The Detroit and Lima Northern—Tecumseh’s Third Railroad

By Edward D. Hodges

Detroit & Lima Northern locomotive #7 is preserved at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. (Doug Leffler photo)

Detroit & Lima Northern locomotive #7 is preserved at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. (Doug Leffler photo)


The Lima Northern is in Tecumseh—Track Reached the Corporation Line Last Night at 8:20!

These were the headlines in the Tecumseh Herald of May 28, 1897, announcing the completion of the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway Company’s line to Tecumseh—the third and final railroad constructed through the community.

The article in the Herald continues:

“All the week delegations of Tecumseh people have been watching the progress of the contractors with their work on the Detroit and Lima Northern and, when at 8:20 last evening the construction train reached the corporation line, several hundred people were on hand to see the gang at work and make sure that the end of the road did not get away. Tonight the ‘frog’ and switch to the C.J.&M. will be in.” (This switch was just east of the corner of Cummins and Union Streets. The C.J.&M. was the Cincinnati, Jackson and Mackinaw Railroad, whose main line ran along Cummins Street on its way from Dundee to Allegan.)

The article concludes:

“Sunday the excursion train will start from Tecumseh as advertised. Monday a vestibuled train will be run from Lima to Detroit and early next week the accommodation train service between Tecumseh and Lima will be established. The management also states that within two weeks all the trains will be running through Tecumseh and the use of the Wabash between Adrian and Britton will be abandoned.”

The above-mentioned excursion train ran to Detroit and apparently everyone in town who was ambulatory rode the train, leaving Tecumseh a virtual ghost town on the final Sunday in May of 1897.

The Lima Northern Railway Company was incorporated on March 27, 1895, with the intention of acquiring control of the partially completed Columbus, Lima and Milwaukee Railroad between Lima and Defiance, Ohio. When this takeover attempt failed, a contract was given to W.B. Strong and Company of New York to construct a railroad from a connection with the Ohio Southern Railroad at Lima to Adrian, Michigan—a distance of seventy-eight miles.

The first seven miles of the railroad between Lima and Cairo, Ohio was completed and service was begun on December 13, 1895, using Ohio Southern equipment and crews.

By January 17, 1896, the line had been completed to Malinta, Ohio, where a connection was made with the Toledo, St. Louis and Kansas City Railroad (known informally as The Cloverleaf), which provided access to Toledo.

The Lima Northern had entered into a perpetual agreement on December 31, 1895, with the Tiffin and North Western Railroad Company for use of a two-mile portion of right-of-way and roadbed at Napoleon, Ohio, including the masonry for a bridge over the Maumee River, and from there the line was built due north towards the Ohio-Michigan state line. By May 29 the roadbed had been built to within four miles of the state line and track had been laid as far as Gerald, Ohio, a small town about midway between Napoleon and Wauseon.

The construction of the railroad was supervised by Charles M. Haskell of Ottawa, Ohio, who was one of the incorporators of the Lima Northern. Haskell built the railroad as cheaply as possible with numerous curves and steep grades for the least expensive route since the railroad was having difficulty obtaining financing. (Haskell was involved in the building of other railroads in Ohio, none of which, including the Lima Northern, were successful. He later moved to Oklahoma and built several electric interurban railroads there and eventually was elected governor of that state.)

As the railroad approached Michigan, negotiations were begun to purchase the Michigan Division of the Cincinnati, Jackson and Mackinaw Railroad. Originally built as the Michigan and Ohio Railroad in 1883, this line stretched from Dundee through Tecumseh to Allegan. Trackage rights on other railroads provided access to Toledo and also to Grand Haven on Lake Michigan. Acquisition of this railroad would also give the Lima Northern an entry to Detroit.

By August of 1896 construction of the railroad was completed to the Wabash Railroad at a point eight miles southwest of Adrian. A connection was made with the Wabash at this point, called Detroit Junction, and an agreement was signed giving the Lima Northern the right to run its trains over the Wabash into Detroit. This connecting point has had many different names over the years including Lima Junction and Seneca Junction. Today it is officially named Leaf by the Norfolk Southern, a successor to the Wabash.

In an apparent attempt to obtain more financing and facilitate the construction of the railroad in the state of Michigan, the backers of the Lima Northern incorporated a second railroad, the Detroit and Cincinnati Railway Company, on March 27, 1896. On February 20, 1897, the name of this new railroad was changed to the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway Company, and plans were made to continue building the line toward Detroit. Since an immediate goal was to connect the D.&L.N. with the C.J.&M., residents of Tecumseh argued that their community would provide an excellent connecting point. The town raised $8000 locally and dangled it as bait. Such financial inducements, referred to as “bonuses”, were quite common in the nineteenth century and every city, town and village tried to acquire as many railroads as possible since the quick and cheap transportation provided by a railroad was seen as a guarantee for prosperity and growth. (One hundred years ago every small town in America dreamed of becoming a major metropolis and this dream was alive and well in Tecumseh.)

