosquitos and black flies) while they graded and placed track across the U.P. will I too make sure and steady progress in 1:87th scale. With the benchwork all up and Homasote subroadbed all down I've got a good head start, at least on the grading part.

The design is a twice-around, round-the-room schematic using the surround-staging concept as promoted by the LDSIG folks over the years. Having lots of hidden trackage can be problematic but access shouldn't be too much of an issue with a low foreground backdrop merely high-enough to block view of the trains parked behind. The four-track staging represents both Detroit to the south and Mackinaw City (and points west) to the north. There is also a provision to add a wye leading to additional staging track under the basement stairwell at a later point. The Midland Branch consists of two, six-foot by 24" sections making up a center peninsula - both double as FREEMO modules so part of the layout can "go on the road" to events.

The track plan was carefully developed using original 1971 Penn Central Detroit Division engineering department station maps and drawings for the area, as well as aerial and satellite photos of the current physical plant. Field trips to the area were also conducted to ensure accuracy, with some modeler's license applied to fit the various LDE's into the space as shown. Bob had to flip the industrial trackage to Gavilon Grain (former Peavey elevator) and the Lafarge cement terminal in Zilwaukee, as well as swap sides of Wenona yard's engine terminal but otherwise the plan is an accurate reflection of the prototype.

Operations will be largely based out of Wenona yard on Bay City's far north side, with locals to Midland and Saginaw operating daily from this mid-sized terminal. Road freights will swap blocks here, and a daily Detroit-Bay City manifest will round out the traffic into this facility. Interchange with foreign roads such as the Huron and Eastern, Lake State Railway and Canadian National will provide additional traffic, as well as seasonal unit grain moves and all-rail ore trains heading south. The Amtrak trains I noted in an earlier post will likewise require track time as they traverse the mainline.

Contemporary CP diesel power will be featured with GE ES44AC, EMD and GMD SD40-2, and GP38-2 locomotives, Union Pacific engines in pooled service, Amtrak GE P42 Genesis units on the varnish, and the occasional HESR and CN motors on transfer runs. On rare occasion, the famous Milwaukee Road #261 has been known to dust the right-of-way with her cinders pulling excursions to and from the scenic vacation areas in the northern areas of the Great Lakes. Quite a bit of variety to keep guests and operators entertained that is for certain.

My next installment will get into more details about the railroad, and hopefully show some in-progress photos as I go along with construction. In the meantime keep 'em upright and on the rails!

Monday, April 13, 2020

A great east-west route through Michigan

Years ago, a newspaper, the Lansing Republican, dated February 5, 1884, reprinted a story from the Grand Traverse Herald pointing out that the experiment to provide all-year service across the Straits by boat had failed, and that if a great east-west route were ever to be established through Michigan a bridge or tunnel would be required. The editor considered both as practicable; the only question in his mind was that of cost. Earlier, the dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 gave Mackinac Bridge backers encouragement. A St. Ignace store owner in 1884 reprinted an artist’s conception of the famous New York structure in his advertising and captioned it “Proposed bridge across the Straits of Mackinac.”

Not lacking in enthusiasm what the early bridge proponents needed was capital - money is what make the world go round, or builds the world's infrastructure so we can traverse it. Good thing in 1:87 scale the amount of investment necessary to do so is factors below actual full-scale civil engineering, albeit with a smaller source of revenue to support it. As I noted in the previous installment the prototype crossing of the Straits of Mackinac suffered a number of false starts and setbacks over the decades prior to the bridge's construction in 1954 and opening to traffic in November of 1957. Had it not been for the interruption of World War II and the Korean conflict the crossing may have been completed years earlier.

In my miniature, 1:87-scale world (now under construction) the Roosevelt administration's W.P.A. had approved the state's request to construct a dual rail-highway crossing of the Straits, and the earlier, alternate Mackinac Bridge had been completed and opened for service just in time to support the surge of wartime rail traffic that followed Pearl Harbor. From the late 1930's into the postwar period both freight and passenger traffic surged as the Mackinac gateway route allowed trains to avoid the tangle of routes and delays inherent in traversing the Chicago terminal. Both the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads handed off many thousands of interchange trains to the surging DSS&A and Soo Line routes and gateways to the west.

Following the Penn Central merger of the two eastern behemoths in 1968 the challenges of maintaining an overbuilt eastern railroad network started to impact the line across the Straits. Deferred maintenance on the Penn Central as the carrier's finances continued to deteriorate lengthened running times, and derailments became increasingly common. The Soo Line Railroad - as well as its corporate parent, Canadian Pacific Railway - grew increasingly alarmed at the condition of its bankrupt southern and eastern connection, and with the USRA's blessing purchased the former Michigan Central route south to Detroit in 1974 from the Penn Central trustee.

