Fred Seitz and the New York Central Railroad (Lansing Division)

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Notch 8
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Fred Seitz and the New York Central Railroad (Lansing Division)

Post by Notch 8 » Wed Jul 05, 2017 5:21 pm

Fred Seitz had reason to feel thoroughly satisfied on that warm and sunny Saturday, the 11th of October 1930. The New York Central Railroad's Lansing Division and the Central itself were his life. He directed the movement of trains and men over the 400 miles of the NYC's Lansing Division scattered over southern Michigan and a bit of Indiana. It all was his responsibility, and even though the Great Depression was deepening, Fred Seitz had a deep sense of pride and satisfaction from his work at the dispatcher's desk in Hillsdale.

The Lansing Division's tracks had come down directly from the proud era of the gone-but-not-forgotten Lake Shore & Michigan Southern - more familiarly known as the Lake Shore. The eight single-track branches eventually comprising the Lansing Division gradually accumulated over the years and were subsequently consolidated into a single division. The tracks in front of the two-story red brick superintendent's building at Hillsdale, were Fred had his office as well, were those of the "Old Road", and they belonged to the Toledo Division of the Central which, until this year of 1930, had been the Michigan Division with its own entity. The Old Road and the Lansing Division together made up a railroad network that covered the little towns and villages of southern Michigan with a steel web. Every important community from Monroe on Lake Erie west to the St. Joseph River was served by the network. Spokes reached north to the railroad shops and factories in Jackson, and to Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Lansing. A solitary line dropped south into Indiana for important interchange business at Fort Wayne. The focal point, the hub of the web, was at Hillsdale, just outside Seitz's office window. The small city was quieting down late on that Saturday afternoon from its usual role as the commercial center of Hillsdale County and a lot of southern Michigan. The smell of burning leaves, the yellow haze of late autumn, and the slowly setting sun could be found in any number of small Michigan communities on that October day. But only in Hillsdale would you fund the center of railroading in southern Michigan. And Fred Henry Seitz ran it all.

Just west of the superintendent's building was the passenger station. With its high windows and wide roof overhang the 50-year old building already looked a bit old-fashioned. The locomotives in the yard and out on the road, light-duty K-class Pacifics and H-class Mikados, were no longer young but still worked dependably. Fast passenger trains and long freight trains to distant points bypassed the Lansing Division for more important places; since the opening of the arrow-straight Air Line between Toledo and Elkhart, Hillsdale had become a backwater of the great New York Central system. What was left were the towns - Hillsdale and Sturgis and Allegan and Clinton and a hundred others large and small - that still depended on men like Seitz and the railroad for their produce and merchandise and commodities and for much of their personal transportation.

3:05 P.M. It was delightfully but unseasonably warm that Indian summer afternoon; the second shift was starting. The railroad was settling down for the Sabbath. Some parts of the steel web had already ended their week. On the Goshen & Michigan Branch a solitary mixed train started its lonely trip down from Battle Creek each morning except Sunday, through Joppa and Sonoma and Athens, backed around a wye to the sturdy brick and stone depot at Sturgis, then headed out to Shipshewana and Middlebury, over Williams Marsh, and down into Indiana to Goshen. Each afternoon it made its trip back. Before 3pm it was already north of Findley and headed for Battle Creek over Michigan Central rails. Henry Mecklenberg, the ticket agent at Sturgis, didn't sell many tickets for that run any more.

On the Fayette Branch the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday mixed train was just arriving back at Adrian for the weekend. Straight as a shot, that branch was all that was left of the Canada Southern's grand plan to build a Niagara Falls-Chicago fast line. Mile Post 25, on the west side of the depot at Fayette, Ohio, was the end of the dream.

On the Dundee Branch another mixed train was just now moving to Michigan Central responsibility at Moscow, headed for home at Marshall. The Dundee was another leftover. Originally it was a scheme to connect Lake Michigan with central Ohio, backed by the Pennsylvania. The Vanderbilts eventually got hold of it and when it went into another bankruptcy they reorganized it as the impressive-sounding Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee. It was parceled out, half to the Lansing Division and half to the Michigan Central, the dividing point at that remote-sounding place named Moscow. By 1930 business was scarce on the Dundee Branch.

