Railroad: Boyne City, Gaylord and Alpena Railroad Company

The Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena was a successor to the Boyne City & South Eastern railroad. The line was built in 1893 by the White family lumber interests east from Boyne City into the forest and a connection with the Grand Rapids & Indiana at Moore near Boyne Falls. Under BCG&A, it was expanded to Gaylord (in 1905), Atlanta (1914) and Alpena (1918). The line was in and out of receivership throughout it's existence.

As it built east from Atlanta to Alpena, it ran out of money. R.E. Olds, of automobile fame, provided funding to complete the line.

In 1935, most of the railroad was abandoned from Moore (near Boyne Falls) to Alpena. The line was reorganized in 1935 and became the Boyne City Railroad, and then in 1976 to the Boyne Valley Railroad before abandonment in 1982.

Boyne City &Southeastern railroad → Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena Railroad → Boyne City railroad

Operated for 30 years.

Became: 1905 from Boyne City (BC&SE was built in 1893). Eventually to Alpena, plus forest branches.

Became: Boyne City Railroad in 1935, cut back to Boyne City to GR&I near Boyne Falls connection.

Reference: [MRRC]

BCGA Office 2003


The Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena railroad was built to bring logs in to the White Lumber Company in Boyne City from northern Michigan's forests. The railroad was owned by the White family, which owned a large saw mill on the southeast edge of Lake Charlevoix. (Lake Charlevoix boats had access to Lake Michigan via the Round Lake canal at Charlevoix.)

Photo Info: The former BCG&A office in 2003. [Dale Berry]. 2nd photo below, a BCG&A passenger train is near Boyne City, headed to Gaylord.

The initial Boyne City line was laid in 1893 during the pine era. The railroad eventually reached Gaylord in 1905. According to Sanborn maps of Gaylord, the BCG&A had two wye tracks north and south to the Michigan Central, and they likely used the MC depot which was north of the BCG&A. No BCG&A stations appear on these maps.

In 1914, the railroad was extended across the MC and it headed towards Atlanta and Alpena. The White family had numerous timber holdings in Otsego and Montmorency counties and likely harvested pine as well as hardwoods. Other logging companies used the railroad as well. The railroad reached Alpena in 1918 and there is some evidence that construction west actually started in Alpena and headed west to meet construction gangs from the west.

Even though the BCG&A was in and out of bankruptcy, construction techniques were ample and substantial. Much of this main line had major cuts and built-up grades. Some of these grades can still be observed 100 years later. As an example, the raised grade of the main line which is built through Fletcher's Floodwaters in Alpena County still exists under water, and fishermen find success fishing near it.

Concrete bridge peers exist 100 years later at the BCGA's overhead crossing of the GR&I railroad north of Elmira. Though the railroad ran mixed trains with passengers stopping at logging camps and hamlets between Gaylord and Alpena, the only depot built along this stretch was in Atlanta, near what is currently Freddie's IGA market.

In the late 1910's, the railroad was in financial trouble and operated by a court appointed receiver. The railroad had built east to near Dobbins 6 miles east of Atlanta, to bring out timber. They had also started building the line west from Alpena, reaching the area south of Hillman. That's when construction stopped for lack of funding. Somehow, they convinced Robert E. Olds (of Olds and REO motor fame) to fund the completion of the railroad and bring them out of bankruptcy. It is not known why Olds funded the operation.

With logging all but gone, traffic on the railroad dwindled to nothing. The daily passenger train was reduce,d to a modified automobile on rails. The Thunder Bay river was flooded by the Alpena Power Company at what became Fletcher flood waters, completely covering the main line. The line was embargoed and the BCG&A was abandoned by 1935.

During a US Railroad Administration discussion about railroad consolidation after World War I, there was some talk of combining the BCG&A with the Michigan Central, bringing some significant railroad competition to Alpena. The White's wanted $1.6 million and the MC was willing to take it but only for free. An arbitrator set the amount at $200,000 but with business dramatically declining as the forests emptied and the depression now in full swing, this never happened.

There is also evidence in the Michigan State Archives that the BCG&A proposed branch lines north and northeast of the Alpena Portland Cement Plant for the purpose of bringing limestone into the plant. The Detroit & Mackinac railway brought an action before the Public Service Commission to stop the BCG&A's plan. The D&M prevailed and the plant went with the Detroit & Mackinac railway instead.

The BCG&A was pulled up in 1935 between Moore (Boyne Falls) and Alpena. This abandonment proceeded because hardwood logging had dried up and the White Brother’s railroad and mill were struggling. This was hastened by the flooding of the Thunder Bay River which created Fletcher's Flood Waters, completely covering up the line for several miles. According to the Detroit Free Press, the Alpena-based electric company had always intended to fill the floodwaters and had allowed the railroad to cross knowing they would need to move or raise their line when the flooding became necessary. By the time of the flooding, BCG&A service had already been cut back and the track was in extremely bad repair. The purpose of flooding the area was to create a reservoir as a back up to the power company in Alpena.

Operated as the Boyne City and later the Boyne Valley Railroad, the road was completely abandoned in 1976 [MRRC].