The new line was reestablished as the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette Railroad Company for corporate and tax reasons. Largely a "paper railroad" under CPR ownership the DM&M began a large-scale renewal project on the former Michigan Central route, replacing miles of rail, thousands of crossties and trainloads of new ballast while also upgrading a majority of the route's signaling to speed both freight and passenger traffic along the line. Since 1971 Amtrak had assumed the nation's passenger trains from the private freight railroads and the Mackinac gateway was no exception. Trains 9-10 are presently Superliner-equipped running long-distance from Toledo, Ohio's Central Union Terminal through Detroit, Marquette, the Twin Ports of Duluth-Superior and onward to the Pacific Northwest. Local trains 394-395 ply much of the same route daily from Toledo and Detroit to the tri-cities of Saginaw-Bay City and Midland.

With the Soo Line's acquisition of the post-embargo Milwaukee Road in 1985 and later - with Canadian Pacific's absorption of its U.S. operations - the Detroit to Twin Ports route of the DM&M continues to serve the two peninsulas of the Great Lakes State. Now under the CPR banner, and with diverse products and unit-train commodities continuing to flow east and west and speedily so - avoiding the knot of terminal trackage within the Chicago region - the future of the rebuilt former Michigan Central and DSS&A lines have never looked brighter in this alternate reality world located in my basement. In my next installment we'll discuss more details about the railroad, and the Saginaw Division in particular. Until then, highball!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Marquette Route

The Marquette Route was a slogan for the erstwhile Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette RR that was built from that lakefront city eastward towards the gateways of Sault Ste. Marie (the SOO) and St. Ignace, Michigan. While the former connected with the owner CPR's line eastwards into Canada the primary line to the Straits of Mackinac routed both freight and passenger traffic to the Michigan Central and Grand Rapids and Indiana railroads, both owned separately by the mighty New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads, respectively. A robust railcar ferry operation shuttled rail cars across the Straits for many decades, well into Soo Line and Penn Central ownership for both sets of lines leading to the docks.

The DM&M was a going concern until the Panic of 1886 finished off what was a long struggle of the road during the ongoing depression of 1882-85. The road was later absorbed into a growing Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway - a fully-owned U.S. subsidiary road of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway - handling the transportation of iron and copper ore mining, wood products and eastward grain in the far north woods of upper Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan. Eventually, even the DSS&A would disappear into history following the 1960 consolidation of CPR's U.S. holdings into the greater Soo Line Railroad.

It could have all ended there except for a twist of history... courtesy of a timely renewal of Yours Truly's NMRA-issued "Modeler's License" and the fact-ional liberties it gives one with the revision of history. You see, about the time of the DSS&A's heyday certain New York financial interests - Vanderbilt, anyone? - were already talking about bridging the Straits to eliminate the problematic ferry operation, especially during the winter months. This continued as talk over the decades until folks in the Wolverine State started to get serious about stitching together the Upper and Lower peninsulas and retire the troublesome ferries. About that time the politicians and titans of industry started to take notice.

Early concepts for a Mackinaw Bridge - fondly known as "the Mighty Mac" in Michigan - were circulating as early as the late 1880s and picked up steam with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and the Firth of Forth Bridge in Scotland around this time. On July 1, 1888, the board of directors of the famous Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island held their first meeting and the minutes show that Cornelius Vanderbilt said: “We now have the largest, well-equipped hotel of its kind in the world for a short season business. Now what we need is a bridge across the Straits.”

What was meant back then was a bridge for the one mode of overland travel that could quickly and cheaply move both people and goods over long distances - and that was rail. Plans circulated over the years but various financial panics, wars and depressions combined to derail efforts to get anything substantial started until following the great financial collapse of 1929. Early in 1934 the matter was again revived and proposed as a suitable P.W.A. project to put Michigander's back to work and improve intra-state commerce.

In the extra session of 1934 the Michigan Legislature created the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority and empowered it to investigate the feasibility of such construction and to finance the work by issuance of revenue bonds. The Authority began its studies in May 1934 and was able to reach the conclusion that it was feasible to construct a bridge directly across the Straits at an estimated cost of not more than $32,400,000 for a combined two lane highway and one-track railway bridge between Mackinaw City to the south and St. Ignace to the north.

The Authority made two attempts between 1934 and 1936 to obtain loans and grants from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, but the P.W.A. refused both applications despite endorsement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the report that the late President Roosevelt favored the bridge. However, what if the applications had succeeded? How would history, commerce and rail traffic have changed in Michigan? One can only imagine... or one could build this alternate reality.

To be Continued...