Story: Receivership of the Potts Logging Company - 1891

A view of Michigan's largest lumber operation and its railroad.

The Potts Lumber Company was one of Michigan's largest logging companies during the pine era from about 1880 until 1891. The company had saw mill facilities in Au Sable on the shore of Lake Huron and at "Potts" in northeast Oscoda County on the Au Sable River. The company was owned by J.E. Potts, formerly from Ontario who lived in Au Sable and later Detroit. In the early 1880's Potts brought on another partner - identified as J. Tindale - and the company became the J. E. Potts Salt and Lumber Company.

Around 1886, Potts built a narrow gauge railroad - the Potts Logging Railway Co. - from Potts to forest locations in northern Oscoda County and another branch line southwest looping around Mio to Lupton. During this period, newspapers estimated the population of Au Sable and Oscoda at about 8,000 residents, and the village of Potts at about 700 souls.

The railroad would bring logs into Potts (located on the Au Sable river), where they would be floated down to mills at Au Sable. At first, the Potts railway was about 50 miles long and land-locked. From Oscoda, supplies and woodsmen were brought up the river and logs were sent down the river for milling. Barges - some owned by Potts and others hired - brought finished lumber to markets as far away as Chicago and into Canada.

The Potts operation was one of the most well equipped logging companies in Michigan. As the amount of pine seemed inexhaustible, the company took on more debt to create these facilities and to connect Potts and the railroad directly with mills in Au Sable (this was in about 1886). The company began having financial troubles in 1886, mostly blamed on the cost of extending the railroad to Lake Huron. The company failed on November 27, 1890 and was placed into receivership by creditors. The receivers ordered a sale of the owned land and other assets, including the Potts Logging railroad, as well as much of the contents of the towns of Au Sable and Potts. Note: By this time, Potts had moved to Detroit, no longer living full time in Au Sable.

It was noted in newspapers of that era that Potts attempted to remove the railroad from the receivership, but testimony from D. Tisdale, his partner, indicated that this had never happened. It is noted that D. Tisdale became one of the receivers appointed by the court to dispose of the Potts company.

The Sale of Assets - A fascinating look at the company and railroad

In February, 1891, in various advertisements in newspapers around the state, the receivers at the direction of the court, announced they were prepared to receive offers for the property, including the railroad. The offer was broken down into fifteen "parcels", Parcel 1-8 being land and in some cases farm buildings.

Parcel 9-15 covered the railroad and mills and give a fascinating description of what would be, at the time, the largest logging operation in Michigan.

Parcel 9 [The Railroad]

The railway (including the road bed as it is), the rolling stock and equipment of the same, described generally as follows: Gauge of railway 3 feet. The main line extends from Au Sable to the Village of Potts, in Oscoda County, Michigan, about 38 miles with branches North and South of about 50 miles more without including sidings and short spurs. In all there is in use steel rails about 1,915 tons of 30 pound rail, 500 tons of 35 pound rail, 3,430 tons of 40 pound rail, or a total of 5,845 tons.

Where settlements rendered fencing necessary, substantial wire fences have been constructed. Substantial bridges have also been erected, including two across the Au Sable River. Numerous sidings with necessary switch stands, frogs, etc., have been put in sufficient to accommodate large traffic. A telephone line has been constructed between Au Sable and Potts, and also over the whole system North of the Au Sable River. On the main line, coal platforms and frost proof water tanks have been built. At Potts a round house with nine pits, steam heated with water pipes and hydrants and roofed with iron has been erected.

There is also [in Au Sable?] a turn table in yard connecting with round house; also a machine shop, car shop, coach house for passenger train, oil house, paint shop, supply office, store house, car repair shop, foundry, blacksmith shop, coke and coal house and pattern room, train despatchers office, etc.

In the shops there is a large quantity of valuable machinery with shafting and pulleys and all necessary tools and implements to maintain, repair and keep in order the railway rolling stock and equipment. The motive power is supplied by a large engine. The round house and machine shop are lighted by electric light.

The waterworks are supplied with a large Worthington duplex force pump.

The rolling stock is composed of:

  • 9 twenty-eight ton Mogul locomotives, constructed especially for the Company by the Brooks Locomotive Works, on Dunkirk, N.Y.
  • 1 twenty-six ton Mogul locomotive, second-hand Brooks manufacture.
  • 1 eighteen ton locomotive, passenger, 2nd hand; H. K. Porter, manufacturer.
  • 4 twenty-eight ton geared or Shay engines, built by Lima Machine Works.
  • 1 twenty-ton geared or Shay engine, built by Lima Machine Works.
  • 3 fifteen-ton geared or Shay engines, built by Lima Machine Works.
  • 1 first-class plush upholstered passenger coach
  • 1 second-class perforated wooden seat coach.
  • 1 combination baggage and express car.
  • 1 baggage car, 5 box cars, 263 Russel logging cars, 9 coal cars, 7 flat cars, 1 snow plow on car, 2 water tanks on cars, 9 hand cars, 1 sand dryer, and 2 snow scrapers and flangers.

