recreation

A Lake Dock that Rises into the Sky

coal dock photo

The Lake Coal Dock as seen from the west. A paved biking, walking and snowmobile trail is adjacent. Inside the trees to the left is the building and storage pit.

The biggest dock in the small resort town of Lake doesn’t extend into the water, but reaches into the sky. This dock is also made of concrete and stands on four relatively spindly legs that are long enough for a train to pass through them.  One can see this dock from a distance, as it stands some 75 feet above the surrounding flat terrain.  The structure is especially impressive if one is on the Pere Marquette State (Rail) Trail and headed either westward from Farwell or eastward from Evart toward Lake—formerly Lake Station—in southwest Clare County.

The structure is a coal dock and it sparks wonder in most who view it, especially those seeing it for the first time.  It’s also a piece of railroading history.

Coal docks, also called a coal towers or coal tipples, were once common and were built to supply coal to the many steam locomotives that once plied railroad tracks, not only in Michigan but around the country.  These docks were built either next to or directly over the tracks so that trains in need of fuel (used to heat their boilers) could stop briefly to reload. Coal would be fed by gravity into the coal cars and the train would then speed on.  Coal trains would supply the docks on a regular basis.  the black fuel would generally be unloaded and stored in an underground pit and then would be loaded into the dock using an elevator with a bucket or other apparatus.  These docks operated until diesel replaced coal as a fuel and these docks were no longer needed. The changeover started prior to the Second World War and then accelerated rapidly once the war was over. By the early 1950s, coal docks were dinosaurs and most were torn down.  In Michigan, only 17 survive. The coal dock in Lake is one of them—and its days may be numbered, as well.

Lake Station in 1930s

Photo of Lake Station taken about 1930. The coal dock is in the distance. The photo was taken from a water tower since dismantled. The  Lake railroad depot is in the white building in the center of the picture.

The Lake coal dock was built in 1929 and could hold five railcars worth of coal (approximately 250 tons) with more stored underground. The timing for building this dock is puzzling given the changes that were already taking place in railroading and the fact that steam locomotives had been plying this same track for decades; however, the tower might have been planned years earlier, but was delayed until Consumers Power—the local utility—could extend lines to Lake to supply electricity to the winch that would raise the coal buckets to the tower. Power finally came to Lake in the later part of the year, according to an article* in Aug. 16, 1929 issue of The Clare Sentinel.

 

The dock was engineered by Robert and Schaffer, a firm out of Chicago. Ralph Stewart, a Lake resident who has researched the tower, has sales materials  showing many of the coal and sand docks the firm designed and sold, although none shows the exact Lake coal dock. (Sand was used on tracks to provide traction in winter weather. However, there is no evidence the Lake tower included sand for trains.)

How exactly how this particular coal dock worked is unknown. While some metal connectors are still visible on the tower, the elevator and chutes are all gone.  Also gone are the engines that powered the elevator and all equipment that may have been in the building used by employees that is adjacent to the tower. It appears the elevator would have passed through one of the rooms.

According to William Scott who grew up in Lake in the 1950s and played around the tower as a child, a railroad siding once ran directly under the coal tower; however, those tracks were taken up long ago.  Mr. Scott does not remember the elevator or other equipment being on the dock.  Although it’s only speculation, it does not appear the siding was used by trains to load up on coal, only to deliver it.  The tracks used by passenger and freight trains running between Saginaw and Ludington were removed in the 1990s and the grade turned into a rails to trails pathway within the last decade.

The land on which the coal dock sits is now owned by the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources.  The rail-trail itself, which runs approximately 60 miles between Midland to Reed City is popular with cyclists, runners and walkers in the spring, fall and summer and with snowmobilers in winter.  Unfortunately, the building appears to be a hangout for nearby youth and is littered with furniture and trash. Campfires appear to be a popular use of the rooms. The walls are also covered in spray-painted graffiti.  Because of the dock’s condition and its use (or misuse), one recent letter to the editor in the The Clare County Review called for the “crumbling structure” to be torn down.

That would be a shame.

To help make sure that does not happen, some members of the Clare County Historical Society have proposed working with those in Lake seeking to save the coal dock and buildings.  One idea involves getting permission from the DNR and Village of Lake this spring to clean up the area: cutting down the undergrowth that keeps the buildings hidden from view; picking up the trash; perhaps whitewashing the buildings to hide (at least temporarily) the graffiti; and blocking the entrances.

