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Railroads & Logging

Coral Railroad 1871
Coral Centennial 1862-1962 (excerpt)

by Marion Greenberg
and by consultants Don Gage and Ken Mulholland

In August, railroad reaching Coral begins Michigan's first logging by railroad. The Detroit, Lansing, and Northern railroad later named the Pere Marquette railroad. Tracks ran NW and SE diagonally through town. Due to all the potato farming earning Coral its nick name 'tater town' potato cellars (cellars allowed for winter storage) were built at points along the track including one where the Coral Community Center is now which is SW of the Sherman and Bailey Rd corner, there was one south of the Park Place Hotel (St Clara's Church) in what is now the Coral Park, and it is believed the Reynold's home was built on one at the NE corner of Prospect and Oak (in fact the Reynold's drive way up to their house is the same path as the old RR tracks). Also there is a metal potato warehouse now used for various storage on south side of Kendaville Rd along the dirt two tracks which for a short ways are on the old R.R. tracks now a private drive called West Coral Dr. just west of Lake Rd. From the corner of Lake and Division and walking from the other end of Coral West Dr (which isn't on the old line) about 50 feet you can see the path where the old tracks used to cross through the woods. The tracks ran NW from Greenville through Coral to downtown Howard City where it merged with the north and south bound Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad (now a riding trail on the east side of Federal Rd).  From the north end of Coral on Kendaville Rd just south of Lake Dr at the private West Coral Drive, when looking NE you can see utility lines running where the railroad used to lie.

In 1909 there was a derailment in Coral, The train was mistakenly switched to a short side track meant for loading on the north side of the Coral Elevator which ended at the edge of main street where the train plowed through a barricade and the engine settled perpendicular of Bailey Rd closing it off.  No fatalities reported.  However in other years there had been fatalities like the derailment in Trufant and a collision north of Pierson just south of where now the Federal Rd curves. That rail line is now the rail/trail called White Pine Trail.  Due to the curve near Cannonsville Rd the trains didn't see each other until it was too late.  The story goes that it was common for trains to be alerted by telegraph of an oncoming train and for them to pull over onto a side track so that they could pass but in this case the depot operator received the message but fell asleep and awoke to the passing train so was unable to warn them of the oncoming train.

Sometime before this year a tramway for logs drawn by horses or small steam engine ran from the north shore of the pond east of Spruce Lake (aka Coral Lake or East Lake), ran past the north side of the Methodist Church at Bailey and Division St, and ENE from town close to the corner of Kendaville and Amble Rd (through now Dan Snow's farm) just north of Cody Lake, then near Masters and Lake Montcalm Rd (stone barn), through a swamp to Deaner Rd and on to Gravel Ridge Rd area to McClennans' timber stand (in 1962 "evidence of this railroad grade can still be seen through the swamp and back of the barn of the Arlo Smith farm" (on Lake Montcalm Rd .25 mile east of Masters Rd)). The tramway isn't indicated on the 1875 Coral map. According to the Coral Centennial book this tramway was the first logging ever moved by rail in Michigan.

Also a similar tramway running near present Tri County High School location (Amy School Rd and Kendaville Rd) south to Wood Lake at Cannonsville and Federal and another from Wood Lake and also possibly the high school area west to Newaygo and Mecosta areas.  

Coral Railroad and Potatoes
Coral Centennial 1862-1962 (excerpt)

by Marion Greenberg

In 1869 the Detroit, Lansing and Northern railroad planned on extending their railroad to Howard city, and it was through the work of Charles Parker that a right of way was secured for it with only two property holders holding out and for the sum of 150 dollars was finally secured. The railroad being completed through our village in August of 1871.

In subsequent years it became the Pere Marquette railroad. Over the years large amounts of produce and especially potatoes were shipped out of Coral, there being 6 potato warehouses here (running NW and SE diagonally through town crossing where the Coral Community Center is now, SW of Bailey and Sherman Rd corner and diagonally through middle of where the park is now between Prospect and Sherman Rd. Also a side track parallel to the Coral Elevator's north side). Gradually this method of shipping potatoes was taken over by truckers and shipping by rail became a thing of the past. Changing times brought an end to both buyers and shippers and business for the railroad dwindled and eventually the railroad and depot were abandoned. In about 1945 the railroad was torn up from Greenville to Howard city and once more the little village was without a railroad.

It used to be most every farmer raised potatoes for market. Today only a few large growers are left. School always was closed for "Potato Vacation" in the fall during the potato harvest, in order to allow the children to work picking up potatoes for their parents and others requiring help. In those days one or two cents per bushel was their reward.

