Railroads of the Upper Peninsula

While on an expedition to the upper peninsula of Michigan, namely to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I stumbled across two abandoned railroads.

While on an expedition to the upper peninsula of Michigan, namely to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I stumbled across two abandoned railroads.

As a slight background to the region, the upper peninsula was home to extensive cooper and iron ore deposits, along with hardwoods. Much of the development in the area occurred during the late 1890s and early 1900s, with an almost endless stream of branches and spurs being built to individual mines that connected to an almost endless network of mainlines. Today, most of that network has been dismantled and some of the mainlines have been converted into rail-to-trails for cyclists and snowmobilers.

The first railroad I came across was in Deerton, a timber town along the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway (DSS&A). The earliest beginnings of the DSS&A trace back to 1879-1881, when venture capitalists led the construction of the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette (DM&M) from St. Ignace to Marquette. But by 1886, the DM&M was in receivership, and was reorganized into the DSS&A in December 1886 by James McMillan of Detroit. McMillan had purchased many of the upper peninsula’s railroads and consolidated them into the DSS&A. In 1888, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) took control of the DSS&A. In 1892-1894, the CPR funded construction of the DSS&A west from the Keweenaw Peninsula to Duluth.

At the height of the DSS&A in 1911, the railroad operated 623 mile of track, of which 517 were mainline and 106 were branches and trackage rights. Freight operations peaked in 1913 when nearly one million tons were shipped, with over 50% of that being forest products. In January 1958, with the opening of the Mackinac Bridge, the DSS&A ended all passenger operations. In 1961, the CPR merged with the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie, and the DSS&A became part of the Soo Line – later part of the Canadian National Railway (CN).

In early 1997, the Marquette to Munising Junction line (at the junction with the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad), then operated by the Wisconsin Central, were taken out of service – including the portion at Deerton. The tracks were dismantled beginning on December 22, 2001. The below two photographs were taken at Deerton.

The crossing over Rock River must have been great for fellow railfanners.

I later came upon the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad (LS&I) at Chatham. The LS&I was the combination of the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railway Company, the Munising Railway Company and the Marquette and South Eastern Railway.

On July 23, 1979, the LS&I was abandoned from Little Lake east to Munising Junction, where there was a junction with the DSS&A. The remaining trackage to Munising’s Kimberly Clark Paper Mill was handled by the Soo Line. Below are three photographs at Chatham.

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It sounds like you narrowly missed finding the roadbed remains of a legendary Upper Michiganfigure head that’s being forgotten about, (Cornellious) “Con” Culhane. Beginning at Culhane Lake near the south shore of Lake Superior, he moved one of the largest logging operations of the peninsula across the unforgiving frozen cedar swamps of the UP by lifting the rails behind him and placing them in front on stringers of downed timber to reach the shores near the mouth of Hemingways Tahquamenon River at Shelldrake were he became quite wealthy serving the lumber needs of Calumet Helca mines and the public alike. Most noted locally for his job application method of a fight; “If a man is willing to fight for a job, he is likely willing to work to keep it”. You’d be hired win or lose, and he wasn’t an imposing figure at that. Had he not fallen under one of his own railcars in 1903, his success may have made him one of the richest men in the state over time. Even the acquisition of the locomotives was a triumph over the many adversities of the age and area. The first dubbed the Ellen K. after his wife, was destined for the C&H mine. He caught wind of a cancelation of its order due to late delivery, but it was enroute by boat. His wife bought it with her families money before the boat arrived. The local timber companies heard of this, and having great pull with the dock unions, the ship was not permitted to unload its cargo at any port in the UP. Con had an idea and quickly assembled a team and a makeshift dock and rail system that brought the loco through a few feet of water onto a breakwater land bar you can see just north of the lake that bares his name. Other accounts put it at White House landing within sight of the docks there. But my Great Grandfather said that’s where loco#2 was landed which makes greater sense considering its proximity to Sheldrake. You can still see his RR grades and old roadbed, and pilings from the lumber dock built at Sheldrake by looking at Google earth.
If you ever come across more info on this guy, please get it into print. Mostly, it’s a word of mouth story, facts strewn about in logging literature. The story needs a good home and caretaker. More facts, a bonus.

Google earth: there’s also pilings to be seen in the water from a Michigan Central bridge spanning the Detroit River that failed due to river ice in the mid 1800’s. It stretches from the end of the main road dividing Grosse Isle east/west over to Canada. No other rail bridge ever succeeded the crossing of that river. The Windsor rail tunnel was built for this reason. Rail ferry services continued right up until the beginning of this century.

