CC Top TenRails and Roads

Top 10 Railroad Remains of the Copper Empire

Its time once again for yet another installment of CCE’s Copper Country Top 10 list. With yesterday’s post detailing a few old railroad remnants found at the Quincy Mine, I thought it would be good to take a look at a few other great old railroad remnants to be found across the old Copper Empire. For today’s list I considered the most impressive, iconic, and awe inspiring railroad remnants CCE has explored. This is by far not a definitive list to all the Copper Empire has to offer, as there are a great many more to be found scattered across the old copper mining landscape. These are just my own personal favorite.


10. C&H No.3

Not only is this old locomotive a relic from the Copper Empire’s own past, thanks to the Houghton County Historical Society it is also fully operational. It serves as a tourist train hauling kids and kids at heart around a short narrow gauge loop of track complete with its own trestle. It’s known as a tank engine, and arrived to the Copper Country in 1915 to haul copper, slag and other materials across the C&H smelter and mill site.  After serving the mills for many years the engine was shipped southward to Ripley where it was put on display at the Arcadian Copper Mine. It would later make the journey back up to its former playground – the C&H mills site – to be beautifully refurbished and put back into the working order it enjoys today.

The C&H No.3 can be viewed – and ridden – on most weekends during the summer and fall months. It resides at the Houghton County Historical Society’s museum campus in Lake Linden. Follow M26 south from Lake Linden, the office will be on the left just past the Lake Linden Park.


9. Q&TL Water Tank

Once the Copper Country was inundated with these water tanks, places where locomotives could refill their emptied water tanks. Today only this one one remains, a rustic little wood structure that looks like something you would find in an old western. This tower served the Quincy & Torch Lake Railroad, its bulk sitting up alongside the railroad’s main locomotive house at the Quincy Mine. Though the spout used to fill passing locomotives is now gone, the water tank itself still remains safely tucked inside.

The Quincy and Torch Lake Water tank sits right alongside the Quincy Roundhouse just north of Hancock. From Hancock take US41 north out of town making a right onto the first road past the scenic overlook (Kowsit Lats Road). When the road forks make a left onto Roundhouse Road, down which the locomotive house can be seen. The water tank will be just past it snuggled up against the hillside.


8. Keweenaw Central Locomotive

Originally known as the Chicago and Northwestern #175, this monster steam engine was later appropriated by the short lived Keweenaw Central tourist railroad. The scenic railroad once took passengers on a journey along the Trap Rock Valley, riding the still intact rails of the Copper Range Railroad. When those tracks were removed, the railroad no longer had a route to run and was shut down. Its equipment was brought down to the Quincy Smelter and placed in storage within a train shed. That shed has since collapsed, leaving the old locomotive exposed and accessible for all to view.

The old locomotive sits just outside the Quincy Smelter complex in Ripley. From  Hancock follow M26 east out of town towards Lake Linden. After about a half mile the road will make a large curve to the left near a large white house on the side of the road. Turn to the right and follow the road to its end. The locomotive will be sitting just down the old railroad grade off to the left, just behind a fence surrounding the property. 


7. Q&TL Locomotive House

There are amazingly more then a few old locomotive houses still standing in the Keweenaw, but only one that has not been converted into other uses. That one is the handsome masonry structure seen above, a building that served the Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad for nearly half a century. While an impressive ruin on its own, the building’s inclusion on this list has to do more with its currant and future state then the one seen above. Today its been wonderfully restored, now complete with roof, windows, and new locomotive doors on its front facade. In time the building will be used as a railroad museum, the old locomotive stalls inside showcasing some of the area’s best railroad remnants including the monster No.6 Q&TL engine (currently parked outside of the building) and its tender.

The Quincy and Torch Lake Roundhouse sits right along Roundhouse Road just north of Hancock. From Hancock take US41 north out of town making a right onto the first road past the scenic overlook (Kowsit Lats Road). When the road forks make a left onto Roundhouse Road. The building is on the left a short distance up the road.


6. C&H Snowplow

Speaking of great railroad remnants, this bright orange mechanical monster has got to be the most beautiful. This is a Russell Snowplow, basically a large plow on wheels. It would have been pushed by a steam engine along the tracks to clear them after a heavy snowfall. This one served the C&H Mine, though at one time almost every railroad in the Keweenaw had one or two of their own.

The Russell Snow Plow sits on a short section of rails along Red Jacket Road in the industrial corridor of Calumet. From along US41 turn onto Red Jacket Road at the blinking light. The snow plow will be on the left, half way down the road.


