|LOGGING AND LUMBERING||FARMING|
Weidman's Logging Train
This section on logging and lumbering is a compilation of information gathered from people involved in the activities during their lifetimes and incorporates an interview of Jack Nordine of Bergland, Michigan.
A supply of logs was needed to begin a mill. Cruising the land indicated what timber was there and its worth. When lumbermen heard about the available timber, they came in wanting to buy, saw lumber, and make money. All virgin timber covered the land prior to any farms. The railroad came through in 1887, which meant that logs could be hauled out.
Lumbermen had money and expertise. Immigrants from Europe had heard of jobs in the US and were willing to leave their homelands. The US got the cream of the crop when the immigrants settled; they were young and industrious workers. Lots of jobs were created; the pay was not great but they were able to survive, get a family started, and get the country opened up. This nation grew because of them. After the cut-over lands burned, people on farms could plant potatoes and possibly sell the excess to lumber camps. Berries also followed the burnings. It took decades of diligent work to clear the land.
Before 1925 there were possibly 100 lumber camps from Wakefield to Sidnaw. Some of those located in the Trout Creek area were Hardes', Nordine's, John Helin's, and John Paivarinta's. Weidman had purchased so much land south of Trout Creek with such a volume of timber that they could run their own camps. Weidman bought logs, too, if an individual owned timber and wanted to log. Once the railroad tracks were laid into timber country, car camps were also used. The car camp might consist of five or six cars, with individual cars being used for sleeping, eating, an office, a commissary, and even horse barns. The camps would be built in town and pulled out to spurs with an engine. Remains of car camps can still be seen as a storage shed at the Ellen Tahtinen residence in Trout Creek and as a hunting camp on the East Shore Road on Lake Gogebic.
Many nationalities were represented in the lumber camp: mainly the French, Polish, Swedes, and Finns. (The French seemed to like the canthook best.) It was a mixed crowd, where perhaps everybody learned to cuss in a new language. Nordine's camp had a bunk house measuring 50 feet by 26 feet and heated by a barrel stove. The chore boy carried the wood in. Fifty men could sleep in the building which was one room with double-deck bunks, three feet apart, and four men slept in a set of bunks. Lights out occurred at 9 p.m. and "Daylight in the Swamp" sounded a 5 a.m. Teamsters had to care for their horses first. A teamster's horses were matched for speed and weight. Horses working for a smaller operation might have weighed 1600 pounds or less each, while those used by a big company may have run from 1900 to 2000 pounds apiece and came from Iowa.
There were a variety of workers in and around camp: cruisers, road cutters, sawyers, limbers, scalers, graders, teamsters, hookers, swampers, top-loaders, engineers, sanders, road cleaners, cooks, and cookees. The men received wages of approximately $26 per month, slightly more for teamsters, top-loaders, etc. Sawyers were pieceworkers paid by the foot: cutting a 16-foot log would earn 16 cents.
A fifteen-minute mealtime was allotted so there was no talking at tables, except to pass food. A hanging rail was struck to sound the bell. After each meal the tables were cleared, the tin plates and cups washed and reset, ready for the next meal. Silverware was washed in a clean bean sack by holding both ends of the sack and swishing it back and forth in hot water, then rinsed likewise. The same procedure was used for dishes, but they were washed singly.
Camp food was good and nutritious. A good cook was worth money because good food meant a happy crew. He (or she) was kept busy long hours baking bread, cookies, cakes, rolls, sour dough for pancakes, oven pies or fried cakes. The "cookee" peeled potatoes, swept, carried water and wood in, dishwashing and table setting.
Food in a camp was plentiful. Breakfast may have included pancakes, bacon, pork chops, toast, and prune sauce. Lunch, possibly filling an 8' by 4' table, was ready with cold meats, pies, cakes, bread and butter so those working near camp could come in on their own to eat. Meals were hauled out to those working farther from camp. In cold weather they'd have to eat their stew quickly before it froze to the tin plates. The coffee pots were never empty. Supper was a heavy meal.