The D.&L.N. accepted the “bonus” and began building their line toward Tecumseh in the spring of 1897 using the roadbed built twenty years earlier for the never-completed Detroit, Adrian and Fort Wayne Railroad. However instead of following this earlier line in a northeasterly direction to the village limits at South Maumee Street, the D.&L.N. swung north and entered the village between Adrian and South Union Streets. Large deposits of gravel were discovered just south of Tecumseh providing the railroad with an ample supply of gravel to use as ballast on its track. Eventually these gravel pits were sold by the railroad to other owners and they remained in operation for nearly seven decades.

Gravel Pits on the DT&I at Tecumseh, Mich. ca. 1935

More paper changes occurred on May 10, 1897, when the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway Company was authorized to include the original Lima Northern Railway from the state line south to Lima, Ohio. The purpose of this move was to enable the directors of the original Lima Northern to extend the system beyond the limits of the original incorporation.

Thus it was the newly reorganized Detroit and Lima Northern Railway which entered Tecumseh on May 27, 1897, and provided the occasion for the celebration mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.

The Detroit and Lima Northern did not build a depot of its own in Tecumseh but, instead, used the depot of the Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Railroad (the former C.J.&M.). This depot, today located at the corner of Chicago Boulevard and Ottawa Street, was built by the Michigan and Ohio Railroad in 1883 and was originally located on the east side of South Maumee Street.

The Detroit and Lima Northern also used the D.T.&M. freight house which, was on the south side of Cummins Street near the foot of Wyandotte Street.

The D.&L.N. acquired trackage rights on the D.T.&M. to reach these buildings. Within a few months both the depot and freight house were moved west to the crossing of the D.T.&M. and the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad’s Jackson Branch (owned today by the Southern Michigan Railroad). The section of Cummins Street between Pearl and Evans Streets was closed to provide room for the station.

The Tecumseh Herald for September 3, 1897 made the following comments concerning the moving of the depot:

“The ‘setters’ (probably the gang of loafers who would congregate around every small town depot) have had the D.&L.N. station located on every inch of ground this side the track from the bridge (over the Raisin River east of Tecumseh) to the ‘y’ (between Union and Adrian Streets). It is to be hoped their minds are now easy since the thing is at last anchored.”

Later in the same issue, the Herald stated:

“The D.&L.N. passenger station is now in place and in use, having stood the journey nicely. They say it has no return ticket.”

The depot was located on South Evans Street north of the D.T.&M. track. Shortly after the depot was moved, a restaurant was opened in a small, one-story wood frame building just west of the depot and this “beanery” became a popular place for passengers and train crews to get a quick meal during station stops.

The freight house was also moved about the same time but there was apparently some indecision about where to put it judging from an item in the Herald on September 24, 1897:

“Again the D.&L.N. freight house is on the run. This time it will land on the southwest corner of the lot.”

Eventually it was located north of the depot a short distance west of Evans Street. It continued in use as a railroad freight house for several decades until it was sold to the Hayden Milling Company which used it as a warehouse. An attempt was made to move the building in the early 1980’s but it had become too weak and it was torn down instead.

After the depot was moved to South Evans Street, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad trains began stopping there as well as at the L.S.&M.S. depot in back of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and at Chicago Street. (The Chicago Street stop was added in 1881 after several serious accidents between trains and horses and wagons. The village council had requested that a flagman be placed at the crossing but the railroad had decided instead to make it an official stop. Tickets could be bought at Gaston’s Jewelry Store nearby.) The depot on South Evans became known as the “Union Depot” since all three railroads in Tecumseh now used it. Railroad timetables listed it as Tecumseh Junction to distinguish it from the north depot in back of St. Peter’s Church. Tecumseh now became known as “the little town where the train stops three times.” Since the conductor did not have time to collect tickets between station stops, residents could ride the train free from one stop to the next and the railroad unwittingly provided free trolley service in Tecumseh.

The D.&L.N. built a small freight yard, named Osborn Yard after William C. Osborn who was the railroad’s largest stockholder, between Patterson Street and Russell Road and a coaling station was set up here. Water, which was the other necessity for all steam locomotives, was provided from a water tank situated at Tecumseh Junction. A standpipe was located along the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern track nearby so trains on this railroad also could take on water while passengers got on or off the train at Tecumseh Junction.

The Detroit and Lima Northern experienced a problem after its arrival in Tecumseh. This problem concerned the failure of the D.&L.N. to reach an agreement with George Tansley of Addison, who owned a farm on the south side of West Cummins Street between Union and Adrian Streets. The railroad wanted to buy a strip of land across Tansley’s farm in order to build a track connecting their line with the Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Railroad to complete a wye which would allow them to reverse the direction of their trains.

