History

An Embankment is NOT a Trestle

I have noted a number of impressive railroad beds in Clare County, Michigan that were built in the 1870s and 1880s when logging was a major industry and the economy was booming.   People were streaming into the county and lumber was being transported out and railroads were the travel method of choice. 

 One thing about trains. They don’t like hills or valleys.  The more level the ground, the easier it is for them to run and stop safely. According to a few websites such as railfan.net, most mainline railroads won’t exceed a 2% incline, although some logging railroads can go as much as 5-6%. Whatever the maximum incline allowed, the railroads hired crews–often immigrants–to do the hard work of constructing the beds, filling in low spots and digging out high spots.

cropped-gerrish-railroad11.jpgThere were a couple of methods railroads employed to creat a railroad bed in a valley or across water.  One way was to create a wooden trestle with logs that were simply laid in a criss-cross pattern. This kind of trestle could be quickly constructed and at low cost since the majority of the materals needed in the construction cou were all around them.   The photo at left shows one built by Gerrish for his logging railroad.

A second way was to build a regular trestle of logs and boards. While this type of construction may have been used in Clare County, no evidence remains that I am aware of, although evidence can be found in Gladwin County near House Lake Ste Forest Campground.

Another way and the cheapest, was to simply use fill dirt from  the surrounding countryside to build low areas up to the elevation needed to build the track.  One can still see today evidence of where workers dug the fill they needed to build up the railroad bed.  In the northern section of the county, the work was relatively easy since much of the ground was sandy soil.  Of course, easy is a relative term.  The crews still had to deal with heat, mosquitoes, rocks, roots, accidents, long hours of back-breaking work, little pay and no benefits.

Earthen trestle at MMCCBecause much of Clare County is fairly level, most areas did not require a great deal of fill.  One of those spots that did is in Harrison where the builders had to construct a bed nearly 30 feet above the surrounding countryside.  How exactly this was done is not known, although one would think the fill was brought in by railcar and dumped and then the tracks extended upon the bed as work proceeded.

In other posts, I have called this type of work a “trestle,” since the term fit, to me at least. However, local historian Cody Beemer who also owns Beemer Sand &  Gravel Excavating in Harrison and knows about such things took issue (in a nice way) with my use of the word.  His comments sent me to the dictionary and the Internet, and (sigh) I found he was right. 

According to Wikipedia and other sources, trestles by their very nature contain piers to support whatever is above them.  And that means they need to be built of something other than earth. In the 18th and 19th centuries, wood and iron were the materials of choice.  In the 20th century steel was used and continues to be used today.

So what are these types of railroad beds called? For that answer, I turned to the National Railway Historical Society in Philadelphia. I sent them an email and received a quick response from L. J. Dean, a NRHS Library Volunteer who emailed me.  “If these are earthen structures higher than the surrounding country, the most commonly used term would be embankment,” he wrote.  “The term fill is also often used, but less likely to be familiar to the general public.”

Now embankment isn’t an exciting way to describe what we have in Clare County.  I would have preferred earthen trestle, but I DO try to be factual in what I write, so embankment it will be from now on, especially since embankment beats using the word fill in my book.

One more thing I learned from looking things up: The difference between a trestle and a bridge.

According to a railroader on a Yahoo answer site, (and I quote since I don’t honestly understand it all), “In typical bridge construction, you will have piers or bents that support the longitudinal, moment carrying members which are usually called beams, girders, joists or stringers depending on the layout and material used.  The piers and bents will typically be constructed only in the plane transverse to traffic and will not have connection from one substructure (pier) unit to the next.

“A railroad trestle will be comprised entirely of wood and one bent or pier will be dependent on the next with longitudinal and diagonal bracing to support the longitudinal loads.  There will be no clear spans between piers.  In other words, in a trestle, all of the piers work together while in typical bridge construction, each of the piers will carry load independently.”

So, now you know…well, sorta.

