HCTCRails and Roads

A Streetcar Revisited

Several years ago during CCE’s informative early years we had come across the remains of an old trolley car rotting away in a field atop St. Louis Hill. For an early CC explorer it was an amazing find, and something completely unexpected and out of the ordinary. Well several years have now past and I though a second visit was in order, to see how things have changed. Unfortunately time has not been kind to the old trolley car, as both the elements and scrappers have taken their toll.

The Houghton County Traction Company was an interurban railway that stretched two dozen miles between the various mine and mill towns scattered across the copper range. Service began in 1900 and continued for the next 30 years, until a loss of ridership forced its closure in 1932 (thanks mostly to that pesky Depression). According to Wally Weart, who wrote a piece on the interurban’s history over at Kevin Musser’s website, the cars used by the line were of the streetcar/trolly design built by the Kuhlman Car Company of Cleveland Ohio. The cars were double ended and featured a monitor roof and oak framing. At its peak the HCTC had over 40 cars in its inventory, most of which were sold off for scrap when the line closed down. A few, however, managed to remain in the area repurposed as hunting cabins. One of those old hunting cabins sits alone in a field atop St. Louis Hill, overlooking the lush fields of the Traprock valley below.

When we first visited this guy back in CCE’s early days it was relatively intact, at least compared to its condition today. Only about half of the original car is left. The rest of the old car has collapsed into a pile of debris hidden under the tall grass. But even in its precarious state you can still see that it was once a streetcar, mostly due to the curved front facade that still adorns the front of the car’s remains.

Riders entered the cars at the front and back, stepping up onto a boarding platform before heading through the doorway seen here into the car’s main seating area. The driving controls were in front of his partition.

Strengthening this front partition are a pair of iron straps that make their way diagonally across the walls face.

A closer look at the curved top of that partition wall. Above here would have started the car’s monitor roof, which provided another row of windows for light and ventilation.

Inside that partition and doorway is the car’s original seating area. Here you can make out a few of the car’s outer windows along with what would have been the back of the seats.

Here’s a look from the same angle, but this time while the car was still in operation. The seats were probably made from oak as well, though they haven’t survived to this day.

Above the seating area is the trolley car’s monitor style roof. One of the car’s outer walls have collapsed, taking this roof structure down with it. But you can still see what it might have looked like when fully intact. The top would have been covered by oak with the edges trimmed out with a line of windows.

When compared to the photos I took of this particular car last time, you can tell that it’s now in significantly worse shape. Most saddening of all is the disappearance of the iron piece seen above. This was the pole mount, on which the trolley pole that ran along the overhead electric line was mounted. It has since disappeared.

Today that roof piece on which the trolley mount was mounted lays down in the weeds after having been ripped down in the act of removing the pole mount. The scrappers were nice enough to leave this hook piece however, used to store the trolley poles when they weren’t in use.

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  1. You already know I love rivets. My second hardware love is carriage bolts.

    It’s a crying shame that
    a) this historic interurban railcar is almost gone [i’ve seen antique car restorers build a car from less, so all is not lost]
    b) the vandals have stolen what are actual artifacts off it

    great. so the trolley pole base is sitting in someone’s living room. whoop dee frickin doo. at least in a museum the general public would get to see it.

    artifact nabbers are as bad as poachers.

  2. That part really had no identifing features on it, it was a piece of metal, so value in someones basement would be questionable. But then nothing would surprise me
    The museum in Lake Linden may also have removed it, who knows.
    If anyone has a any spare cash laying around (Bill Gates are you reading this), the car could probably be hauled out, well whats left of it. It was in bad shape before this updated feature, you would probably have a pile of parts and wood if you moved it.
    Its sad to see, but money for this kind of stuff just isn’t there.

    I believe it was used for a cattle feeding shelter in its after street car life, rather than a camp.

  3. well speaking from experience, if you don’t “poach” these artifacts, half the time they end up in the garbage dump.

    either you, somebody else, or mother nature is going to claim them, so you might as well get first dibs on stuff that’s left to rot.

    part of my house IS a museum, dedicated to all the artifacts ive “poached” over the years :D

  4. I stumbled across this trolly car around 2000, during a long hike from my Dad’s house on Tamarack. Last time I saw it was around 2007. Never could figure out why it ended up where it did, when it was put there. Separate question: if you follow the dirt road just south of the trolly, heading north then northwest back toward Laurium, you’ll come across very unimposing ruins of an old mine. Nothing left but concrete foundations and tailings. Any idea when mine was opened, then closed?
    You’ve got an outstanding website. Has things, photos, etc. which bring back many memories for me. Thanks for your efforts.

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