Bachelor cooks started in November and didn't leave camp until spring, when sleigh-haul was done. The cook made up the weekly order. The boss would then go to town, perhaps buying six hams, fresh beef and pork from packing houses, canned goods in gallon cans, and toast and hardtack by the barrels. Bacon was cooked in deep pans in the ovens for an hour and the grease was used for gravy and on bread.
Camps usually opened on Labor Day for road-making (12 feet wide) and bridge-building. Blacksmiths made metal runners for the sleighs.
When snow came, the roads were packed to the landing. When the weather got cold enough, the roads were iced. Icing enabled the horses to pull a larger load more easily. Ruts, the width of the sled runners, were cut six to eight inches deep in the road. These grooves were sprinkled from holes in a water box on a sleigh. Fifty barrels of water in the box would last about one-quarter mile. When it was time to refill the water box the sleigh was in the grooves so the tractor pulling it would turn around and pull the sleigh backwards to the swamp.
Once the roads were iced, they held up even through a thaw. Sand hill men sanded down big hills so the load didn't run away. Men were also used to clear the horse droppings from the roads for these would cause an excessive drag on the sleighs.
Many of the lumberjacks just worked on a "survival" basis. They worked steady for a month. When they would get belligerent and hard to live with, it was time to collect the pay and head for town to "party." After they had had their "bender," all would be well again for another month. That is, unless they met up with another timber operator looking for men to hire. Then they might just change camps. These were the "man catchers" in prohibition time, possibly found in "blind pigs" where moonshine was on the "QT." Anybody who drank knew where to find one.
The Depression of 29-31 caused many camps to close, but some bigger operators kept on. There were no markets for timber during this time, but, because of its size, the Weidman Company was still successful. When they got an order for lumber, they could go through and process the logs.
Early timbermen gave no thought to conservation. Beginning around 1890, pine barons cut all the timber and got out. Some felt that this "raping" of the land is a big misconception; that the big companies actually did the people, who were coming to work and settling here, a big favor. In the beginning the Government owned all the land. The Homestead Act of 1862 would give 160 acres < land to anyone who would file on it. To apply for a decided section of land one had to clear five acres in five years, build a "house on it, live there and till the land. After making an application for ownership in Marquette, and meeting all requirements, one was given the deed after a few months. Timber on 160 acres was worth a lot; the land was not. The new owner could then sell the timber to a lumber company and make money.
There were forest fires in the big logging days that destroyed the vast acres of trees that were left standing after the logging operations went through. They would also destroy seeds laying in the humus that could have replenished the forests. The stumps were left, covered with pitch, along with the tops that were discarded and dried in the sun to create a tinderbox situation. One spark fro a careless fire or lightning would start a fire that would burn unless rain squelched it or it ran into a river stopping the blaze.
Trees will replant themselves after cutting, even pine, but when the fires destroyed the seed and the humus, hardwood tree replaced the pine. With the removal of the big trees, the small trees shot up. The pine companies didn't have the expertise or saw blades to cut hardwoods, especially frozen logs. Big companies went West to find more softwood. The smaller mills gained the knowledge and perfected the saws to handle the hardwoods.
Logging is now on a smaller scale and spotty, not covering the vast expanse that it once did. If a fire should break out today, the scattered locations and the cutting of mostly hardwoods would make it much easier to contain.
Because of the Depression in the early 1930's, the State of Michigan declared a Moratorium on Taxes. People didn't have to pay their property taxes for three years. After this time the owners had to come up with the tax money or the state would take over and place it with lands available at a "tax sale." Bidding it in at the sale would keep it from going to the state. If after one year it wasn't redeemed, it then became state land. In 1938 there was a Tax Sale; all properties that weren't paid on from 1931-35 were delinquent.
When the timber on company-owned land was exhausted, they bought from private contractors or operators, working out a price with the buyer. The buyer and seller both scaled the logs to keep each other honest as to the board feet involved.
Logging contractors cut for others, buying timber from government, looked timber over and estimated the number of board feet per forty. Men learned by experience to become successful cruisers, some gaining experience while working for the US Forest Service.