Trufant Railroad Disaster
by Greenville Independent 07/22/1874

Terrible Railroad Disaster
Nearly A Whole Train Of Cars On The D.L.&L.M. (Detroit Lansing & Lake Michigan)
Railroad Piled On To Each Other.  
Six Killed And Fifteen Injured

At about one o'clock last Saturday (July 18, 1874) afternoon word arrived in this city that a terrible railroad accident had just occurred on the D.L.&L.M.R.R. near Trufant station, about ten miles up the road from Greenville, and every available physician in the place was requested to immediately proceed to the scene of the disaster, where nearly a score of bruised and bleeding victims needed their assistance.  About one hundred people from here went up on the mail train, which started out at 3:25 and with many other, who had come from other directions, witnessed a most heart-rending sight.  

The train that had been so thoroughly demolished had been a loaded gravel train having 50 gangsmen aboard, and was running at the rate of twelve miles an hour when a small beech tree that had been standing a little ways from the bank came crashing down only a few feet in advance of the train - too near to allow shutting off of steam or the putting down of the brakes in order to prevent the otherwise disastrous consequence, which seemed more certain on account of the engine being at the rear of the train instead of where it properly belonged, pushing the train instead of pulling it.  As the cars had nothing to protect their coming with full speed upon the fallen tree, with nothing to ward off the certain crash, it was not so wonderful that nine of them out of the ten were rapidly piled on to each other promiscuously strewn about, making a frightful mass of heterogeneous composition in which were concealed both dead and injured.  Some of the men who were on the train leaped off without injury, while others were severely injured by so doing.  

The killed were mostly Swedes and Danes, some of the Swedes having but just arrived in this country, and whose families are still behind.  One of the Danes lived in this city.  The injured are mostly from Detroit and Ionia, some of whom are still being cared fro in this city, though a number were able to be taken on to their homes.  One poor fellow was found so firmly fastened in the wreck that he was utterly unable to free himself of the situation.  Although severely injured, it was hoped he might survive after being helped out, but he expired about as soon as relief came.  Another fellow was found buried in the dirt beneath a car, entirely out of sight, but was dug out with slight injury.  The conductor was standing on a car very near the end of the train with two other men, but escaped with slight injury while the other men were killed.  For the most part the killed were terribly mangled and so disfigured and covered with dirt that it was with difficulty they were identified.  The following list of killed is as near correct as we have been able to get it, which includes all excepting one; Frank Shopskie, Michael Zeider, Hans Johnson, Joseph Kolak, and a Dane named Wetriep.  The following is a complete list of the wounded: John Patridge, Detroit, arm and shoulder, slight; Thomas Kiske, face and hip, serious; Joseph Val, chest, serious; Albert Honzil, back and leg, serious; Lorenz Scroler, chest, leg and foot, serious; John Lovesky, back and arm, slight; Samuel Oska, sprained knee; Charlie Bortzel, head and face, serious; Fred Zeider, right arm seriously bruised; R. Carner, engineer, Ionia, eye injured and broken rib; John Aopp, Detroit, left leg broken and seriously injured about head and face; Vaughlem Kuhn, Detroit left leg fractured and knee sprained; Richard May, bruised slightly, C.W. Lee, conductor, face, back and arm and ankle injured; John Hanlon, head and face, serious; Joseph Wolf, Detroit, head and face, slight.  

The track is now clear and trains running again.  Of course no one is responsible for the accident, as no warning could possibly have been given.  It is thought the most severely injured will recover.  

Trufant's Jensen Train Accident (excerpts)

05/03/1883 killed by train Trufant, MI. Jensen family husband Christian Jensen born 06/02/1830, wife Ane Elisabeth Jensen born 11/10/1829 and daughter Wilhelmina Maria Jensen born 05/02/1865 and neighbor Caroline Jorgensen born 10/26/1842, all born in Denmark.  

They rode in Christina Jensen's wagon.  When they were driving home after the service they were struck by the D.L. and N. RR crossing near the old Niels Jensen home 1.4 miles south of the Gowen Railway station.  

They were run ever by train No. 5 and all were instantly killed.  The three were not so badly mangled, but Wilhelmina was completely crushed.  The whole train had run over her.  The conductor on this fateful train was my friend T.H. Andersen.  The locomotive was No.10 driven by C. Larcbee.  

Christian Jensen's horses were not injured.  They ran away and were caught before they reached Gowen.  

The wagon was splintered only a wheel remained unbroken.  

Funerals were held 05/05/1883 at 2pm "O such a funeral!"  The Church could not hold all the people.  In the procession from the church were 67 carriages, but there were enough people to have filled 67 more who walked to the cemetery.  

Train Sink Hole Crash Trufant
by Christ W. Hansen

This story was first told to me when I was about ten years old, by my uncle Milo Rasmussen.  Any inaccuracies or mistakes will have to be pardoned, but I was quite young and it has been a long time since I first heard the story.  