Categories: Clare County, Gladwin, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Discovering A Harrison Historical Treasure

Clare County, Michigan’s historical treasures never cease to surprise me, especially when it comes to the logging era.  For the longest time I thought the embankment on Monroe Road, just north of Mid-Michigan Community College  (MMCC) was one of the greatest feats of engineering of the early railroad era in the county*.  But just when I thought I’d seen it all, I learn something new and exciting.  This time from Cody Beemer (Beemer’s Sand & Gravel Excavating) who has a great love of history and a willingness to share it, and whose family has been here since the logging era.  Cody put me on to an even more impressive embankment that rises about 30 feet above the surrounding ground and about 800 feet long—right in the heart of Harrison.

The railroad bed for the line to Leota comes can be seen heading off the trestle to the left (northwest). The other bed once went to Meredith (northeast).

The railroad bed to Leota can be seen heading off to the left (northwest). The other rail bed once went to Meredith (northeast). Neither bed can now be followed as both soon are on private land and/or have been obliterated with time and development.

Another cool feature of the embankment is that one can easily see where the railroad bed split and one bed curves to the northeast when the track once ran to the town of Meredith.  Another bed runs to the northwest where the track ran to the town of Leota, both logging towns that are now small sleepy communities, with Leota best known for its nearby 56 miles of ATV and snowmobile trails.

RR Trail-bed

This is the trestle/trail looking south toward Budd Lake and Harrison. The lookout platform is on the right.

The embankment is found at the north end of the Hayes Township Civic Center and east of the VFW Hall on N. Clare Ave.  The old railroad bed to the south of the embankment that ran south across Township property and then ran along the west end of Budd Lake can no longer be followed, but one can easily pick up the short trail at the south end of the woods.  Hayes Township has built a wooden platform to give visitors a nice area to linger to watch the birds and other wildlife in the small pond below.

Map of Harrison showing location of trestleHere is some information on the two lines, according to Michigan Railroad Lines Volume 1 & 2 by Graydon Meints (MSU Press, 2005):

The Harrison to Meredith line was built in 1887 by the Saginaw and Clare Railroad that became part of the Flint & Pere Marquette in 1888 (and eventually the F&PM became just the Pere Marquette Railroad a year later) and ran 15 miles with stops at Arnold Lake, Hackley, Levington, Frost and Eyke along the way. The line was built as a cost-effective way to bring men and supplies into the Meredith area and pull the cut timber out.  The line didn’t end in Meredith but ran all the way to the Sugar Creek area in Gladwin County so timber could be hauled out both directions and lumber camps supplied.

Steam locomotive

Once the timber petered out by the mid-part of the decade the men and the money left the area and so did businesses and most of the remaining population.  The railroad was no longer viable so by 1896, the line between Meredith and Frost was abandoned and by 1916, the entire line back to Harrison was finally abandoned.  The Meredith Grade Road now covers a good portion of the old railroad bed.

The Harrison to Leota line was built by the F&PM and trains first plied the tracks in 1891 running the 8.8 miles to Leota and, according to the book, another 1.1 miles from there. According to historian Forrest Meek and other sources, the tracks to Meredith were torn up and used to build the line to Leota. The Harrison-Leota line was finally abandoned in 1922, although it’s difficult to know when the Harrison to Leota train last ran, but it was most likely years before the line was formally abandoned.

My hope for the Harrison embankment is to convince the Clare County Historical Society to pay for and Hayes Township allow for the mounting of a small marker on the wooden platform that was built on the embankment that will give visitors to the site a better understanding of what they are seeing, why it was there and to gain a better appreciation of Clare County surprising treasures.

Perhaps the wording on the marker might read:

This trail was once part of an earthen railroad embankment built in the 1880s when logging was the primary industry in Clare County. Trains ran upon this line to Meredith to the northeast and Leota to the northwest.  The point where the line diverged to those towns can be seen just 50 yards north of here.  By the mid-1890s the massive pines were gone and so were the lumberjacks and businesses that relied on the money logging generated.  Much of the line to Meredith was abandoned by 1896 and that to Leota was formally abandoned in 1922.    