The Diamond Match Company was a big outfit with a big mill in Ontonagon
handling probably double the volume of Holtz and Sparrow-Kroll. All
branches of the Ontonagon River—the East Branch at Kenton, Middle Branch
at Agate, South Branch at Ewen, and the West Branch at Bergland (not used
heavily) were used for floating logs to their destinations. Each log was
hammer marked with the individual loggers stamp before it went into the
river. The river was free to everyone and the stamps aided in sorting the
when they reached Ontonagon. In the winter logs were dragged to the
rivers, and in the spring when the water was high, they would tumble into
the water to float to Ontonagon.
In using the timber, Diamond Match would use only the clear stuff, the highest grade of pine. In Ontonagon, these planks would be cut into two-inch slabs which were shipped to Ohio to dry. Once dried, these would be chopped into match sticks used to supply the whole country with wooden matches. Lumber with knots, a lesser grade, went to build houses.
Edward G. Sparrow had been a wheelbarrow manufacturer Lansing in the 1850's. When lower Michigan timber ran out, he came to the U.P. The Sparrow Hospital in Lansing is named for him.
General Motors had land and big operations in West Ironwood. Weidman operated here with a few hundred men and 24 teams of horses. Local men worked there including Bob Newland, General Foreman, and Bill Johnson, next in line to him. Ford also bought vast tracts of timber to use in their car bodies. The car's framework was made of hardwood, bolted together, and cloth nailed to it on the inside. Since millions of cars were being made, large amounts of timber were needed. As the car manufacturers turned to all-steel bodies, they didn't need the timber. Ford logged their holdings sawed the lumber and sold it on the open market. (The mill at Alberta is Ford's gift to M.T.U. and the town of Pequaming was built by the Ford Company.)
Nordine, in Kenton, had his own timber and men to cut and skid as well as the trucks to haul it to his mill. It was all piecework: by the cord or by the thousand board feet. Weidman ran two ten-hour shifts. Their three camps supplied a train-load a day with around 100 men and teams of horses in every camp. Weidman bought logs too, if an individual owned timber and wanted to log. They had the railroad and logged along it until all the timber was gone. They still hauled logs by rail after trucks came into use in the late 1930's. A four-cylinder, one-ton truck with a stake bed could haul six to eight logs. That method became known as "rubber tire logging."
The first logging trucks appeared around 1929 when they were still logging with the railroad in some places. Where there was no railroad, contractors cut, skid, and hauled with trucks. Horses still skidded when trucks hauled. Old-timers didn't like to see machines replace horse-skidding, but the younger ones did and the crews changed. Machines meant the operator had to move up and down to hook and unhook the logs. Cable skidders had chokes at the end of the cable with hooks attached. Slide chokes were on the main line that went around the winch. The chokes off the main line were about eight feet long. As the chokes are put around a log it slips tight and one can hook on as many trees as there are chokes. Once the winch is in operation, it pulls in all the trees that are fastened on together. The trees are grabbed by the butt end lifted off the ground as the cable goes over the winch roller. They are pulled out to the road and sawed into lengths, for pulp, mill logs, etc.; generally eight-foot lengths. The skidder pushes the logs up after a cut to make room for another drag. The trees will be dropped, keepers on the chokes unfastened, and the cable rolled up before the next drag. The long logs will be pushed up on top of the shorter, cut ones, because they're easier to push. The sawyer will come up bucking (cutting) on the landing. If a stack gets too high, the next bunch will be cut up on the ground; the next load pushed up for cutting.
Around 1910 the Holt tractor was popular and a forerunner to the Caterpillar.
Cliff Raymond, Iron River, made a hydraulic loader in 1948. The Swedes invented a cable loader, then the Prentice loader came out. Heikkanen started making these loaders in Prentice, Wisconsin, in the early 1950's, selling all over the country. After about 15 years of manufacturing them, he sold out for $15 million.
The rubber-tired skidder came into use in 1958. Pettibone was an early originator of the tree-farmer, about 1968. Franklin cable skidders dragged trees. Others, with a boom-arm built out in the back, use a big grapple (like a huge ice tong). With cable skidding cut logs, the driver got out and hooked up, then hauled them up with a clamp. The feller/buncher on tracks uses huge hinged shears. Hydraulic arms grab the tree and hang on. When it's turned on, the big knives come together and shear the tree right off. While the tree is still held, it is carried and dropped wherever designated. It can hold one or more smaller trees, depending on their size before carrying them out to the skidway and dropping them. The operator never has to get off the machine. The tree-farmer with a winch is in common use today, retailing at $70,000.
