Posts Tagged With: Gladwin county Michigan

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

Interviews: A Great way to meet People

I’m new to this area. A new full-time resident anyway. I bought a place in the woods between Harrison and Gladwin about seven years ago and came up here with friends and family on a fairly regular basis during all four seasons. I enjoyed hiking and biking, hunting and fishing and learning about the local history, which I find fascinating.

Now, due to changes in my life (mostly unexpected and unwanted), I live up here Marty's home inthe countryfull-time. The nice thing about it is that I get to enjoy the beauty of mid-Michigan and the friendliness of the people seven days a week. I still love it here. I find I am less stressed when I drive, take more time to enjoy the sights and talk to residents, something I didn’t have the chance to do when I was a Sunday trunk slammer. The downside is it is hard in middle age to get integrated into a new community, meet new people and find ways to keep busy.

Record and Clarion logoConducting interviews for The Gladwin County Record and Beaverton Clarion helps me in all those areas. At least once a week I get to sit down with someone from the Gladwin community and find out about them and about the new place I call home. In the short time I’ve done this job I’ve met a man who races motorcycles on ice, a man who seasons sausage, a woman who directs 4-H in the county and a recently retired State Police Fire Marshal who had some great stories to tell. More than people to interview, I’m making one new friend a week. As a result of one interview I’ve decided to join the local Lions club. I will not be racing motorcycles on ice, though.

I’ve also learned a lot about this area, why people live here, what they like about it and why they call it home. And although I do like talking to the people I am called upon to interview, actually transcribing the interviews is a bear. I’m not the greatest typist in the world and I need to carefully type the 3,500 – 4,000 words of the interview into a Word document and then pare them down to 2,000 – 2,500 words while ensuring the text remains accurate, flows easily and reflects the personality of the subject. I have to say I have a greater respect for Barbara Walters and David Letterman now. Interviewing is not as easy as it seems.

I hope people like the result: The people I interview; the readers of the paper; and of course, Stephanie Buffman, the editor, and Mike Drey, the publisher of The Record and Clarion. I appreciate them giving me the chance to write for the paper; I also appreciate the plug they put in each week concerning this here blog.

I hope this gig turns into a real life, full-time job somewhere in the area, and sometime soon. I love Gladwin and Clare counties but, love alone won’t pay the bills. However, in the meantime, I wrote, I transcribe, I volunteer my time (Mid-Michigan Home Care and Clare County Historical Society), get involved with a nice local church I’ve found, and count my blessings–a good way to spend time in this area I now call home.

If you have someone in Gladwin County you’d like to see profiled, drop the editor an email at Sbuffman@thegladwincountyrecord.com. New friends are always welcomed.

Categories: Clare County, Gladwin, Home life, Life, Michigan | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.