Story: Opening of the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena

From the Alpena Tribune, December 12, 1883

Gen. R. A. Alger and Hon. John S Newberry, owners of the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena railroad, A. N. Henry, the attorney of the road, C. H. Ellis, chief engineer, and W. G. Henry made a tour of inspection of the road Saturday, accompanied by representatives of the Free Press and [Alpena] Tribune. The party left Detroit Friday night by the 11:30 train on the Mackinac Division of the Michigan Central. General Supertindent C. C. Brown having placed his private car at the disposal of the party. After breakfasting at West Bay City, they proceeded to Alger, the junction with the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena, situated about three-quarters of a mile beyond Wells. At Bay City they were joined by Milo Eastmasn, superintendent of the road and a number of newspaper men and citizens of Bay City and Saginaw.

A box and flat car carried the party from Alger to the Rifle River, two and one-half miles distant, where a transfer was made to the regular train in waiting across the river. The day coach of the road was sent up Friday but had not yet been put upon the narrow gauge tracks. It will be ready next week and will be used to carry passengers at the end of the line until the bridge aross the Rifle is completed.

J. M. Eastman, an old newspaper man of the Saginaw Valley, now Master of Transportation of this road, joined the party here and formed a valuable aid to the newspaper fraternity, being an encyclopedia of information concerning the region through which the road passes. Dinner was taken at Au Sable, and the return trip commenced, the special train reaching Bay City in time to attach the private car on the regular Mackinac train, reaching Detroit at 10:15 o'clock Saturday night.

A trip from Detroit to Au Sable and return within twenty-four hours is an achieeent in strong contrast with the previous order of things when it took twelve hours to reach that point from Bay City, staging from Standish.

The people of Tawas and Oscoda turned out en masse to witness the arrival of the first passenger train to their town. The event was a great one to them and came unhearalded, as the managers of the enterprise had not planned this trip until Friday, the day of the start. A large crowd from those towns, however, took a ride to Rifle river with the inspection party, the train being run back afterwards ready for regular trips which commence Monday.

The line of the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena, now completeded from Alger to Au Sable, is forty-seven and a half miles in length besides twelve miles of branches and seven miles of siding. It has a gauge of three feet two inches, the same as the old Prescott logging road (the Tawas & Bay County) which was utilized for part of the distance. The gauge of the old road was determined by the first engine used on it, which was first bought and the road then fitted to its tracks. This engine has now been dismounted, and the boiler will be utilized to run a pile driver.

The entire road has been built, and that part of the old Prescott line which is utilized, entirely overhauled since June, yet the road-bed is in excellent condition. It was finished as the construction proceeded, so that every mile built should be in condition for use, if the work was stopped at any point by cold weather. The track will remain in good condition until the ground thaws in the spring when it is anticipated that nothing further will be needed except to give it a surface, which will be done by section gangs. A good test of the condition of the road is a ride over it in the cars which are used, which are standard size, placed on narrow trucks. Though wide, the cars rock but little.

The present equipment of the road consists of four engines, two logging, one passenger and one mogul, a combination baggage, express and mail car, a smoker, a day coach, a sleeper, four box cars, forty-nine standard flat cars and 100 four-wheeled logging cars. There are coming next week another engine, four box cars and sixteen flats, all eight-foot decks by thirty-four feet long.

Alger, the southwestern terminus of the line, is forty miles from Bay City. There is yet no city to be seen. Side tracks are being put in, and the Central road will erect a turn-table and a two-story passenger house, with accomodations for meals, and will move its tank and other station fittings from Wells. The stations, counting from Alger, with the distances between, are as follows:

  • Moffet (at Rifle River) two and one-half miles.
  • Prescott, four and one-fourth
  • Mills, four and one-fourth
  • Whitemore, three
  • Charton, four and one-half
  • McIver, three and one-half
  • Hale, two
  • Tawas City, five and one-half
  • East Tawas, one and one-half,
  • Bristol, three
  • Au Sable, ten

It will be seen that the new stations are all named after prominent lumbermen and land owners along the line. As yet there are no depots on the road, but the work of building them will be commenced immediately. About a half mile of grading and track-laying is still to be done to bring the road into Au Sable and Oscoda. Free buses now run from the terminus into the city. If the weather keeps sufficiently open the gap will be closed this winter.

Passengers will be transferred by a tote road across the Rifle river until the bridge is finished, which will be about the middle of December. This bridge will be seventy-six feet above low watermark - the highest railroad bridge in Michigan. Its total length will be 986 feet with two-truss spans of 100 and 150 feet, combination of wood and iron. The rest of the length consists of trestle work, with twelve 8x8 posts in each bent. It will have a strength of two tons to the foot, sufficient for any standard gauge road.

The trusses will be put in by Reith Bridge Company of Toledo. The trestle work is being done by A. J. Dubois, of Detroit. It will contain half a million foot of timber and will cost in round numbers $30,000. The timber is all while pine, which grew on the banks of the Rifle river, was rafted to Detroit, sawed in this city, by Moffet, Eatherly & Co. and shipped back to the Rifle. Viewing the bridge from the wagon road below, it bears a striking resemblance though on a smaller scale, to the great Portage bridge, at Hornellsville, N.Y.

Next in importance to the crossing of the Rifle is the bridge across the Au Gres. This is also a trestle and truss bridge, is 42 feet above the bed of the river and is 1,100 feet long. There is a heavy grade at the northern approach to the bridge which will be taken out. Here is about the only point where any considerable grading had to be done.