Turpenen Brothers and Miljevich are big operators today who use chipping machines. A big loader will drop trees off right by the chipper where they're picked up with a boom and threaded into the throat of the chipper branches and all. Dogs pull the whole tree right in. The tree comes out the other end as chips and is blown into a van. Screens are found at the front of the van to allow the air to escape when the chips are forced in. It takes 20 minutes to fill a van which is then driven directly to a paper mill and dumped. Using a chipper, a section can be cleaned off in no time. A small operation wouldn't have a chipper come in, but would haul round wood out to the chipper's plant. Because of the speed and volume handled (pay is by the ton) there are big loggers in the area using chippers who are millionaires.
Local men are active in the logging business today. Jerry Perttula and his son-in-law, Kirk Sayles, are contractors. George Anderson and Don Mackey cut and skid for Jim Nordine on a part-time basis; Don Budd cuts. Jim Maki and his brothers cut and skid to landing for Steiger Lumber Company, Bessemer, as do others in the area. In the Kenton-Trout Creek area, young Ches Johnson is an operator by himself while his brothers Tom and Carl work as a team.
Loggers sell hardwood pulp to Champion in Quinnesec, Mead in Escanaba, and Consolidated in Wisconsin Rapids. Pine pulp goes to Wisconsin Rapids; pine bolt and poplar to Nagel in Land O' Lakes. Some paper companies like pine instead of poplar; because of the pitch, a different process is used. Hemlock and hardwood go to Mead. Balsam and spruce used to sell well in the 1940's - 1960's but are not in demand today.
Of one thing you can be sure: As long as there is timber in the woods, there will be lumbermen to harvest it.
The earliest sawmill in Interior Township was the Interior Lumber Company
which began operations in 1890. The W. D. Wing Company, known as the Trout
Creek Lumber Company, began building their mill in Trout Creek in January
of 1891, to be run by William Durmont. Swede Town was in existence during
this time. In approximately 1903, George M. Hardes took over Wing's mill
and renamed it the "Trout Creek Manufacturing Company."
The pine lumber mill run by Wing and Company was replaced by the Trout
Creek Manufacturing Company headed by George and Rosa (Rosenberg) Hardes.
Hardes' gained ownership of timber land, a logging operation, a general
store, and a lumber mill for sawing lumber and shingles. Many of the new
settlers "jobbed" for the logs for the mill. Some of the
employees were Lee Hayward, Ezra Gingrich, John Curry, John Anderson, Jack
McPhall, Charles Reeves, and Charles Loomis. The Hardes' built Red Town,
boarding house, and owned the turbine for lighting the town. A
catastrophe occurred when Hardes' pond went out on highwater in the late
1920's. Nobody was checking the dam and one of the best trout fishing
spots in the country was lost.
Trout Creek Manufacturing burned in the early 1920's. It was a great loss in the area as a lot of men worked there. Mr. Hardes operated his business until his death in 1921; his wife and son Victor continued to run the operation.
There was a large lumber shed along the tracks east of the Legion Hall left from the old pine days. Hardes had stored hay there and it turned out to be a great place for lumberjacks to stay. Someone got careless and it burned in the mid-forties.
Weidman Mill 9/1926
Fox-Cliffs Mill 1964
There were two Weidman mills in Trout Creek, a big one and a small one. The big mill handled all logs of ten feet and longer; the small mill handled all eight-foot logs of poplar and hardwood varieties.
The big mill was built in 1912 and was known as the Weidman Lumber Company until about 1938 when it declared bankruptcy. It was taken over by Von Platen Fox, then by Abbott Fox Lumber Company who ran it for a number of years. Cleveland Cliffs then took over and ran it for two years until the time of the fire. William Johnson and Ted Englund were the first to bring in logs by truck. They had old Model T's and were able to haul only five or six logs. Weidman ran his own railroad lines to bring in the logs prior to trucking.