Uncle Mike (that's what we call called Milo) first told me about the crash when we were fishing on a small lake on the east side of his farm.  This small lake was commonly known by all the local people as the 'Sink Hole'.  The Sink Hole is a small kettle lake across the road from Muskelong (Trufant) Lake near Trufant, Michigan.  We started fishing on the northeast side of the lake and slowly started drifting toward the west side of the lake.  The fish were not biting well there so Uncle Mike said, "Let's go over by the railroad tracks", now being ten and now knowing the lake, I started looking for the tracks but saw nothing.  I did not know the railroad tracks had been torn up almost twenty years before.  That is when he told me about both the railroad line and the crash.  

As we slowly rowed to the south end of sink hole, he told me that at one time the lake was bigger.  It seems that the north end of the lake where we were fishing was very deep, a kettle, but the south end past where the railroad was was quite shallow.  It was near this drop off that the railroad had built a tressell over the sing hole running east to west.  

As my questions continued, Uncle Mike told me the story his mother had told him about the train crash that had happened there.  Apparently there had been a very severe storm which had washed out the tressell over the sink hole.  Now I am now sure which way the train was traveling but when the engineer saw the tressell was missing he could not stop.  The engine, coal car, and a flat car plunged into the sink hole.  The fireman escaped, but the engineer never surfaced.  The railroad company brought in a railroad crane mounted on a flatcar.  It did hook on to the train (the engine probably), and tried to lift it.  Between the weight of the engine, and the type of mud (Marl) in which it sank out of sight, there was no way it could be listed.  In fact, the crane almost fell from the tracks in the attempt.  

After the crash and unsuccessful rescue attempt, rather than rebuild the tressell, the railroad company filled the area where the tressell stood.  That cut the shallow end of the sink hole off from the deeper, spring fed end and cut its size in half.  The shallow end of the sink hole is more or less a swamp now.  

Trufant Train And Potatoes
by Laundra Rasmussen 1986 (excerpt)

Trufant has no railroad trains now, but I can remember when there were five passenger trains a day, plus the freight trains.  I think they were Pere Marquette trains.  The passenger trains ran from Howard City to Grand Ledge.  The 8:00am train ran North, the 10:00am and 4:00pm ran south and the 6:00pm fan north.  The midnight ran south but quit running after a very few years.  The first station agent I remember was Mr. Burt.  He had a wife and two girls Guelda and Ombra.  The next agent was Dave Shaver and he was there many years.  The freight trains were important too.  In the fall of the year and winter, the farmers hauled their potatoes into town to sell, there were several buyers; W.L. Emery, John Reynolds, and Nels Rasmussen.  Each buyer had an office, scales to weigh the loads and cellars to store them.  When they got a carload in the cellar, a freight car would be left until it was loaded.  If the weather was real cold a man was sent with the car load to keep a wood or coal stove going to keep the potatoes from freezing.  

Maple Valley Train
by Unknown (excerpt)

It was possible to flag a train and ride to Coral or Trufant for 5 cents.

Trufant Train Hopping  (excerpts)
by Howard Petersen

I walked down to the depot up the railroad track to the edge of town.  There stood the pickle station.  In the summer when pickles were in season, big wood vats were full of brine and pickles.  They were later shipped out on the railroad. 

Summer vacation was about half gone.  There were many more things to do.  I started going down to the depot to meet every train.  There were six trains a day going through town.  After a few days, I noticed it was up hill for about a mile.  Then it came to what they called the high bridge.  It was built over the railroad just big enough for one car or horses and wagon to go over.  The train never went very fast until it got on the other side of the bridge.  So by going over on the other side of the train away from the depot and up the track a little way, I would wait for the train to pull out.  When the last car came I got on the step and rode up to the bridge, then got off.  Then I would walk home. 

One time when I went for a tide, the train kept going slower and slower.  I could see the bridge up ahead.  The train stopped.  I thought they had seen me and were going to have something to say.  Then they started to back up.  How lucky could I get?  A free ride back to town, no walking.  When the train got to town, it was going so damn fast I didn't dare to get off.  They went about a mile on the other side of town and stopped.  They sat there a few minutes.  I think the firemen were shoveling in more coal.  I realized then that they had one too many passengers or one too may cars on.  they couldn't make the hill from a dead start in Trufant.  There were two road crossings in town.  They started to blow the whistle long before we got to the first one and kept it on all the way through town.  I knew there was no way I could get off in town.  I thought I might try it at the bridge.  They had the steam up.  The bridge went by like a shot.  So I rode to Coral, a little town six or seven miles from Trufant.  Before the train came to a stop I was off and headed back to Trufant.  There were no more train ride for awhile. 

