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Mid-Continent Railway Museum Preserves Copper Country's Past Copper Range Railroad
Coach No. 60

By: William Buhrmaster and presented here courtesy of the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society
(This article appeared in Volume 31, No. 2, August 1998 of the Mid-Continent Railway Gazette)

The acquisition and ultimate restoration of Copper Range Railroad coach #60 will enable Mid-Continent to expand it's interpretative displays, as #60 joins CRRR combination car #25 (formerly coach #59). Combine #25, presently on display in the Coach Shed, has been in MC's collection since 1962. Within the next couple of years Coach #60, will join the #25 as restored museum pieces. The history and use of the 95 year old coach #60 is both varied and interesting. It is currently under restoration in the MCRM's Car Shop.

A New Coach in 1903

Coach #60 was built as a first-class coach in 1903 by the American Car & Foundry Co. (ACF), in the Jeffersonville, Indiana works. The #60 was typical of open-platform wood coaches built around the turn of the century. The #60 was one of six identical cars, purchased for $5000 each, by the five year old Copper Range R.R., under ACF lot No. 2504. This series of passenger cars represented the first ACF built passenger on the CRRR. These coaches joined a fleet of Copper Range coaches and baggage cars that had been purchased from Pullman, in 1899.

ACF builder's photo of CRRR coach #59, sister to coach #60.

The coach was delivered in a color described as a green, brighter than Pullman green and striped in gold. The interior of the coach was stained and varnished with a Golden Oak finish. In addition to solid oak woodwork, the car was had with oak veneer headlining and ceiling panels. The seats (62 passenger capacity) were upholstered with cane (rattan). Heat to the car was provided by steam, while lighting was provided by four (2) burner kerosene lamps mounted on the ceiling. The car had two 4-wheel trucks (8'-0" wheel base) constructed of wood and steel.

The American Car & Foundry Co., of Jeffersonville, Indiana had its beginnings as the Ohio Falls Car Co., being established during the Civil War. Ohio Falls endured several bankruptcies and the Panic of 1873 to become a major Midwestern car builder. Early on the firm promoted use of Southern Yellow pine for car construction due to its superior strength. By the 1890's Ohio Falls' volume had reached $3 million worth of cars annually. In 1899 Ohio Falls was consolidated into the industry giant American Car & Foundry Co.. CRRR Passenger Service

The Copper Range Railroad, the last major railroad built into the Copper Country of Upper Michigan, enjoyed a brisk, although short lived, passenger business that required some 30 passenger car over the years. Maximum trackage operated by the Copper Range never exceeded 150 miles but its passenger trains ran the gamut from the vestibuled "Northern Michigan Special" with the CR's own cafe-observation car to the lowly locals serving the various mining communities on the "Range". Considerable equipment was needed to handle the special weekend excursion trains from Calumet and Houghton to the Copper Range's own Freda Park, a beautiful natural park along Lake Superior.

Starting in 1911 the Copper Range passenger equipment was gradually repainted in the standard "St. Paul" (Milwaukee Road) scheme of orange and maroon. This change took place after the "Northern Michigan Special's" inauguration as a premier Milwaukee Road passenger run from Chicago to Calumet. The "Special's" route included Copper Range trackage from Mc Keever to Calumet. In 1916 electric side lights were added to twelve of the Copper Range passenger cars, including coach #60.

Passenger service on the Copper Range dwindled to but a few mixed trains by 1930. The Copper Range Motor Bus Co. formed in 1928, plus the new family automobile both contributed to a dramatic decline in passenger business.

A small roster of coaches endured the Great Depression and served the Copper Country on the well remembered school trains. The Copper Range, starting in 1908, carried school children to various area schools such as Painesdale from remote mining settlements of Redridge, Beacon Hill, Freda, Atlantic and South Range. Most of the school train service was replaced by busses in 1941. Surplus coaches such as sister cars #55, #57 and two others, went to Mexico in 1944.

The last hurrah for Copper Range passenger service came in June 1, 1944 when a first class passenger train was re-instituted from Houghton to Mc Keever for a connection with the Milwaukee's Chippewa" to Chicago. World War II gas rationing made such service a necessity. The train consisted of Copper Range 2-6-0 #58 with wooden combination car #26 and coach #60. Both cars were completely refurbished for the new train. During the 1944 rebuild of coach #60, the oak veneer ceiling panels were replaced with painted panels and the rattan seats were changed to red plush (from coach #51).