* If you haven’t seen the embankment near MMCC, it is on the north end of the campus on Monroe Road and rises about 10 feet above the surrounding landscape.  Monroe Road cuts right through it but unless you know what you are seeing, you might drive right by it. Note: The post improperly calls the embankment a trestle.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Going For the Jugular

We may think of newspaper stories meant more to thrill than to inform as something from the latter part of the 20th century, but, as the story below illustrates, papers haven’t been shy about going for the jugular for a very long time (no pun intended). This story was published in a Michigan newspaper in 1896. I ran across it while searching for some information on Clare County.

old article on explosion

Categories: General, History | Leave a comment

The Gerald Mast WPA Murals: Clare, Michigan

In 1938, four murals by Grand Rapids painter, mural painter, mosaicist, and educator Gerald Mast (1928-1972) were installed in the Clare, Michigan High School (now its middle school) auditorium, as part of the Works Project Administration art project. Each of the four panels that make up the mural are approximately 20-feet high and 8-feet wide. The panels were installed after being painted at the Detroit Institute of Arts, wrapped about stovepipe and transported by flatbed truck the 170-or-so odd miles to Clare.

Dayton Spence, an art restoration specialist and historian of 19th, 20th and 21st century American art, came to Clare in 1988 to clean and restore the murals. Dr. Thomas Moline was superintendent of Clare Public Schools at that time and on Sept. 8, 2012, Dr. Moline returned to Clare from his home in Illinois to take part in a fundraiser and Depression-era art tour sponsored by the Clare County Arts Council. Standing in the auditorium with the murals to his right, Dr Moline gave those in attendance the keynote address–as well as a history lesson.

According to Dr. Moline, the Mast Murals are some of the largest WPA murals in existence composed by a single artist and are snapshots in time. “They represent what was important to the Clare community and surrounding area at a time when the nation was wrestling with the effects of the Great Depression and the subject of the murals was chosen by Mast and the community.”

Moving from the back of the auditorium to the front (left to right in the photos) the murals illustrate agriculture, peacetime activities, science & education and the emerging gas & oil industry.

From picture to picture, the look on the people’s faces was the same, said Moline. No one seems to be smiling. Why is it that all, even the giants on both sides, look so somber and as if staring off into space? The following is taken mostly verbatim from Dr. Moline’s talk and based on his conversations with Dayton Spence and Moline’s own research:

“Many WPA works of art chronicle the effects of the Great Depression upon the people living through those years. During that period there was great debate about the actual effects of a capitalist democracy.

“There are two periods in the history of the United States that shook our nation’s foundation due to internal events. The most notable was our nations’ Civil War. The second was the Great Depression.

An emerging middle class that was gaining momentum in the 1920’s was leveled during the Great Depression. A great tide of resentment rose up against government by a nation that felt they should have been far better protected. Resentment formed even faster against the ‘capitalists’ who were viewed as being financially capable of weathering the Depression.

“As unemployment rose, as families lost homes, as individuals’ educations were squandered, a major debate took place within large cities and regions about the form and operation of government that would better serve and protect ‘the people.’ Variant forms of socialism and even communism were openly debated within a nation that was searching hard for answers to remedy economic and service delivery problems. In the 1930s, capitalism and the free market economy also became suspect for their perceived ability to make some rich while many laborers worked for subsistence wages.

“Dayton Spence related that WPA artists purposely injected the look of disassociation in their subjects to generate a feeling of questioning within the viewer…There seems an expression of loss in the faces in the Mast Murals,…or maybe a sense of being let down. Or is it a sense of looking out of the present situation…to something…beyond?

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts, completed in 1933, have the same faces, the same expressions, the same staring off to the beyond. The message was very much the same as conveyed in the Mast Murals, except that one can also discern in Rivera’s work a critical treatment of the “capitalists” who appeared to be running the show. That criticism was not well received by those with large holdings in the automobile industry, some of whom supported an unsuccessful campaign to whitewash the Detroit Industry Murals out of existence. Rivera’s influence definitely shows in Mast’s art.”