The railroad, feeling that Tansley was asking too high a price, simply took possession of the land and built the track which formed the west leg of this wye formation. This track was located where Pawnee Heights exists today. The Adrian Evening Telegram of November 17, 1897 describes what happened next:

“Considerable excitement prevails in this village over the tearing up of a portion of the Lima Northern side track on the farm of George Tansley. The side track in question was the west “y” and had been built some time ago to connect the new road with the C.J.&M. just on the west side of the village of Tecumseh. Tansley claims that the company has never paid him for the land, and took action through his attorney, Walter C. Burridge, to compel payment. It is claimed by the Tansley side that the officials were notified that if they did not pay up, the Tansley interests would tear up the track. As nothing was done about a settlement, on Friday afternoon Lawyer Burridge and a force of men repaired to the track and tore up a part of it.”

Another Adrian newspaper, The Times and Expositer, in its edition of November 27 stated that Burridge and four or five men waited until it was dark on Friday evening and then removed several spikes and spread the rails apart. A railroad employee noticed the damage done to the track and ran to the railroad’s office at the corner of Evans and Cummins Streets to sound a warning. He didn’t make it in time. A switch engine pushing two flat cars backed down the track and derailed. The Times and Expositercontinued:

“Now the company threatens to arrest Burridge and there is plenty of excitement. Burridge says he is not at all scared, and citizens are taking sides one way and another in such a way that the affair promises to become more than a ten day sensation.”

The dispute was finally settled out of court with Tansley and the railroad agreeing on a satisfactory price. The track in question remained in use until the early 1950’s, when steam locomotives were replaced with diesels which did not require turning for the return trip and the track was removed.

D&LN Railroad Osborn Yard at Tecumseh, Michigan ca. 1898

The Detroit and Lima Northern Railway system expanded considerably on June 1, 1897, when it acquired control of the newly reorganized Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Railroad. This line, originally built as the Michigan and Ohio Railroad, extended for 133 miles from Allegan through Tecumseh to Dundee and had trackage rights over the Ann Arbor Railroad from Dundee to Toledo as well as trackage rights from Allegan to Holland and Grand Haven over the Chicago and West Michigan Railway. After many financial difficulties it became the Michigan Division of the Cincinnati Northern Railroad in 1897 but continued to lose money.

While this acquisition gave the D.&L.N. a route from Tecumseh to Dundee, the railroad still needed a direct route to Detroit. They had obtained the right to run their passenger trains from Britton to Detroit over the Wabash but the Wabash apparently would not grant similar rights to the D.&L.N.’s freight trains.

The D.&L.N. began negotiating with the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern in an attempt to purchase a section of the former Chicago and Canada Southern Railroad from Dundee to Chandler, just south of Trenton, which was owned by the Lake Shore.

However the L.S. & M.S. refused to sell and, on August 1, 1897 the Lima Northern began building an extension from Dundee to Durban, about five miles northeast of Dundee, on an unused portion of the D.T.&M. right-of-way.

The L.S. & M.S., which was apparently trying to block the Lima Northern from gaining entry to Detroit, then decided to end their opposition and in March of 1898 sold the Dundee-Chandler line to the Lima Northern.

The transition was not a smooth one. The Lima Northern did not have enough equipment to operate on their newly-acquired line and rented a Lake Shore train consisting of an engine, baggage car and coach for about two weeks. The Lake Shore removed all equipment from the depots at Flat Rock, Carleton, Scofield and Maybee even including the brass buttons and badges from the uniforms on their station agents. Most Lake Shore employees on the line were either dismissed or reassigned to other locations, but the station agents were not informed as to their future and were left in limbo. The agents remained at their stations although they had nothing to work with for several days until they were informed by the D.&L.N. that they would be retained. The Lake Shore also removed the wye tracks at Chandler and Dundee and cut all the telegraph wires along the line. For the next ten days no messages were sent and no tickets sold between Dundee and Chandler.

When a D.&L.N. Inspection train containing the railroad’s officials arrived at Dundee from Tecumseh they were not able to use their line due to the missing wye tracks. Instead they were forced to detour by way of the Ann Arbor Railroad to Milan, the Wabash to Romulus and the Pere Marquette to Carleton where a connection still existed.

During the remainder of 1898, the D.&L.N. built a line from Chandler to Delray (now part of Detroit’s southwest side) finally gaining the long-sought entrance into Detroit. The other railroads serving the city, not wanting any further competition, had thrown numerous legal road blocks at the Lima Northern causing the Adrian Evening Telegram to comment on January 14, 1898: “It is alleged that any day an injunction is not issued against the Lima Northern, by property owners and other, impeding the entrance of the line into Detroit, the Lima Northern officials just get awfully lonesome. They have had to fight injunctions all the way through Wayne County.”

