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.
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.
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….