There is an extensive belt of hard wood timber which the road passed through beyond the Au Gres, which will develop into a sutible farming section. Whitemore station is in the center of this belt has already become an important supply point. But the chief business interest which lies along the road is lumbering. There is at a low estimate 500,000,000 feet of pine tributary to the road, besides what may be brought into that relation by branches. There has already been about 400,000,000 feet shipped over the line. Last season they took out of the east branch of the Au Gres alone and forwarded about 42,000,000 feet. The first camp after Alger is that of Moffat, Eathely & Co. of Detroit. Their timber is all long pine and goes into the Rifle river. Barney Mills, of Purt Huron, owns from 75,000,000 to 100,000,000 on Mansfield Creek, which will mostly over this road.

C. H. Prescott, of Bay City, the former owner of the Tawas & Bay County road, owns 30,000,000 to 45,000,000 feet of pine, which is contracted to go over this road to Tawas, 10,000,000 a year.

The Keystone Salt & Lumber Company of Bay City, have almost a year's cutting, which the road will carry. Heretofore, this pine had gone into the main stream of the Au Gres.

Henry W. Sage owns the largest amount of pine in this section. His product has gone, hereto, into the Au Gres and Rifle rivers. The road will do considerable hauling for him.

W. F. Whitney, of Cincinnati, O., has about two years' cutting on the line of this road. The old road has hauled for him the past three years. Hill mill is situated at the Au Gres Point, at a town called Whitney.

The Saginaw Salt and Lumber Company own a large tract tributory to the road. A branch runs into their pine. Large amounts have been put by them the past season into the East Branch of the Au Gres, hoisted by a steam engine, loaded on the cars and shipped to Tawas.

Jerome & Williams, of Saginaw, handles a large amount of timber in the same way. Emery Bros., of East Tawas, own considerable pine on the line of the road, and also put into the Au Gres. There are other firms operating on this road. J. and T. Charlton, of Lyndock, Ont. owns a tract of long timber on the line of the road, on which they have been cutting five years. They have about 5,000,000 feet left. Beside the timber, shingle mills are operated along the line by Baily & Thompson, John Arn, James McIver and Wm Mills.

There are three extensive saw mills at Tawas City, operated by Sylvester Hale, Alexander McBain and C. H. Prescott. At East Tawas are located the large mills of the East Tawas Salt and Lumber Company, owned by Geo. P. Smith of Detroit, H. B. Smith of Bay City, and H. N Loud, of Oscoda; W. N. Locck's circular mill, Emerry Bros.' mills, and the pumping works of the Oscoda Salt and Bring Supply Company, who pump brine to Oscoda, thirteen miles distant, through Wyckoff pipes.

Between East Tawas and Tawas City is located a prosperous grist mill, run by a Mr. Inglesh. Oscoda and Au Sable, which are practically one city of about 7,000 inhabinets, though operated under two charters, have the following extensive mills: Pack & Woods with an annual cut of 50,000,000 feet; Moore & Fanner, 15,000,000; Gratwick, Smith & Fryer, 30,000,000; Oscoda Sale and Lumber Company, 15,000,000; J. E. Potts Lumber Company, 28,000,000; John C. Gram of Au Sable Lumber Company, 30,000,000; T. F. Thompson & Co., 18,000,000. Pack & Woods, Gratwisk Smith & Fryer, the Oscoda Salt and Lumber Company and J. E. Ptts also operrate extensive salt blocks.

The history of the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena under its present management is about as follows: In July, 1882, the Tawas & Bay County road was bought by G. P. Smith, R. A. Alger and .M. S. Smith, G. P Smith asking one-fourth interest and the other two gentlemen three-eights each. The road by them improved and operated until December last when Gen. Alger and Mr. Newbeery bought the road, taking equal interests. Last June they commenced building the road, and subsequently extended it to Oscoda and Alger.

The larger share of this work has been done within the past two months.  Neither Mr. Newberry nor Gen. Alger own any pine on the line of the road, their interests being farther north. No bonds have been issued or shares sold, neither has it been built to sell or speculation in stocks. They have taken pride in putting in a fully equipped road, and will operate it as an independent road, but connecting with the Michigan Central. The Western Union will immediately put up a telegraph line along the route.

Probably a new road was never better finshed or smoother than this The ties are standard size. It is laid with fifty pound rails, and the rolling stock, with the exception of the locomotives, are of standard size, so that in event of a change to standard gauge, cars could all be placed on broad trucks, and new locomities would be the only required change in the equipment. The road will be open for traffic Monday, and trains will, connect both ways with the north and south bound trains on the Michigan Central which pass each other at Wells at about 3:00 p.m.

In regard to an extension, nothing is yet decided, though a route will be looked over along the west side of Hubbard Lake, tapping the 550,000,000 feet of pine owned by Alger, Smith & Co. in Alcona County, and looking to Alpena north terminus. This would enable Alger, Smith & Co. to make up their rafts forty miles nearer Detroit than Black River, their present rafting point, and to a safe harbor. It is a hard county to build through and all will depend on the amount of aid Alpena people are willing to furnish.

Another possibility is the way of extension is that the line will be built along the shore to Black river, utilizing twelve miles of logging road belonging to Alger, Smith & Co., already build, and thence to Alpena. This also will depend upon the citizens of the latter city. - Free Press