The completion of the railroad to Detroit benefited Tecumseh residents by giving them a more direct route to Detroit than had previously existed. The Tecumseh Herald noted on June 18, 1897:

“The D.&L.N. train which leaves Tecumseh for Detroit at 2:50 p.m. carries a chair car each day, giving passengers the best service of any road running into Detroit.”

(A chair car, sometimes called a parlor car, provided individual easy chairs rather than coach seats for an additional price. There would also sometimes be an attendant in the car who would provide food and drinks.).

The Detroit and Lima Northern immediately began exploiting the easy accessibility of Detroit to Tecumseh residents as the advertisement in the Tecumseh Herald for June 18, 1897, shows:

“Agents of the Detroit & Lima Northern Ry. will sell excursion tickets to Detroit and return for the regular morning train Sunday June 27th, at the exceedingly low rate of $1.00 for the round trip. Returning train leaves Detroit at 6 p.m. giving excursionists six hours in Detroit. This is an exceptionally good opportunity to enjoy a day’s outing at a small expense. Visit beautiful Belle Isle, Grand Circus Park. Take a bicycle ride over the elegant boulevards. Make a trip across the Detroit River to Canada or enjoy a steamer ride on the river. For full particulars see agents D.&L.N. Ry.”

The D.&L.N.’s long-sought entrance to Detroit proved to be a hollow victory, however. The line did not serve a single industry in the Detroit area and was required to pay switching charges of $7.00 per car for interchange traffic into Detroit.

In the meantime the D.&L.N. was becoming an asset to Tecumseh. The town’s hopes of becoming an important railroad center seemed to be coming true when the D.&L.N. decided to locate their offices there.

A site on South Evans Street just north of the Tecumseh Junction depot was chosen and construction of a 30 foot by 60 foot wood frame office building was begun in September of 1897. When it was completed it was jointly owned and occupied by the Detroit and Lima Northern and the Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee. (In later years it was used as a railroad freight house before being sold to the Gratz Grain and Milling Company and being moved alongside the D.T.&M. track to be used as a warehouse. Eventually the Hayden Milling Company took over the Gratz Mill and the building became part of the Hayden Mill complex on South Pearl Street. It was destroyed by fire along with the rest of the Hayden Mill in June of 1977.)

Rail lines in Tecumseh, Michigan ca. 1898

That this additional activity was proving beneficial to Tecumseh can be seen in this article in the Adrian Times in September of 1897:

“A correspondent says: ‘The new Detroit & Lima Northern railroad is proving a valuable acquisition for Tecumseh. Real estate here has taken a boom, and houses are in great demand. Many officers and employees of the road are taking up their residence here on account of the general offices of the company at this point. Ground has been broken for the erection of the building for the offices, and the coaling station, formerly at Addison, has also been removed here.’”

The area surrounding Tecumseh was also enjoying the benefits of the new railroad as this article in the Adrian Messenger also in September of 1897 shows:

“Since the advent of the D.&L.N. Railroad, Raisin Valley is putting on metropolitan airs. Many passengers get on and off at this point, and it is now the intention of the company to put in a side track and establish a station there. A big effort is being made to establish a regular mail service, and the people of Raisin Valley are entitled to recognition. This prosperous and thickly settled farming district is going to have what is needed or know the reason why.”

The side track and station referred to were located at Birdsall on what is now highway M-52.


By late 1897 the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway began plans for locating shops for building and repairing freight and passenger cars on their line. Both Tecumseh and Adrian expressed interest in having the shops. A campaign was started in Tecumseh to obtain land and raise money for them. A committee consisting of A.W. Mills, N.S. Satterthwaite, C.E. Williamson and George N. Stacy was formed and on New Year’s Day of 1898 they met with Charles Haskell, one of the owners of the D.&L.N. and C.H. Raser, the railroad’s construction engineer. At the meeting, Haskell and Raser agreed that the railroad would build the shops in Tecumseh if the community would pledge a $21,000 “bonus” to the railroad.

In its issue of January 7, 1898, theTecumseh Herald stated:

“It is the duty of every citizen of Tecumseh to subscribe every dollar he can afford and ‘then some’ toward the railroad shop fund, and it will be necessary to do so to secure them. We must have the shops and that’s all there is to it. Every five dollar subscription is a ‘great help’ and on the wind up these small subscriptions will tell the story.”

The money was raised quickly. On January 28, the headlines in the Herald proclaimed: “The Battle is Over! The Bonus of $21,000 Raised and Papers Sent to New York.”

Of the $21,000 raised, $15,000 was pledged in just four days—a remarkable accomplishment in light of the fact that Tecumseh’s population then was about 2,500, and the average person in that era earned about $500 a year.

In addition to this money, 29 acres of land which had previously formed the Bills race track on South Maumee Street was obtained by the village and donated to the railroad. This property was located south of Cummins Street extending to the point where Mohawk Street angles to the southeast away from Maumee. It was bounded on the east by the bluff above the Raisin River.

