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Railroad History Story:  The Railroad That Went No Place

Michigan's Internet Railroad History Museum

 

The History of the

Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad

 

Reprinted from

 

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Part II


by William C. Pletz, Ann Arbor Train and Trolley Watchers (written in 1979)


 

ON May 1, 1905, following the traditional sale, there emerged from a series of bankruptcies, foreclosures and reorganizations going back many years a new railroad company -- the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railway Company, a name that has, in one form or another, survived to the present.  Incorporation of the new line took place in Michigan the following day.  The new company laid down no additional trackage but continued the program of upgrading the property started by the Detroit southern;  new 85-pound rail was placed and the shops at Jackson, Ohio, were built.  The company then owned or operated nearly 400 miles of main line and branches, 65.68 miles in Michigan and 331.22 miles in Ohio.

 

From June 1, 1905 until November 25, 1910 the DT&I and the Ann Arbor Railroad were operated under a single management through the purchase of 72% of Ann Arbor stock by the DT&I.  But as the result of the DT&I slipping into receivership on February 8, 1908, the stock in the Ann Arbor was sold at auction on November 25, 1910, and the Ann Arbor resumed life as an independent road.  Control of the Ann Arbor, however, had given the DT&I a Toledo entrance as well as a longer line haul for its traffic.

 

Sale of the Northern Division of the DT&I Railway - Delray, Michigan to Lima, Ohio - and the Southern Division from Bloom Junction to Ironton, Ohio, was held on June 28, 1913.  The Ohio Southern (or Middle) Division, the line from Lima to Rockwood in Lawrence County in Ohio, was sold on April 27, 1913, but the following March 2nd the above properties were gathered back into the fold of the DT&I, the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad having been organized in Delaware on February 21, 1914.  Under the new corporate title many improvements were started that included heavier rail, rebuilding of all trestles in Michigan and several in Ohio, new ballast and fences, and general renovation of many buildings.  Although no new construction was begun by the "new" DT&I, the road did acquire the 22.28 Toledo, Ann Arbor & Jackson interurban electric line that grew out of several schemes to connect Jackson and Ann arbor with Toledo and Detroit.  Only that portion of the Toledo-Detroit from West Toledo to a junction with the DT&I at Dundee was retained, although additional grading toward Ann Arbor had been completed.  The bridge supports of the line remain to this day, and can be seen on the east side of Platt Road south from Willis Road.  The introduction of the self-propelled McKeen motor cars on the paralleling Ann Arbor Railroad defeated the plans of the TAA&J to enter Ann Arbor.

 

Federal operation of all railroads following the nation's entry into the first World War lasted from the first of January, 1918 until March 20, 1920.  In common with nearly all railroads maintenance was kept to a minimum and the DT&I, like the others, emerged from this period much the worse for the wear and tear of wartime traffic.  A wholly-owned subsidiary, the Detroit & Ironton Railroad Company was incorporated on June 29, 1920 for the purpose of building a line from Flat Rock to Springwells (later Fordson and now Dearborn), Michigan, to handle the traffic from the Ford Motor Company's growing plant on the River Rouge.

 

Probably the best known era of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton began on July 10, 1920, when the Ford Motor Company purchased the company for about $5 million.  The DT&I was truly the "Darned, Tired and Irksome" as two and a quarter years of wartime neglect had undone much of what had been accomplished before governmental control.  For his part, Ford received over 300 miles of rundown main track and branch lines, 80 locomotives, 2,800 freight and a couple dozen passenger cars - most of this in anything but satisfactory condition.  Henry Ford himself assumed the president's chair in March, 1921, and made frequent trips over the road, often in the locomotive cab.