Things got a little slow for a few days.  I did go fishing a few days, but fishing off shore wasn't much fun.  One day I went for a walk up to the high bridge.  I went up the bank, I walked half way across the bridge and looked toward town.  There I could see the train with lots of black smoke coming out the smoke stack.  I thought about that a few minutes and began to wonder if I could drop a fair sized stone down that stack when she went under the bridge.  So I went over the bridge to a field and found a stone about the size of a large grapefruit.  Pretty soon here comes the train.  When they got to the bridge the engine was working so hard there was so much smoke I couldn't get a good shot but I let the stone go anyway,  When I looked up the track on the other side of the bridge, the engineer was shaking his fist out the cab window. 

Trufant Logging
by Gerald Pike

Chris (Lydicksen) told many times when he was a young boy, how he would peddle milk with a pail and dipper to the lumber jack families that lived in log cabins along the south bank of Trufant creek that flows across our farm.  He told of eight solid rows of lumber piles from where our house is to the main line railroad where it was loaded on flat cars and shopped to Chicago at that time.  The saw mill was just in back of our house on the creek,  A shingle mill was on the creek about eighty rods up stream.  The mills were powered with steam engines according to Chris the shingle mill was struck by lighting during a thunder storm and burned down.  The spot where that stood is still very evident to this day.  

The pine trees would be harvested in the winter time and the logs would be hauled out of the woods with bob-sleighs and horses on the ice of Trufant lake to be floated down the creek in the spring with the ice melted and thence the lumber jacks would saw logs into lumber and make shingles all summer.  Chris told of a forty acres of land east of Trufant that cut a million feet of lumber.  The lumber was piled on bunks which averaged about 3,000 feet, and pulled about by a donkey-engine on a small gauge track to the main line railroad that went through Trufant and was taken up in the early 1940's.  

Apparently at one time a band of Indians camped on the bank of the creek about where the ball-park is now.  The reason for believing this is the fact that several arrow heads were found in the area of the ball park and creek bank.  

Among other things that Chris told me about that took place back in those lumbering days was the time the lumber jacks wanted the Fourth of July off and the boss said "No way, we are behind on our orders and we have got to work and get caught up".  So on that note, one of the boys got smart and dove down in the back waters of the creek and stuffed an old shirt into the in-take water pipe that supplied the boiler with water.  The next morning th3e help came to work and no water for the boiler and no one could figure out why the pump wouldn't pump water, so the boss told the boys to go ahead and take the day off as it looked like they were not going to be able to do anything that day.  That night after dark, the smart guy dove down in the back water and pulled the shirt out of the pipe and no one ever knew why the pump wouldn't work.  This was an incident that Chris liked to tell and did often with a chuckle (boys will be boys).   

Coral Logging and Mills
Coral Centennial 1862-1962 (excerpt)

by Marion Greenberg

Charles Parker, later founder of the village of Coral, was born at Norwood Ontario, Canada, in 1823. He became a very efficient Cabinet and pattern maker. In 1845, he married Isabella A. Bowes. After his marriage he worked at his trade of pattern maker in Newcastle, Ontario. Then being attracted by glowing reports sent from this section of Michigan, regarding the find land to be secured here for the asking he came to Michigan in early 1861 and picked out the 80 acres on what is now the little village of Coral. But which then was only unbroken wilderness. There being but a few settlers in that part of the country before then. He built a log cabin twelve by sixteen feet on his location and the next spring returned to Canada and brought his wife and six small children to his humble home in the Michigan wilderness. While developing his home tract he had purchased from the railroad company for twelve dollars and fifty cents an acre, he engaged in the lumbering business, his logging camp being the beginning of the village of Coral.

In 1869, Henry Fisher came from Indiana to the wooded town of Coral and bought a mill site from Charles Parker on the north bank of the east lake and was soon running a night and day shift.

Mr. Shively also purchased a mill site, his being in the north side of the west lake and now there were three mills at Coral.

When the railroad grade was put through the Hart Oaks Company bought out Mr.. Fishers mill and began building their large mill and dry kiln. Henry Fisher then secured a site on the south side of the west lake, now know as the Milo Fuller property. Mr. Fisher ran this mill many years after the other mills were gone. Mr Fisher was the grandfather of Grace Parker and Marion Greenberg or our village.

The first logging done in Michigan by railroad was right here at Coral. A railroad built with wooden rails with steel strap on top, was later changed to steel rails. It ran from the north side of the East Lake past the north side of the Methodist Church to what we now call Gravel Ridge. The timber standing there belonged to McClennans. Evidence of this railroad grade can still be seen through the swamp and back of the barn on the Arlo Smith farm today.

The Hart Oaks Company was pushing to completion their large mill and during the winter Coral lake was piled 3 deep with saw logs.

The saw mill and dryer had a capacity of 40 thousand feet per day. It continued in full operation turning out an immense quantity of lumber, employing from 40 to 60 men, until the pine was exhausted and the mill removed in 1880.

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