Parcel 10.

[In Au Sable]. The steam circular and gang saw mill, lath mill, salt block, cooper shop, machine shop, blacksmith shop, brick office, large frame barn, 7 lake and river docks and 1 land tram for piling lumber. Sheds for storing salt, etc., and all lighted by electricity. Situated at Au Sable, Iosco County, Michigan. This parcel also will include about fifty acres of land containing channels and bayous with water storage capacity for about 1,500,000 feet of logs.

Receivers note that "this is probably the largest and one of the best appointed establishments for the manufacture of lumber and salt in the State of Michigan".

Parcel 11.

[In Au Sable]. One large frame manager's house, 1 1/2 stores high, and also seven 1 1/2 story frame cottages, and 15 1-story frame cottages, conveniently situated for employees of the mill or residents of the city, and adjoining last mentioned parcel. Tenders will be received for these separately, with sufficient land for the accommodation of the occupants.

Parcel 12

[In Potts]. A large new frame circular saw mill with two new shingle machines fitted with all modern improvements, situated at the Village of Potts, Oscoda County, Michigan; also 1 large shed for storing shingles. Ample yard and piling room, as may be agreed upon, will be conveyed with this parcel.

Parcel 13.

A number of buildings conveniently situated for using in connection with Parcel 9 (the railroad), consisting of 1 large frame store with offices, 1 log warehouse, frame warehouses, 1 baggage room, 1 large frame barn and stable, 1 log barn, 1 large hay shed, 1 harness store room, 2 large ice houses, 1 large cook camp with root house and cellar convenient, 3 buildings for men's sleeping apartments, and 3 log dwelling houses. these are offered jointly with parcel 9 or separately.

Parcel 14.

[In Potts]. Eight frame houses, lathed and plastered; 1 of them two stories high, remainder one story high. 6 frame houses, double boarded and papered, one story high. 1 frame harness shop, 1 building used as a jail. These buildings and shop are conveniently situated for employees and others at the Village of Potts, and are offered separately, with sufficient land attached.

Parcel 15.

  • Fifty span of large and valuable draught horses.
  • 50 hogs.
  • 5 full sets blacksmith's tools, complete.
  • 14 wagons and buggies of different descriptions.
  • 3 large office safes.
  • A large quantity of office furniture.
  • 80 sets of harnesses.
  • A large quantity of harness and horse furnishings and appliances.
  • A large quantity of mill supplies.
  • About 15,000 pounds of chain.
  • A large quantity of lumbermen's supplies and camp equipage.
  • A lot of lumbermen's tools and implement.
  • 32 cook and box stoves.
  • 200 lengths o stove pipe.
  • 15 canvas tents; quilts, sheets, pillows, pillow cases, mattresses, bed steads, bed springs, bed ticks, towels, blankets, and a large quantity of other miscellaneous articles.

Tenders (offers) will be received by the Receivers until the 1st of May, 1891, for all parcels which will be opened at 10 o'clock a.m., on the 1st of May; in the presence of all parties tendering at the office of the Receives.

Tenders to be for cash or one-third cash, and the balance upon such terms and security as the Court may approve.

For any further particulars or information apply to: D. Tisdale, H. A. Harmon, Receivers, 58 Buhl Block, Detroit, Mich. 


The railroad was purchased separately by H. M. Loud & Sons, another Oscoda based logging firm. They used the railroad to support logging operations of their own forest properties in the region (prior to the end of receivership). It appears that Loud also purchased most of the other assets as well and took over operations. The Village of Potts was renamed "McKinley" (after the U. S. president) and continued to support logging operations until they ended. McKinley is now a ghost town and difficult to find.

In 1900, a fire wiped out the railroad facilities in McKinley. By then, the railroad had replaced the Au Sable River as a way to bring logs from McKinley to Au Sable and Oscoda. Former Potts properties around McKinley had been "logged over" so Loud moved railroad operations to Comins, twelve miles north on a new branch of the railroad going towards Montmorency County. The town of McKinley was abandoned and by 1920 the site was completely gone.

Potts died in 1909 at age 70.

[Some information provided by the "Code Family History".]

 Editor's Note: While researching the Potts Lumber Company, I came across an article from the Alpena Argus in 1887 which told a front page story about a man named "Potts" in Alpena. It is unknown if this is the same "Potts" who owned the lumber company, or  relative, or may have no connection at all. There were other "Potts" in the area at the time, including the Alcona County Sheriff. But this story is so bizarre, I decided to add it to the bottom of this story and I hope you enjoy it...

