Heading to Bed (a Railroad Bed) in Clare County, Michigan

A Walk Along an Old Railroad Bed

The remains of an old railroad bed from the 1870s on state land off Mostetler Rd.

I went for a long walk a couple of weeks ago (before the winter snow) on state land, along a path that was once the bed of an old railroad track that ran from Hatton to Dodge City, a distance of about 11 miles.

Hatton is now a ghost town and driver’s driving down Hatton Rd. south of the town of Harrison, a small town in mid-Michigan Clare County will find little evidence it ever existed. Dodge, on the other hand is now a quiet community with cottages nestled around small lakes.

There is little at either site to suggest they were once vibrant logging communities with post office, homes, businesses and more supporting the railroad and workers from nearby logging camps.

This map shows many of the stops trains in Clare County would make. The PM-LH2 route shown in this map is not correct in this writer's opinion. The track shown here did not go to the logging camp of Mostetler and then to Dodge. What is shown on the map is a railroad spur off that went to Mostetler. The main PM-LH2 track went in a relatively straight line from east of Hatton up to Dodge.

The location of the bed I walked is off the south side of Mostetler Road (also called Mosteller) across from Michigan Moto Mania and located a couple of miles east of Harrison.

Mostetler is an east-west gravel road that passes private and public land filled with scrub pines, oaks and cedar, and dotted with occasional homes.

The road is named for a former logging camp/town Mosteller that existed for about five years in the 1870’s when this area’s massive white pines were cut and hauled south to build homes in growing cities like Detroit, Saginaw, Flint and even Chicago.None of the trees remain and even the stumps, some that measured nearly 5-feet across have decayed in the intervening years.

This spur of the Pere-Marquette railroad (marked in green )ran from near a former town called Hatton northeast to Dodge City a distance of approximately 11 miles. Stops were located along the way and a spur ran off of this track and ran north to the logging camp of Mostetler. The red dot is the location of Mid-Michigan Community College. The blue dot shows the location of the path this writer took.

While the tracks, pilings and all evidence of the trains are gone, the bed is still relatively easy to find in most areas, especially in the fall and winter after the frost has killed the vegetation (not to mention the mosquitoes). Like all rail beds, this one runs straights and is relatively level since trains needed a grade in the order of 1 or 2 percent to safely haul the heavy logs. It is easy to see where workers raised the rail bed in areas or sunk it in others to keep the rail bed level.

In many spots the railroad bed was built up to ensure a level path for the train but in a few areas the road bed was sunk down a few feet to provide a level grade.

The walk I took headed south and I passed small creeks and downed trees. The walk also took me near to Mostetler Creek that begins in the Dodge City area, crosses Mostetler Road and then flows through state land before disappearing by the time it reaches M-61 to the south.

This site is popular with hunters in the fall since the roadbed makes for easy walking. At the same time, hikers may have a difficult time in the summer since the land near the road is swampy for the first couple of hundred years. However, once further in the woods, the land is dry and sandy and quite peaceful.

If you want to see a railroad bed in Clare County, this is a nice one to see. And maybe if you stand still and close your eyes you might even hear a faint whistle of a train long gone.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Heading to Bed (a Railroad Bed) in Clare County, Michigan

  1. Eric Vandrick

    I was really excited by your post. I am from Clare County and have been wanting to walk one of the old Railroad grades. Could you e-mail me detailed directions on how to find it? Did you walk all the way from Dodge to Hatton? Is this all state land? Any help would be great as I would like to make this trek. THanks!
    -Eric

    • Thanks for your comment and I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes that kind of stuff! One of the things we have been missing in Clare County is identifying trails that were old logging railroads. I think we have a great opportunity here to engage tourists as well as people who live in this county in our history and get them out and exercising at the same time. As to your question of how far I walked, unfortunately, you can’t walk the bed all the way from Hatton to Dodge. Some of the trail is on private land and some of it has disappeared with time. As to your walking the section I walked, I can send you GPS coordinates if you have a system. I will also drive it and record the distance from Harrison to the trailhead on my odometer and post that as well. In the interim, one of the best places to walk a railroad bed at the current time is at Mid-Michigan Community College. Part of their walking trail is on the old railroad bed (part of the same railroad I walked). It starts at the south entrance by the RESD building and runs in a straight line to the northeast. I am in the middle of posting an entry that talks about that trail and will include a map. I’m also working with the college along with Friends of Clare County Parks and Recreation and the Clare County Historical Society to better identify the trail and install some signage. Stay tuned for that posting. Oh, and you may want to drive down Monroe Rd. on the north side of the college. One-half mile in you will see part of the railroad bed that is about 10 feet off the surrounding terrain. The road cuts right through it. That is really neat. Hope this helps.

