In the early 1920’s there were two very active railroads running through Three Rivers. The Lakeshore ran north and south, from Elkhart to Grand Rapids, and the Niles-Jackson Division of the Michigan Central (Air Line) ran east and west.
I do not remember the exact schedules of the passenger trains, but it seems like a north bound train came in at about ten o’clock in the morning and then returned at about four thirty or five o’clock in the afternoon. That afternoon train was quite familiar to me, because the Kalamazoo papers were brought in on it and we, the paper boys, would get our papers right there at the depot. The one outstanding thing that I remember about the passenger service on the Air Line is that we would ride the train from Three Rivers to Centreville, six miles, to attend the County Fair. The Three Rivers Depot was on the north side of the tracks and on the east side of South Main Street (Flint Avenue), and the Centreville depot was way out on the north side of Centreville. The fare was fifteen cents each way.
I don’t remember that the freight traffic was very heavy on the Lakeshore, but the Michigan Central was a really busy freight line. There was a time that they were running a train every hour, day and night, and they were long, (100 car) trains. There was a long grade, East of Three Rivers, that caused many of the East bound freight trains, a lot of problems. They would go through town as fast as they dared, in an attempt to make the grade, but for all of their huffing and puffing, they would gradually slow down and quite often, they would stop because they just couldn’t make it. They would then blow several long blasts of their whistle and a pusher engine, that was kept in the Yards, at Three Rivers, would come out and give them a boost. By the way, those were all coal fired steam locomotives, Diesels had not entered the scene yet. The Diesel took away a lot of these problems and they also took away a lot of the romance of railroading.
The depot was what is now Templin’s Feed Store, and the Freight Station was just north of the Depot. During and immediately following deer hunting season the South bound train was busy bringing down the deer that the local hunters were having shipped home from the North Woods. The Three Rivers Sesquicentennial Paper says that the last passenger train ran through Three Rivers, on the Lakeshore, on December 25, 1937.
Because steam was used to power these trains and water is required to make steam, it follows that some provision had to be made to replenish the water supply, in the Tender. A Standpipe was one of the methods used, but the train had to stop to take on the water. This was time consuming and costly to stop the train and then get it rolling again. Another method was the Track Pan. There was one of these on the NYC between Centreville and Wassippi. One of those pans consisted of a trough, about one quarter of a mile long, filled with water and positioned between the rails. As the engine reached the pan, a shoot would be lowered and they could take on water without even slowing down.
I had, of course, known about that long grade, East of Three Rivers, since I was ten years old, but it was again, brought to my attention several years later and in other surroundings. This event took place during the “Great Depression”, and I mention it here only because it had to do with railroads. I was about twenty years old and during that spring, another fellow and I decided that we would try HoBo’ing. We had been “on the road” for about a week and were in a HoBo Jungle, somewhere in South Central Illinois. Now, HoBos have at least one thing in common with people who travel in Recreation Vehicles, and stay in Trailer Parks. They do not ask your name, they only want to know where you are from and where you are going.
I was getting fed up with the HoBo’ing and was on my way back to Michigan. One of the first people that I talked to, in the Jungle, that night, ask me where I was going, and when I told him, Three Rivers, Michigan. Right away, the man became interested and told me what freight to get out of Gary, when it would leave and where I should grab it. He also told me to get in an empty gondola and when we went through Niles, Michigan, I should stay against the North side of it because there was a railroad detective that hung out on the water tower, and he had been known to shoot at Bums.
Another thing the Bum told me was, when we got to Three Rivers, I shouldn’t try to get off in the town, because we would be going pretty fast, and there was a long grade on the East side of town that would slow the train and it would be a lot easier to unload out there. That fellow sure knew his way around, and I am sure that he knew that I was a green horn that could use his advise.