The article in the Herald for January 28 ended with a little gloating directed at Tecumseh’s competitor for the car shops:

“Tecumseh has secured the D.&L.N. Railway shops. Adrian papers please echo.”

Under the terms of the agreement 65 per cent of the “bonus” was to be paid to the D.&L.N. within ten days after two of the buildings were constructed and in use and the remaining 35 per cent would be paid after the third building was completed and ready for use. The agreement also stated that if the railroad should stop using the land and buildings for divisional shops, their ownership would revert back to the subscribers to the bonus in proportion to their subscriptions, a condition that was to cause numerous headaches in future years.

Ground was broken for the first two buildings on February 8, 1898. These consisted of a car repair shop, 75 feet wide and 175 feet long, constructed of sheet iron over a wooden-frame and a brick enginehouse containing seven stalls for housing locomotives. There was a pit under one of the tracks in the enginehouse where repairs could be undertaken on the driving wheels of a locomotive. A “wye” track arrangement was planned to provide an entrance to the enginehouse and also to turn locomotives although this may have been replaced by a turntable at a later date.

By April of 1898 a third building was under construction. This building, built of brick and measuring 80 feet wide and 191 feet long, was to be a machine shop. An addition was built on one side of this building to house a stationary steam engine purchased from the Buckeye Engine Works in Salem, Ohio, as well as two boilers. This steam engine provided the power to run the machinery in the shop. A series of belts and pulleys carried the power from the boiler room to the shop itself. The exhaust steam was used to heat the buildings.

Car Shops on the D&LN at Tecumseh, Mich., 1898

A number of smaller buildings, most of wood frame construction, were also built including a paint shop, an oil house for the storage of lubricating oils, a building to dry and store sand which was used to give locomotives better traction, and the usual clutter of hand car houses, tool sheds, coal sheds and water closets—indoor plumbing was not very prevalent at the turn of the century.

The initial enthusiasm of Tecumseh residents apparently waned somewhat when it came time to pay the bill. In its issue of June 24, 1898, the Tecumseh Herald delivered a stern lecture to its readers concerning the reluctance of many to pay their portion of the bonus. The article began by pointing out that the first bonus of $8000 to induce the D.&L.N. to build their line to Tecumseh had been promptly paid.

It reminded its readers that the railroad’s general offices were moved to Tecumseh, and coal docks for the locomotives were brought here from Addison and provided employment for eight men. The article continued:

“Every freight train is changed here, which brings no less than 30 men stopping in Tecumseh. The gravel pit force of men live in Tecumseh, making in all, including passenger train men, no less than 100 men employed by the railroad, who spend their money in Tecumseh.”

The article than noted that “The 65 per cent of the bonus is now due and our people do not seem disposed to pay.”

After describing the completed buildings and reminding its readers that much of the machinery in the car shops was bought from the Tiffany Iron Works in Tecumseh, the Herald states that:

“The railroad company asks the pay, not to be in a hurry, but because it needs the money to pay out on the shops. The amount is due and must be paid sometime. It is certainly a surprise to the Herald that our people DO NOT PAY NOW, help the railroad when it needs help and by keeping the company pleased, get all possible for our money.”

After suggesting that all residents of Tecumseh have already been repaid through the money spent in the community by the railroad’s employees, the Herald concludes: “One year ago Tecumseh was as dead as a petrified rat. Today she is the ‘Hottest’ little town in southern Michigan, and ALL because of the D.&L.N. Ry. Why not be decent, and not forget so soon those who have helped us?”

This admonition appears to have worked since the July issue of the Herald reported that a meeting of the subscribers to the bonus had been held and issued a statement that: “Mr. (Charles) Haskell be notified to send on his collector. The 65 per cent is now due and we are ready to pay the money.’

By May of 1898 the shops were completed and ready for use. In July the editor of the Herald visited the car shops as the guest of the D.&L.N. Railway and reported on the activity there:

“…we found men busy washing out the locomotive boilers, which after three or four runs become clogged with the minerals and impurities of the boiled water. The flues also become encrusted with a scale which even constant washing fails to remove and after a year’s run a locomotive boiler has to have a new set of insides, the flues are taken out and replaced by new ones and the scale which is as thick as the iron itself is knocked off, the ends trimmed up and new pieces welded on.”

“Mr. Stokes (the railroad’s Master Mechanic) tells us that most of the work done in the machine shop for the next few months will be boiler work, the shops at Lima not having the proper facilities for doing the work… “

“In the paint shop a number of painters, some of them local men, were putting the finishing touches on a finely painted and decorated car which is one of three which will compose a train soon to be seen running over the line. Asked how many men would be employed, he (Master Mechanic Stokes) said that would be regulated by the amount of work the road required but that there would be a big force.”

The Tecumseh Herald on October 21, 1898, reported that 85 men would be given jobs in the shops.