Spence estimated each panel could demand a price (based on what the offshore consortiums were willing to pay) of approximately $5 million–or $20 million for the set of four. The federal government made it again clear in 1999, in a letter to then Clare Public Schools Superintendent, William Courliss, that the art belongs to the people of the United States and remains bequeathed to Clare Public Schools and its community, and shall not be offered for sale. (In fact, the Federal Government is making a concerted effort to recover WPA art.)

Moline ended his talk by commending the Clare County Arts Council for the important work they are doing to care, maintain and preserve the Gerald Mast Murals stating, “They are an historic treasure that will rise in national prominence with each passing year.”

Arrangements can be made to view the murals during the school year by contacting the Clare Middle School at (989) 386-9979.

Along with the Mast Murals, there is also another piece of WPA art on the school grounds, an 8-foot high statue called “Pioneer Mother,” by Samual Cashwan. It is deteriorating due to time and exposure to the elements, and in serious need of restoration. Unlike the Mast Murals, the statue has never been stabilized much less restored, Costs for work on the statue could run as high as $20,000.

Even the Mast Murals should be attended to every 20 years. Doing the math, that means an expert in restoration should have been called in 2008 to examine them; however, because of lack of funding that did not occur–and there are no plans to work on them any time soon. Although heavy drapes were installed on auditorium windows at one time to slow the murals’ deterioration due to sunlight little else has been done to protect them.

Mail Comes to Clare Painting in the Clare Post Office. Clare also has two other depression-era works of art of note. One, a mural called “The Mail comes to Clare”  is at the Clare post office and can be viewed during open hours. There is also a light-hearted mural that shows leprechauns making beer that covers approximately 70-feet of the wall in the restaurant of the Doherty Hotel. This mural can be viewed at any time. A. J. Doherty, owner of the Dhoerty Hotel in Clare, discusses the painting on the making of beer that covers the walls of his restaurant and bar.

Note: The information in this post on the Mast Murals is based on Dr. Moline’s talk of Sept. 8, 2012. Following his talk, Dr. Moline generously passed along his address and I am endebted to him for doing so. I hope my changes did not materially alter what was a highly educational and entertaining address. I hope to post an unedited copy of his address soon. 

Photos by Marty Johnson. Close-ups of the Mast Murals come from postcards sold by the Clare County Arts Council. Membership is $10/year. If you would like to help preserve the murals of the statute of the Pioneer Mother or wish to contribute toward work on the Mast Murals, please contact the Arts Council at clarecountyartscouncil@hotmail.com. Tell them “Marty” sent you!

Categories: Clare County, General, History, logging, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Spikehorn’s Rabbit

It’s a mighty big bunny. Big enough to have a saddle and stirrups and big enough to hold most adults. But then this rabbit is associated with Spikehorn, a.k.a. John Meyers, Clare County, Michigan’s most famous (and eccentric resident) so it’s not surprising that this particular critter is not your usual run-of-the-mill rascally rabbit.

Every summer, from sometime in the 1950s to the early 70s the rabbit could be found in front of the Spikehorn place. Then it left Clare County until it was tracked down and purchased by Tom Sellers, author of the book, “Spikehorn, The Life Story of John E. Meyers.” The story of the rabbit’s recovery appeared in a story in the Clare County Cleaver in 2000 and appears at the end of this post.

The rabbit was really owned by Earl Heslet, who made his living selling instant

Earl Haslet astride his rabbit at Spikehorn’s Bear Den and Wildlife Park in Harrison in an undated photo taken from Seller’s book.

sepia-toned pictures to tourists in the days before Polaroid photos and looooong before digital photographs and the Internet made sharing of photos instantaneous. The rabbit was once white but between sun and dust from the road and dirt from the kids, the rabbit eventually turned brown was dyed the latter color.

