Story: Blizzards, Trains and Lumberjacks - Life in the U.P. - 1900's

Edited from the Escanaba Daily Press, May 25, 1930 - By John Bellaire

Extreme cold weather and blinding snowstorms forced undo hardships upon the hard-working lumberjacks engaged in felling the pine in the Seney region in the eastern upper peninsula during the early days. There were no well-kept highways in those days as the idea of snow removal had not yet been thought of. 

In going from one camp to another, lumberjacks often followed a narrow logging train or else they just plunged into the trackless forest and made a bee-line to their destination. Many feet, hands and faces were frost-bitten in the woods when the thermometer registered sub-zero temperatures and often-times the lifeless forms of men who lost their way in blizzards were found days or weeks after death occurred.

Thomas Carr, who was working in a camp west of Seney, received word that his wife had given birth to twin girls. A most severe northwestern blizzard was raging at the time the letter arrived, but no persuasions or warning on the part of his fellow workers could stop Carr from attempting to make the trip from camp over swamps and through the forests to the home of his wife and babies.

He drew his time at camp and accompanied by another lumberjack, left camp the next morning to take the trip. In some way the two men lost their way and became separated in the blinding drifting snowstorm. Carr stumbled unto the track of the Manistique railroad south of Seney and remained on the track arriving at Germfask village early in the evening, almost exhausted. There he rested for a time and ate a good supper. The storm kept up and several residents wanted him to stay all night in the village and that he could make much better time in the daylight. Carr was determined and borrowed a pair of snowshoes and he started.

It appeared that he had made the trip by snowshoes through the woods to the edge of the clearing on the Chicago Lumber company farm, but there had removed the snowshoes and for a time used them to support and assist him in fighting his way through the snow to the house, which was located on the southwest side of the clearing about a half mile from the woods.

Died Near His Home

He apparently dropped the snowshoes and made the fence surrounding the dooryard, to the house, had climbed the fence and fell in the snow. There they found his hard, frozen body the next morning. It is thought he had became so exhausted, and in the blinding storm, did not know he was so near home, and sank down where he fell. When daylight came, his partly snow-covered body was seen from the house window.

The other man was never heard from but his remains were found two years later only a few rods west of the Manistique logging railroad track. Nothing was left but dry bones.

Train Stalled Almost a Week

One winter, a regular northwest blizzard started Monday morning and kept up until Thursday morning - a good full three days. The Manistique railway's mixed train left Grand Marais Monday morning for Seney. At Camp Seven hill, the train became stalled in the deep drifting snow. A member of the crew went to the nearest telephone box and called up Grand Marais for help.

Another locomotive and a snowplow was sent to help them. The relief train found the stuck train, taking on a load of freight, 35 passengers including one woman. The woman was the daughter of Saulson, a merchant of Grand Marais. The two trains made Seney late in the afternoon.

The next morning, the snowplow and other locomotives were put at the head of the train which consisted of several freight cars and the passenger coach and headed back northbound to Seney. The storm kept increasing in intensity, and upon reaching the top of Camp Seven hill, three miles north of Seney, the train stalled again and could go no further. It backed up to the Fox River railway bridge at the foot of the hill. After the fires in both engines were banked, the crew waited for morning, thinking the blizzard would be subsided.

In the passenger coach, the woman passenger was made as comfortable as possible. Sleep was out of question, however, so the men passed the long winter night, playing cards, telling stories and entertaining themselves until daylight.

The storm was still as bad as the night before. Now it had drifted as high as the top of the train. A high snow fence had been built on the west side of the hill but the snow was over the top of it. Out over the railroad track, the snow was 12 feet deep.

It was impossible to see far in any direction because of the swirling snow. There was nothing on the train to eat and by noon Tuesday, all passengers began to feel the pangs of hunger. A search was made for something to use to get over the snow drifts to get help and food. A pair of snowshoes was found on the tender of one of the locomotives. Lon Myers, one of the railway brakemen, a strong, tall fellow, volunteered to attempt to make the trip to Seney to get food for the marooned passengers.

The snow was soft, light and very hard travelling. He reached Seney late in the afternoon, extremely fatigued. He borrowed James Drysdale's large strong sleigh dogs and a toboggan. Drysdale kept the sleigh dogs for winter travel to the different lumber camps.

He was a good shoemaker and many of the old timers have worked many pairs of his famous shoes. Andrew Daly, the operator of one of the best stables in the village's boarding houses, filled up a large willow clothes basket with cooked food and two large jugs of hot coffee. Myers had time to get some rest while the food was being prepared, but started on the return trip as soon as he could.

Food Was Appreciated

It was late that night when he reached the snowbound train. Robert Burns, a traveling soap salesman from Grand Rapids who was a passenger on the stalled train, told afterword that food never tasted so good to him and the rest of the fellows at it did that night.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Myers again made trips to Seney for food. It was impossible to do anything during the storm, and the trainmen thought it best to stay near the river where they had plenty of water.

The storm ended on Thursday morning. Then the work began. The stalled train could not push itself through the deep snow, and the snowplow and both locomotives were on the front of the train, and they could not do more than back up as far into the snow as they could and then shovel. There were several shovels on the train and all men, who could, were put to work. The train would back until it could go no further for fear of leaving the rails, then pull up and shovel. In this way they worked back the three miles miles Seney. They reached the Seney station Friday afternoon, having been held prisoners in the snowbanks for almost five days.

The only other locomotive which the railroad had, and another snow plow, assisted by men equipped with shovels from several lumber camps, finally forced a passage through to Seney late Friday night. They all stayed in Seney that night, and made the trip to Grand Marias Saturday morning without any trouble. The train ran out of coal and on the last day they fired by cutting and carrying dry tamarack wood over the deep snow.

It was without a doubt the longest and most severe blizzard I ever saw in all my forty years in the upper peninsula. 

Stalled Log Train

C.E. Morse of the firm of Morse & Schneider of Seney operated a shingle mill at Camp Seven, north of Seney, in connection with the firm's retail store business. One winter, during a heavy snowstorm, the Manistique Lumbering company's log train became stalled in the deep drifting snow on the top of Camp Seven hill. It was there from late one afternoon until the next morning. The snow was so deep no one could travel without snow-shoes.

Morse told the cook at the shingle mill to make a jug of good hot coffee and food for the train crew. He then put on his snowshoes and went over the huge snowdrifts to the stalled train.

The train crew members had had nothing to eat or drink since leaving Seney the day before. They were so thankful for the hot coffee and food that they informed the company's main office of the kind act. As a result, an order was later issued from the headquarters to issue Mr. Morse an annual pass on the railway for the rest of his lifetime. [EDP-1930-0525]





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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