3:35 P.M. Across the tracks from the office at Hillsdale was P. J. Callahan's 643-car yard. One yard engine shuffled cars fro No. 96, the way freight from Elkhart, and from No. 95, the three-days-a-week from Toledo, and from No. 73, the local from Fort Wayne. Some empty box cars for F. W. Stock to load grain. A car of coal for Corlett & Sons. A pair of cars of live stock, probably from Litchfield, waiting to move east on the Saturday stock extra. A tank car for Standard Oil. Then a move past the office to the freight house to place some cars from the locals. The dock crew would fall to work to transfer crates and boxes for the Toledo merchandise car to leave that night. LCL [less-than-carload] traffic was still offered.

3:55 P.M. The Ypsilanti Branch mixed train, No. 53, eased around the long curve east of Hillsdale, whistled for Wolcott Street, and soon wheezed to a stop in front of the passenger station to discharge its few riders. Still owned by and leased from the Detroit, Hillsdale & Southwestern (the DH&S started at Ypsilanti; "southwestern" was four miles west of Hillsdale at Bankers), the branch at one time scheduled two passenger trains each way every day. And they made close connections for Detroit at the Ypsilanti Union Depot with the Michigan Central. The line arced gracefully to the north of the Irish Hills, past the gravel pits at Somerset Center, through the wheat fields around Brooklyn and Bridgewater and Saline. Carloadings swelled during harvest time. Operations were easygoing the rest of the year.

4:15 P.M. The Monroe Branch was where it all began for the Michigan Southern. Nearly a hundred years earlier the State of Michigan had proposed building a "rail road" that would start from Monroe and shoot straight across the state to New Buffalo. AFter some fits and starts, governmental red tape, and general mishandling by the contractor, the line inched west from Monroe. By the fall of 1843, after five years of work, it finally reached Hillsdale. The state threw in the towel and eventually sold the whole works to the Michigan Southern - with the requirement that they practically rebuild the entire line.

The Lansing Division inherited the Monroe Branch when the Michigan Division passed from the scene. Two passenger trains each way daily except Sunday, and a local freight still traversed the line. True to its senior position, the passenger trains were numbered 1 through 4.

Number 3, handled by a gas-electric motor car, was pausing at Lenawee Junction on its last run of the week to Adrian. The doodlebug was allowed to run 60 mph on the branch, but the slow run down the middle of First Street in Monroe from the Michigan Central depot to the site of the original Michigan Southern station at Harrison Street, together with stops at hamlets such as Sission and Wellsville and Strasburg, reduced that impressive speed to an average of only 30 mph. But, just the same, it probably was quicker than a Ford or Studebaker over the back roads.

