Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last call of the E&LS?

These photographs, snapped this morning, may well be the last ever to mark the Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad's presence in downtown Ontonagon, Michigan.

The two battered old locomotives belonging to the short line were in town to tow out a string of hopper cars containing the last remaining coal from the property of bankrupt Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., which earlier this year permanently closed its huge mill, the county's largest employer, and threw hundreds of Ontonagonians out of work.

Now that its only customer on the rickety 43-mile spur from Sidnaw to Ontonagon is out of business, E&LS wants to abandon the line and tear up the rails for scrap.

With town meetings and letter-writing campaigns the citizens of Ontonagon are fiercely fighting to save the tracks, vital if new industry is to be attracted to the area, and today it was announced that U.P. Steel has asked the federal Surface Transportation Board to delay approval of the abandonment plans so that it can study use of the mill for manufacturing. Whether this will work depends on whether Smurfit-Stone, currently in bankruptcy, is willing to sell the mill to the steel outfit -- or any other company.

Somehow I'll have to work this ongoing socioeconomic drama into Hang Fire, the novel-in-progress set in fictional Porcupine County, whose real-life inspiration is Ontonagon County.

For fellow rail buffs: The rusty E&LS 1221, at top, is a 1,750-hp SD9, built by General Motors' Electro-Motive Division more than half a century ago. It labored for now defunct Reserve Mining Corp. at the western end of Lake Superior before ending up on the E&LS. The creaking E&LS 501, below, is a 3,000-hp EMD SD40-2 more than three decades old, and worked for the Milwaukee Road and GM Leasing before arriving on the E&LS.

The historic line was built in 1882 as the Ontonagon & Brule River Railway and was merged in the 1890s into the Milwaukee Road, which went bankrupt and sold the line to the E&LS in 1980. It stretches from Ontonagon and Escanaba in Michigan to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

1 comment:

  1. It makes me very sad to know we may never hear the trains air horn in Ontonagon ever again.