By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor
Name a steam powered narrow gauge that can field a 12-car train of predominantly wood passenger cars, some dating from the 1800s, that isn’t the Durango & Silverton or the White Pass & Yukon. Give up? It’s the Huckleberry outside of Flint, Michigan.
This unheralded operation is run by the Genessee County Parks Department in conjunction with the Crossroads historic village of imported vintage buildings.
The railroad is a 4-mile portion of the former Pere Marquette branch from McGrew, north of Flint, to Fostoria. After the 1975 abandonment the county took over the portion of the line within its parkland along the Mott Lake reservoir. The railroad and Crossroads village started operations in 1976.
Turn loops were added add to both ends of the line. A shop building and adjacent storage building were constructed. The Grand Trunk Western depot from Davison, Michigan became the entrance to the village.
I visited on what was apparently the last day of school. The parking lot and overflow lot were full, and school buses had deposited 1600 kids on the property. Hourly 13-car trains were hauling them in 450-passenger groups. This was more than I had expected.
My seat in the 1880’s-vintage Coahuila Y Zacatecas caboose #0776 at the rear of the train gave a good view of the track, which was in excellent shape, well ballasted and smooth. We passed over a few surviving standard gauge ties, but most had been replaced and cut to the correct narrow-gauge length. The ride is not point-to-point. Trains traverse both loops of the dog bone non-stop before returning to the depot.
Although steam was scheduled to be operating, Denver & Rio Grande 2-8-2 #464 (Baldwin 1903) had come up lame and was over the drop pit.
Alaska Railroad 4-6-0 #152 (Baldwin 1920) is in the midst of an overhaul, so National Tube Works center cab 50-tonner #7 (GE 1952) was hauling the big train.
The size and pedigree of the passenger car roster was a surprise, and well worth listing here.
The other seven passenger cars include a replica open platform coach built by the Huckleberry in 1996 and six freight cars converted into open air cars.
There is one more coach that is a real rarity and doesn’t run in regular service. Coach #8 was built in 1875 by the Kimball Car Company for the Northwestern Pacific. In 1906 it went to the Nevada California & Oregon. Eventually it was used as a hunting lodge and later a residence. The Huckleberry has largely restored it.
The village has attractions well worth seeing, including a water powered grist mill and this steam powered saw mill.
Back to the train itself. It was 13 cars long.