4:30 P.M. Along with the Monroe Branch, the Grand Rapids Branch was a newcomer to the Lansing Division. A 94.5-mile line that took off from the Old Road at White Pigeon, it reached north to two very important cities for the old Michigan Southern, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, deep in the heart of the territory of its competitors. Those same competitors were the woe of getting a train over the road. Five crossings with interlocking towers were sprinkled along it: VE at Three Rivers, CF at Schoolcraft, BO at Kalamazoo, JN at Plainwell, and Lamar southwest of Grand Rapids. Somehow two passenger trains each way, a way freight each way between Kalamazoo and Elkhart, another pair of way freights between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and a symbol freight each way overnight between Grand Rapids and Elkhart all managed to travel the Grand Rapids Branch. In fact, these two were the only symbol freights left on the entire Lansing Division.
When agent Ray Monroe said "Good night" from the large wooden depot at Allegan where he had spent the greater part of his railroading career, No. 20 was already at Dorr heading for Grand Raids, and No. 21 was at Three Rivers on its way to Elkhart. The four local freights were at their terminals. The agents at Otsego and Plainwell and Portage and Moorepark (spelled as a single word) had gone for the night., The rest of the agencies soon would be closing. Only one train, GRK-1, due from Grand Rapids at 7 that evening, remained to run on the entire route. Between 6am and 5pm six trains might be on the rails at a given time. The other thirteen hours were tranquil.
5:00 P.M. Number 20 soon would be arriving at Grand Rapids; its mate had just arrived at White Pigeon to be turned over to the Old Road to complete its trip to Elkhart. On the Lansing Branch, from the ticket office at Lansing came a request to clear No. 66 for departure. It was the last of the through freight trains still operating on the Lansing Branch, and was scheduled out of Lansing at 5pm each weeknight to run to Hillsdale. Usually it came back as No. 67 by 5 the next morning. On Saturdays it ran only to Hillsdale, stayed there for 24 hours, and returned early Monday morning.
Ahead of No. 66 was No. 44, the last remaining passenger train on the Lansing Branch. It had left Springport only minutes earlier and agent Glen Deal was ready to close his office for the weekend. A doodlebug now handled the Lansing passenger run, leaving Hillsdale each weekday morning at 8:25 to make a 2-hour 5-minute trip to Lansing, returning in the afternoon. Only a few months earlier two round trips were made each day.
But traffic was getting thin along the Lansing Branch. Passenger stops at Eaton Rapids, Albion and Homer had already been transferred to the Michigan Central depots in those places. Plans were being made to discontinue the separate depot along the river in Lansing and to move over to the Michigan Central or Union depot there. Although a telephone line had been run up the branch for the train dispatcher's use, all other business was still handled by telegraph. Passenger trains could still hit 50 miles per hour according to the timetable, but little money was being spent to keep up the division's namesake branch.
6:00 P.M. The bell of the Catholic church rang the hour. The sun was stretching the shadows of the trees. The yard engine stopped for a supper hour. One station, then another, reported the temperature and weather for recording on the dispatcher's train sheet.
In its best tradition the Old Road was still busy. Sweeping curves, an authorized speed limit of 60, tall signal masts at RK interlocking at Sturgis, long straightaways through Cadmus and Vistula and in both directions from Ottawa Lake gave silent evidence of the importance of the Old Road. For five years, from 1852 when the Michigan Southern first reached Chicago, until 1857 when the Air Line between Toledo and Elkhart through northern Ohio and Indiana was finished, the Old Road was the only line connecting Chicago with the east. In fact, for a few years the Old Road was the principal rail route between the east and the opening west. At the turn of the century five passenger trains each way rolled over its tracks.
The Old Road still demanded the attention of its own train dispatcher. J. M. Cain, who had moved from Elkhart to Toledo when the Michigan Division was consoliated into the Toledo Division, handled the second shift spot.
Six trains were out on the Old Road that October afternoon. Number 647, the accomodation was making its 4 1/2-hour trek from Toledo to Elkhart, and had just departed from Sylvania.
Number 614, half finished with its run from Chicago to Toledo, had just left Bristol. Two afternoon way freights, No. 97 and No. 98 were at bronson, one doing some switching and the other having supper. The Saturday livestock extra was rolling past Allen. This Lansing branch doodlebug would come into view momentarily at Hillsdale.
What made the Old Road a challenge was not the through trains, although there were enough of them. Nearly every train that ran on the Lansing Branch also came onto the Old Road at some point to get to or from its terminal. Jackson Branch passenger trains ran into Toledo from Lenawee Junction. Fayette and Monroe Branch trains as well as Jackson Branch freights came into Adrian. Lansing Branch trains used it from Jonesville to Hillsdale; six Fort Wayne Branch trains from Fort Wayne Junction to Hillsdale. Grand Rapids Branch trains, eight of them in all, rode the Old Road between Elkhart and White Pigeon. (To facilitate that operation there was an automatic block signal system in service from White Pigeon west).