BCGA Train at Boyne City

Time Line

1905. April. The BCG&A announced that they are taking over the property of the Boyne City & Southeastern railroad, and plan to extend the line to Alpena, 110 miles. [RG-1905-0421]

1905. Two men were killed and six fatally injured in an accident on the new Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena railroad near Elmira today. A piece of track caved in under a heavy engine and eight of the Polish laborers working nearby were crushed under it as it rolled down the embankment. The engineer and fireman escaped unhurt. The railroad camp is a long distance away from any telegraph connection, so it is impossible to obtain the names of the victims. The work on the new line has been rushed of late in order to finish it before winter. Five miles northwest of Elmira there is a deep cut across one of the numerous branches of the Sturgeon river. The grade had been built to the little stream and logs thrown across the water so as not to cause a dam. The heavy rains of the past few days caused the water to rise to a height of about fifteen feet and, fearing a washout, the company sent a road train to make a better channel for the stream. After the work was completed the engineer of the train wished to take water out of the stream before it receded beyond the reach of his siphon. In order to do this it was necessary to run the locomotive right over the bed of the river. When the heavy engine got close to the undermined bit of track the roadway gave way. Eight of the Polish laborers of the road repair gang were crushed without the slightest warning. The engine rolled over and down the embankment, killing two of the men and so badly injuring six others that their lives are despaired of. [DFP-1905-1022]

1906. November 14. The Detroit Free Press reports that a preliminary survey for the branch road west (of Alpena) to be built by the Detroit & Mackinac has commenced. Laborers will begin to shovel dirt on the right of way next week. Chief Engineer H. S. Waterman was in Alpena Wednesday looking after details. The D&M is ready to make a liberal offer to the White Bros. relative to the proposed extension of their railroad, the Boyne City, Gaylord & Western, from Gaylord to Alpena. The White road is offered the use of a terminal on the D&M property, as well as right of way over all tracks in Alpena to mills and manufacturing plants. The D&M offers to build the first ten miles of road west or will bear half the expense of construction to Gaylord. The terminal, rights of way or depot sit will not cost Alpena anything under this arrangement. [DFP-1906-1114] Note: This appears to be what became the D&M Hillman Branch, which was not used by the BCG&A. The BCG&A ultimately crossed the D&M main line north of Alpena Jct., as well as crossing the tracks in the Alpena Yard.

1906. The BCG&A railroad is to be completed to Alpena in the spring. This road runs through the greatest tract of maple, beech and hemlock in the state in Montmorency County. This hardwood will be manufactured in Alpena and the hemlock will provide bark for our two big tanneries for many years to come. [DFP-1906-1224] Editors note: The line was not connected with Alpena until 1918.

1912. November 7. The Michigan railroad commission has granted the proposed Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena railroad permission to go ahead with the construction of its system, traversing Alpena, Montmorency, Otsego and Charlevoix counties. The decision ends a hard fight waged against the new road by General Superintendent J. D. Hawks, of the Detroit & Mackinac railroad, involving a personal contest between Hawks and Frank W. Fletcher, the Alpena millionaire paper manufacturer. It was the contention of Hawks that the lines of the new road crossed the tracks of the D&M too many times and that the country it proposes to serve cannot support it and investors would lose as a result. [CM-1912-11078]

1913. November. James A. White made application in the district federal court for a receiver, both for the railroad and William H. White & Co., which was granted, the Michigan Trust company, of Grand Rapids being named receiver. Up to that time, stock had been issued in William H. White & Co. in the sum of $1,200,000 of which $1,150,000 was owned by the White brothers. And $500,000 in bonds had been issued by the railroad, of which the White brothers owned a majority.

1915. William H. White came to Alpena, attorney Nichols related the idea of enlisting the aid of Canfield and Attorney Orcutt, a banker; Hoey, a lumberman, and the raising of $700,000 with which to rescue the two companies from receivership, for which service he was willing to pay $100,000. Then it was that the contract, which is the basis of this suit, was entered into.

1915. August. From 1915 until early in 1917, various attempts were made by the trio, the White brothers, and others to finance the road, it was declared. All sorts of combinations were devised and each time success seemed about to smile on the plan, a frown appeared, usually opposition of the receiver. At least, several distinct attempts were claimed by the defense.