Some of the mill workers were: Hans Peterson, a yard section foreman; Clarence Hale was the millwright during Von Platen operations; William Swanson was superintendent for Von Platen Fox and Abbott Fox. After he moved out west later on, Fred Nardi took over for Abbott Fox. Millwrights were Hans Peterson and Wilburt Walls. R. Piatt, Lauri Olgren, Allen, Emil Laitala, Charles Laitinen, and Weikko Lakanen worked in the planing mill. Mr. Little, Harold Helsius, and Wilho Perttula were the dry-kiln operators. Roy Larson was a bark remover for Fox. Weidman superintendents were Fred Wubbena and George Connors; both went out west after the bankruptcy. Ezra Gingrich and Mr. Warner were yard foremen for Weidman.
Putting the railroad into the hilly terrain was quite a feat. Sam Russell worked in the south country; John McLaughlin in the Covington area; William Garlow worked in the Bergland area at one time. In later days, Earl Johnson from Ontonagon was a woods foreman, as was Neil Chapman. Jack Dunham was the last one; he then went to work for Mead Corporation from L'Anse.
After the logs were transported to the mill they were rolled into the mill pond. The hot pond was used to wash the logs off before they went up the bull-chain. In later years there was a barker, run by Roy Larson, which used to take off the bark so they would get clean chips for paper mills. The barker was one of the last things added.
All of the chipping mill part was electrified. The steam carriage, edger, trimmer, and hog were all run by the big engine. The original engine broke in 1927 and then the Corliss-Reynold steam came in. It was brought in on flat cars from a flour mill in Minnesota and parked by the planing mill. They put it on a ramp and pushed the big wheel and steam chest to the engine room by hand. Han Peterson was the foreman in charge of this project and the work was done by the section crew. Engineer for the mill at that time was Barney Dove, Sr.
The little mill was built around 1917 and was run by Eino Miiln for many years. Reino Heikkala was the spare foreman when they used to run it nights. He was also the filer at the big mill just before it went out.
Office workers for Weidman were: Bessie Gerber Platzke, Alfreda Gingrich, Ina Beck, and Hazel Brown; those working for Fox Lumber were Gertrude Ollila, Laila Urpila, Elvira Besonen, and Thora Thompson. The office boy was Edward Urpila.
The Von Platen Fox people who were running operations in the woods included Mr. Galliger, Mr. Colander at Elmwood, and Jim Hilger (known as Michigan Slim) from Rockland; he was foreman many years until he went into his own business. Abbott-Fox Lumber Company was last known as the Fox-Cliff Lumber Company. The big mill was discontinued about 1969; it was burned down. The small mill accidentally burned around 1970; all that remained was the smokestack and an engine room. Ray Knivila and Toivo Kariainen cut down the smokestack in 1971.
During the time the mill was operating the population of Interior Township was over 800; now it's down to 400-500. As a lasting memory, the Corliss-Reynolds steam engine rests in the Abbott Fox Community Park, the site being donated, which was assembled by Bruno Helsius and Harold Anderson; Toivo Kariainen made the foundation.
The Kenton Mill ran from 1890-1910, sometimes running two 10-hour shifts.
Their big band saws cut a lot of beautiful timber.
In 1912 the Trout Creek Manufacturing Company, DeLaitre and Anderson, and Weidman Lumber Company were operating in Trout Creek at the same time.
Louis Jensen came from Lower Michigan about 1910 and started a mill in Ewen. They sawed hardwood and sold out to Brunswick who supplied wood for bowling lanes and pins. For this they needed a good supply of high-grade clear maple. The lower grades went into furniture and the general market.
Guy Nordine's Mill in Kenton operated from 1950-1970 and never ran out of timber. They cut primarily hardwood and thrived on the second crop as there were thousands of acres available. The Forest Service and private land owners sold timber. After Nordine sold out, "Swede" Intermill, a former Forest Ranger from Chassell, owned the mill and renamed it Maple Lumber, Inc. He ran it for 15 years, then sold out to the Connor heirs. They continue to run it under the name "Pine River Lumber Company." They will never run out of logs since hardwood offers no threat of fire and replants itself quite rapidly. Local loggers supply the logs and the company has branch mills in four locations.
