Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: Twenty-three Smoky Miles

AA Depot at Marion lqte 1940’s

This is the time of year when we all long for a great color tour. A few years ago we planned to travel on the Color Tour Train along a section of the old Ann Arbor Railroad. These tracks still run through Marion. We looked forward to it, only to have it cancelled and something has gotten in the way of each fall train tour since. We still think it would be a grand way to see Michigan’s stunning autumn tree show.

My first train ride was in the summer of 1964 and, in a way, closer to home. Cousin Barb Nevins took her two boys, her mom and sister, Beulah Colberg and Linda, and me for a ride on the Cadillac & Lake City Railway. Billed as “Twenty-three smoky miles” we climbed aboard at the Lake City station and rode to Cadillac where we got off and had lunch. We may even have bought postcards at the depot. We saw a lot of countryside and enjoyed the rock and sway of the train. The Cadillac & Lake City Railway was quite the attraction in its time, especially in the fall.

Years later at a garage sale in Flushing I purchased a black and white picture postcard of the old Number 11 engine and a couple of passenger cars of the Cadillac & Lake City. I considered it a stroke of good fortune to have found this flash from the past.

Armed only with the postcard and the memories of that ride, I went to the internet and Googled the Cadillac & Lake City Railway. I was amazed at the number of references, 115,000 hits to be exact. And from the first few I was able to gather a basic history of this short lived railway and even found out where old Number 11 steams today.

Early in 1963 a short line commercial and passenger railroad was established and ran from Cadillac to Falmouth, via Lake City, and back. In fact the Cadillac & Lake City Railway advertised a ride of “twenty-three smoky miles”, and indeed it was, at least one way. The coal burning engines used by this short line did not turn around at the end of the line, and steamed back to Cadillac in reverse, putting the smoky engine at the rear.

The C&LC was operated by Western Properties, Inc. It ran on tracks which were once owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad. The Cadillac terminus was at Missaukee Junction, a mile north of Haring. Incidentally this is where Ephraim Shay first worked to develop the Shay Locomotive which revolutionized the lumbering industry.

My picture postcard shows engine Number 11 and an online search tells me that this engine was built in Pennsylvania in February, 1924. It is an Alco 0-40 T, coal burner with a 36” driver. It weighs 35 tons. The engine first worked in a lime mine in Pennsylvania and eventually came to Michigan. When it left here it went to work in Colorado for another of Western Properties railroads. Old Number 11 is still operational and now enjoys a semi-retired life style at Historic Prairie Village in Madison, South Dakota, showing tourists a good time at railroad celebrations and color tours.

One of C&LC’s passenger cars found a siding and eventually became a book store in Rockford, Michigan. It was still used in that capacity in 2006. Other engines and cars used by the C&LC may be traced on line. Some are in use by small railroads around the country, others have gone to historic railroads, such as Prairie Village, and others are in private collections. One caboose that rode the rails in northern Michigan reposes in a private collection, authentically furnished and situated in excellent condition in Columbus, Ohio. Photos of these, and other former Michigan engines and cars may be seen at You can also learn more by Googling the Cadillac & Lake City Railway and clicking away at the hits.

The C&LC delivered freight, livestock and passengers. Operations ceased in 1971 and were officially done in 1976. All operations were abandoned in 1984 and the tracks were later taken up. Part of this former railway is encompassed in the very popular vertical state park, the White Pine Trail.

As seems to be my fate, my postcard of the C&LC Railway train is on the missing list. I have, of course, put it in a place I was sure to remember. Wrong. I’ve searched in those places, and I’ve seen a lot of photos today, but not the one I seek. So, I will give you a photo of the Ann Arbor Railroad Depot, at Marion, Michigan, from the late 1940’s. This is a 2 for 1 photo, our name is proudly displayed on both the depot and the water tower.

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