Copper Range engine #58 with combination car #26 and coach #60, meets the Milwaukee Road Chippewa with streamlined Pacific #151 at McKeever. C. S. Sincock photo, July 1944

CRRR engine #29 with combine #26 and coach #60 in the Mc Keever Yard, one month prior to the end of passenger service.
E. A. Batchelder photo 8/16/46

Unfortunately, the last vestige of Copper Range passenger service ended abruptly on September 15, 1946. Coach #60 went into storage in the Houghton roundhouse. In 1964 coach #60 literally got a new lease on life and spent two seasons on the newly formed tourist line, the Marquette and Huron Mountain. Following use on the M&HM, the coach was returned to the Copper Range and once again stored in the Houghton roundhouse. The startup of a tourist railroad at Calumet , Michigan in 1967 resulted in Copper Range 2-8-0 #29 and coach #60 being sold to the Keweenaw Central Railroad. The total abandonment of the Copper Range Railroad became a reality in 1973 which, in turn forced the Keweenaw Central to discontinue operation rather than face the loss of their rail connection. Coach #60 left the Copper Country for all times in December 1972 and was stored at the Wells, Michigan shop of the Escanaba & Lake Superior R.R..

Preservation and Restoration by the MCRM

The Mid-Continent Railway Museum purchased coach #60 in 1982. In September 1982, the car traveled on it's own wheel from Wells, Michigan to North Freedom. The car had deteriorated significantly, since it had not been stored indoors for the last 15 years. The roof was leaking badly causing water damage to a lot of the oak woodwork. The deterioration was aggravated by vandals that had broken virtually every window in the car. Despite the damage to the interior, the car was found to be very structurally sound.

Interior of coach #60. Photo taken by Fr. Herman Page in 1960 while the car was stored in the Houghton roundhouse

Same view today during restoration

While awaiting a complete restoration, a new roof was installed in 1984. Following the roof work, the car was stored in the Coach Shed, where some restoration work continued to take place. After the construction of the Car Shop, in 1990, the #60 was moved into the new building.

CRRR coach #60 leaving Hancock headed for the Marquette and Huron Mountain Railroad

Starting in 1995, museum volunteers from the Curator Department focused their efforts on performing a complete car restoration. Although relatively few modifications were made to the car over the years, the Curator determined that the car's restoration could most accurately performed for the appearance that it had during the passenger service period of 1944 to 1946. Plans called for not only a cosmetic restoration, but to also make the car operational for special occasions.

The restoration process on the exterior of the car involved stripping all of the old paint off of the entire car body. Under the yellow paint, initially applied in 1964 by the M&HM, orange and maroon paint (post 1911) as well as green paint (original color) was uncovered. Over 70% of the window frames and all of the deck (clearestory) screens had to be replaced. The car siding and trim was found to be in relatively good condition and only a small amount had to be repaired or replaced. All filling, sanding and priming has been completed. Two coats of paint remain to be applied to restore the car to the orange and maroon paint scheme.

Much work has required to rebuild the end platforms. The buffers and the original style end beams were removed from the car over 20 years ago. Period photographs have been used to assist in the recreating the oak end beams. To date, new steps and oak end beams have been made, although they haven't been installed on the car. Replacement buffers are in the process of being fabricated. The coach was jacked up to allow the trucks and draft gear to be worked on. The trucks were needle scaled and primed. All of the bolts have been tightened on the trucks and draft gear. The truck bolsters and side bearings were shimmed and lubricated. The trucks now rest under the car, ready to roll. The interior of the car was found to be relatively intact , but in need of a lot of work. The red plush seats and a good deal of the hardware was still in the car. Work on the interior has began to take place at the same time work is being done on the exterior of the car.. All the seat cushions and frames were removed from the car to gain better access to interior wood work. All of the ceiling and clearestory panels were removed from the car due to their deteriorated condition. The old varnish was removed from all of the oak wood work. The varnish stripping process took volunteers several years to complete. In June 1997, the last of the old varnish was finally removed. Volunteers will soon be bleaching the oak wood work in an effort to remove the water stains. Filling, sanding, staining and varnishing steps will follow. Painted ceiling and head lining panels also have to be made and installed in the car. The (32) seat frames and arm rests have been restored, while window hardware, baggage racks and lamps are on hand , awaiting to be polished.

