The Keweenaw waterway and interconnected Torch Lake provided readily available transportation for most goods and people leaving and entering the Copper Country. While an advantage to lakeside communities such as Lake Linden, Houghton and Dollar Bay, the mines were not so lucky. The copper bearing lodes from which the mines fed were miles further inland – high up in the highlands and mountains along the Keweenaw’s spine. Getting supplies to these mines as well as getting copper down from the mines to lakeside mills required railroads – and lots of them.
Before the coming of the DSS&A or the Copper Range, mine companies built their own short line railroads running from from their mines to the mills along Torch Lake, Portage Lake, and Lake Superior. First these were modest affairs and most weren’t technically railroads at all. Some mines like the Franklin, Quicny and C&H relied on gravity balanced tramways that ran down steep hills along the waterways. These were double tracked, with ore cars on both tracks connected together with ropes. As gravity pulled loaded cars down the tramway towards the mill, the connected rope pulled the empty cars back up to the top of the hill to be loaded again.
But as mines grew, their production increased, and the distance from mines to mills increased, ore cars pulled by powered locomotives became all the rage. Soon short line railroads were running between mines and mills at Quincy (the Quincy & Torch Lake), Allouez, Atlantic (the Atlantic and Lake Superior), Isle Royale, Mohawk (the Mohawk & Traverse Bay), and C&H (the Hecla & Torch Lake) just to name a few.
But as the major railroads began operations, these short lines were mostly abandoned or absorbed by these new entities. Mines began to contract their ore hauling out to firms such as the Mineral Range, Copper Range, or Keweenaw Central. One of these short lines, however, underwent the opposite transformation. As C&H grew and gobbled up more and more smaller companies along the range, the old Hecla & Torch Lake grew as well. By 1923 the company cancelled all its contracts with other railroads, and begin hauling all ore and supplies to and from all of its mines using a new and improved H&TC Railroad, re-named the Calumet & Hecla Railroad.
The C&H railroads main line ran down from the Conglomerate lode mines in Calumet to a stretch of C&H industrial complexes along Torch Lake. These included the stamp mill and reclamation plant at Lake Linden, as well as the Smelter and coal docks a mile south at Hubbell. As C&H opened new mines and acquired others, the line was extended to service them as well. New lines were built to Osceola, Centennial, Laurium and the Red Jacket shaft.
As C&H expanded northward with the Ahmeek, Kingston, and Gratiot Mines the railroad needed to expand with it. For this the company bought up the old Traprock Valley Railroad which ran from Lake Linden along the Traprock Valley up towards Copper City in the north. This almost doubled the railroads length, and allowed material to be transported from these northern mines without the need to travel across other railroad’s tracks. The success of the Ahmeek mine and the increased ore needing stamping prompted the addition of a line extending from the Traprock Valley junction south to the Ahmeek mill at Tamarack Mills. In the end the C&H line was dynamic, ever changing to meet the needs of the company. Lines were added to service new mine sites while others were abandoned as the mines they serviced closed. The map shown above is to give a general idea of what the line looked liked generally, but from one moment in time to the next it was never the same.
The Calumet and Hecla Railroad was built almost exclusively for freight and ore transportation and did not carry passengers. While other lines such as the DSS&A and the Copper Range carried passengers, most of those were either leaving or coming to the area from far away. Most of the passenger service in the Copper Country was transported by one of the states first interurban railroads: The Houghton Country Traction Company. More on that tomorrow.