UPDATE:  Michigan Electric Railway # 28

by Norman Krentel

 It is now approaching the two and a half year mark since starting serious work on our steel interurban body, car #28 of the former Michigan Electric Railway.  I'll update you on this project, giving an account of what has been done to date, the immediate plans, and our long range goals.  While working on the car, there have been many questions about the cars' origin, so I will also provide a brief history.

Brief History

During February, 1913, the Michigan United Traction Company placed orders with St. Louis Car Company for six combination passenger - baggage cars (numbered 24 -29), four straight coach trailers (identical body construction to 24 - 29, but lacking their baggage compartment), and four express/freight trailers.  All three groups were of steel construction; they were the first steel interurbans in the state.  Dated construction photographs show the 24 - 29 series cars with framing completed and on shop trucks by late 1913, but final assembly didn't occur until April, 1914.  These cars represent some of the earliest application of steel in interurban car construction in this country.  Eventually, six further steel passenger car orders were made by Michigan United Traction with St. Louis Car.  All were built to similar design including the large 800 series cars which were 2400 volt, 67 foot, 142,000 pound parlor cars used on the Grand Rapids - Kalamazoo line.

Builder's Photo
St. Louis Car Co. builders photo showing car #27 ready to ship to Michigan. April, 1914. Washington University Collection.

Our car was primarily used on the company's Northern and Southern Divisions -- a 600 volt, third rail/trolley operation covering about 175 route miles.  This consisted of the line between Kalamazoo and Jackson (Southern Division) and the line north of Jackson to Lansing, from Lansing to St. Johns, and from Lansing to Owosso (Northern Division).  These six cars (24 - 29) were also extensively used in through service over the connecting Detroit United Railway between Jackson and Detroit.  Here, through trains covered the 150-mile run between Kalamazoo and Detroit, without a change of cars at Jackson.

The car style conformed in many respects to CERA specifications, being narrow enough for operation on congested streets in downtown Detroit, and were the typical length of 61 feet, used by several properties in Indiana and Ohio.  They had to be able to negotiate extremely sharp curves, down to 35 foot radius street corners, while coupled together in trains.  Because of extensive use of third rail, they had battery lighting, providing continuous illumination across gaps in the third rail at road crossings.  The rear vestibules were larger than usual and had full windows facing to the rear providing a solarium observation platform effect.  The observation platform was initially intended to have camp chairs for passengers to enjoy the view out the back.  This practice, if ever implemented, was soon discontinued however.  Generally operated as single cars, they had capability of operation in trains -- photographs show trains of up to 4-car length during special events.

As part of a much larger company, these cars were at times loaned to other divisions to cover for equipment shortages.  In total, there were five interurban divisions, covering roughly 350 route miles of line across lower Michigan.  The fact that some of these lines were operated at 1200 volts (this includes the Grand Rapids - Kalamazoo line which after one year of operation, lowered their voltage from 2400 to 1200) didn't prevent use of these cars as they were capable of operation at full speed on either 600- or 1200-volts.

The company, Michigan United Traction Co., was an operating name given by the parent Michigan Railway Co. to their lease of the Northern and Southern divisions from the Michigan United Railway Co.  By 1916, this lease was canceled and operations were returned to the MUR.  When built, cars 24-29 were lettered for the MUT.  Now, with operations returned to the MUR, they were repainted and lettered "Michigan Railway Company Lines".  Following a corporate reorganization in 1924, the name was again changed, this time to the Michigan Electric Railway Co. and the cars appeared in a new paint scheme, replacing the original -- and more traditional --  green color scheme with a new combination of orange and green.  This new color scheme undoubtedly made the cars brighter and more visible which was probably prompted by the increasing number of motor vehicle accidents with the ever increasing automobile traffic.

During the 1920's, Michigan was becoming more supportive of automobile interests -- highways were being paved, and public transit started to feel the pinch of loss of ridership.  The parent holding company, Commonwealth Power, Railway & Light Corp. took the stance they should rid themselves of their less-than-profitable electric railway properties and continue to grow the power company end of the business. As a result, they made steady efforts to divest the railways.

In 1926, CPR&L Corp. abandoned the first segment of the Michigan Railway network, the Northwestern Division, extending from Grand Rapids to Holland and Saugatuck.  On November 30, 1928, they discontinued passenger service on the Michigan Electric Railway Company's Southern Division, between Jackson and Kalamazoo.  Our car, # 28, made its final westbound run in this service on the night of the November 30th.  Passenger and freight service was discontinued on the Northern Division on May 18, 1929.  Freight operations were retained on the Southern Division until about June or July, 1929.

It was probably in late 1929, or perhaps, during 1930 that the scrappers -- Hyman-Micheals Co. of Chicago -- started to cut up the company's rolling stock, all of which had been marshaled to the main shop facility located in Albion.  Many of the car bodies were sold to see further use as cottages, restaurants, bars, etc.