I am also very interested in any information that I can dig up on Cornelius “Con” Culhane. I have been researching the logging industry in the U.P. at the turn of the century for a couple of years, now, and so I have come upon his name many times. There is very little information on him for as big a deal as he seemed to be near the end of the logging boom. I would like come up with a decent timeline of his life from birth to death. I know he was killed by one of his own trains in Shelldrake, and that one piece of news seems to have overshadowed any other information that one might seek to find about the rest of his life. Instead of achieving fame for being one of the most successful loggers of his day, he is remembered for being smooshed by a train. 😐 While I admit that is an interesting tidbit about his life, I wish there was more.

It was word of mouth tales by local elders.
With his implied reputation, I wonder if the nature of some of them might also be associated with the “red light” girls. The houses were a well know but not talked explicitly about around kids. I heard variations in a few dialects, German, Dutch, French, Flemish, Swed, English mixed. I couldn’t always follow along with every word, but a good story teller hardly needs words to express some things just as deeply. It is a lost art I wish I had a knack for live. In print, results vary in a love it or leavs it fashon.

With the reputation of a big man, Con was average. He claimed to be Irish or Scott at times but everyone knew he was was Russian and likely Jewish. Truth is he was likely a Nonya… “None ya beeswax cause it don’t matter” .
He wasn’t born wealthy, he worked the Camulet&Helca mines and logging camps, etc to make connections, and used his wife Ellen Kay’s family connections and money to bankroll his success (higher society snobs thought that shameful) . It seems the assets trail back to her purse for many large gambles. He usually won though.

The first engine was called.the Ellen Kay after his wife.It was made by a German named lesser train mfg. south of Jersey, on the coast, in a deepwater port right at the water. But at 98 and 10 years old, no mfg name could be recalled. It was a 2-6-2 most likely. Maybe a 2-6-4 (important because an Adriatic in American styling was never recorded as being made or used here. The Prarie was better suited to US flat terrain, and the Adriatic to English rolling terrain.
It is said he ran a 2-6-4, modded himself from the 2-6-2 and a 4-6-4 C&H rear truck at the C&H shop, where he traded his for it (without asking). Others say it was delivered 2-6-4, others say it was always always 2-6-2 and a few say it was an odd Foley 2-6-4 like the C&H Foley , the worlds only remaining Foley period is also still running strong in Dearborn Mich at Henry Ford/Greenfield Village tour. Foley doesn’t count because the 4 wheel truck is of car design, and not a normal trailing truck. A Foley is a unique proprietary design not built “universally” like many other plans.

Once rich, there are wild tails of parties and shopping in Chicago stores. Known for walking in and damanding all eyes immediately fill his order… of one … of everything in the store. Tools to cloths,one of everything. If you refused he’d mess up your supply chains any way he could. He’d pack a ship and send it home or to places in lower Mich too.
He was more than just a simple logging man..So complexed it seems.

To apply to work for Con, you went to the bar, likely Friday or Sat. night…It may have been on Worths road, maybe even Worth’s bar/restaurant with the many wild game heads on wires they could lower a head to dinner plate level to scare patrons once they turned back to thier own table after a talk with someone behind them. (scared EVERYONE. be it skunk or howler monkey’s screaming gape and fangs… Oh, and a Jack-a-lope, lol. I think they said the one I ate at was #3 and I thnk #4 was the last. (All fire victims)

There at the bar, he would say the job was yours if you would fight him for it.
. Not an intimidating figure, but obviously no whimp.
If you fought him you got the job. And most got the chance, as waiting for his encroaching alcohol stupor while sipping water was a common pre- interview tactic.
Most thought it was just another example of his impressive tenacity and gruff nature.
When pressed he said;

“I figure any man who is willing to fight hard to get a job; is most likely willing to work hard to keep it too.”

My childhood intro to work ethic; white and blue collar symbiosis and mutual respect; food for all thoughts, felled by Ocham’s axe.

Paul and Babe “got nothing” on that kind of stuff. Casey Jones, John Henry, Con Culhane. Thats them…thee RR ledgends imo…and I always choose the underdog if the don’t choose me first.

I’ll try to get back here soon to fill in more gaps.as I recall them

Hi Adriatic,

You seem to know a lot about Con Culhane. I bought his house that he owned from 1885 and until he died in 1903, and I’m learning so much about him. I love the stories, and I want to find even more. If you know where to find more information, have more information to share, or if you happen to have some pictures of him, I would be greatly appreciative if you could share.

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