Fun in the Thumb

Bluewater Michigan Train at Marlette, MI, August 2002.

Kids growing up in Michigan all learn about how the state's lower peninsula is shaped like a mitten. The thumb area is the part of the state bounded by Port Huron, Flint, and Bay City.
In the 1870's four different railroads, three of them narrow gauge, were built into the thumb in search of big timber and the big profits to be had from hauling it to market. Once the timber was gone, people got busy farming. By the early 1900's the logging railroads had evolved into an extensive system of branch lines serving the small towns and grain elevators in the Thumb. In addition, three major railroads, Pere Marquette, Michigan Central, and the Grand Trunk had main lines skirting the south or west edges of the Thumb.

The Thumb has remained an intensively farmed, very  rural area. Fields of beans and sugar beets seem to go on forever. The land is so flat that on a good day, one can see 10 miles across the fields. Well maintained two-lane roads are so congestion free that one can drive 20 miles without coming to a stop sign or traffic light.

Quite a few depots are still standing in the Thumb. Some of the more interesting ones include very similar depots in Mayville, Deckerville, Croswell and Harbor Beach, with large gracefull roof brackets, built for narrow gauge railroads; the L-shaped depot in Pigeon; and the very unique depots in Marlette and Flushing. There are web pages for the depots shown on the link-maps below.

Pere Marquette Lines and Depots.

Grand Trunk (in black)
and Michigan Central Lines.

Now about the FUN part. In August of 2002 the Bluewater Michigan Chapter, NRHS, ran an excursion train from Marlette to Millington on the Huron and Eastern Railroad. A side trip was available from Millington to Denmark Junction, which is just north of Vassar. The train was very nice. Besides the coaches, there was a snack/souvenier car and a diner where one could sit at a table while eating. H&E engines in nice paint were on each end of the train.

Excursion train in Marlette

Excursion train during layover in Millington

The Huron & Eastern Railway was formed in 1985, to operate railroads in Michigan's thumb area. In the 1980's they bought two routes from CSX. They also operate over a short stretch of the Former Michigan Central Detroit-Bay City line. The Huron & Eastern Railway is now part of the RailAmerica shortline empire.

Huron & Eastern Engine in Millington, August 2002

Huron & Eastern Business Car, August 2002

Train returns to Marlette, August 2002

Michigan Passenger Stations Home Page

March 2003, Updated April 2003
Louis Van Winkle
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