The activity at the shops was of great interest and a source of pride for the community as can be seen by items in the Herald such as the one on January 20, 1899:

“D.&L.N. engine No. 1 that has been undergoing repairs at the Tecumseh shops came out Tuesday looking as bright as a new dollar and was given a trial run between Tecumseh and Adrian.”

Also on May 30, 1899:

“The car shops recently made a record by building a flat car complete, from the trucks up, in one day.”

And on June 2, 1899:

“The D.&L.N. coach 20, which was turned out of the shops last week, is considered to be a model of modern railroad architecture. This car was in a wreck on the O.S. (the Ohio Southern Railroad, which was to merge with the D.&L.N.) last fall and was completely demolished. The trucks were then brought here and the new coach built on them at a cost of about $1,500.”

By the turn of the century, Tecumseh had become the booming railroad town it had dreamed of. The population had increased from 2,400 to 3,300 and over 100 new voters had been registered in a little over a year. There was a serious housing shortage and one real estate agent claimed to have had 22 applications to rent the same house in a single week.

The payroll at the car shops for January of 1899 exceeded $5,000, a large amount of money in 1899, and since the railroad workers were free spenders, the town’s merchants enjoyed a great deal of prosperity.

Between 16 and 20 passenger trains a day on the three railroads served Tecumseh and all of them stopped at the Tecumseh Junction depot on South Evans Street. The condition of this depot began to be a source of concern as noted in an editorial in the Herald on April 4, 1899:

‘The waiting rooms in this station are a disgrace to any decent community. (There were separate waiting rooms for men and women.) Men are constantly smoking in the ladies’ room and all winter there has been no fire in the men’s room. The floor is rotten with tobacco spit and mud and whoever is to blame for this state of affairs should be ‘jacked up’ at once.”

Many Tecumseh residents wanted the three railroads to construct a larger union depot at Tecumseh Junction which would replace both existing depots but they were ultimately disappointed when, in 1913, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, which had absorbed the Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Railroad, renovated them both and ended the agitation for a new station.

While Tecumseh was basking in its new-found prosperity from the railroads, there were some disquieting events taking place.

In April of 1898 the D.&L.N. was forced to suspend all operations for several days because of a lack of funds. There were also rumors that all the general offices of the D.T.&M., which was controlled by the D.&L.N., would be moved from Tecumseh to Detroit. A Toledo Blade claim that N.K. Elliott, the D.T.&M. Superintendent, would have his office in Detroit was disputed by the Herald which pointed out that Mr. Elliott had just purchased his official stationary from the Herald with Tecumseh listed as the address and concluded that “it is not probable he will use it all either today or tomorrow.”

This rumor proved to be partly correct as D.T.&M. Superintendent Elliott and the D.T.&M. auditor’s office moved to Toledo on April 1, 1898. Most of the D.&L.N. office staff remained in Tecumseh using the office building they had shared with the D.T.&M. at Tecumseh Junction on South Evans Street with the exception of C.H. Raser, who had been promoted to Assistant Treasurer and moved his office to Detroit. The Tecumseh Herald on April 1, 1898, offered the opinion that:

‘The D.&L.N. office force will probably remain in Tecumseh only long enough to construct a (telegraph) wire over the new piece of road from Dundee to Detroit when they will all go to Detroit except Supt. (George R.) Hascell and the train dispatchers who will remain in Tecumseh permanently.”

The article ended on an optimistic note:

“Already enough men have been hired to fill up all the room in the office building made vacant by the removal. These men are to be of the book-keeping force of the shops and Tecumseh in the end will not lose a man or family by the change.”

The statement proved to be overly optimistic. On July 15, 1898, the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway formally established their corporate offices in Detroit and began the process of consolidating the various departments which had been located in Tecumseh as well as Lima, Ohio, Detroit and New York. In October of that year, the auditor’s office was moved from Tecumseh to Lima. They were followed by the offices of the purchasing agent, chief engineer and division superintendent in the next few months so that by the following February only the master mechanic’s office remained in Tecumseh, probably because of the proximity of the car repair shops.

On February 9, 1899, the office building was badly damaged by a fire which started in the upper story which was being used by the D.&L.N. freight department. The fire started about daybreak and the firefighters were hampered by extreme cold as the temperature had fallen to -15°F. and several of them suffered frostbite. The fire was extinguished about 11:00 a.m., but not before a portion of the roof had collapsed. The building was covered by insurance and was soon repaired. Although there were rumors that the building would be moved to the vicinity of the car shops and converted into an office for the master mechanic, it remained in the same location.

On the brighter side the Herald reported in its February 7, 1899, issue that 92 men were employed at the D.&L.N. car shops “and more coming all the time.” The payroll for the month of January was $5,378.68 which was an increase of over $300 since December. It was also reported that 19 new houses had been built in Tecumseh during the previous year with five others having been remodeled as well as “numberless porches” having been built.