According to Sellers’ book, Spikehorn allowed Heslet to use his property without charge to take photos of children astride the rabbit. By the time Heslet and the rabbit arrived on the scene, Spikehorn’s bears were no longer chained out front, so he needed a “hook” to bring people to his establishment. And while attracting tourists with a bunny (regardless of size) instead of a bear might have been a big step down for Spikehorn, he was enough of a businessman to know the huge rabbit brought in travelers and they, in turn while stopped, would spend money at his store (receipts in the summer could run as high as $2,000 a month!)

Melvin Brewer son of Spikehorn Park manager Wayne Brewer on the Spikehorn rabbit. Junior Crane is in the back. Photo taken from Spikehorn book by Tom Sellers.

Once Spikehorn’s place closed in the early 1970’s, Heslet packed up his bunny, hopped into his vehicle and out of town for good—until the rabbit’s recovery by Sellers. Now, the rabbit can be seen most Saturdays at the Clare County Museum at the corner of Dover and Eberhart Roads. This year, it even made a special guest appearance at the CCHS exhibit at the 2012 Clare County Fair.

Maybe someday, the rabbit will be restored to its former glory and kids can once again have their photos taken astride it. Well, maybe not restored completely, even today a white rabbit won’t stay white for long.

Spikehorn Saddled Rabbit Recovered
Article from the Clare County Cleaver
April 6, 2000 issue–

“He’s back. Back home in Clare County. The famous, fuzzy giant, saddled rabbit that for years welcomed visitors to Spikehorn’s Bear Den and Wildlife Park has finally returned.

Thousands of tourists made sure to have their picture taken astride this plaster-of-Paris creation that was recently rescued by Tom Sellers, author of the best-selling biography “Spikehorn, The Life Story of John E. Meyers.”

It seems the bunny has been quite popular since he left Harrison 30 years ago. He’s appeared in Vasser’s Centennial Parade, the Caro Pumpkin Festival and on the front lawn of a flea market 20 miles east of Saginaw, where he has wintered the manager’s garage.

“I was selling junk out front here, oh, had to be over 30 years ago, when this here feller pulled up and asked if I’d sell his rabbit,” said the long-eared creature’s keeper. “I told him that was plain impossible ‘cause my German shepherd would eat him!” recalled the elderly proprietor.  “Next thing I know he’s back with the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen–and wearing a saddle to boot!”
The rabbit was originally owned by photographer Earl Heslet, who made his living selling instant “While-U-Wait” sepia-toned pictures to tourists here and in Texas during the winter. He sold out, camera and all, shortly after Spikehorn’s Bear Den closed at the beginning of the season in 1970.

Heslet’s wooden, black-hooded view camera is now a museum piece in Saginaw’s Castle Museum.

The Spikehorn rabbit will go on display as the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Clare County Historical Society’s Clare County Museum in Dover, five miles north of Clare. The museum will open for the 2000 season in early May.”

**End of Article**

Photos of Spikehorn

Spikehorn video

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Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: | 3 Comments

Gerrish and His Logging Railroad (Part 2)

…Or how to Decimate a County in Under a Decade

Here is an excerpt of an article from the June 1878 issue of the Clare County (Michigan) Press concerning Winfield Scott Gerrish and his logging railroad that was mentioned in a previous post. Note: Red line indicates approximately location of railroad.

“But the object of my present raid into Clare County…to visit Gerrish’s lumber camp, near Lake George, said to be the headquarters of the most extensive lumber operations conducted by any single individual in the known world. The principle camp is about 15 miles northwest of Farwell, and to make that distance at this season of the year over a road, which scatters all over the country and has no bottom to speak of, requires both physical and mental ability of no mean order.

Luckily our little party…secured a span of ponies, somewhat larger than rat terriers, and a light single-seated buggy, which afforded ample room for one to ride comfortably in the middle and one to walk comfortably on each side.

Both buggy and ponies, however, deceived their looks and passed over, around, and through mud holes safely, which might have swallowed a heavier outfit from sight, and we reached our destination in safety, without getting more than a mile or two out of the way at any one time.

