The Debate About Annpere - 1895

By Dale Berry, Editor, RRHX

In October of 1895, the Ann Arbor Railroad petitioned the Michigan Railroad Commission for permission to cross the Detroit, Lansing & Northern Railroad, east of Howell in Livingston County at a location now called Annpere. At the time - over 100 years ago -  the Commission was the final arbitrator of such issues and the Ann Arbor wanted permission to continue northward on its route which eventually reached Frankfort on the shore of Lake Michigan.  The Commission approved the Ann Arbor's request but with the usual expected conditions: 1) the crossing would be made "at grade"; 2) the Ann Arbor must install at their own expense a "1st class interlocking with derails and signals" as approved by the Michigan Railroad Commission; and 3) the cost of maintenance of the interlocker would be divided by the railroads according to the number of levers used in the interlocking tower by each railroad.

The crossing was installed shortly thereafter, along with an interlocking tower on the northeast quadrant, and a station on the southwest corner which sided on both the Ann Arbor and the DL&N. Since Annpere had no population, this depot was constructed for the purpose of interchanging passengers from one railroad to the other. After the turn of the century, the DL&N became one of the main lines of the Pere Marquette system and today continues to be a fairly busy single-track main line of the CSX Transportation.

Around August, 1907, the interlocking tower at AnnPere was destroyed by fire, prompting a rebuild by the Ann Arbor Railroad. The AA obtained permission from the Michigan Railroad Commission to quickly rebuild the interlocking and they proceeded immediately to do so. But the Ann Arbor Railroad, which some say was built on a shoe-string and had constant money problems throughout its existence, appeared to "cut corners". 

Upon completion of the replacement tower, Mr. Bice who was the Chief Inspecting Engineer for the Commission inspected the site and was alarmed by what he saw. The Ann Arbor had failed to electrically connect its approach signals (those signals which are located some distance from the interlocker in each direction and give approaching trains advanced notice of the crossing signals). Instead, the Ann Arbor set the semaphore signals at a fixed, horizontal position. Mr. Bice refused to approve start up of the rebuilt facility and the matter was appealed by the Ann Arbor to the full Commission itself.

The transcript of the testimony at the Commission was saved over the years in the State of Michigan Archives, and it provides an interesting look at the issues and concerns over railroad safety of the day. So that you understand the "cast of characters" more completely, I have listed them here:

  • Chairman - The chairman of the Commission who's name is not mentioned in the transcript.

  • Mr. Dickenson - a member of the Commission

  • Mr. Bice - the Chief Inspecting Engineer for the Commission

  • Mr. J. F. Deimling - Chief Engineer of the Pere Marquette Railroad Company

  • Mr. W. J. McWain, Signal Engineer for the Pere Marquette

  • Mr. Angus - representing the interests of the Ann Arbor Railroad, possibly an attorney

The proceeding in the matter of "the protection at the crossing of the tracks of the Pere Marquette and Ann Arbor Railroads at Annpere, Livingston County, Michigan", was held on November 19, 1908 in the City of Lansing. The following is a transcript of what took place:

Chairman: It appears the hearing this morning is in reference to the change in the reconstructed interlocker at Annpere. When the reconstruction was finished, the distant signals were stationary, and it appears further, under the proposed manner of operating, it is possible for the route to be taken away from a train in close proximity to the crossing. After the interlocker had been reconstructed and we were notified on September 16 that it was ready for inspection the Chief Inspecting Engineer, Mr. Bice, after having made an inspection, makes a suggestion, embodied in his report of November 11, 1908, which I will read to the gentlemen. I assume there is some objection to the recommendations of the Engineer, or the hearing would not be asked for. If there are any objections to the recommendations made by the Engineer on the part of either party to the hearing, we would be very glad to listen to them.

Mr. Deimling (PM): Mr. Commissioner, I do not think the Pere Marquette has any objection to raise.

Mr. Angus (AA): Our people did not want to connect up the distant signals with the home [interlocker] by electricity. But if they had not put in an electrical device, they were willing to connect up the distant signals mechanically with the track circuit by electric locking.

Chairman: That is, you would operate the distant signal mechanically and put in an electric locking device on the home signal?

Mr. Angus: Yes. That is what our Resident Engineer told me yesterday when I came away. If we were to do electrical work, we would rather have it in that way.

Chairman: Do I understand that the interlocker is now mechanical?

Mr. Angus: Yes.

Mr. Deimling: The home signals are operated in the usual way, but the distance signals on both roads are fixed. That is, it is a semaphore on a post about twelve hundred feet each way from the crossing, and they simply are a sort of a cautionary signal and are not connected with the plant at all. They simply indicate to the train men that they are approaching an interlocker. They remain in a horizontal position, or a cautionary position at all times. The grade on the Pere Marquette from the east is downward toward the crossing, and there are a great many curves up there that sort of obstruct the view. The distant signals being operated would considerably improve the situation

Mr. Angus: I do not think the Pere Marquette Railroad is alone on that. The Ann Arbor is rather bad on that. We have curves on both sides.