Car # 28 was sold to Hale family of Albion.  They had a lake front lot at Charlotte Landing, Duck Lake, about 12 miles north of Albion and arranged for the cars' trucking to this point.  Before any of the cars left the railway property, their trucks, motors, control equipment, air brake equipment, batteries, etc. -- anything of scrap value -- were removed.  Also, they "torched" away the bottom portion of the body bolsters, which might have been done to make the cars easier to move.

#28 when the body was first discovered at Duck Lake, Michigan. Note the sign on the tree offering "free street car." Summer, 1971.
Front view taken the first day the car was found.
Rear view taken the first day the car was found.
#28 at Duck Lake, Michigan. Dennis Storzak on top during removal of the peak roof. Winter 1971-72.
Another view during the removal of the peak roof.
Painting the car prior to transporting to IRM. Spring, 1972.
All photos taken by Norm Krentel


Bob Kutella and I found the car during a trip to central Michigan in late summer, 1971.  A sign was posted on the tree behind the car which stated, 'For Sale, Street Car, $1.00.'  We inquired, and were allowed access to inspect the body closer, and found that, considering its age and amount of time since removal from railway service (May 18, 1929),  it had potential as a restoration project. This represented the first effort by anyone to save an interurban passenger car from the state of Michigan, and is important in that it could well be the only example of the distinctive Michigan Ry. Co. passenger car architecture to be preserved.

Museum crew at work preparing the car for loading onto the highway truck at Duck Lake, Michigan.
Left to right -- Tom Jervan, Nick Kallas and Dennis Storzak rest in front of car at Duck Lake prior to loading on truck.
Painting of #28 at Duck Lake, Michigan is finished.
Left to right -- Nick Kallas, Tom Jervan and Dennis Storzak after car has been raised to height to allow the transport truck to back under the body of #28.
A closer view of the three hard workers.
Car #28 is ready to load on highway transport truck.
The car, now loaded, is pulled out of it's resting place of 42 years.
Transportation is not without problems. Highway transport trailer gets stuck on the crown of the road, blocking all access to the lake resort until rescued by two tow trucks.
All photos taken by Norm Krentel

To Orvil Hale, who as a young man had helped his father move the car up from Albion, we paid a dollar for the car, and raised money for the move to Union.  The move didn't occur until late spring, 1972.  Much work was done in Michigan before it moved: a peaked roof, which had been built over the roof, was removed; the car was repainted from its 'house' white to the orange and green scheme of its last railway days.  Of the considerable work done in Michigan, Dennis Storzak stands out as one who was there through it all.  Others who worked on the Michigan phase include: Nick Kallas, Dan Gornstein, and Tom Jervan.  Also, thank you to members of the Lansing Model Railroad Club, spearheaded by Dirck Terwilliger. They were of considerable help when we removed the house roof and also when we painted the car from its white house paint color to the railroad orange and green. This work was done during April and May, 1972. Once on the truck and en route to Illinois -- we were routed by state permit the quickest way out of Michigan possible -- we headed south on I-69 to Angola, Indiana, and the Indiana Tollroad then west toward the Chicago area.

Because of many other priorities, the car sat dormant at Union for years until the time was ripe to start work. The first step taken on the car was removal of concrete placed in the frame of the rear vestibule while used as a cottage.  This concrete had a depth of about 10 inches, and added an estimated 3,000 pounds of additional weight in a location behind -- the step wells -- where there was less strength.  We assume this was done because the original steel flooring had rotted away.  The concrete removal turned into a huge project, taking many months of hard work.  Here, a new member, Steve Shimkus, was a steady worker on the project, aided in the later phases by another new member, Pat Harbauer.

Progress to date has all the concrete removed from the rear vestibule, the steel channels which had been buried in concrete were needle chipped, primed, and painted finish black.  The Tomlinson radial coupler for the rear of the car was removed from its storage out in the field, disassembled, cleaned, and put back together.  A coupler anchor casting -- removed years ago from now scrapped CNS&M 'MD" car # 236 -- was drilled to fit the mounting holes in the cars' center sill and attached to the 28.  A new coupler circle iron was created, holes drilled, mounting brackets hot riveted to the circle iron, and all attached to the body along with the refurbished coupler.  All this work was accomplished in Barn-8, where we had to work without electricity or easily available compressed air.

With the coupler in place, it was an easy task to couple the Army diesel -- USA 8537 -- to the car, and tow it over to Barn-4 for further work.
Fabrication of the new rear bolster.
New steel for rear bolster...
...is placed in position...
...and ready for trimming by Welder Gene Johnson.
Rear bolster is completed and car is place on the motor truck from CNS&M #250.
View shows completed rear bolster as car is towed out of the shop for "turning."
All photos taken by Tedd Ill

