Along the former-NYC “Old Road” line between Toledo and Adrian, MI, the NYC, Penn Central and later Conrail had used block limit rules for train operations. This required an ability to call the train dispatcher (in this case at Nasby Tower in Toledo) for instructions and clearances, so several old New York Central telephone boxes remained for crew use at locations including Lenawee Junction and Grosvenor, MI. By 1983, the Lenawee County Railroad had taken over the line between Lenawee Jct. and Riga, and the phone boxes were no longer in use.
As general manager of the Southern Michigan Railroad at Clinton, I was aware of the existance of these boxes and thought we could give them a new home. I called Charlie Lockhart, the LCRC’s general manager, and asked if our organisation could rescue the boxes. Mr. Lockhart kindly gave permission, so soon after both boxes, along with their foundation posts, were picked up and transported to the SMR yard in Clinton.
In 1987 the SMR had instituted two train passenger operation in the summer season, with the trains meeting at the Staib Road siding between Clinton and Tecumseh. With no radios, there were only timetable instructions, and one train had to wait in the siding for the other. Occasionally a problem would arise—a late departure or mechanical failure could leave a train at Staib Road, waiting for a meet which wasn’t going to happen. A volunteer would then have to drive from the museum in Clinton to Staib to give instructions.
We decided it would be useful to have a phone at this location, and having two authentic NYC phone boxes on hand, the obvious solution was to restore one and place it there.
Restoration of the box from Grosvenor took place over the winter of 1987-88. Volunteers wire-brushed the old paint off the exterior and repaired any holes or rotten wood. Stanley Dobek installed a new roof and shingles on the box. A coat of primer was applied, and the box was ready for transport, as soon as the winter weather broke.
In the spring of 1988 it was time to continue the project. The first step was measuring and sinking holes for the foundations, which were blocks of cement with bolts sticking out the top. The bolt would be used for attaching the phone box to the foundations. The blocks also had to be set level, so the the box would sit straight.
Once the foundations were ready, the phone box was moved from the SMRS workshop in Clinton onto a flat trailer. A motor car took it south to Staib Road. With a 5-man crew, the phone box was unloaded and moved close to its new position. A car jack was used to lift the box over the height of the foundation bolts, so that it could then be rolled over the bolts and gently set down on top of them. The box was bolted down and the ground was then levelled to finish that step of the project.
Over the next few weeks the box received a two-tone green New York Central Railroad paint scheme (using original paint chips supplied by member Craig Harris). A GTE phone line was installed, and the box secured with an Adlake switch lock.
The final touch was to apply the lettering on the door:
NOTICE LOCK THIS BOX AFTER USING TELEPHONE
The lettering stencil was based on a trace of the original lettering that was on the phone box.
The phone box was used heavily in the 1988 season to direct rail traffic. In following years, the Staib siding fell out of use for train meets, and was eventually removed. The phone box was spotted in later years in the Tecumseh south yard, slowly being reclaimed by nature.
The other phone box, from Lenawee Junction, was last spotted stored in the SMRS museum building in Clinton, in the early 2010s.