On a personal note, one of the things I like to do with visitors is to take them for a ride the Trail from Farwell toward Lake and back.  I don’t tell them about the coal dock, but I make sure I am nearby when they spot it for the first time.  I never fail to enjoy their puzzled expressions and their questions.  And invariably, they pick up the pace after they’ve spotted it to see just what it is.  Right now, there is nothing to tell them.  We hope to someday change that too with a state historic maker.  But first we want to make sure the Lake coal dock is around a long, long time.

Note: If you have any photos of the dock in operation, have additional information (or corrections to what I’ve posted here) or would like to get involved in this project, please contact me. I’m hoping this blog post is JUST a start.

 

* NEW COAL DOCK COMPLETED AT LAKE The ‘Pere Marquette railroad company have just completed a concrete coal dock at Lake Station that has a capacity of five cars of coal. It is reported that the dock as well as a new pumping station that is expected to be installed will be run by electricity as soon as the new Consumers Power Company’s line is completed to Lake.

Summary of Michigan Railroad History

Categories: biking, Clare County, History, Pere Marquette, railroads, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Putting a Face to History

Charity and Chancy Root1 (2)One of the amazing things about historical research is that it can get personal.  That’s personal as in meeting people and not just learning facts and figures.  Another amazing thing is how one bit of research can branch off and head in another totally unintended yet fulfilling direction.

Take the Root family of Hatton, Michigan. T hey were the subject of a blog post a couple of weeks ago that sought to connect the now dead Clare County town of Hatton and two Root children buried in the township cemetery.  The two died several years apart before the turn of the 20th century during a time when Hatton itself was dying.  The town died because the lumber industry that had sparked its birth and life was over and most of the town’s 200 residents had moved on, including Chancey and Charity Root, parents of the two deceased children.

I visited the kids’ graves earlier this year and became curious why the parents were not buried near their children in the family plot.  A huge stone with the word “Root” carved on it seemed to indicate would be the final resting place of the entire Root family.

In the course of my research, I contacted Virginia Braun, my mother-in-law and a gifted genealogist to see if she could tell me what happened to the two elder Roots.  She immediately wrote back recommending I visit “Find A Grave (findagrave.com).  It was there she had found the Roots’ finally resting place in a cemetery in nearby Gladwin County.  Even better, she found photos and a family contact.

So I emailed that contact who was also the source of the Root family material.  The contact, Ken,  wrote back immediately, providing death certificates for the two Root children along with additional photos of the parents, Chancey and Charity Root some of which are shown below.  (It also appears Chancey was married before but not sure if that union resulted in children or how long it lasted.)

Chancy and Charity Root- editedFrom a few of the photos I saw, Chancey looked happy or at least (as in the photo at left) had a gleam in his eye. None of the photos shows his wife smiling. Not sure why.  For sure, a woman’s life had to be hard, especially she was generally tasked with all the housechores, and they had to be many given she was raising and cooking for what might have been a family of 12.   Adding to her sadness was the fact that at least two of their children died at young ages.

During our emails back and forth, Ken did ask something of me:  He wanted to know if I could find out any information on a Delbert Root and whether a tombstone in the Hatton cemetery inscribed with the letters DEL might be the gravestone of Delbert.

DEL tombstoneI again turned to my mother-in-law who found a Delbert on the 1910 census when he was 16 and still living at home, which was now in the northeast corner of Clare County, near Gladwin County. Virginia also told me about Rootsweb  (www.rootsweb.ancestry.com),  part of Ancestry.com, saying that was another wonderful free source.   (The fact that both the family and the Website share the same name is a coincidence.)

She added that she did not find a Social Security death record for Delbert.  “Looks like he didn’t marry and no one filed for his death benefit,” she wrote.  So it’s possible he died young.  Because the stone in the photo is not in the Root family plot, I doubt the grave belonged to Delbert Root, but until evidence is found elsewhere, it’s difficult to say where Delbert is and who DEL was.

As for Chancey and Charity, may they rest in peace.  Delbert?  The search continues.   And who knows who might help me this time around and where that help may come from?