5. Hungarian Trestle

This towering concrete pillar once held aloft tracks belonging to the Copper Range Railroad, carrying trains across the dark depths of the Hungarian Gorge. After three quarters of a century of use the old trestle was scrapped along with the railroad that utilized it, leaving behind just these towering concrete pillars. After several decades of abandonment, those pillars were put to use once again – this time to support a new bridge carrying a snowmobile trail across the rugged gap.

The Hungarian Gorge stands just to the west of Tamarack City. From Hancock take M26 north out of town for 8 miles until you reach Tamarack City. Turn left onto 6th Street just past the Ahmeek Ruins. After a short distance the road will split – take the left branch up the hill. When you arrive to a yellow gate on the left side of the road, stop. The trail to the trestle is the next trail up from the gate, on the left.


4. Interurban Tunnel

Though it once travelled for nearly a hundred miles across the peninsula, the old interurban railroad which once served the cities and communities of the region has largely vanished from the landscape. One of the few physical remains – but easily the most impressive – of the old electric trolley system can be seen above. This concrete lined tunnel allowed the interurban cars to pass under the C&H railroad unimpeded and most importantly safely. Along its roof can still be found the old insulators which once supported the electrified trolley line used to power the trolley cars passing underneath.

This underpass sits along the old C&H Railroad right of way, just north of Lake Linden. It can be viewed by taking the snowmobile trail north from the trestle crossing M26 just west of the village – going up the hill towards Calumet. 


3. Q&TL No.1 and No.5

After the closure the Quincy Mine, the last three remaining engines of the Q&TL were loaded back into the locomotive house and forgotten. Thirty years later the decaying engines waiting inside were removed. Two were transported across the old mine site and put on display in front of the massive No.2 hoist house – where they continue to sit still today. Though not in working order any longer, the two locomotives have been wonderfully restored to appear just as they would have a century ago. Its an impressive display of steam era engineering, and a great glimpse into the sprawling railroad empire that once existed here.

These locomotives sit on display just north of the Quincy No.2 hoist house. From Hancock follow US41 north until just past the No.2 rock house. Take the first road on the right – Lower Pewabic Road – and follow it a short distance. You will see the locomotives sitting off to the right. 


2. Copper Range Cut

This was one of my earliest encounters with the sprawling railroad empire which once existed here, it was also one of the most impressive. Its still an awe-inspiring experience to walk between these two soaring concrete walls deep in the forest. This was man’s definitive statement against a natural world desperate to assert its power. Here man is the definite power, his engineering prowess holding back not only the forest but the earth itself to insure his trains could pass. Simple incredible.

The Copper Range Cut sits along the snowmobile trail running between Hancock and Lake Linden.  It sits just behind the old Quincy Mill  remains north of Mason along M26. From Hancock follow M26 towards Lake Linden for six miles until you pass Mason. Just before the mill there is a old rocky road heading up into the woods to the left – at the end of which can be found the snowmobile trail and the cut. 


1. Firesteel Trestles

These trio of soaring iron trestles once served the Copper Range railroad, carrying its trains across the series of wide and deep valleys cradling the many branches of the Firesteel River. These are incredibly impressive pieces of engineering, especially when viewed from down in the valley floors themselves. Due mostly to their extreme remoteness deep in the rugged hills of Ontonagon County, these iron monsters escaped the scrappers torch and lived to serve a new role carrying snowmobile and ATV traffic across the string of rivers. This is the definitive must-see site of the old Copper Empire, at least when it comes to remains of its equally impressive railroad infrastructure.

The Firesteel trestles sit along the main snowmobile trail running between Mass City and Houghton, just north of Lake Mine. From Houghton follow M26 south about 30 miles until arriving to the M38 interchange. Take a left onto M38 and follow it into Lake Mine until arriving at the snowmobile trail crossing the road. The trestles will be about 2/3 of a mile up that trail to the north (to the left).

Want to See More?

Be sure to check out CCE’s Copper Country Field Guide on the subject, which details all the great railroad ruins and remnants one can find scattered across the old Copper Empire, complete with descriptions, histories, and detailed maps.

No.6 – Copper Country Rails

Ride the rails across one of the midwest’s densest and most encompassing rail networks that once served the great Copper Empire. Explore over 64 railroad remnants scattered across the peninsula, fully illustrated with over 15 detailed rail maps. (109 pages, 5.5″x8.5″, 15MB)

BUY: $5.00 Digital Download

BUY: $15.99 Paperback

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