Chairman: In your suggestion, you would work the distant signal in connection with the home signal mechanically?

Mr. Angus: Yes.

Mr. Deimling: What he means is to put a wire out there and operate the distant signals in the same way the home signals are operated, and I presume he means to put in a track circuit in connection with that, to prevent the signals being changed for trains that had come within a radius of them. [Editor's note:  Most manual interlockings used non-electrical wires to mechanically change the position of semaphore signals at this time.  Later, many of these manual wire controls were changed to stationary pipes laid along the ties next to the rail.]

Chairman: Would the suggestion of Mr. Angus not cover the requirements embodied in the suggestion of Mr. Bice, that the distant signals be operated in connection with the home signals and that the machine be equipped with electric locking?

Mr. Deimling:  Yes, that is practically the same thing.  With our line, though, if the Commission orders that put in, we would like to put the signal a considerable distance out toward the east.

Chairman:  We would have no objection to that, further out.  The further they are operated, the greater the protection.  I assume, Mr. Angus, that your special objection to this recommendation is the matter of expense?

Mr. Angus:  The expense, and keeping it up, too.

Chairman: It is quite an important crossing.

Mr. Angus: It is a kind of bad crossing, more so on the Pere Marquette than on ours, on account of the grade there. It is hard to stop.

Chairman: How many trains do you have a day over that crossing?

Mr. Angus: Four passenger trains and four regular freight trains.

Chairman: And how many have you, Mr. Deimling?

Mr. Deimling: Six regular passenger trains, three each way a day, and two regular local freight trains, and two regular through freight trains, that often run in several sections, besides extras. I could not tell exactly how many trains it would amount to in twenty four hours, but probably fifteen, at any rate.

Mr. Angus: We run quite a number of extras, too.

Mr. Dickinson: I understand that the Pere Marquette have no objections to Mr. Bice's recommendation?

Mr. Deimling: No.

Mr. Dickinson: But rather that you would approve of the plan?

Mr. Deimling:  Yes.

Chairman:  I think, it being practically the main line on both roads, and the number of trains that cross there each day, and the unfavorable conditions that surround it, Mr. Angus, that the Commission would hardly be upheld in approving anything else than the very best within a reasonable expense.

Mr. Angus: I would be satisfied with anything, as far as I am concerned. Of course, that was Mr. Wangecq's suggestion to me, and of course I want to...

Chairman: In order to place the distant signals out sufficiently far and give that caution which the train man should have to operate safely, it is, and I think you will agree with us, unwise if the distant signal is out of sight of the towerman.

Mr. Angus: That is the safest way, I think, and safer if they put that one signal further out.

Chairman: As a matter of safety in a matter of that kind, I think, unless Commissioner Dickinson disagrees with me, it should be our judgment that the suggestions of Mr. Bice be adopted and the plant be electrified. I wish, Mr. Angus and Mr. Deimling, you would both furnish us with the average number of trains that made that crossing in twenty-four hours.

Mr. Angus: I will try to get that over to you this afternoon. For a month?

Chairman: For a month. The average number of trains per day.

Mr. Deimling: When the order is issued, the expense, I suppose, will be divided the same as the present arrangement?

Chairman: It is equal now?

Mr. Deimling: Yes.

Chairman:  We would have no occasion to change that, unless the showing of trains was considerably larger in some respects and smaller in others.  I do not want that to operate as a suggestion to either of you to decrease in one respect or increase in another.

Mr. Angus: I am a little inclined to believe now that our north bound signal, I might want to place that out three hundred feet or so.

Chairman: So far as that is concerned, you gentlemen get together on that.  We would have no desire to put that in now, except under the most favorable conditions, for the purpose intended, and you get together on that and outline where you want to place those things and notify us and we will place them before Mr. Bice and the Commission, and we think there will be no question about the acceptance of it.  What length of time do you think you will require to install that work?  And have it ready for inspection?

Mr. McWain: Not less than sixty days.

Mr. Dickinson: Give them sixty days after the plan has been submitted.

Chairman: We will give them sixty days after the order is issued. We will give you ten days to submit your plans and sixty days after the issuance of the order to complete the installation.

The tower's 8-lever Saxby and Farmer (vertical) interlocker machine ultimately received electrically locked distant signals, so the recommendations of the Commission Engineer were upheld. The cost for this upgrade was divided equally, which the Pere Marquette was happy to provide. The Ann Arbor was forced to reconnect the approach signals, but not without having their day before the Commission.

The tower at the crossing was staffed for over 60 years, when the interlocking was replaced with an automatic interlocking on July 30, 1959. An automatic interlocking simply gives the proceed signal to the first train from either road that activates the approach circuitry first. Supervisory control of the interlocker was transferred at that time to the now-Chesapeake & Ohio dispatchers office in Grand Rapids.