 

The Ford years, of course, are a book in themselves.  Ford literally poured capital into the line for a thorough modernization and upgrading to his personal high standards, a level that even today would be hard to equal.  The Ford acquisition marked the beginning of an era that was in complete contrast to the DT&I's first fifty years that saw operation of the railroad by a half dozen different companies and receivership four times.  Although direct Ford control ended in 1929, a close relationship between the railroad and the auto manufacturer still exists that sees a great percent of rail traffic in and out of the sprawling Rouge plant moving via the DT&I.

 

A few highlights of the Ford years are in order as southeastern Michigan figured chiefly in the scheme of things.  The temptation is great to mention Henry Ford's revolutionary ideas for running the railroad - ideas that met with less than endorsement from contemporary railroad officials on other lines.  But these ideas have been documented numerous times, although a thorough and accurate study of Ford's ownership has yet to be printed.

 

To improve access to the Rouge factory, on August 8, 1922, the Ford company began building the Dearborn branch but this work was later turned over to a private contractor who finished the 13.6 double-track line from the Rouge to D&I Junction (north of Van Born Road west of Allen Road) by October 1, 1923.  Additional construction followed late in 1924 when the 55.71 mile Durban-Malinta cut-off, built under the name of the Detroit & Ironton, was started.  This work also included a new classification yard at Flat Rock.  The cut-off which chose a direct route from a point east and slightly north of Dundee to Malinta, Ohio, replaced the circuitous route through Tecumseh, Adrian and Wauseon, with a nearly straight track (there is one curve) and includes an 8-mile long grade elevation to life DT&I trains over the former NYC Railroad and Wabash lines west of Delta, Ohio.

 

Electrification of the railroad from the Rouge to Carleton was programmed but only a portion of this was actually operated by traction.  (Ford did hold the grand idea, however, of extending the electric line all the way to Ironton on the Ohio River - and even beyond into Kentucky and eventually to link up with the electrified Virginian Railway.)  On June 1, 1925, trial runs were made with two articulated, motor-generator electric locomotives.  Numbered 500 and 501 with a D-D+D-D wheel arrangement, the articulated pair was designed by Ford engineers with Westinghouse electrical components.  Weighing 785,600 pounds, the units had a starting tractive force of 250,000 pounds, 2,200 vole AC current being converted to 600 volts DC for the traction motors.  Power for the line came from the Ford Highland Park plant and later some was generated at the Rouge works.  Top speed of the dark green and red giants was 43 m.p.h., and after several months of tests, they entered service between the Flat Rock Yard and the Rouge Plant early in 1926.

 

There seems little doubt that Ford envisioned considerable use of electric motive power and certainly pioneered the motor-generator concept that was adopted in later times, but disenchantment and frustrations caused him to abandon further electrification beyond the first 17 miles under the concrete arches.

 

During the decade of the 1920's Ford's other notable achievement, other than that of labor relations that brought DT&I wages generally higher than that of the industry, also saw the rebuilding of most, if not all, of the road's locomotives.  The use of weight-savings materials, highly polished boiler jackets, metal cabs, lighted footboards, and raised metal numbers and the company insignia replaced painted letters and numbers.  Cleanliness was required of all employees and heaven help anyone caught not exerting every effort in that direction!

 

Added to the roster were two Pullman-built gas-electric cars, numbers 35 and 36, designed in cooperation with Ford engineers.  The cars made extensive use of aluminum in their construction, and they replaced steam power on passenger trains No. 1 and 2 between Delray and Bainbridge beginning October 25, 1926.  Operated with three-man crews, schedules were cut from 11 hours to 9 1/2 hours each was for the 28-mile trip.  The cars later had their engines removed and were used as combine cars behind steam locomotives.