One would suppose there should be no difficulty in following a road through the woods over which a locomotive has passed in search of a railroad, as there did over this January last, but when he reflects that the winding path has branches for every hill and camp, and that a man might travel for hours–or possibly all day–on the wrong road without meeting any one to set him right, the probability of a stranger finding any given camp the same day he strikes out for it will be seen to be very small. We were especially fortunate in reaching the headquarters camp in time for a good square dinner, which was served up in a manner that would do credit to many a hotel.

The camp was started in 1870, and with its cluster of log shanties, blacksmith shop, railroad buildings, etc., it looks very much like a busy and permanent village, The little lumber railroad which passes through it and is the pioneer railroad of that kind, is now about 13 miles long and strikes the Muskegon River about 18 miles above Evart and about 40 miles below Houghton Lake.

It was begun in September 1870; the first locomotive arrived November of that year, the second in November 1877, and the third in January 1878, The first two were “poled” up the Muskegon on rafts from Evart, and the last was run through the woods from Farwell, feats in engineering, which the old-fashioned lumberman ridiculed as impossible. The main road has four switches, two train dispatchers, and a telephone running its whole length, by which the engineers receive their orders at each switch, and the trains are run with the regularity of clockwork.

Each locomotive draws thirteen cars, and is kept running night and day, the three trains putting into the river 24 loads every 24 hours, or about 400,000 feet a day. Three men run each train, three remain on the river bank to unload, and 16 to 18 remain at the skidways to load, Each crew is on duty 12 hours, when it is relieved by a second crew for twelve hours, and so they alternate the season through, no train being delayed for meals or any other purpose. Over 50,000,000 feet have been put into the river over tills road this season, and from present appearances the cars will be kept running all summer.

This road has several branches which are run off to one side or the other, as the convenience of skidding and loading logs requires, while the main branch is being steadily extended. By fall, it will probably have reached the old State road, about six miles north of Farwell, when the depot of supplies will be moved to that point, and the plank road, which already runs nearly half way out from the village, will be extended to the proposed depot. This will lessen the cost of supplying the camps, which is now very great, to about one-third or one quarter what it has been. How much farther the road will be extended remains to be seen.

Mr. Gerrish already owns some 11 or 12 sections in the township, and is steadily adding to their number. There is doubtless standing pine enough within range of the road to keep it running a dozen years yet.*  There are a work in the camps about 400 men and 70 teams. During the winter there were nearly 700 men and about 225 teams. The sales of logs and lumber from the logs put in the past winter and spring, and those now on the skids, to be put in this summer, have aggregated $105,000. This is exclusive of Mr. Gerrish’s operations at Houghton Lake, where, in company with John L. Woods, of Cleveland, he has put in some 14,000,000 feet this season, and will put in 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 feet more. He also has other camps and investments in the lumber business, including a large steam sawmill at Muskegon, but the figures above given are enough to vindicate his title of being the largest operator in the business.

And here I should like to introduce the blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, athletic young man, still on the sunny side of 30, who employs so many men and so much capital in a precarious business so successfully, but personal allusions are distasteful and I forbear. Scott Gerrish has spent his life in lumber camps, and there is no part of the work which he cannot do as well himself as the employee who does it under his direction. Many stories are told of his remarkable industry and physical endurance; how he threw the champion wrestler of the camps at collar-and-elbow election day; how, after an arduous day’s work he is accustomed to sleep in his cutter at night while his horse draws him from one camp to another, and how, without overcoat or mittens, he rather enjoys weather cold enough to freeze the horns off a cast-iron ox. He has evidently an iron constitution and a capacity for both physical and mental work found in but few.”

* The writer of the article, as well as Gerrish and others, vastly underestimated the time it would take to cut the pines and other valuable timber. Basically, the county was bare within a decade and the county was soon to go into an economic decline.

Categories: Clare County, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: | Leave a comment

Gerrish and His Logging Railroad (Part 1 )

…Or How to Decimate a County in a Decade

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFellow Clare County Historical Society member Jon Ringelberg sent me a June 1878 article from The Clare County Press concerning Winfield Scott Gerrish, the first lumberman to purchase a railroad (locomotive, car assemblies, track, spikes, etc.) and bring them into Clare County for the express purpose of hauling timber out of the woods. Others had used trains before for that purpose, but not in Clare County. An excerpt of the article appears in the post following this one.