  2. Mistyshusbandusingheremail

    This grade from Hatton ran through Mostellers siding,Mostetler is the commonly used misspelling,through Dodge then North to section 7 of Hamilton Towship,then curving gradually back west then curving southwest into section 13 of Hayes Township,ending in a flat area set into a small rise where the land is the height of the rail cars on both sides and the back.Beginning or end of the grade? Depends on which way you are going.This is on my property.

  3. If you[‘d ever be willing to sit down with me and point out some of these things on a map I’ll buy you a cup of coffee–or even coffee and a donut. As I put in my post, I’m not sure the train map is right and want to make sure what I think is the spur to Mosteller is really the spur to Mosteller. Also want to make sure about the boundary of state and public land. I have a couple of people who would like to walk the trail and I don’t want to trespass–well, especially not if I am leading a group.

    For whatever it’s worth, my hope this summer is to work with Friends of Clare County Parks and MMC College to put in some signage to show the railroad beds on their property. I think there are others like me that enjoy walking the tracks and since most of them are either on private land or (like the one off of Mostetler Road) difficult to walk.

  4. mistyshusbandusingheremail

    Train map is right,but vague the green is the line from Hatton to Dodge.There would have been several spurs coming into it along the way.From all directions.Only problem I see is that you have Mostetler roads location too far north.Move it a half a section south,half a square on your map,or right where your blue dot is.most of our county roads run on section lines but not Mostetler.For some reason it had to have been a pre existing road layed out to get to a destination,as opposed to planned out to run on section lines.That destination may have been from Mostellers siding back to the main line on your map and/or to Harrison.Im guessing the siding and what was at the time was a little village was around the intersection of Mostetler and the railroad grade.why else would mostetler randomly be there in the swamp,except for people to get to Harrison for supplies?

  5. nicole

    I think mostetler rd was a cattle run.

    • Thanks for your comment. Not sure what the road originally began as or why it was built. Dodge Lake Road (north/south road) is an old road but Springwood Lake Road (aka Lily Lake), which continues to the east hasn’t been around as long as Dodge Lake Road. Maybe someone can provide more background.

  6. Kevib

    Very interesting. We used to have a cottage in Dodge City (1981-2001) and we used to ride our dirtbikes in the woods around Mostetler Rd. I always wondered is some of the trials around there were train track beds from the 1800s. Thanks for writing this article..

  7. Cody

    Southeast corner of Harrison Library,3rd row down in file cabinet that faces west right toward entrance are all the paperwork,court documents,deeds,and claims to the estate of W.Mosteller the man who Mostellers siding and all are named for.F.A Wilson was executor,and Mosteller seemed to have owed a few people for his saw mill and such when he died.Most all papers are dated 1888 If you check it out allow some time there is probably a stack 8 inches tall,sanwiched between paperwork from the estate of none other than Oliver Beemer.

  8. Robert E. Reeve

    My family owns 40 acres due west of Lake George on the Lincoln Township line where Hemlock Ave. ends,north of Mansiding Rd{two track]Go left at the road ends sign[cable accross road]and continue 500 yards to the bad spot in the road[washout going uphill and curving around a tree]. The road goes uphill and is very sandy.Halfway up the hill on the left [south]you can see the old grade. It goes south then curves S.W. off our property.There is an earthworks about one half mile to the west. I have not followed it further,the property to the north was aggressively logged in 1986 and all traces have vanished. If anyone else has anything to add feel free. Next time I go up there I will mark the place at the twotrack with a fence post and put a milk jug on it.Anyone who wants to walk it can be my guest maybe it will keep the local hooligans who break into our cabin regularly, from turning it into a methlab.

    • Thanks very much for your comment. I would very much like to walk the track. I really enjoy walks like that. And maybe some activity, even a little will keep the troublemakers away. (Sorry you keep having problems.)