Even though the big mills have disappeared from Interior Township, there are still smaller mills in operation today. People running these mills include David Helsius, Paul Kariainen, Reino Lakanen, and Lee Pagel. Cedar Tree Industries is owned and operated by David Helsius and his wife Janet. At their mill they cut material for log home kits, saunas, utility buildings, lattice-work, decking, bird houses and feeders, craft items, lap siding, and shingles. They are located three-quarters of a mile south on the Bond Falls Road.
L to R: Bottom Row: Clem Weber, H. Helslus, D. Devowe, Mose Carlisle, Ed Helsius, Fred Nardi, Andy Lelvis, Chas. Laitinen, Vernon Manning, Ray Knivila, & Eino Besonen
2nd Row: Wm. Kananen, Lauri Olgren, Davy Myers, Jack Cottenham, Jr., Makin Moffitt, Arne Kantala, Art Dupra, Mike Bowers, Louis Pulkas
3rd Row: John Koski, Norbert Kalwasinski, Wayne Bosio, Joe Cronkright, Elmer Wiitala, Harold Bennett, Weikko Lakanen, Ruben Barney, Victor Aho, & Willard Strangle
4th Row: Wm Sliger, Mike Silk, Al Gerber, Reino Heikkala, Warner Kalllo, Tom Kettunen, Abner Seppanen, Justice Helin, Frank Chichester, Walfred Perttula, & Edwin Laitinen
5th Row: Arne Teikari, Ed Cameron, Wm. Malin, John Kallio, Geo. Pulkas, Eino Niemi, Richard Hill, Wm. Nelson, Freeman Carlisle, Ray Soder, & Hans Peterson
6th Row: Claude Carlisle, Arne Piirto, Ed Urpila,II, Ernie Hemming, Wilho Perttula, Bert Saari, Alex Besonen, Niilo Saari
7th Row: Art Leinonen, Jack Dunham, Ed Tlbbits, II, Waino Perttula, Chester Cottenham, Charles Knivila, Ted Bessen, Louis Bessen, Russell Almquist, Arne Moilanen, & John Besonen
8th Row: Oscar Pelkola, Art Pulkas, Martin Lundwall, Chas. Juhola, Jim Waro, Geo. Tooley, Jack Cottenham, Sr., Ed Nehmer, Wilbert Walls, Albert Johnson, Arne Kangas, & August Laitinen.
Ed Besonen and Sons
As the settlers started their lives, they built homes, barns, and saunas after clearing the lands. The present generation should not assume the lands dotted with farms were like that in the early 1900's. It took years before machinery and electricity became available. They planted apple orchards and started dairy herds. The families grew. The men worked at lumber camps in winters. Mothers and oldest children tended to the cattle.
Before machinery was available most farmers had horses. Nestor Sjogren sowed seed for many, probably in the Agate area. They used a scythe for cutting grain and hand tying it. A team of horses provided the energy for plowing, cultivating, hay mowing, raking, loading, and for making wood to provide heat for the home, etc. A threshing machine traveled around the countryside during harvest.
The Depression Era brought about the "bessie" (doodlebug), which was a car renovated to a truck type. It was used even for small logging as well as running a buzz saw for cutting wood. There were tractors coming into existence in the early 1930's which included the Fordson, Case, Caterpillar, Moline, and McCormick Deering, an International machine.
There were heartaches with the hardships and disasters. The dairy herd was struck down with Bangs disease, causing many to lose their entire herd. However, they persevered and raised another herd from healthy calves. After REA and Wisconsin-Electric provided electricity, the milking machine saved hard work and time; there was now running water in homes and barns. The school children had ample light for homework.
The women canned hundreds of quarts of applesauce and they canned home-grown meats. Some farms had chickens and sold eggs. Milk was shipped to Stella Cheese Co. at Mass and the Co-op Creamery in Bruce Crossing. By using a hand-operated DeLaval cream separator, it made it possible to sell cream in five-gallon cans to the Ewen Creamery or Bridgeman Russell at Duluth. Some had sheep; they sheared and prepared the wool for spinning.
