HCTCRails and Roads

A Trolley Ride (p6)

The Lake Linden Branch was first proposed by the Houghton Country Street Railway Company in 1901, used as a bargaining chip in its attempt to acquire franchise rights through Laurium’s public thoroughfares. The ploy worked, but the line itself wouldn’t come to fruition for another two years. By then Torch Lake had become home to over 5000 people, with over a half dozen mills and smelters lining its deep waters. Though separated by four miles of steep terrain, those mill communities and metropolis atop the hill were connected by the mines that managed both. With the arrival of the street railway they would also become physically connected.

Photo courtesy Superiorland Library Cooperative, Andrew C. Curto Collection

Our trip on the Lake Linden branch begins at the Lake Linden Junction, a wye of tracks found just outside the Laurium suburb of Florida.  As we leave the junction our car heads eastward through vacant woodlands and fields atop a hillside known by various names, depending on which way you were headed. The noise and smoke from the mines fade away and for a moment we are once again traveling along another of the  railway’s interurban sections.  Soon, however,  our car swerves southward and up alongside another set of tracks. These are the tracks of the C&H Railroad, and for several miles we run alongside them, so close that the passage of a ore train rattles our car. After a few miles we turn away from those tracks and take our own route to the north-east. We lurch slightly as the motorman switches off the motors and allows the car to roll through an upcoming switch. This is one of two turn-outs found along the branch, places where opposing cars can safely pass. This particular turn-out is known as Hill Switch, and while not usually a stop is famous for a particular scenic wonder found nearby.

Photo courtesy Superiorland Library Cooperative, Andrew C. Curto Collection

Turns out this turn-out sits within a half-mile of the impressive Houghton-Douglass Falls, one of the region’s most iconic waterfalls. During the summer months cars make an extra stop here to let sight-seers disembark and take the adjacent half mile trail to the falls site.

Hill Switch is apply named, considering from there the line begins its long descent down the Keweenaw’s rugged ridge towards the sparkling lake below. The grade is steep and for most of the journey the motorman keeps the engine off while he uses the air brakes to control the car’s descent. After a mile he applies the brake fully, as we enter yet another turn-out along the line. Here the line crosses the country road (now the highway) which is also making its way down to the lake. We stop here because of a few customers who are waiting along the line, residents of the neighboring community of Henwood heading down to Lake Linden for the day.

We now start down the hill, for the steepest part of our journey.  Ahead of us the village of Lake Linden can be seen sprawled out along the lake, the towering stacks of the Gregorie sawmill and the C&H mills looming large above it. Our car follows the country road for a short time before we find ourselves dropping down in a narrow gorge and the neighboring road disappears from view.  We are approaching one of the first crossings the street railway will have along this branch of the line, a crossing which happens to be the most unique along the entire line – slipping underneath a bridge carrying the Copper Range Railroad.

As we cruise through the gorge a large concrete wall slides past our window and for a moment we pass under a large shadow. Unlike all the rest of the crossings we have made on our journey thus far, this is the first time the street car has passed under another railroad. That shadow belonged to a small trestle which crosses over our heads, carrying the main line of the Copper Range Railroad on its way northward towards Calumet. While unique in our travels thus far, this will become rather commonplace by the time we reach the end of the line. A total of four of these underpasses are scattered along the Lake Linden line, with not an overhead trestle to be found.

While the trestle we just crossed under was impressive enough, there was still another impressive crossing just ahead.

While our previous crossing was with a common carrier – Copper Range – this one ahead lies under a private railroad, one belonging to C&H. This is a much later addition to the landscape, the railway built in the 1920s to connect C&H’s newly acquired mine properties to the north with its expanding empire. By that time the street railway was already in place, and it was C&H that had to build a crossing over the trolley line -resulting in the tunnel seen above.

The tunnel is built of concrete, its roof shaped into a graceful smooth arch. A single track ran through its center, the trolley line suspended down from the arch’s apex.

The trolley line is of course gone today, but the insulators that once supported it are still embedded into the concrete roof. One of those insulators can be seen above.

While the insulators carried the trolley wire through the tunnel, there was also the high-voltage three-phase lines to take care of. Those lines were carried by insulators supported from these brackets, the lines being strung along the tunnel’s south side.

The tunnel is a tight squeeze for our street car, but we pass through it quickly and continue on our way. After a short distance the car exits from the trees and lays its wheels on a paved surface street for the first time in awhile. We had arrived to Lake Linden.

To Be Continued….

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  1. This series keeps getting better and better. Excellent work! I was amused and gratified to see the reference to the proper name of the Houghton-Douglass Falls. Calling it that on Pasty Cam always brought several outraged comments that it is named the Douglas Houghton Falls. Perhaps some will read this and see the proper name. The County used to have a sign and pull off there in the ’60s, after the sign was removed, the name morphed. Since the Falls are on private property, they’ve been posted for decades. Can’t blame the owners or their insurance company, lot’s of opportunities to fall and an adit at the base of the falls.

    1. On Topo maps, the falls are listed *only* as “Houghton Falls”. Is Douglass actually part of the name, or was it tacked on later?

    2. The Houghton-Douglass name came from a time when the local powers-that-be chose to honor both Douglas Houghton (who already had a lot of things named after him) and C. C. Douglass who was an early mover and shaker in the Copper Country. C. C. Douglass was active in both local government and mine management, but having not met his demise in the icy waters of Lake Superior, is not as well remembered in the 21st century. As you can see here, the Houghton-Douglass name was used in the boom years and was posted as such by the county until c. 1970. With the loss of the sign, the loss of people old enough to know better, and the closing of the area to public access, Mr. Douglass has been largely forgotten and the easy assumption made that the Douglass referred to Houghton’s first name, Douglas, and not an entirely different person. Thus, an older person such as me, who saw the sign and had numerous relatives who lived in the CC and used the name, has been met with more than a little skepticism when using the “old” name.
      As to the topo maps, who knows? But in short, Douglass was not added later, he was forgotten and dropped later.

  2. I’ve always wondered where that arched bridge is! I’ve seen pictures, but always thought it was down near Boston. Cool stuff! And great ghostly imagery as well!

    I noticed in the picture, there’s a third rail set very close to the left one. Since the trolley was powered by an overhead wire, and this wasn’t a freight line where dual-gauge track may have been necessary, what is this used for? Was it installed as some kind of a safety device, as extra rails are on bridges?

    1. A third rail was often used along the inside rail of a sharp radius curve. This was a guard rail to keep cars from going all the way over should the flanges climb the outside rail and derail. These guard rails were common on interurban/streetcar lines and narrow gauge lines where sharp curves were common. Not so much on standard gauge “steam” lines with broader curves and super-elevation.

    2. Thanks Paul, makes sense. Those curves must’ve been sharp if they felt worried that the cars might jump the tracks

  3. Thanks for this most interesting trolley ride. Between your excellent maps and Google Earth, you can really get a sense of the route of travel and how important the line was to residents before the “automobile age.”

  4. I like the arch bridge. We need a current picture to compare to the hill top view labeled “View of Lake Linen”.

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