[From the Alpena Argus, Alpena, Michigan May 11, 1887]


Potts' Dental Experience

Mr. Potts has suffered a great deal from a toothache, and one day he went around to the office of Dr. Slugg, the dentist, to have the offending tooth pulled. The doctor has a very large practice, and in order to economize his strength, he invented a machine for pulling teeth. He constructed a series of cranks and levers fixed to a movable span, and operating a pair of forceps by means of a leather belt, which was connected with the shafting of a machine shop in the street back of the house. The doctor experimented with it several times on nails firmly inserted in a board, and it works wonderfully.

The first patient he tried it on was Mr. Potts. When the forceps had been clasped upon Potts, Dr. Slugg geared the machine and opened the valve. It was never known with any degree of exactness whether the doctor pulled the valve too far open or whether the engine was working at the moment under extraordinary pressure.

But in the twinkling of an eye, Mr. Potts was twisted out of the chair and begin to execute the most surprising maneuvers around the room. It would jerk Mr. Potts high in the air, and souse him down in an appalling manner, with one leg among Slugg's gouges and other instruments of torture and with the other in the spittoon. Then it would rear him up against the chandelier three or four times, and shy across and drive Potts head through the oil portrait of Slugg's father over the mantle place.

After bumping him against Slugg's ancestor it would twirl Potts around among the crockery on the wash stand and dance him up and down in an exciting manner over the stove, until finally the molar gave, and as Potts landed with his foot through the pier-glass and his elbow on the pink poodle worked in a green rug, the machine dashed violently against Dr. Slugg and tried to seize his legs with the forceps.

When they carried Potts home he discovered that Slugg had pulled the wrong tooth; and Dr. Slugg never sent to collect his bill. He canceled his contract with the man who owned the planning mill; and began to pull teeth in the old way, by hand.

Mr. Potts, a day or two later, resolved to take the aching tooth out himself. He had heard that a tooth could be removed suddenly and without much pain by tying a string around it, fixing the string to a bullet and firing the bullet from a gun. So he got some string and fastened it to the tooth and to a ball, rammed the bullet into his gun and aimed the gun out the window.

Then he began to feel nervous about it, and he cocked the gun about 20 times, as his mind changed in regard to the operation. The last time the gun was cocked he resolved not to take the tooth out in that way, and he began to let the hammer down preparatory to cutting the string. But the hammer slipped, and in the next minute Mr. Potts' tooth was flying through the air at the rate of 50 miles a minute, and he was rolling over the floor howling and spitting blood.

After Mrs. Potts had picked him up and given him water with which to wash out his mouth, he went down to the front window. While he was sitting there thinking that maybe it was all for the best, he saw some men coming carrying a body on stretcher. He asked what was the matter, and they told him that Bill Dingus had been murdered by somebody.

Mr. Potts thought he would put on his hat and go down to the coroner's office and see what the tragedy was.

When he got there Mr. Dingus had revived somewhat, and he told his story to the coroner. He was trimming a tree in Butterwick's garden, when he suddenly heard the explosion of a gun, and the next minute the bullet struck him in the thigh and he fell to the ground. He said he couldn't imagine who did it. Then the doctor examined the wound and found a string hanging from it, and a large bullet suspended upon the string.

When he pulled his string it would not move, and he said that it must be tied to some other missile still in the flesh. He said it was most extraordinary case on record, the medical books reported nothing of the kind.

Then the doctor gave Mr. Dingus chloroform and proceeded to cut into him with a knife to find the other end of the string; while he was at work, Mr. Potts began to feel sick at his stomach, and to experience a desire to go home

At last the doctor cut deep enough, and giving the string a jerk, out came a molar tooth that looked as if it had been aching. Then the doctor said the case was more extraordinary than he thought. The doctor said that the tooth could not have been fired from a gun because it would have broken to pieces. It couldn't have been swallowed by Dingus and then broke through and buried itself in the thigh, for then how could the string and ball be accounted for?""

"The occurrence is totally unaccountable upon any reasonable theory," said the doctor, "and I do not know what to believe, unless we are to conceive that the tooth and ball are really meteoric stones that have assumed these remarkable shapes and been shot down upon the earth with such force as to penetrate Mr. Dingus leg, and this is so very improbable that we can hardly accept it unless it is impossible to find any other". Halo!

What's the matter with you Potts! Your mouth and shirt are all stained with blood. "Oh, nothing," said Potts forgetting himself, "I've just lost a tooth and"...

"You lost and who pulled it?" asked the doctor"

"Gentlemen," said Potts, "the fact is, I shot it out with my gun."

Then they put Potts under bail for attempted assassination, and Dingus said that as soon as he got well he would bang Mr. Potts with a club.

Source: Alpena Argus Newspaper [AAN-1887-0511]



The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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