Old times still pointed with pride to the Old Road. It was only nine miles longer than the Air Line between Toledo and Elkhart. The speed limit was 60 mph; the Air Line was only ten faster. And when a calamity struck the Air Line, such as a wreck or major derailment, mainline traffic flowed over the Old Road. Even though it could not equal the two-and-a-half-hours running time of the Air Line, the three-hours-and-some-minutes pace of the Old Road could keep traffic flowing.
More than once the Twentieth Century Limited, the Commodore Vanderbilt, and the Lake Short Limited had graced its rails. Manifest freight trains, such as LS-1 and NY-4 and NY-8 and XN-2, might barely fit into its passing tracks, but they did keep moving. It might tax train dispatchers' ingenuity and the cumbersome manual block system but it was done in a proud tradition. The Old Road could hold the two ends of the mighty New York Central together. Certainly it would be done again.
6:50 P.M. Two short passenger trains were standing in front of the Hillsdale station. The first had arrived ten minutes earlier and soon would back away from the depot past the roundhouse, then moving ahead would turn gently toward the south and move off for Fort Wayne. The second had just backed up to the depot, having made the run up from Fort Wayne, and in another five minutes would start off on the remaining 29 miles into Jackson. Twice each day this scene was reenacted with punctual grace, at 8:10 in the morning and 6:50 in the evening.
This complication came about because the original promoters of the Fort Wayne, Jackson & Saginaw did not see fit to build into Hillsdale. They simply crossed the Old Road at Fort Wayne Junction to the west of Hillsdale and headed due south for Indiana. There mistake was soon apparent. Trains began to use the Old Road into Hillsdale, back out to the west wye beyond the roundhouse, and then on to another line down to Bankers where the Fort Wayne Branch was regained. Northbound trains reversed this routine. To add to the confusion, the Old Road passing track of the Toledo Division in front of the Hillsdale depot was also the Lansing Division main track into the station. With some care on everyone's part the awkward situation was a reasonable solution. The Bankers-Fort Wayne Junction tracks were used only infrequently.
The Fort Wayne Branch was the busiest line under Freed Seitz's supervision. Two morning and two later afternoon passenger trains ran between Jackson and Fort Wayne. Mid-day a doodlebug made a four-hour round trip from Fort Wayne up to Hillsdale and back again. Numbers 72 and 73, local freight trains in each direction switched their way between Hillsdale and Fort Wayne. Just before nine each morning No. 77 headed out of Hillsdale to work its way up to Jackson and then return as No. 78. There was a night freight between Hillsdale and Fort Wayne.
Most of the stations on the branch had two shifts on duty to cover the passenger train service. As NO. 50 would pass down the line toward Fort Wayne, stations would report "Good night" and shut down until Sunday evening - Reading, Montgomery, Fremont, Angola, Pleasant Lake, and finally Auburn.
7:15 P.M. Fort Wayne, the southernmost point on the Lansing Division, came on the line asking for a clearance for No. 75 to leave. It was the night Fort Wayne-Hillsdale freight, a through run that did some switching at Waterloo to hand off cars to the Air Line and a bit of it at some other points along the line. It would be in Hillsdale before one in the morning.
7:55 P.M. On the Jackson Branch No. 34, headed for Toledo, was swinging along the curves of the River Raisin and would soon come to the charming village of Clinton. From there it would continue along the Raisin, swing around Ford's Mill pond and on to a city street in Tecumseh to make another stop, then across the Dundee Branch at Tecumseh Junction with its worn depot, climb out of the river valley south of Suttons, cross the new automatic interlocking with the Wabash at Raisin Center, pause briefly on the sweeping curve at the brick depot at Lenawee Junction before entering the Old Road for a fast run into Toledo. There its riders from Jackson and Grand Raids and Kalamazoo could board the all-Pullman Commodore Vanderbilt for New York; others could wait at the dreary station for less impressive destinations.
Only 42.5 miles from Lenawee Junction to the Michigan Central depot at Jackson, the Jackson Branch was a fast line. Passenger trains were allowed 60 mph. But the branch had plenty of municipal speed restrictions: Tecumseh, Clinton, Manchester and Norvell all slowed down the trains to nearly a walk. Three passengers ran each way between Jackson and Toledo. Freight operations were much simpler. A local, No. 57, came out of Adrian each morning for Jackson and returned as No. 56 each afternoon. Another local, No. 61, started earlier out of Adrian every day for Tecumseh, switched the town, and then ambled back as No. 62. There were rarely more than two trains at a time out on the road to be dealt with, but distances were short and the track was fast.
