The International Steam Pages

Port Huron Museum, Narrow Gauge Steam USA 2019

James Waite has been on another whistle stop trip:

Construction of the 3ft gauge Port Huron & Northwestern Railway began in 1878. By 1882 it had completed two lengthy lines across Michigan's Thumb from its base at Port Huron, one north through Bad Axe to Port Austin with a branch to Harbor Beach and another north west to Saginaw and in the same year a subsidiary company built a branch west from Port Huron for 30 miles to Almont. The Flint & Pere Marquette, a regional mainline operator, took over in 1889 and immediately set about converting most of the Saginaw line to standard gauge. The Port Austin line was extended to Port Grindstone in 1893 and became standard gauge in 1899 and 1900. The Almont branch followed in 1904. 

Two 10-ton 2-4-0's locomotives were supplied for the opening, no's 1 "D.B. Harrington" (Porter 323/1878) and 2 (Porter 329/1879). With their 8x16ins cylinders they were tiny machines, even by the standards of the day, and soon proved to be underpowered. No 3 (Porter 384/1880) was considerably larger at 17 tons as were no's 7 and 8 (Porter 447 and 448/1881). I haven't yet found out much about no's 4-6 were though there's a suggestion that some at least were 0-4-4 Forney tanks built by the Wyoming Valley Machine Works.

Reportedly four locomotives were left in service when narrow gauge working ended in 1904. They didn't include no's 1 or 2 which were soon sold off for service in the logging industry of northern Michigan. No 2 is reported to have gone to the Nessen Lumber Co at Glen Arbor, on the north eastern shore of Lake Michigan, not far from Traverse City, and eventually disappeared. 

No 1 was bought by the logging firm Cody & Moore in 1883 and used on their Muskrat Lake & Clam River RR near Lake City in Missaukee County, north east of Cadillac. In 1888 she was sold on to the Hovey & McCracken Lumber Co who were also based in Missaukee County, and moved again in 1891 to the Louis Sands Salt & Lumber Co at Manistee, on the lake shore west of Cadillac. According to some reports she was sold again five years later to the Nessen company where perhaps she was reunited with no 2. In 1908 she moved to the Day Lumber Company at Glen Haven, a little to the west of Glen Arbor. This was one of several businesses in the district owned by the Day family and no 1 served them for more than thirty years, ending her working life in the mid 1920’s as a stationary boiler at their cherry cannery in the town. 

At that time railway preservation was in its infancy but the Days must have been fond of her as they put her on display, first in front of their offices at Glen Arbor and later at a farm. In 1933 they placed her on long-term loan with the local authority at Traverse City for display at Clinch Park where she became a popular local attraction. Here she stayed until 1965 when she was bought by the Cedar Point Amusement Park at Sandusky, Ohio. Its owners were planning to turn the park into the Disneyland of the Mid-West and so of course they needed a 3ft gauge railway. Today this is a flourishing concern worked by several steam locomotives. 

However no 1 wouldn't become one of them and instead she went on display in the park. Nine years later the space she occupied was needed for expansion and after a period in store she was given to the Henry Ford Museum at Dearborn, near Detroit along with a generous amount of money to fund her cosmetic restoration. Work began at a restoration facility at Navarre, Ohio but the money ran out and it was never completed. Later in the 1980's the museum decided to downsize its railway collection and no longer wanted no 1. In 1991 she was given to the Port Huron Museum of Arts and History and moved back to her original home. The museum had been founded back in 1967 and was based in a magnificent building which dated from 1904 and had once housed Port Huron's public library. It wasn't feasible to place no 1 inside it and instead she was stored in a greenhouse-type structure in its grounds. Here she languished until May 2018 when the museum joined forces with the city's St Clair Community College to complete her cosmetic restoration as a voluntary educational exercise. Moving her wasn't easy but she's now housed in the college's metalworking shop and restoration is under way, the intention being to restore her to her original condition so far as possible.

Veronica Campbell, the museum’s enthusiastic director, kindly took me to the college to show me the locomotive. Her restoration is well under way. The tender was built almost from new at Navarre and probably only the wheels and axles survive from the original. It was sent to a workshop in Ohio for refurbishment in 2018 and had just returned, looking very smart indeed. A considerable amount of work is still needed on the locomotive but it shouldn’t now be long before she’s complete and probably looking smarter than she has ever done since the day she first left Porter’s factory more than 140 years ago. 

Much of this information comes from a series of articles written for the Lakeshore Guardian by T.J. Gaffney, a keen enthusiast who has much experience of steam locomotive restoration and who is overseeing the project at Port Huron.

This picture shows no 1 in its logging days

This superb period picture of one of no 1 or, more likely, 2 working for Nessen Lumber Co at Glen Arbor is in the public domain and comes courtesy of the website of the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.

Rob Dickinson