Categories: Clare County, History, Home life, Life, logging, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hard Work to Make the Green Pine Lake Pathway Enjoyable

This press release was written on behalf of the Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation and a group called Hiking Michigan.  It concerns a state pathway in western Clare County that was quite overgrown.  In fact, I got lost on the pathway a couple of years ago and blogged about it.  That post caught the attention of Mark Wilson who is the director of the North/Central branch of Hiking Michigan.  He contacted me and put him in touch with Friends and the two groups worked together since Friends was looking for a way to get more people interested in the pathway. And who says good can’t come out of blogging? 

Hard Work to Make the Green Pine Lake Pathway Enjoyable

Beavers may have a different priority

Green Pine Trail MapThe Green Pine Lake Pathway is one of Clare County’s hidden treasures. The Pathway—really three loops and one connector trail—is located in Freeman Township in the western part of the county. Two of the loops are accessible from a parking lot on the south side of M-115, just west of Lake Station Ave., while the connector trail leads to a state forest campground and nature trail on Big Mud Lake (off Brown Road near Garfield).

In the past, the overgrown trails and lack of markings have posed big challenges to those who have ventured to walk either location. Now, thanks to the hard work of numerous volunteers during the last weekend in April, visitors can focus more on the beauty of their surroundings, and less on determining which direction the trails go.

According to Gerry Schmiedicke, president of Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation, a local non-profit that seeks to improve and promote the county’s parks and recreational opportunities, his group wanted to get the word out about the wonderful hiking experience residents and visitors along would find. However, “Friends” did not want to promote the Pathway until the trails looked better and people could use them safely. The group’s small number of members meant it could not accomplish all the tasks by themselves. (While increasing numbers is something the Friends group is working to change, the trail work needed tackling ASAP.)

Enter the North/Central Branch of Hiking Michigan, an organization that encourages and invites people to explore and better the natural environments while enjoying the camaraderie of like-minded outdoor people.  “Their Director, Mark Wilson, contacted us and said the group was interested in re-marking and clearing the trails,” Schmiedicke said. “We were happy to partner with them on this project and much appreciate the hard work of everyone who turned out.”

“The three trails that make up the Pathway have a lot of potential to attract visitors,” Wilson said talking about what attracted his group to the project. “The small 2.5-mile loop off the parking lot that skirts Pike Lake offers a nice little day hike and the trail is now well defined. The same is true for the nature trail at the Mud Lake State Forest Campground. And those looking for more of a challenge should enjoy the hike from the parking lot at M-115 to Mud Lake via the east leg of the trail that loops around Green Pine Lake.”

Green Pine Lake CleaningWhile Wilson credits the volunteers and staff from the DNR for the work done so far, more work remains. A few of the bridges and boardwalks need work; and signage is needed at a few intersections. (The signage, an Eagle Scout project, is currently being restored.) “We hope to complete those tasks at second work project this summer,” said Wilson.  There’s one project he admits might not get done—at least not for a while because of a beaver dam that has flooded a portion of the 5-mile long southern loop.  But Wilson isn’t going to complain, saying that we just need to remember we are visitors here while the beaver call Green Pine Lakes their home. “Plus,” he adds, “There are plenty of other trails for those of us who like terrain that’s a bit on the drier side.”

A parking lot on the south side of M-115 just west of Lake Station Road provides plenty of parking to access to trail with its two lakes. To learn more about Hiking Michigan, go to www.hikingmichigan.com.  For Hiking Michigan’s free downloadable map of the trail, go to www.hikingmichigan.com/PDFinfo/GreenPineLake.pdf.

Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation invites you to their annual Gateway Event on June 1, 2013 to help raise funds to improve recreation in Clare County. Learn more at clarecountyrecreation.org.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, General, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meredith: Wonder of the North Woods (Back in 1884, Anyway)

Clare County map

1886 railroad map showing Meredith in NE corner of the county

There may have been towns during Michigan’s lumbering era that had uglier reputations than Meredith, but I’ve not heard of any.  While the town in the northeast corner of Clare County was created to serve the thousands of lumberjacks who worked in nearby camps with essentials like food and clothing; it flourished by providing those men with booze and women.

