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Kevin E. Musser



History of the 
Houghton County Traction Company

By Wally Weart
Editing and layout by Kevin E. Musser

Click here for a larger system map

Encouraged by the boom in Michigan's copper country the Houghton County Traction Company was started in 1900. It was the only true interurban line in the Upper Peninsula. Construction began in the spring and service began in November of that year over the initial trackage connecting Houghton and Boston. By 1901 the line was extended to Calumet. The main line from Hancock and Hougton to Calumet was about 16 miles in length. The last construction was completed in 1908 to the north side of Mohawk.

HTC Carbarn in Hancock

The carbarn was located in Laurium. At that point, a branch split from the main line. This route, about 8 miles in length and served the neighboring towns of Lake Linden, Wolverine and Hubbell.

The Railway was double track thru the communities and single track between the towns utilizing private right of way in the country and street running in the towns. The HTC used stamp sand for ballast, not unusual in this area as it is a waste byproduct of the copper mining operations which surrounded the line.

hct38.jpg (24827 bytes) 
Houghton County Traction Car #38

The HTC had a number of steep grades, the worst being the one rising from the ship canal to Quincy Hill in Hancock this running 7 -8 percent. Between Houghton and Hancock, the tracks had to cross the highway & railway swing bridge over the Keeweenaw Waterway which was the main route for Great Lakes shipping. Monumental traffic jams occurred during the navigation season which were a constant operating problem.

The line between Calumet and Lake Linden was equally severe. Most of the interurban routes had a rolling profile, with the line following the contour of the land rather than making use of cuts. These cuts would have quicky filed with drifting snow, a normal occurrence in this region.

Houghton County Traction Car #6

State law forbade crossing a steam railroad at grade. This required the erection of several wooden trestles. Five of these were located between Hancock and Laurium and three between Albion Junction and Mohawk. These trestles cleared the steam railyard line by an average of 23 feet. Each trestle was between 600 and 700 feet in length with an 8 percent grade of each side. The Lake Linda -Hubbell line used two underpasses in lieu of trestles.

Track was 60 lbs. T-rail and was laid on native cedar ties. Street trackage in towns used slightly longer ties than in open track where the track was buried in paving. Ties were set on 2' centers. Line poles were also native cedar about 35 feet tall and each carried three cross arms. The trolley wire was No. 00 and was, of course, made of local copper.

Damage to Car #8 during the 1908 Strike

All rail operations ended on May 21, 1932 with the loss of business in the depth of the great depression. All but two cars were scrapped at once. Car 40 was sold for used as a cabin near Laurium and its fate is unknown. Car 42 was sold the last superintendent of the HTC and was placed alongside his home. When he passed away, the car was scrapped.

The cars used were more streetcar design rather than the larger interurban style used by other electric lines in Michigan. The cars had 11 windows, monitor style roof and were double-ended. The cars had steel bodies with oak framing and were built by Kuhlman Car Company between 1908 and 1910. The cars weighted about 48,250 lbs. and were capable of speeds up to 32 to 40 mph. These cars were designed for "heavy suburban and medium speed interurban work" according to Kuhlman's catalog.

HTC Ahmeek Station today

The cars rode on Brill 27G, 4'- 6" wheelbase trucks which were equipped with 33" wheels. The trucks were mounted on 19"-7" centers. Each car was equipped with two K28J controllers and could operate from either end.

In addition to a city headlight an interurban style arc light was mounted at night.

Accident on the HTC

All the cars were crewed by a motorman and conductor. No. 42 was converted about 1925 to one-man operation and folding steps. However, the car remained double-ended to the end of operations.

No pilots or fenders were used but all cars had retractable scrapers in front of each wheel to help clear snow and ice. Some pictures show the cars carrying small snow plows.

The line had another type of car but not much is known about them. The roof line on these cars was deck style rather than the monitor style of the Kuhlmans. 

HTC's Electric Rotary plow

The HTC also operated an electrically powered rotary snow plow, somewhat unusual for a trolley line but understandable in an area where snowfalls are measured in feet rather than inches. The car was a double truck "Ruggles" type and was used until the end of service. In order to combat ice build up on streets, the HTC installed a homemade ice cutter under a flat car and this was towed by one of the streetcars. 

Sources & Credits: 
Central Electric Railfan Association Michigan Bulletin Trolley Talk 
Issue No. 39 June 1962

Black & White photos from the Clint Jones Collection
Color photo taken by Rick Mayer


Additional Photos

Houghton County Traction Car #12. 
Herman Page Collection MTU&CCHC

Houghton County Traction Car #26
Herman Page Collection MTU&CCHC

Car #6 showing a different pain scheme from the photo above. Copper Country Archives photo.

Thanks for the help Wally and please stop by and visit Wally Weart's Colorado websites.

Colorado Railroad Museum

Denver Rail Heritage Society