Trout Lake

I cross the Big Mac into the Upper Peninsula, paying four dollar for the privilege at the St. Ignace toll booth. A few miles north of St. Ignace, I leave the freeway, taking Michigan 123 into the heart of the Upper Peninsula.  The road follows the former roadbed of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad which Ernest Hemingway rode a few years after the Great War as he and his friends headed to a fish camp along the East Branch of the Fox River outside of Seney, Michigan.  That adventure provided fodder for his classic short story, “Big Two Hearted River.”  In those days, one had to cross the Straits of Mackinac by ferry, but in 1957 the bridge opened, spanning the straits.

It’s late afternoon on a hot July day when I reach Trout Lake. There is a small IGA here with wonderful sandwiches, piled high with sliced meats.  As I plan to have dinner with friends in Marquette, I avoid the temptation and order a cone of hand-dipped black cherry ice cream.  As I wait on the clerk, I look around the store for a minute.  In addition to groceries and a deli, they have fishing gear and some hardware.  It seems to be a place from the past, which is why I like stopping here. Read more

Railroad Town:
 Boyce, Virginia

Norfolk & Western Depot circa 1913 – Boyce, Virginia (Norfolk Southern photo on loan to Virginia Polytechnic Institute Library)

The Town of Boyce, Virginia and its railway depot have enjoyed a long history together. Nearly as old as the town, the 1913 structure served as its public gathering place, the portal through which travel and commerce passed, and became Boyce’s icon.

Indeed, it was the crossing of a newly-built Shenandoah Valley Railroad with the Winchester and Berry’s Ferry Turnpike that prompted the birth of a new community in formerly dense, forested land. Unlike Berryville, White Post, and Millwood, the Boyce community—briefly named Boyceville—sprung forth around a stop along the tracks relatively late in Clarke County’s development. The town would not have existed were it not for the arrival of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad in 1879. Read more

The Drummer

Antlers Hotel ca. 1910 (scanned from old copy of photo, source/photographer unknown)
It’s 1910.

The drummer* stepped off the westbound Austin & Northwestern Railroad train onto the wet wooden platform, a carpetbag in one hand, a leather-sheathed cardboard sample case in the other, wishing he had booked another night in Austin at the Depot Hotel. He was glad it was only sprinkling when he walked the few blocks from his hotel to Austin’s Union Station. With a sigh he set both down, pulled his coat tighter around him in a useless attempt to set off the bone-chilling dampness of the evening. If it weren’t for the rain – a downpour of the kind seemingly known only to Central Texas – and a washed out bridge a few miles up the line, he’d be spending the night in Llano at the Dabbs where he had reserved a room. Picking up his bags he fell in with his fellow passengers, all but a few stranded like himself, toward the large hotel across the tracks. Read more

Sawed in Two

A Brief History of the
Coutts – Sweetgrass International Train Station

Looking north from the United States toward the newly built train station with the NWMP barracks in the background, in the fall of 1890. Note that the water tower spout is also visible. Glenbow Museum and Archives NA-1167-15.

This is the story of a unique building (the only one we know of) – an international train station that was run by one family operating two railways in the Northwest Territories (pre-Alberta) and Montana and how it was almost lost in the redevelopment of the new border crossing at Coutts Alberta (AB) – Sweetgrass Montana (MT).


In 1883, Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliott co-founded the Town of Lethbridge, AB when he established a mine on the banks of the Oldman River in the southwest portion of the district of Alberta, Northwest Territories. Galt is a well-known figure in the Lethbridge area where a public park (Galt Gardens) and a museum (Galt Museum and Archives) are named after him. Canada’s then Governor General, the Marquis of Lansdowne, demonstrated the Government’s support of the Galt enterprises by opening the Galt’s railway in September 1885.

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Trackside Elegy

“Where have all the boxcars gone?”

Empty storage tracks at Bucksport paper mill. – September 2016

Alas, another trackside industry that relied upon dependable railway service  has finally met the scrapper’s torch. The Verso Paper mill in Bucksport, Maine, closed down December 1, 2014. At first, I thought this was another example of creative destruction. However, I am not sure anymore. At present the physical destruction has begun. Unfortunately no creative concept for future development of the property has been revealed. According to local press releases the digital shift, consolidation and off-shore competition were the primary catalysts for closure.

Empty storage tracks behind Bucksport commercial buildings next to seawall. – September 2016

The eighty-six year old paper mill operated under the aegis of four different owners: the Seaboard Paper Company, St. Regis Paper Company, Champion International Paper and Verso Paper Corporation. During this period the mill, valued at $385 million in 2014, was served by a single nineteen mile long railroad branch line that had undergone three consecutive masthead changes: the Maine Central Railroad Company, the Guilford Rail System and Pan Am Railways.

GP40-2LW shunting tank cars at Bucksport paper mill. – May 2007

Constructed at a cost of $10 million, the mill opened its doors in November 1930. It employed as many as 1,000 workers in a town of 5,000 inhabitants in the year 2002. When the mill closed, 570 employees lost their jobs and all of the slow moving strings of boxcars and tank cars were doomed to oblivion. The net result was the loss of 24/7 rail activity punctuated by the sound of railcars rocking and rolling over unruly track behind growling diesel switch engines that shunted their daily burdens parallel to Rt 15. Together the railroad and mill provided the perfect place for train watchers and railroad photographers alike.

When the mill was in full operation one could either walk or drive behind the quaint storefronts that cradle the main street of tiny Bucksport. There, one could find three storage tracks crammed with lines of 50 foot boxcars arrayed before a dramatic backdrop that embraced the Penobscot River, historic Fort Knox, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and the rambling mill complex. Today, as a lamenting trackside photographer, I have to ask myself the question,”Where have all the boxcars gone?”

Boxcars on storage tracks at Bucksport paper mill. – May 2007

David Kahler, FAIA – Photographs and text Copyright 2016