It was a town that lacked

Plat map of Meredith from about 1906

Plat map of Meredith from about 1906

for little—except maybe a church and a sheriff (the former burned and the town wouldn’t finance the latter).  Meredith also had Jim Carr and Maggie Duncan, two of the worst human beings ever to set foot in Clare–or any county–for that matter. Carr and Duncan trafficked in every vice known to man including white slavery, robbery, arson and even murder.  (I plan an article on them in an upcoming post.)

It’s hard given the town’s evil reputation that it was once called the “wonder of the north woods,” the “great city of the day” and “a marvel,” all these in an article in the Gladwin Record in March 1884.  That’s when 18 visitors from Gladwin traveled into through what was then wilderness to visit the town.

The visitors returned with a glowing report.  However, whatever good they saw in Meredith disappeared not long afterward, and remains long buried. But here is a look at the town as it was once seen.  (Note: I left the grammar as it was in the original article that can be found on microfilm at the State of Michigan’s library in Lansing.   Spaces or question marks show where I could not read the text.)

A Visit to the City in the Forest, the Wonder of the North Woods

In company with a jolly party of 18 people (babies included) the editor of the Record visited the far famed city of the north, known as Meredith, this week.  Starting from our thriving village, passing through the settled country containing flourishing farms etc, for about 4 miles north on the Midland and Houghton Lake state road, we are amidst the monarchs of the forest.

Eleven miles farther we go without passing even the cabin of a settler—all to relieve the monotony being the camps of Rust, Eaton & Co, about midway, where 40 men are employed and huge rollways of logs are seen on the north branch of the Cedar near by.  The trees were crested with flakes of “beautiful snow” which rendered the scene exceedingly picturesque.  The timber passed is pine, hemlock and hardwood, in some parts being intermingled and in others pine or hemlock towering majestically on either hand.  There are excellent openings for saw and shingle mills and a tannery in this locality would find an excellent outlook.  A large part of the way is what is known as “stripped lands,” the pine timber having been cut. Where visible the soil seemed to be a good rich clay, and from the variety of growing timber we judge that the thousands of acres of wilderness are capable of being made into beautiful farms, and are many years pass we predict that the axe of the settler will resound throughout the forest where now deer and other fierce residents thereof roam.

But at length we arrive at the far-famed city afore mentioned,
MEREDITH!
And we are in the great city of the day.  Behold its fine large hotel and numerous business houses where but a few short weeks since all was wilderness.  Everything about Meredith is new, neat and thriving, except for her streets—and they still appear in their primeval state, brush, trees and logs appearing on all sides, but this difficulty will be overcome soon aster the season opens up.  Our party put up at the
CORRIGAN HOUSE
The large and excellently equipped hotel recently opened to the public by Thomas J. McClennan of Bay City, the found of the town.  The house is furnished in a _________ that would do credit to a good sized city of several thousand people.  The house is 40 feet by 105 feet, 3-stories high. On the first floor is the sitting room, office, washes room, bar room, dining room and kitchen.  The second story has an elegantly furnished ladies’ sitting room and in the two upper stories we find 14 single bed rooms and 11 double rooms, besides rooms for help.  Arthur Meyer, late of Alma, has charge of the house, and to him we are indebted for courtesies extended in showing us through the apartments.  He is the “right man in the right place.” Our party partook of dinner, served in a sumptuous manner, which we pronounced a No. 1. To enumerate(?) this bill of fare would be difficult.  We counted upwards of 40 at dinner, besides a greatly number who partook afterwards. Mr. Mayer informed us that the hotel was doing a flourishing business steadily.  Although it was Sunday, the bar was open and liquor flowed freely as water being partaken of by large numbers of wayfarers(?) who had gathered from the surrounding camps. However, all was quiet and we failed to notice an uncivil act.

Our day was limited, in the time we took to look over the town, however, and with the assistance of our friend “Joe the barber” the following list of
BUSINESS ENTERPRISES
was prepared:
S & C.C. R.R. depot
Reardor’s Bro’s, general store
Alex Rail restaurant
Billy Jose, Meat market
Roche & McKenna, drugstore
Hotel – Corrigan House
___________, Butcher Shop
McClennan & Stephens, billiard hall
Haiey & Covert, drug store, in which store upstairs is located:
Joe Hatfleld’s(?) barber shop
Dr. Tibbles’ office
Dr. Keating veterinary hospital and harness shop