There were signs of the approaching twentieth century also as telephones were placed in the D.T.&M. dispatcher’s office as well as his home and the D.&L.N. installed new electric clocks in both the depot and the general office building.

Overall though, the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway was experiencing more financial trouble and finally declared bankruptcy. On September 6, 1898, James B. Townsend of Lima, Ohio, was appointed the receiver of the railroad. The Herald ever optimistic, claimed “the receivership is simply a matter of reorganization… Tecumseh has a better chance of becoming a railroad center than ever before.” (9/9/1898)

On September 22, in response to eastern shareholders who represented the Manhattan Trust Company, which held a $3,335,000 mortgage on the line, Julius Bache was appointed as a co-receiver with Townsend.

Lawsuits began raining down on the D.&L.N. including one filed by the W.B. Strong & Company, which constructed the line, for $698,550, and one filed by the Wabash Railroad for $13,000 in trackage rights fees for the eight-mile section of track from Lima Junction to South Adrian used by the D.&L.N. This amount was paid in 1900 and the D.&L.N. was given permission to construct its own line between those two points to avoid any further problems with the Wabash. This new line, which ran parallel to the Wabash track, was completed in 1901. At Sand Creek, the D.&L.N. built its own depot across the tracks from the Wabash station.

When the railroad was unable to improve its financial condition, Judge Wing of Toledo ordered the line sold at foreclosure. On May 23, 1901, it was sold to F.J. Lisman & Company of New York for $1,700,500. Frederick Lisman had bought the Ohio Southern Railroad several weeks earlier, and on June 1, 1901, he combined them to form the Detroit Southern Railroad Company.

The new line was 374 miles long but it lacked facilities on the Ohio River and port facilities on Lake Erie which were needed for the railroad to compete successfully with other lines. Lisman issued nearly $7,000,000 in bonds with liens on the Ohio Southern and the Detroit and Lima Northern to acquire the money needed to upgrade the track, overhaul locomotives and buy new locomotives and rolling stock. On August 9, 1901, a new daily fast freight train was put into operation between Springfield, Ohio, and Detroit. This train passed through Tecumseh and covered the 220 miles on its route in nineteen hours.

In 1902 parlor cars were added to passenger trains, two of which made stops at Tecumseh. An extra fare of 25¢ was added for seats in them.

The goal of reaching the Ohio River was achieved in 1902 with the purchase of the Iron Railway between Bloom Junction, Ohio, and Ironton on the river and the acquisition of trackage rights on the Baltimore and Ohio Southwestern Railroad from Bloom Junction to Jackson, Ohio, where the Ohio Southern line headed north. A car float across the Ohio River gave the Detroit Southern access to Kentucky and its coal mines.

In 1903 the Detroit Southern dealt a blow to Tecumseh by announcing that the car shops would be moved to Napoleon, Ohio.

Clara Waldron, in her history of Tecumseh, ‘One Hundred Years A Country Town”, describes what happened next:

“The committee that had furnished land and obtained bonus money now got an injunction restraining the lines from moving and so the action was delayed for a few years. Part of the work that had been transferred to the Ohio town was returned here, and about 50 men were employed for a time.” (Page 162)

Financial problems began to plague the Detroit Southern. Part of the railroad’s difficulty was its heavy dependence on coal which was moved north. There was little southbound traffic in return. In addition most of the coal was carried in the fall and early winter to many different points on other railroads. Once the coal cars left the Detroit Southern they were not usually returned until the following spring leaving the railroad unable to meet the demands of its own shippers.

The Detroit Southern was unable to sell most of the bonds issued in 1903 and was unable to pay the interest on earlier mortgage bonds. Some of the railroad’s problems were blamed on a drought in Ohio, which had caused many streams to dry up, forcing the Detroit Southern to use lower quality water for its steam locomotives. This resulted in boiler problems and engine breakdowns. Traffic was also lighter than anticipated due to poor farm crops because of the drought and lower-than-expected production from the coal fields in southern Ohio.

On July 6, 1903, the Detroit Southern went into receivership. By mid-July the railroad had less than $10,000 in cash to pay its bills. A request by receiver Samuel Hunt to issue $700,000 in certificates to pay bills and improve the railroad was denied by the court overseeing the receivership.

The end for the Detroit Southern came in February of 1905 when the New York Security and Trust Company filed suit to start foreclosure on a $10,000,000 mortgage lien.

On May 1, 1905, the foreclosure sale was held at Springfield, Ohio, and the railroad was sold for $2,000,000 to Harry B. Hollins & Company of New York who were acting as agents for the bondholders, and the line was reincorporated as the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway Company under Michigan law.

Mortgages totaling nearly $27,000,000 were made with the New York Trust Company and the Knickerbocker Trust Company. In addition, the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton gained control of the Ann Arbor Railroad, which extended from Toledo to a carferry operation across Lake Michigan at Frankfort, Michigan, by buying 72% of Ann Arbor stock. The two railroads continued to maintain their separate identities.