One of the things that makes this such a wonderful article is that it is a first-person account written and only a year or so after Gerrish brought his logging railroad to Clare County. And at a time the county was getting ready to experience an explosive building boom and population growth.

Gerrish got the idea of using a train while visiting the Centennial Exposition (World’s Fair) in Philadelphia in 1876. In one of the halls he saw a locomotive that ran on a narrow-gauge track, and thought it would be a good way to get cut timber out of his holdings that were located far from any river. (Rivers were needed at the time as they were really the only good way to transport logs to market or to major railroads.)

Whether Gerrish knew others had used a train for a similar purpose is not known. What is known is that the train arrived at the opportune time for Gerrish who was on the verge of bankruptcy. He was finding that the cost of cutting and transporting his timber holdings was higher than the revenue he was receiving.

Another factor was that the Pere Marquette railroad was laying track through the county at the time, from southeast toward the northwest. This meant it was now far easier to bring men and supplies into the county and to haul timber out of it.

Other area lumbermen initially scoffed at this train idea; however, they were just as quick to follow Gerrish when they found he was getting rich. Why did he make money? The railroad allowed Gerrish to cut and transport lumber year around instead of just during the winter months. That meant a steady and continuous revenue stream all year long.

Using trains allowed Gerrish to cut and haul logs from wherever he could lay track. And he was able to get them from woods to market in under a week, a marvelous feat at the time. Of course, there was an initial expense and delay before a train could run, since the locomotive had to be brought in, a railroad bed built, ties and track laid, and rail cars built. However, this work was generally done quickly and, in the case of the tracks, without regard to quality, since they were temporary, having to last just a couple of years, at best.

Map showing logging railroad beds

Many of the railroads that once covered Clare County. Green is used for major rail lines. Other colors show the beds of some of the narrow-gauge logging railroads. Map courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbrink.

So the logging trains came in and the trees came out. In his book, Michigan Ghost Towns, author Roy Dodge estimated that there were more than 300 miles of logging railroads in the county and traces of many can still be found.

So what did Gerrish and his railroad mean to Clare County? Within a decade, Clare County went from being a peaceful, quiet and beautiful tree-covered county to one filled with giant stumps, scarred landscape with farmers trying to scratch out a future in what remained. However, for one short period in history, thanks in part to W.Scott Gerrish and his railroad, Clare County WAS a bustling, exciting place to be.

Note: Some articles (including the Gerrish link above) claim Gerrish was the first in the world to build a logging railroad. He was not. They were used in other states including Michigan decades before.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Every Picture Tells a Story–Some Are Incomplete

History is boring.

At least some teachers make it so by turning history class into a forced memorization of dates, names and places. So do parents. One of my closest friends refuses to visit a museum because, as a child (an only child), she was forced to endure day after day of museum visits during vacations. But history is much more than static displays. It’s the story of individuals told through their stories, their writings and their photos. Sometimes we are fascinated by what they tell us—and sometimes by what they do NOT tell us.

A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at the Clare County Historical Museum and looking through the photographs in its files. A few caught my attention and I wanted to share them along with a few thoughts.

Take the photo at left. What happened to the woman’s face at the upper right. Did a liquid accidentally fall on her (and only her) and did someone, in trying to remove it, ruin the photo or (as is more likely) was her face intentionally removed intentionally out of spite or hate. And if the latter, what did she do? There are four men in the photo and four women in the photo. Was she the wife of one of the men and was she guilty some horrible crime or greatly embarrassed him or the owner of the photo. Maybe committing adultery? We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