These named being on one side of the street and the following on the other:
Alex. Andrews, grocery store
City bakery
Livery stable of _______ Frank
Searn & Co., hardware store and postoffice
__________ Maybee, general store
Millinery establishment
Sandy Marshall, wagon shop
Clason(?) & Avery, livery

Besides the above, we notice quite a few dwellings and a number of buildings in the process of erection.
LOCATION AND FUTURE PROSPECTS
The village is located on the line of Gladwin County on section 13, town 20 north, range 11 west, and is the terminus of the Saginaw and Clare County railroad.  It is 15 miles northeast of Harrison and about 15 miles northwesterly of this place.  The village was platted in December last by T. J. McClennan, of Bay City, who has a stand of pine nearby, where he now has 40 men at work cutting and skidding.  A large lumber district surrounds the village and so long as the lumbering continues so does a lively business from this point. Considering the rapid growth of the place, it is a marvel.  We trust that it might continue to thrive and we see nothing to hinder if steps are taken to secure the permanent development of the country surrounding, with the aid of manufacturing enterprises and settlers.

The article turned out to be very wrong.  By 1893, the town was in a fast decline.  The lumber was all cut, Carr and Duncan were dead, and the railroad gone.  In 1895, the post office closed and in 1896, a fire tore through the town destroying most of what remained.

There is little visible from Meredith’s past that would indicate that it onceThis screen can be found in what was once the center of town. had nearly 2,000 part-time and 500 full-time residents, and was a big enough town to have such things as a roundhouse for trains, a city hall, an opera house that seated 700 and a three-story school.  There are a couple of cemeteries, but they are on private property.  The township hall was once an old church, and I’ve read that once the town burned, residents from other areas came to scavenge the bricks and rocks for their buildings.

There is a drive-in movie screen from a failed attempt at providing residents and visitors with entertainment and a nice corner store with a helpful clerk/owner.  The store is not the remains of the railroad

County store at corner of M-18 and Meredith Grade Rd.

County store at corner of M-18 and Meredith Grade Rd.

depot.

Categories: Clare County, Gladwin, History, logging, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , , , | 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: , , , , , , , , | 3 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: | 1 Comment

Railroad Spikes, Plates and UFOs (Unidentified Found Objects)

Rusty railroad spikes and plates for tieing rails togetherI’ve been out metal detecting the last week along some old logging railroad beds in Clare County and found a few railroad spikes, bolts and broken plates used to tie rails together. The objects were about 4 – 6 inches deep and were apparently left when the rails were torn up after the trees were logged and hauled away. Pulling up the rails and reusing the materials was a common practice from what I heard since saving money was important and leaving rails out in the middle of nowhere as a waste of it.

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFrom what I’ve read, Clare County may have the most old logging railroad beds in the state so there were a lot of rails to pull up and reuse. The large number of RR beds is not surprising considering it was the first logging railroad in the country when Winfield Scott Gerrish built a railroad into woods to help haul out the timber. Although the initial investment was high (around $300 a mile), it made it easier to get out the lumber. Gerrish’s fellow lumberman laughed at his venture when he first started but when they saw the huge return in his investment…well, they couldn’t build their own railroads fast enough.

So although the tracks are gone the beds remain and underneath them are a few treasures. It’s interesting to hold in one’s hand a spike that was last handled by some unknown logger more than 125 years ago. It’s also interesting to take a walk in the woods and stumble on a bed out in the woods. They are quite common once one knows what to look for.

Unidentified found objects on an old logging railroad bedAnyway, among the items I found were a couple of UFOs–unknown found objects–I call them.  The items are shown at left (click photo to enlarge) and are about an inch long. I originally thought they might be bullets but their shape is awfully strange for a bullet in that they would not be very aerodynamic. The bottoms, by the way, are flat but have a small circle in the center. If anyone knows what they are, please let me know. My plans are to donate the items to the Clare County Historical Museum for their display on the logging era. I also plan to hold a talk sometime this summer on logging railroads on one of the old railroad beds at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison. railroads and the logging era. (More information on that coming soon.)

While I am asking questions, I’d also be interested in finding out what the rules are about metal detecting on state land in Michigan. I found information on the DNR site about metal detecting in state parks but nothing so far about state land. While I know walking the rail beds is legal on state land I’m not sure about metal detecting, and want to know before I go.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, metal detecting, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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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