      Marty

    • Kip

      We live on Browns Rd. not far from there. My wife and I do a bit of metal detecting would you grant us permission to try our luck on your property. We are very thoughtful and if we do find something and dig a hole we always fill it in. Thank you Kip

      • Thanks for your comment and your request but I will need to say no. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but that I am having waaaaay too much fun metal detecting with friends and family on my property and am looking forward to spring when the ground thaws and I can do so again. I wish you luck in finding a good (and undiscovered) place to detect.

  9. Gary Johnson

    Hi, I also have a cabin in the Harrison area and am familiar with the railroad bed at Mosteller’s siding. I’ve been down this trail a number of times in the past and knew it was a railroad grade by the county map and the lay of the land it traversed. A bit over a mile toward the south on this trail there stood a huge sentinel (White Pine) tree that grew right next to the roadbed. When I first observed it, I imagined it being a seedling when the logging trains chugged by with loads of its ancient brethren in the late 19th or early 20th century. Hopefully it still stands as it was a beautiful tree, maybe one of the readers here knows of the one I speak.
    At the trailhead but on the north side of Mostetler Road and about 75 yards to the east there stands a huge Oak tree in a small clearing (now a gated entrance/exit used by MMM). Nonetheless I’ve often wondered if this might have been the actual site of Mosteller’s Siding as it tends to be higher in elevation here but lower and swampy on either side. As well there is an abandoned trail that angled in a northerly direction toward a chunk of land-locked State Land (Michigan Moto Mania has altered the landscape at present). Maybe part of the old trail that angled north was a railroad grade at one time, it would be interesting to know.
    Quite a number of years ago I was wading around in the boggy muck fishing for brook trout in Mosteller Creek proper (this would have been to the north of the bridge on the west side of the creek and about 75 yards out) and discovered some railroad ties sunk in the muck. I didn’t give it much thought at the time until many years later that this could have been part of the railroad grade that crossed the creek. Another possible scenario might have been that the ties had been discarded there when the rails were pulled.
    I also have wondered about another possible trail that could have been a railroad bed at one time. This is located on State Land also however on the south side of Mostetler Road. It is almost a mile toward the east and then south down a winding two-track approximately a mile.
    I want to thank everyone and really appreciate the sharing of information with myself and all interested readers on this subject.

    • Gary: Thanks for your comment and the information you provided. The location of Mosteller remains a mystery. I was led to a clearing deep in the woods a number of years ago adjacent to an old grade and told that was the site of the town. There are the remains of foundations and I found a piece of crockery, but otherwise little to prove what that was. As to your thoughts that Mosteller was right at the road, it’s possible. After all, there are two railroad grades that cross Mostetler Road into MMM land. Was one of those grades the siding for the town? If not, why were there two of them? Maybe just an old grade that was replaced with a newer one?

      As to the RR ties you found, the location makes sense since there were two tracks near there: the one that led to Dodge from Hatton and then a logging RR that came frome the east and parallels Mostetler Road. You can see a trace of the grade east of the present bridge and just north of the road. There are also a number of old grades on state land east of the creek. One crosses Mostetler about a mile to the east (the state just had the section to the south logged and so the grade there is now hard to see. I should put a stake and flag there to mark it. There is also a grade that run along the south side of Mostetler Rd and parallel to it.

      There are also signs of an old log trestle about a 100 yards south of the road where the grade crosses a small stream. It appears the builders of the RR may have laid logs across the creek to build up the grade for the train as it crossed. The logs have been preserved since they are sunk in the mud and have been covered for most of the intervening years.

      The best time to see the traces of grades is right now, in the spring, before the vegetation begins to grow. As you walk the woods, be aware of any feature that just doesn’t “look” right. Maybe the ground is raised in a narrow band in just one spot. Or perhaps the terrain is lower than the ground around it. I guess maybe it’s akin to finding morels (another spring activity), you start to get a feel for it. My favorite story is when I was walking a trail on state land south of Mostetler, and suddenly the trail went up what seemed to be a small hill and then back down. As I crossed the hill, a thought came to me that the hill seemed out of place. I went back and studied the terrain and, lo and behold, I spotted a grade running perpendicular to the trail. Kinda cool!

      Anyway, I will also need to check out your big pine on that grade you mention. Probably sprung from a seedling left from the logging era. That’s kinda cool, too.

      Best regards,

      Marty

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