 

Ford's control of the DT&I ended June 27, 1929 when his company sold the railroad to Pennroad Corporation, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, for approximately $36 million, thus realizing a neat profit for the Ford company of $31 million.  During Ford control, the line was transformed from a streak of rust into an extremely efficient and profitable operation, the likes of which has or will seldom be seen in this country. By the end of 1929 permission to abandon the 17-mile Wellston branch was given by the ICC, brought about by the closing of many coal mines.  Earlier the following year the two-mile branch built by the Iron Railroad form Bartles to Dean had its tracks removed.  1930 also saw the demise of Ford's electrification plan when in March the big two-unit electric locomotive was scrapped and overhead wire taken down.  Many of the concrete arch supports for the wires were removed in 1947 to form rip--rap for the embankment at Mosquito Lake in southern Ohio.  Hover, many of the arches are still in place between the Rouge area to well beyond Flat Rock, a tribute of sorts to a man whose vision was far ahead of his time.

 

In May 1930 the 4.9 mile portion of the old main line from Durban to the NYC connection in that village was removed.  The Depression was beginning to make itself felt and further retrenchment continued on the railroad.  Permission was asked in November, 1931, to end all passenger service.  On December 23 of that year the Toledo-Detroit Railroad was merged with the DT&I, having been a wholly-owned subsidiary since its acquisition some 15 years previously.

 

JOINT CONTROL of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton was approved May 3, 1920 by the ICC and Pennroad sold 245,329 shares of DT&I stock to the Pennsylvania Company, a PRR investment subsidiary, and to the Wabash Railway, then itself under the control of the Pennsy.  The sale actually took place on February 28, 1931.

 

Although several diesel switchers had been purchased beginning soon after World War II, it wasn't until August 22, 1951 that the first regular diesel-powered road runs on the Northern Division began with EMD units 950 and 951 on train DC-8 from Springfield to Flat Rock, the same two units making the return run on DJ-1 the next day.  Additional diesels having the same two units making the return run on DJ-1 the next day.  Additional diesels having been delivered, units 952, 953, and 954 worked south from Springfield to Jackson on December 27th.  Some steam power held on for a few years more and it wasn't until Christmas Eve of 1954 that a Leipsic turn arrived at Flat Rock and steam operation  on the DT&I was at an end.  The advent of super-power locomotives in the late 1930's brought some of the handsomest 2-8-4s and, later, the 2-8-2s ever seen in this part of the nation.  All passenger service on the DT&I finally ended on May 8, 1954 when a mixed train from Springfield to made its last run.

 

March 3, 1958 saw abandonment of that portion of the Tecumseh Branch as it became following the completion of the Malinta cutoff, from Lear (originally Detroit Junction of the Detroit & Lima Northern days) to Page in favor of trackage rights over the Wabash, a distance of about nine miles.  Truly a case of history repeating itself.

 

Sale of the Wabash-controlled Ann Arbor Railroad was announced on February 27, 1961, pending approval by the ICC, making the second time that the "Annie" came under the control of the DT&I.  Approval was eventually granted and the sale became effective August 29, 1963.  Trackage rights were obtained fro the DT&I over the Ann Arbor from Diann (south of Dundee) into Toledo, a route of 19.8 miles, and that portion of the DT&I's Toledo Branch, the former Toledo-Detroit Railroad line between Petersburg Junction and Lambertville, was abandoned and removed effective December 23, 1965.

 

In 1966 work commenced on an estimated $4.5 million, three-year yard improvement project at Flat Rock that included a 36-track classification yard with semi-automatic retarders.  Operation over parallel Baltimore & Ohio trackage between Leipsic and South Cairo, Ohio, 20 3/4 miles north of Lima, began on February 14, 1966, and the DT&I also abandoned 17.33 miles of former Detroit & Lima Northern trackage in Michigan.  OnOctober 15, 1973 the Ann Arbor Railroad entered into reorganization proceedings under Section 77 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act as the result of action by the Pennsylvania Company, the principal stockholders of the DT&I, to whom the Ann Arbor owned a considerable amount of money from previous advances.  Thus, while the Ann Arbor was under the charge of a court-appointed trustee, the DT&I continued operating the Ann Arbor as a contractor.