 The next phase of work has been refabrication of the body bolsters.  Each bolster is made of two 12-inch plates, 3/4-inch thick, extending the width of the body.  The bottom plate was bent so there was a six inch separation between the two plates at the center sill.  As mentioned earlier, before the car was removed from the railways' shop property at Albion, the scrapper had "torched" the portion of the bottom plate away where it bent away from the upper plate.  New bottom bolster plates were fabricated for each of the bolsters, and bent to replicate the original bolster.  Photographs of the cars in service -- especially wrecks where the cars ended up on their sides -- were carefully analyzed to determine accurate information about the bolster construction.  This data, plus some written documentation was helpful in determining what fabrications were necessary to reconstruct the bolsters.  There were several structural fabrications which fit between the two bolster plates; these pieces were assembled for both the front and rear bolsters. The work of recreating the 'kit' was started in July, with work being done by: Walt Stafa, of Columbus, Ohio; another new member Tedd Ill; long time member, Jeff Brady; Pat Harbauer; Dan Gornstein and myself.  In early November, 1997, Jeff and I completed the final installation of the structural members and we were ready for Gene Johnson, a certified welder, to attach the new bolster plate to the remnant of the original.  This was accomplished on November 17, and with it, the rear bolster job was completed.  The welding is really an excellent piece of workmanship, with a perfect fit.  Now, it's impossible to see the joint where the old and new plates meet and the assembly is as strong as when the car was new.

Author Krentel under rear platform. View shows rear coupler, new coupler circle iron and the steel frame member, which had been buried in concrete, now primed and painted.
Welder Gene Johnson and Author Krentel discuss completed fabrication to be used in front bolster.
Johnson welds front bolster fabrication. Front of car is in background.
Photos taken by IRM photo crew.

The trucks designated for this car are 7 foot wheel base -- a Baldwin Locomotive Works manufacture (84-30A) taken from CNS&M # 250.  These trucks are quite similar -- though not identical -- to the original ones used.  They are complete with 4 Westinghouse 557-A5 traction motors which bear some similarities to the original ones used -- though of a little higher horse power. As were the original Westinghouse 333-B2 motors, the 557-A5 motors have the correct gear ratio and are field tapped.  Incidently, this 557 type motor was used on several identical Michigan Railway steel cars.  On Sunday, December 7, we rolled the correct truck under the new rear bolster, and sat the car back down.
On December 14, 1997, car is "wyed" to allow start of work on the front bolster...
...makes its way back to the shop "pit" lead...
...and heads back into Barn 4 from the "pit" lead track.
All photos taken by Tedd Ill

The car was turned on the 'wye' on December 14 to position it for start-of-work on the front bolster.  Then on December 21, the car was again raised on the jacks, the shop truck rolled out from under the front end, and the car lowered onto the car stands.  The other motor truck -- from CNS&M 250 -- was rolled in and placed with enough sticking out from under #28 that we can do the necessary truck bolster modification work.  That same day we started needle chipping the steel around the front bolster, the first phase of that bolsters' restoration.  Upon completion of the front bolster -- estimated in February or March, 1998 -- we'll set the car down on the other truck from the 250.

Next thing will be installation of the front coupler, with its associated circle iron, anchor casting and various other pieces.  Following this, we plan to patch the 'C' channel side sill at some spots where it has deteriorated badly, particularly near the bolsters where corrosion is pretty extensive and where structural integrity is especially important.  The steel is already on-hand to do this work. We've had a lot of help from the steam department all through this present bolster work. They've spent many hours fabricating parts for the project. They really deserve a 'thank you' for their efforts. We should also give credit to American Grinding Co. for their donations of materials. They provided us with the steel, cut to our specifications, used for the bolster assemblies, and for the coupler irons. This company has been of considerable help also on the interurban freight trailer project, providing steel for the bolsters and also coupler circle irons. They do a great deal of steel work for the steam department as well.

Rear view of #28 in Barn 4.
Steps are used to enter the rear of the car. The front is up on jacks as the bolster work continues.
Photos taken by IRM photo crew.

After that, we plan to tackle the rear vestibule area.  Here deteriorated steel and wood members will require replacement:  doors and windows which appear sound might prove otherwise with closer inspection;  the wood end window sills are going need replacement;  steps need fabrication from steel and then bolted into the step wells; and trap doors need rebuilting.

A trip to Washington University and the National Museum of Transport in St. Louis this past summer produced many St. Louis Car Co. drawings for this group of cars.  Drawings of the steps, fender assembly, air brake and electrical component mounting brackets, sander assembly, hand brake assembly, general assembly of components, as well as aquiring many other items. At this late date, this is truly a rare find!  We appreciate the cooperation -- and time -- spent by staff members of both organizations in our search for data.  We came away with copies of about 65 drawings!

The exterior needs painting to enhance the cars' appearance.  This should probably wait until the steel patch work is completed, however.  On a project of this size it's necessary to put priorities to the tasks and avoid double work, if possible.

Long range plans call for a new roof and canvas, installation of air brake and electrical components and the car made operational.  Considerable work -- probably over several years -- will be necessary to bring this car back to something which can be run in service for the public.

With the spirit and enthusiasm of the team working on the car, I know this project can be carried to completion, but it will require the continued financial support of our friends like you. Please consider a donation to this project. And keep watching for further updates on this web page.

Pictures and story copyright © 1998, Illinois Railway Museum