Today’s Copper Country relies on the highway to connect it to the outside world and to supply it with goods and services. But the Coppper Country of the Champion’s time relied on the railroad. Almost every community up and down the peninsula had its own rail station at one time, and each of those towns was in turn directly connected to the civilized world beyond. With the development of the Baltic lode at the turn of the century, a branch line of the Copper Range railroad was built to service the newly formed Baltic, Trimountain and Champion mines. With the completion of the line came a series of depots at those locations, and with that mine locations were quickly transformed into vibrant villages and towns.
Being the southern most community in the Copper Country, this branch line and depot was especially important to Painesdale. It allowed the town to be built rather quickly, and grand projects like the High School and Library could be built from sandstone shipped in from afar instead of the more readily available wood. Most interestingly, the Copper Range Depot at Painesdale made it possible for kids from locations as remote as Freda and Redridge to attend the large and modern High School in town. Up to as late as the 1940′s, Copper Range trains served as school buses ferrying students from all over the township to and from class each and every day. (this probably made snow days highly unlikely, the poor kids) For a time Copper Range did so while transporting ore at the same time – a practice that would certainly never be allowed today.
Here is an old photo of a Copper Range train unloading students at the Painesdale depot. The trains only went as far as the depot of course, the students still had to walk the good half mile up a hill to the High School. Through six feet of snow. Both ways.
The depot itself was made of wood, and was torn down
sometime in the 1950′s. (it looks like it survived much later then that – see comments) The loading platform is all that remains today, a (very) long concrete slab that runs a good couple hundred feet or so. Just behind here (to the upper right) once stood the Champion Mine’s “D” shaft.
Another look at the platform, this time looking north. At the far end of the photo (where the person is standing) would be the end of the platform, with the other end a good 50 feet or so behind me. People could grab a train here and go practically anywhere in the country (or conversely anyone in the country could come to Painesdale).
Sitting here on the left would have been the depot itself. As mentioned earlier, it was built from wood and was very modest in appearance, unlike the more opulent and flashy stations at Houghton or Calumet. It probably was just as busy however.
Besides the depot, we found another building of interest in the vicinity. Across the road from here sits a large sandstone building, in remarkable shape and condition. This is the new engine house built to serve the “C” and “D” shafts, necessary when the two shafts became too deep for the old hoists. Skip ropes from here would be sent along the ground out to the nearby shafts, where turn sheaves would work to redirect the ropes up to the shaft headframes. For a while these ropes and sheaves weren’t fenced off in any way, providing a very dangerous temptation for kids. Stories of kids seriously injured or killed (one supposedly cut in half!) playing around these ropes are now part of local lore.