 

That the Ann Arbor was a financial drain on the DT&I is undisputed.  However, the Pennsylvania Company, wanting to dispose of its railroad holdings, did not consider the Ann Arbor an asset to the DT&I's prospects.  Among the more important reasons for making continued operation of the Ann Arbor undesirable for its owners were (10 the high cost of the Lake Michigan car ferry operation, (2) a serious drain of traffic away from cross-lake routes by almost all other railroads, (3) increased car lengths, making the car ferries even more costly, (4) the Ann Arbor's unfavorable rate diversion structure, and (5) a lack of on-line traffic originating on the Ann Arbor.

 

EARLY IN 1975, as the result of proposals to restructure railroads in the Northeast to, in theory make them profitable, it was proposed along with many similar proposals that all DT&I trackage south of Lima be abandoned, and traffic diverted to other railroads whose plants were not being utilized to their capacity.  This radical proposal was allowed to die in the light of more enlightened studies and no one is known to mourn its death.

 

With the birth of Conrail and the recognized need for a health Northeastern rail system outside of the new giant, many companies found themselves suddenly expanded into relatively new, if not completely new, service territories.  Such was the case of the DT&I, for although it had established a through service with the Pennsylvania back in the 1950's that saw the black and orange units of the DT&I running into Cincinnati, almost overnight it had trackage rights over Conrail from Springfield to South Charleston, Ohio, into Cincinnati.  A first, two daily trains were scheduled, one to the Southern and one to the L&N.  Today, unit coal trains are operating in conjunction with the L&N that sees DT&I diesels in the heart of Kentucky.

 

Mid-1977 saw the independence of the DT&I threatened by a proposal by Norfolk & Western and the Chessie System to acquire the railroad.  The initial offer of $23,625,000 was immediately countered by the Grand Trunk Western, who also asked to purchase N&W's half interest in the Detroit & Toledo Shore Line.  On December 3, 1979 the ICC gave approval to GTW to buy the DT&I, confirming a court decision of July 23 favoring the purchase.  The ICC took the stand that the GTW proposal represented an End-to-end merger that would retain the competitive status of the Detroit-Cincinnati corridor.  The ICC order allowed the Grand Trunk Western six months to make final a sales agreement with the Pennsylvania Company, the majority stockholder of the DT&I.

 

Meanwhile, deteriorating trackage and insufficient business to warrant costly repairs brought about abandonment in May 1978 of the Wauseon-Tecumseh portion of the old D&LN main line.  N&W assumed operation of the Adrian-Tecumseh segment to serve a Fisher Body plant on the line, but south of Adrian the rails were lifted, although the industrial district at Wauseon generates sufficient business to warrant operating to that town from Malinta through Napoleon.

 

IN EARLY 1980 the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton continues hauling a substantial amount of automobile traffic in and out of the Detroit area as well as having a reasonably diversified general freight traffic.  business is sufficiently good as to require occasional leasing of motive power from other railroads to handle the business.  The 100-car unit coal trains are certainly a far cry from the diminutive 25-car Springfield, Jackson & Pomeroy narrow gauge trains that brought black diamonds from the rich mineral region around Jackson to a fuel-hungry Springfield, Ohio, just over a century ago.

 

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IN APPRECIATION

 

THE INSIDE TRACK is sincerely indebted to several persons whose contributions added much to this article.  For their research, knowledge and copy reading, thanks to C. L. Towle, Thomas VanDegrift, Thomas Dworman, F. W. Colburn, Ken Borg and Oliver Bathurst.  For the use of their photos, gratitude is due Thomas VanDegrift, John Bjorklund, Joe Lieblang of the DT&I, Fred C. Olds, and especially Kenneth Schramm for making available from his collection of photos from the Ford Archives of the Napoleon depot, a DT&I freight train and the electric locomotives.

 

 

 

Go to Back to Part I

 

All photos on this page are from the author's collection.

 

RRHX Editor's Note:  The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton became a part of the Grand Trunk Western, and later the CN and Indiana & Ohio in the 1980's/1990's.