Old photo of two womenAnd then there is the photo of these two women. The one with the glasses and tie is attractive and has an air of authority about her. I see her as a manager of some type and proud of her role. Where did she work? And if she was a manager, did she only manage other women or men too? (Not sure if women in the 1890s were ever allowed to manage men.) Was she married? If so, when (and if) she had children did her work career come to an abrupt end and did she spend the rest of her days cooking and cleaning and raising children? Perhaps the other woman was her sister. Although well-dressed, she doesn’t have that professional “air” about her.  Was she more conventional? And if the two were sisters, were they close?  We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

Photo of two boys And here we have two boys. Brothers most likely, and maybe forced by their parents to get dressed up in their Sunday finest to have their photos taken. Maybe the first photos ever. Where they fidgety like many boys when it comes to photos? (And in those days one had to be verrrrry still during photos since shutter speeds were slow.) Were they the good boys they appear to be, or hellraisers? Once the photo was over did they tear off those (wool) clothes as fast as can be, or was dressing up natural to them? Who were they and what happened to them? We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

LumberjacksFinally, we have this photo of this group of men all fixed up. Maybe they were lumberjacks just arrived in town from a logging camp and had money in their pockets, and stopped for a photo before they cut loose.

Why lumberjacks? Look closely at the boots on one of the men. The hobnails help identify them.  (The protruding spikes easily dug into the bark making it easier for lumberjacks to walk on logs without slipping.)Hobnail boots

Maybe he wore the boots because they were the only footwear he owned. (One pities the woman who had to dance with him!) I figure after the photo the men left to hit the bars, gambling establishments and local “sporting” houses. How old were they at the time, and did they all survive to become old men?  Doubtful as the life of a lumberjack was a hard and dangerous one. Maybe they got into a fight (a favorite occupation of lumbermen) that night and one of them never made it back to camp, ending up instead in a pine box in a long forgotten graveyard. Or they were on their way to church.  We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

And with photos like this telling stories and asking questions, history, at least to me, will never be boring.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan | Leave a comment

A Civil War Monument 118 Years in the Completing

ImageIt was great to see the Civil War monument in Cherry Grove cemetery finally completed and rededicated this past Memorial Day. It was also wonderful to see the large turnout of people of all ages.

The monument was originally dedicated on May 30, 1994 before a large crowd. Sadly, the monument was dedicated in an unfinished state. The Women’s Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic—the G.A.R. was a fraternal organization comprised primarily of Civil War veterans who had fought for the Union– raised money for the monument by hosting 10 cent suppers. Although they raised enough for the foundation of the monument and the granite base, they did not obtain sufficient funds for the granite soldier that was to stand atop the monument.

And so the monument remained unfinished for 118 years.

In his book, Michigan’s Timber Battleground, written several decades ago, author Forrest Meek took time away from telling the story of Clare County’s history to put in this plea:

“[H]ave we, the heirs to these brave and courageous people, fulfilled our obligation while that monument remains incomplete? Should we in this generation finish their task or don’t we have an unpaid indebtedness to their memory. Could we complete that memorial in Cherry Grove Cemetery, thus showing to ourselves that we have not forgotten? That is our challenge! What is our response?”

Finally, Clare County can respond to Forrest and especially to those who served in that Dedication of Civil War Monumentterrible war they were not forgotten. While our indebtedness can never fully be repaid, our conscience can at least be a bit clearer now that the monument has been finished. We applaud those who pushed for its completion and funded the work.

Note: There are 83 Civil War veterans buried in the Cherry Grove Cemetery.

Categories: Clare County, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a pity you can’t get a good Beaver Dinner Anymore…

Ad for a beaver and fish dinnerI found this ad in an old copy of the Clare County Cleaver, our local newspaper in Harrison, a while back. For some reason I found it humorous and took a photo of it. Temple is a town about 15 miles west of Harrison in Clare County.Used to be an old logging community on the Pere-Marquette railroad line a century ago or more. Not much there now, maybe not even beaver.

I never had beaver so that is one reason the ad struck my fancy. Wonder what it tastes like? (And please don’t say “chicken.”) Just too doggone bad ain’t nobody serving no beaver no more.

Categories: Clare County, History | 1 Comment

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