Funding for the seat cushion and locating a source for the window shades remain as significant challenges to completing the project. The material and labor to reupholster the seats, with red plush mohair, will approach $20,000. The current plans are to finish restoration within the next couple of years. Upon completion, museum visitors will be able to see and experience what it was like to ride in a Copper Range coach. Anyone for a trip back in time to experience a school train or to meet the "Chippewa"?

William C. Buhrmaster, based on information from Ray W. Buhrmaster

Unique Trains on the
Copper Range Railroad

School Trains

In 1908, Adams Township high school students were moved to Painesdale from Atlantic Mine under the supervision of superintendent Fred A. Jeffers and his wife, Cora Jeffers. In 1909, the Copper Range Railroad, at the request of Stanton Township, began a schedule of trains to carry Stanton Township high school students to Painesdale. This special school train was the first and only one in the nation and carried about three hundred children, sixty to ninety to Stanton Township.

The train left Houghton at six o'clock in the morning, dropped an empty coach off at Atlantic Mine, and then at Mill Mine Junction it turned west and traveled twenty miles to Freda from the first pickup of students from Beacon Hill, Edgemere, Stanwood (Redridge), Salmon Trout, and Obenhoff, and went back to Mill Mine Junction. There the locomotive would back track to Atlantic Mine and hook up with the coach that had been left there, now filled up with Atlantic Mine students. Then the train would head east with some four or five coaches and pick up students in South Range and Tri-Mountain, and it would arrive at Painesdale at 8:30 in the morning with about three hundred children. The high school at that time had an enrollment of over four hundred children.

A rare photo of a CRRR school train at Mill Mine Jct. in June 1942, with coaches #53 and #56.

In the evening, the trip would be reversed. This train, according to the Associated Press, was the only one of its kind in America and ran even through the severest winter weather. The last school train to Stanton Township was in June 1941. The last school train for Adams Township was in June 1944. Since then, Stanton Township high school students are bused to Houghton, and Adams Township students are bused to Painesdale.

Freda Park Trains

Among the many duties of the Copper Range one was very unique. It was called the Freda Park train. It started in 1905 and ran every Sunday and holidays, carrying as many as 15 coaches and almost three hundred passengers from various parts of the Copper Country to Freda Park, which was located one mile west of the Freda town site. The town of Freda was the stamp mill location for the Champion Copper Company, located in Painesdale. Freda contained 850 people at one time. There were 14 homes along the shore, a 40 room boarding house with as many as 60 boarders. The town had 2 bars, churches, a post office, and a fire department.

CRRR mogul #55 with a ten car train unloads passengers at Freda Park about 1905. Tyler photo.

The Freda Park train was operated by the Copper Range Railroad for its exclusive use to boost its revenue on the railroad. The train started out from Hancock, crossed the bridge, then turned west in Houghton and ran through the range towns, picking up passengers as it went by. By around 1908 the train extended all the way to Calumet. The railroad added .25 cents to the cost of a regular passenger ticket, making a round-trip ticket cost from Calumet a dollar, .75 cents from Hancock.

Traffic was heavy and revenue was good. It was a sight to see the special train whizzing by at high speed with banners and flags flying from each coach. The picnic fever was evident everywhere. Freda Park hosted dancing on Sunday afternoon, with a live band, and on Saturday's the beer wagon came complete with a team of horses. The beer was kept cool in root houses in the hills.

Freda Park was located one half of a mile from the train depot and was open from 9a.m. to 9p.m. On arrival at the Freda Park, the coaches would unload, and people would remain for the rest of the day on the park grounds. There were huge swings, horseshoe courts, tennis courts, barbecue pits, and a beautiful pavilion concessionaire on the Lake Superior shoreline. The concessionaire was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Jolie. The bathing beach adjacent to the park was a little difficult to walk on because of the millions of beautiful, small, pebbly, smooth, colorful stones that dominated the beach. Things went well for over a decade, but on Labor Day, 1917, the Freda Park closed it doors forever. Why?

This was a railroad park, but automobiles were coming and horning in on its business, taking away many passengers from the train. Instead of coming by train, they came by car, and since the railroad was maintaining the cost of upkeep, the cost was prohibitive and not worth continuing. For those who attended, it will be a happy memory.

A complete structure list for Freda Park was as follows:

Passenger Shelter 10 ft. by 416 ft. Caretakers house 18x20 Lunch counter 16x16 Baggage house 16x16 Dancing Pavilion 40x98 Kitchen at Dance Pavilion 24x34 Ice House Five stall outhouse

(Information Related by William Brinkman, from Kevin Musser)