HCTCRails and Roads

A Trolley Ride (p7)

Having made our way down the steep hillside our street car finally enters the village limits of Lake Linden, though at its far northern end. We roll past a few homes along 13th Street before making a right turn onto the village’s main thoroughfare – Calumet Ave. This street runs for over a mile through the village’s center, home to most of its public institutions and commercial buildings. Unlike the rest of the street railway’s city routes, there is only a single line running down the street providing no room for two-way travel. That’s not a problem, though, since only one street car prowls the village at one time.

As we make our way downtown we pass by the soaring spires of St. Joseph’s Church and the massive bulk of the village’s high school. While there is only one official stop along this route, passengers can get on or off the cars at any point along the way – just like they can in an other metropolitan area. Potential riders can flag down the car from the street, or passengers can alert the conductor that they wish to disembark at any time. When its safe to do so the motorman will stop the car to accommodate.

We next pass by the many shops and stores lining the villages wide main street. The towering stacks of the C&H Mills can be seen down at the end of the road , our destination for this morning. The last and only stop in the village is at the corner of First Street, which marks the end of the village’s limits and the start of C&H’s.

First street is also the site of the street railway’s only Lake Linden stop, at the road’s intersection with the village’s main thoroughfare. Today the intersection is rather empty, with only this small bank building taking up residence. A century ago, however, a solid line of commercial buildings stretched from here northward and this corner was still very much in the center of all the action. This was especially true considering that just behind here rose the massive hulks of the C&H mill buildings – the largest employer in the region.

It is now 9:25 in the morning and our car slows to a stop. It’s been an hour and ten minutes since we first boarded our street car in East Houghton our journey has taken us over 18 miles. As a group of passengers disembark there are now only a few people left in the car. Once the conductor calls all clear the car accelerates and we turn the corner, now heading westwards along First Street. From here the car starts its final leg, a mile length of track making its way to the C&H smelters front door. Unfortunately the line has to take a slightly odd route to get there.

Once again the spectre of C&H property rises its ugly head and the street car line makes another detour to avoid it. First up is a turn up First Street, taking the line to the north end of the mill property. The line would extend past the point of the photo above about a block further before turning back southward towards Hubbell.

Once west of the mill property the street railway can continue southward in relative seclusion, save for one last rather significant obstacle. Between Lake Linden and Hubbell stands the main line of the C&H railroad (outlined in yellow in the map above), connecting the mines at Calumet with their mills here at Torch Lake. While normally crossing such a line would involve another trestle to bring the street railway above the steam railroad, there was a slight problem with that solution here.

The line in question consisted of several parallel lines of tracks set atop a earthen berm some 25+ feet in height. This part of the line serviced the mill’s top floor rock bins, which required the tracks to be elevated high above the surrounding countryside. No trestle could cross this, so instead the street railway had to go under them – twice.

As we approach the trestle it looms large and intimidating above our heads. A line of rock cars are parked up top, most likely awaiting unloading at the mill down the way. Ahead of us is a concrete lined opening in the earthen berm holding the trestle up – a narrow passage our car now travels through. Its almost identical to the same tunnel one would pass through by car, further to the east along the state highway (an opening seen in the image above). We break into the light only momentarily as a second tunnel – this one crossing under a spur line – is immediately upon us. Once passing through this second tunnel, however, we are greeted with nothing but open skies.

For the final leg of our Lake Linden branch journey the railway runs not on the road, but alongside it. Here sits the expansive C&H coal dock, hidden behind a patch of woods to our left. The towering cranes that unload the coal from lake freighters, however, stand high above them. Beyond the coal dock sits the smelter itself, marked by a forest of its own, thought his one is made up of numerous tall brick chimneys, some spewing black smoke into the sky. The car slows to a stop in from the smelter’s main office, the downtown of Hubbell stretching out ahead of us.

For most of the street railway’s life this was the Lake Linden branch’s terminus, yet some maps show the one to continue forwards from here through Hubbell and onto Tamarack City. If that was ever the case it wasn’t during our ride, as the motorman proceeded to switch the car’s trolley poles for the return trip. He turned the car’s power off and then cranked the trolley pole above him up to meet the line. The passengers left in the car were instructed to stand as the conductor switched the seat backs to face the opposite direction. The motorman then moved to the rear of the car – which would now be the front – and proceeded to crank down the trolley pole at that end. After a minute he was finished and proceeded to turn the power back on and start up the motor. The car was now on its way, this time back the way it had come. It was now 9:30 in the morning, and our conductor once again collects our fare. This time we are headed to Mohawk, which means a ride back up the hill to Albion Junction, at which point we’ll board a Mohawk bound train. We pay our  fare yet again, and we are off.

To Be Continued..

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  1. C&H by the fact of being there first had the upper hand in any right of way dispute. The Traction Company, even if they wanted to take a straight line through C&H property, would be faced with enormous expenses. Legal to start with, then land, and finally whatever expense in moving or impeding any buildings and equipment. It just wasn’t worth it. By the physical nature of traction technology, it was far easier and cheaper to make a hard right at the next intersection and go around.
    Why end at Hubbell? Completing the line on through to Hancock was undoubtedly greatly desired. Tamarack City, Dollar Bay, Mason, Ripley – definite business opportunities. Trouble was the Houghton Co. Traction Company was up against a whole lot of physical and economic obstacles. There were the various mining companies, who, in the 1st decade of the 20th Century, weren’t real friendly to better public transportation. There were two common carrier steam railroads and the Q&TL. Then as they got closer to Hancock there were a bunch of industries to deal with. It would have been great if they could have pulled it off. As it was, if a person in Hubbell wanted to go to Hancock on the HCTC, they’d have to go up and over by way of Laurium.

  2. I have a copy of the first postcard..My Grandfather was pretty sure that was a village refuse wagon…Sadly I forget the name of the two horses that he mentioned.We like to think the two boys are my father and
    his brother about to return home on 8th street.

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