8:25 P.M. Seitz was concentrating his attention to only four trains on his division. Number 75 was in the passing siding at Auburn; the headlight of No. 50 glowed brightly as it approached the waiting train from the north. GRK-1 was somewhere around Hilliards. Number 66 was ambling southbound out of Eaton Rapids.
The Old Road was busier. Number 34 would stop at the ample brick and stone depot at Lenawee Junction in two minutes and then step off smartly for Toledo. Number 647 was slowing for a stop at Quincy's old depot. Number 98, the Hillsdale-bound way freight, was waiting there for the passenger train. The livestock extra was at Adrian and, with only one more stop, would get to air Line Junction yard in Toledo well ahead of schedule.
Number 614 was standing in front of Seitz' office window. Behind the slim Pacific-class engine the clerks of the Railway Post Office car were grabbing up sacks of letters. Railway Express was being loaded into the baggage car. A few people stood watching friends getting seats in the coach. The white-jacketed porter of the New York sleeping car at the rear of the train stood on the read platform with the flagman. The conductor watched for the passengers who had dashed down the platform into the Pie House.
S. C. Rowlson opened the Pie House back in the 1880's. When the present passenger station was built at the same time, the abandoned lumber from the first depot probably went a hundred feet west to build the Pie House. It certainly looked older than it really was. And once open it siply stayed open - 24 hours a day - and went about its work of serving good will and good food to hungry employees and town residents and Hillsdale College students and fleet-of-foot passengers. Brakemen announced the culinary possibilities that awaited riders on their trains. The Pie House was a solid citizen serving its community.
9:15 P.M. The solitary telegrapher-ticket clerk in the gloomy wooden depot at the foot of Tecumseh Street at Adrian waited for No. 614, the day's last train. Only three tickets sold and none for the New York Pullman. How long had it been since he sold a ticket for that 21-hour ride? The Toledo stock train had gone; the locals were in; the yard engine finished. Only one passenger train left before a century-long accumulation of tradition would handle the night shift.
At one time Adrian was an important place on the Michigan Southern. An 8-stall roundhouse, a yard, a car repair shop, division offices. The first railroad built in Michigan, Erie & Kalamazoo, ended at Adrian. Its first locomotive, a small wood burner, the "Adrian". Now only the past could tell of this importance.
10:15 P.M. Nearly every train was off the Lansing Division. Number 66 was just out of Homer on its way to tie up for the night at Hillsdale. GRK-1 probably was taking on water at Otsego and would get finally into Elkhart in the middle of the night. Number 75 on the Fort Wayne Branch was near Steubenville headed hurriedly for Hillsdale with only a stop for water at Pleasant lake and a car to pick up at Fremont to delay it. Nothing else.
On the Old Road No. 92, the night freight from Hillsdale to Toledo, was reported by Pittsford. Blissfield had reported number 614's departure for Toledo at 9:58 and had telegraphed its "Good night". Number 647 was at Bristol with only eight miles remaining to its terminal at Elkhart.
Few open stations - Fort Wayne, Adrian, Haires, Lenawee Junction - would be closing by 11 pm. Hillsdale and White Piegon would remain open through the night. With them would be the interlockings - B, RK,WB, VN, WX, OD, CX, CF, BO, A - and a few stations at junctions at the ends of branches. They would remain open to serve other trains on other lines.
Fred Seitz, in the waning minutes of his shift on the Saturday the 11th of October of 1930, had reason to be proud.

In October of 1930 the days of the Lansing Division were running out. The YUpsilanti, Lansing, and Grand Rapids branches would be handed over to the Michigan Central; what remained would be merged into the Toledo Division; and the dispatcher's desk at Hillsdale would be vacated. The Lansing Division passed from the scene in 1931, age 59 years.
F. H. Seitz retired in 1931, age 65, after 40 years of service with the railroad. The Pie House closed in 1934.

This was copy and pasted from the Michigan Railroad History website

Wayne Gest
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Re: Fred Seitz and the New York Central Railroad (Lansing Division)

Post by Wayne Gest » Wed Jul 05, 2017 11:14 pm

That was interesting reading. Every time I ever walked the Pufferbelly Trail between Dupont Road and Wallen Road, I always wondered just how much train traffic there was on the line, assuming that in the glory days of railroads, that it was a busy line. It was fun to read this and see how many trains they were running even in 1930.

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Re: Fred Seitz and the New York Central Railroad (Lansing Division)

Post by rrnut282 » Sat Jul 08, 2017 9:50 pm

Interesting to see what busy was in 1930. Have to wonder just how many revenue cars they handled. Might explain why most of these branches no longer exist.

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