When the Copper Range railroad first blazed its right-of-way through the southern range its route was far to the west of where the region’s main population centers are now located. That’s because at the time of its construction, the only mines in operation in the region was the Atlantic, its accompanying town being the only one that the Copper Range line did happen to cross through. By the time the Copper Range line had been completed to its terminus in Houghton in 1899, the nearby Baltic Lode had been discovered and its riches had attracted several new mines into the region. One of those new mine was the Champion, an endeavor that the Copper Range company itself had a major investment. Thus the railroad laid a new branch line out to this new mine from its mainline, a five mile long spur line known as the Painesdale Branch.
A decade later this new branch line found itself the center of attention, as the success of the mines along its route made the spur line more like a main line in terms of traffic and use. Rail traffic became so high that in 1910 the rail along the line had to be upgraded to support the heavier loads. It became clear to Copper Range that it’s old main line to the west was too far from all the action, and that its Painesdale branch was where most of its traffic crossed. Thus in 1913 three miles of track were added to the end of the Painesdale branch, connecting the once dead-ended line to the mainline at both ends. The old Painesdale branch line had now become the railroad’s new main line.
It was during this extension to the old branch line that bridge number 55 was built. Just over two-hundred feet long, this new structure carried the line over a natural gully located behind Champion’s “E” shaft. While the gully may have normally been crossed by a fill, the unfortunate close proximity of a few of the “E” shaft’s surface structures made that solution not practical. In fact the new bridge runs right up against the backside of the shaft’s old hoist house. The old bridge can be seen above, from the interesting perspective of a train running along top of it. The photo was taken in the 1960s, near the end of the Copper Range’s operational life. This bridge would be abandoned not too long after this, the rails torn out and the structure left to be retaken by the surrounding landscape.
Though still intact, that old bridge has camouflaged itself rather well in the overgrown foliage behind the “E” shaft’s surface plant. It’s concrete piers and deck looking like the remains of some type of old building partially demolished in the woods.
Yet a closer look reveals that those piers are particularly robust, of a thickness that would seem to suggest something a bit closer to a bomb shelter or bunker then just any standard building.
Up top the old bridge deck is equally as robust, reinforced with what looks to be a rather generous helping of iron rebar. What looks to be fencing hanging down from its surface was just that, fencing that looks to have been strung along both sides of the trestle to keep people and materials from the passing trains from falling off onto the ground below.
That fencing was strung along only this part of the bridge, which crosses an old roadway barely discernible below. This pathway once connected the “E” shaft’s rock house to its massive hoist house found just behind where this photo was taken. Originally this area was also home to coal yards for the nearby boiler house, served by a short branch spur from the trestle.
Here’s a map of the area in question, bridge No.55 outlined in yellow. The old roadway runs just to the left of the building marked “E” hoist, though that structure is actually the old hoist building. The building marked “new” on the map is where the shaft’s actual hoist was located. The trestle itself is anchored on both ends by earth abutments, the one on the north (top) end extending for several hundred feet. At the south end the rail line has to actually meet up with a raised roadway which already existed at the site, a road to the small worker community of Seeberville.
This is the Champion trestle on that southern end, as the earth rises to meet up with the adjacent roadway. There is no formal concrete abutment here as you would expect, instead just this shortened pier.
At the other end of the trestle we find something a bit more odd. Here between the concrete piers we find these towering wood cribs, structures that rise up to meet the bridge deck up above. It looks like these were added to help support the trestle above, though I don’t know why they would be needed just here. Considering how close this structure is to the neighboring hoist house, it might be possible that these are some type of makeshift damper, to help soften the vibrations from trains passing overhead to mitigate their effect on the hoist building.
Here’s one last look at the number 55 bridge in all its glory, at least as much as can be seen in the shadow of the overgrowth. Even today its a rather impressive structure, though it does leave quite a bit to be desired in the aesthetics department. Of course if it was any prettier and it may have been scrapped long ago. At least this way we know no one is going to take the trouble to remove this thing. It looks like its here to stay for a while.