Two large-scale dairy farmers in the area selling milk to the Frego Cheese Company are the Besonen's, operating Circle B Dairy, and Jake Laitala. Gary Gustafson raises beef cattle. There is a possibility of two new beef farmers entering the area.
The Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad came in 1886. Trout Creek's
first depot was a drafty boxcar. In the 1920's there were four passenger
trains a day, stopping at 10:00 and 4:00, day and night; later on, only
two—at 4:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. There were stops between Trout Creek and
Bergland at Josephine, Jasper, Fuller, Agate, Finnland, Rudy, Paynesville,
Gem, Bruce Crossing, St. Collins, Amber, Ewen, Fair Oaks, Clark, Davis,
Matchwood, Grosbeck, Topaz, and Bergland. As the train and box cars went
by, lumberjacks appeared in the open doorways. Perhaps some of them went
as far as Duluth.
The Soo Line Railroad took over the D.D.S. & A., but then trucking began to overtake the business of hauling much pulpwood. The passenger trains were discontinued in 1957 and freight trains disappeared from daily life in the 1970's. When Soo Line stopped operating, the rails got rusty and in time it was learned the depot would be closed. Then, the Civic Improvement Committee approached Soo Line regarding ownership. In 1978, it was donated to the Civic Improvement Committee in a deed signed on March 20.
The railroad tracks crossing over the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River are about 400 feet long with a trestle at the center about 100 feet above the rushing water. It continues to attract tourists. The North Agate School children had picnics in that area. The older and bolder students showed their prowess by walking over it to the other side, but to many scaredy cats it remained a monster that had the power to pull you down between the ties into the swirling depths of the river, never to be heard from again. With heavy freight trains crossing over it regularly, the strength of the supports under the bridge is amazing.
We point with pride to this familiar landmark reminding us of the colorful era when the train whistles echoed for miles around. The railroad furnished transportation for incoming settlers, visiting relatives, businessmen, pastors, and vacationers. The freight trains exported the timber products and imported the foods for people and feed for animals. The trains also provided free transportation for lumberjacks.
Many years went into acquiring the depot from the Soo Line Railroad Company of Minneapolis, originating with a rumor that the tracks were to be abandoned. The depot was already closed. After many phone calls and much correspondence to Soo Line, the deed was signed March 20, 1978, by F. W. Crouch, Vice President and General Counsel of Soo Line Railroad, and by Hazel Sliger in behalf of the Interior Civic Improvement Committee. Since this acquisition, a complete renovation has taken place while retaining the original style as much as possible.
The depot was accepted into the Michigan Historical Society, which required that the original appearance in structure and color be retained. The roof was stripped to the boarding and replaced with new shingles. The windows were repaired and new panes put in. A new entry box and breaker system were installed by John Sjogren. New tiled ceilings and paneled walls in three rooms were built by George Tooley. Sewer and water lines and a restroom were installed by Emmanuel Voigt. He also made and installed new metal protective grids on the windows. Exterior painting was done by Rev. M. Sullivan.
Volunteer laborers on the depot project have included George Tooley, John Sjogren, Arvo Kaare, George Leinonen, Wilbert and Lois Perttula, Joe Cottenham, Alice Thompson, Pat Coss, Hilam Hautamaki, Emmanuel and Marjorie Voigt and others.
There was a certain kind of feeling'
That you just can't quite explain
When you heard the whistle blowin'
Just before you saw the train.
Then with big white light a-shinin';
Searching all along the track,
You could see the locomotive
Lookin' mighty big and black.
There would be the mixed emotions
As the train was drawing near;
Some were waiting for their loved ones
Others leaving someone dear.
You would see the fond embraces,
And then each would go their way;
As the old train left the station
To return some other day.
The old depot is still standing,
But it seems that there should be
A light burning in the window
Some folks lookin' out to see
The flickering of a headlight
Still brightening up the track
And a steaming locomotive
Lookin' mighty big and black.
Submitted by Lois Perttula
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Created by Lynn V. Boston. Last update 24-Feb-1997.