Riding the Rails – 1912

(from the Spring, 2016 issue of Macomb Now Magazine)

By Denis LeDuc

For me there are a lot of things that just can’t be duplicated. Many of them are from my childhood, my Great Aunt Katie is one. Around her, my brother and I definitely sat up straight, elbows off the table and knew what every utensil was for – right down to the condiment fork. And apparently I can’t duplicate the beautiful books she gave us either – classics like Wind In the Willows. Treasure Island and Arabian Nights. Hardcovers with dust jackets and engraved illustrations. Books like that you just don’t see in the stores anymore.

The Big Book of Trains Aunt Katie gave me was just the thing for a boy who daydreamed about being a railroad engineer. The engines seemed to leap from the pages. Not modern, streamlined, soulless diesel engines, but smoke-belching, fire-breathing steam locomotives. I thought of them as great steel dragons pouring out hot cinders and hissing steam.

The picture above shows one of those engines. Grand Trunk Western Railroad Engine 913 and its crew stopped at the Richmond (then Lenox) Train Depot, circa 1912. A workhouse of an engine, it is a versatile 2-6-0 (referring to its wheel configuration) Mogul. Usually hauling freight but sometimes passengers, the engine sports polished brass bell, cowcatcher on the front and the headlamp was powered by acetylene gas like a welding torch, not electricity.

Notice the spout of the Richmond Depot’s water tank at the far left of the picture. Is that the engineer with his twill cotton coveralls oil can in hand? Is that the brakeman with his derby hat, handlebar moustache, pinch waist coat and hands stuffed in his pockets? Clearly the conductor is to their right in his three-piece suit, Billy cap and natty bow tie. If only we had better detail. I am sure we could see the chain of his accurate railroad watch dangling from his vest pocket. Now look closely atop the coal tender, among the background of the trees. There is the fireman atop his mounds of coal ready to feed the insatiable fire powering the boiler.

The City of Richmond as we know it now was the consolidation of Beebe’s Corners, Cooperstown and Ridgeway also known as Lenox, Muttonville was added in 1989. The village of Richmond flourished particularly after the Grand Trunk Railway located a depot there on the Detroit to Port Huron run. By 1869, a branch line had been added to the west through Armada to Romeo. By 1884, the line was connected to Pontiac via Washington and Shelby.

Today we enjoy this same route as an important part of the Macomb Orchard Trail, a 24-mile long linear park following the old railroad bed from the City of Richmond northwest to Armada and then southwest to 24 Mile and Dequindre in Shelby Township. The trail starts at the Richmond Trail head park, not far from our scene above and enters the countryside passing through farm fields, dairy farms and orchards. As you walk, run, or bike the trail, listen closely in the wind for the chuff chuff of the engine, the clackety clack of the rail cars and the lonesome steam whistle of No. 913.

Photo by Clarence W. Flower. Courtesy of the T.J. Gaffney Collection.


Posted on

April 17, 2018

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This

Share this post with your friends!