By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor
During the first week of June your editor embarked on another of his railway preservation tours, this time to Michigan, plus Pullman on the south side of Chicago. This is the first in a series of reports. As always, it was inspiring to see preservationists doing good work–and more of it than you expected.
The Coopersville & Marne
The first stop was Coopersville, where the short line Coopersville & Marne runs tourist trains on 6 miles of the former Grand Trunk Western between its namesake towns. The railroad owns 14 miles in all, reaching Grand Rapids and hauls freight on the Marne-Grand Rapids part of the line.
In Coopersville, trains board at a tidy concrete platform and small depot built by the downtown redevelopment district.
Next to the track is a signal tower transported from Greenville, Michigan, where it guarded a GTW/Pere Marquette junction.
Despite being an all-volunteer operation with 52 members, the C&M is a for-profit corporation. It was incorporated in 1989 and began operations in 1990. 25,000 passengers are carried in a typical year. The train itself is pretty basic:
Lackawanna MU 1920 commuter coaches 4345 and 4445
Canadian National heavyweight coach 4974
Wabash heavyweight coach 1803
ex-Santa Fe steel caboose
The regular power is ex-GTW SW9 7014 (EMD 1952), backed up by Dupont Chemical 44-tonner 3049 (GE 1957). Regular excursions run on Wednesdays and Saturdays, supplemented by the usual special event trains.
On the roster but not operational is Canadian National 4-6-0 1395 (Montreal 1913).
The track is 10 mph Class 1 and, except in Marne, one long tangent. It mostly runs alongside I-96. Along the way the train passes under a large billboard, from which the railroad receives rent.
On the other side of the track is a power line, under which is the former right of way of the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon interurban, abandoned in 1928.
The shop is in Marne. There an affiliated non-profit, the West Michigan Society for Industrial Heritage is in the final stages of rebuilding a former Pennsy heavyweight sleeper into a handicap accessible car.
Coopersville Historical Society
In 1901 the aforementioned interurban built a pretty substantial depot/substation in Coopersville, a block from where the C&M loads. Now owned by the city, it’s a general purpose history museum which includes displays on the interurban.
Next to the depot is a shelter and under the shelter is the restored body of Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon interurban #8 Merlin (Barney & Smith 1902).
After abandonment in 1930, its body housed a diner and gas station. Later it was converted into a cabin. The historical society acquired it in 1990 and volunteers have been restoring it ever since. The exterior is pretty much complete. Work continues on the interior. The car has one original seat. The partition between the smoking and non-smoking sections is the latest project. The car sits on a pair of unpowered Chicago L car trucks acquired from Illinois Railway Museum. In this case, the brackets for the third rail shoes are appropriate, because the GRGH&M used third rail between towns.
Because the historical society volunteers are aging, the city is taking over operation of the museum.
That’s not the only interurban history in Coopersville. In 1990 the Coopersville & Marne saved the handsome stone-faced GRGH&M station from Spring Lake, moved it to town and restored it.
Pere Marquette 1223 Preservation Committee
This static railroad display is located in Grand Haven, a half hour west of Coopersville. It features Pere Marquette 2-8-4 1223 (Lima 1941), sister of 1225, operated by the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, which I visited the next day. The engine heads a short freight consist in a park.
Coupled to it are PM boxcar 72222, PM caboose A986 and Grand Trunk Western caboose 77915. Also displayed are a GTW concrete coaling tower from Grand Haven and a wigwag crossing signal.