Finally Claude Hamilton was brought into the financial problem, and it was he who went to Ransom E. Olds and borrowed $450,000, as claimed by the defence [sic], of which amount $275,000 was used in putting the road on it feet. The Alpena stockholders, partly through the efforts of Canfield, Orcutt and Hoey were induced to take the paper of the new company, par for par, while William H. White & Co. did likewise, said Nichols. [CCH-11//26/1920] 

1918. May 25. The U.S. Director of Railroads, announces that he will complete and open the BCG&A into Alpena, using the D&M company terminals, depots, yards, round houses and industrial spurs at Alpena under a rental arrangement, negotiations for which are under way. The means the termination of the receivership over the road held by the Michigan Trust Company. Over a decade ago, the BCG&A started looking toward Alpena for a cross-state line. Then the panic of 1907 intervened. In 1913 the road went into the hands of a receiver. A court decision last July (1917) ordered the discontinuance of the receivership as soon as new finance plans providing for a bond issue of $300,000 had been carried through. [DFP-1918-0525]

1918. The W. H. White company's mill No. 1, built about four years ago and one of the most modern sawmills in the state, was destroyed by fire. The mill is valued at $300,000 and was a total loss. A strong wind blowing from the lake kept the flames out of the big lumber storage yard. The administration building which houses the company and executive offices of the railroad were threatened. [YEX-1918-0711]

1920. November 20. Olds Backed Boyne Railroad. His $450,000 Saved Boyne City, Alpena and Gaylord (sic) Line. Alpena, MI, The man whose cash was the magic key that released from receivership in 1917 the Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena railroad, and has made possible its operation to this day, was Ransom E. Olds, the automobile financier, a jury in Alpena circuit court was told Thursday by George E. Nichols, of Ionia, defending the railroad in a $100,000 contract suit brought by I. S. Canfield, F. H. Orcutt and W. T. Hoey, of Alpena.  

Olds put up $450,000 that the road might be rescued from receivership into which it was plunged in November, 1913, Attorney Nichols told the jury.

All this the defense expects to prove, it said, during its inning in the trial occupying the attention of Judge Emmerick, a jury, and a costly array of legal talent. The trial already has been in progress more than a week, and predictions were it would not end Friday.

The road originally was a spur to a lumber camp. William H. White & Co., of Boyne City, had extensive lumber holdings there, about which this road reached. The brothers were William H., Thomas, James and Robert White. When the road was projected in 1905 a bond issue of $250,000 was negotiated, which was partly sold. Later it was decided to extend it to Gaylord, where upon the Whites advanced the road $160,000 more. The road continued expanding until 1915, when it owed White & Co. $325,000. The story of its extension to Alpena in 1919 was recited in full.

1922. December 29. Permission to construct a branch line in Michigan from Alpena to Rockport a distance of 13 miles, was sought from the Interstate Commerce Commission today by the Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena. The new line would give the railroad access to lime quarries and other industries. [PHTH]

1923. Judge Tuttle filed in the U.S. court in Bay City an order restraining the BCG&A railroad from extending its line to the shale beds of the Huron Portland Cement near Alpena, until such time as the railroad files a certificate of convenience or necessity from the ICC. Judge Tuttle holds the proposed extension is to be a part of the main line of the road and not a spur of sidetrack. The suite against the BCG&A was started by the D&M railroad, which now has the only track running to the shale beds. {PHTH-1923-0131] Ed. Note. This likely referred to an extension of the BCG&A proposed to the shale beds near the Alpena/Presque Isle line. A blueprint for this proposal is in the Michigan State Archives. 

1930. A Lansing administrative board is advised not to cancel taxes for the bankrupt BCG&A. Cancellation of the taxes were proposed in the takeover of the line by the New York Central. No taxes have been paid since 1921. Total due to the state is $90,913 in principal and $35,888 in interest. Several times in the last few years, the administrative board has cancelled overdue taxes on bankrupt telephone companies and railroads. [DFP-1930-1216]

1931. January. The New York Central offers $1 to purchase the 92-mile Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena. The BCG&A prices itself at $1,313,000. The ICC will decide the price. J. R. Sensibar, a Chicago gravel contractor, revealed that he is planning to open a big gravel pit on the line which will give the road a lot of rock to haul. [HP-1931-0116] In March, the ICC set the price at $230,000. No purchase was ever made.

1931. November 28. The BCG&A railroad provided notice to shippers that the railroad company will no longer accept freight for shipment and trains will cease operation on December 1, train service discontinuing between Gaylord, Atlanta and Alpena. The line was completed to Alpena 12 years ago and the W. H. White Lumber Co. of Boyne City being the principal owners. It was primarily built for hauling the timber, mostly hardwood, to the mills of the company at Boyne City. The timber supply was exhausted five or six years ago and since that time there has been little freight business. A gasoline car has been practically all the company has had on the line in the way of a traffic vehicle for about four years. Stations on the line were Boyne City, Gaylord, Atlanta, Spratt, Herron and Alpena. [DFP-1931-1129]

1932. March 15. The Interstate Commerce Commission directed the New York Central Railroad Company today to pay $250,000 for the BCG&A, provided the owners of the line would accept that sum. The Alpena is a single track road operating about 110 miles of track in the upper end of the Michigan Peninsula. There was a dispute as to the value of the road, with the NYC offering to pay only a nominal sum, $1 being mentioned. Stockholders of the road authorized their directors to sell for $1,077,248. The Commission held that the Central must make an offer of this sum for the road. Commissioners asserted that the record "shows that the property as a whole has outlived its usefulness; that very little public inconvenience would be caused by the abandonment of much of it; that it cannot survive as an independent operation and that considered in its entirety it must inevitable prove a burden to any carrier attempting to operate is as a part of a larger system". [DFP-1932-0315]


The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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