From May 1, 1905, to June 30, 1906, the main line from Jackson, Ohio through Tecumseh to Delray was rebuilt with treated crossties and 85-pound rail which replaced the lighter and badly-worn 56- and 60-pound rail. (85-pound rail means that a section of rail one yard in length weighs 85 pounds.)

Coal was still the most important commodity carried by the D.T. & I., accounting for 40% of the railroad’s business in 1906. The problem of having to take the empty coal cars back to the coal mines of southern Ohio, an operation that produced no revenue, was solved by using them to carry iron ore from lake freighters at Toledo to the iron processing industry in Jackson, Ohio. The cars then had to be moved only a few miles to the coal mines where they would be loaded with high grade soft coal and then taken back to the Ironville dock in Toledo where the coal would be shipped out on lake freighters. The iron ore came from the Missabi iron range in Minnesota and was needed to keep the iron processing industry alive in Jackson since the local iron mines were no longer able to meet the demand.

In addition to coal, iron ore, limestone and furnace sand, manufactured iron and cast products made up another 31% of the railroad’s business so that the continued operation of the Jackson iron industry was vital to the D.T. & I.’s well being.

Tecumseh’s dreams of becoming a major railroad town were shattered forever in 1907 when the D.T. & I. moved the car shop operations to Napoleon, Ohio, enticed by a $5000 “bonus’ and a tract of land provided by the citizens of that community. The railroad argued successfully that they were still obeying the earlier injunction since they were not moving the buildings themselves (which would have been difficult to move, anyway). All of the men and equipment were moved to Napoleon leaving the buildings empty.

The smaller buildings were torn down or moved. Since it was impossible to convert the brick roundhouse to any other use, it was also torn down, leaving the two buildings which had housed the machine shop and car shop. Attempts were made to interest industrialists, including Henry Ford, in using them but to no avail.

The buildings deteriorated and a 1922 fire insurance map of Tecumseh showed them with the notation that they were not in use, badly dilapidated and surrounded by plowed fields. A fine of $10 was instituted by the village council to be levied against people who were caught dumping trash there without a permit.

Since the land and buildings technically belonged to the hundreds of people who had donated money in proportion to the size of their donations, their fate became mired in a legal quagmire. Eventually they were torn down.

Napoleon was also made a division point in 1907, and the remaining office workers were moved there from Tecumseh.

Tecumseh received another, although temporary, blow on December 1, 1907, when the D.T. & I. ended its trackage rights agreement with the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad between Tecumseh and Dundee and changed its main line through northern Ohio and southeastern Michigan. The new route used the Wabash Railway from Napoleon, Ohio, to the outskirts of Toledo, the Toledo Terminal Railway from there to Hallett Tower on Toledo’s north side and the Ann Arbor Railroad from there to Dundee where the original main line was rejoined. This change was made to avoid the many steep grades and sharp curves in the Adrian area. Helper engines were often required to move trains through Adrian but trains still sometimes stalled blocking grade crossings throughout the city. The line through Tecumseh became known as the Tecumseh Branch and the two passenger trains daily in each direction that had provided Tecumseh with a direct route to Detroit now bypassed Tecumseh. The only passenger service was a daily local train between Tecumseh and Napoleon which required over 5 1/2 hours for the trip.

This change was only temporary, however, since the new route quadrupled the number of miles of trackage rights that the D.T. & I. Had to pay for and, on October 10, 1908, the original route through Tecumseh became the main line again.

The D.T. & I. provided some excitement for Tecumseh on what would otherwise have been a rather quiet Sunday morning on October 6, 1907, when a southbound freight train (which would have actually been traveling west at that point) and an eastbound Lake Shore and Michigan Southern gravel train collided head-on near the Albert Waring farm about two miles east of Tecumseh on the line to Dundee. A curve had hidden each train from the other but the engineer of the gravel train heard the freight train, applied the brakes and he and the rest of the crew “joined the birds’, that is, jumped clear of the train. The crew of the D.T. & I. freight train also jumped when they saw the oncoming gravel train but the engineer did not have time to set the brakes. No one was injured. Residents of Tecumseh, still wearing their Sunday-best clothes, drove their buggies and wagons out to the scene of the accident after church services. An L.S. & M.S. wreck train from Elkhart, Indiana, arrived about four o’clock in the afternoon and cleared the track.

On February 1, 1908, to the surprise of no one, the D.T. & I. was placed in receivership after the railroad was unable to pay the interest on a $2.8 million mortgage held by the Knickerbocker Trust Company. This began the most embarrassing era in the railroad’s history. In April of 1909, the American Car and Foundry, which held the bonds for most of the road’s equipment, forced the D.T. & I. to surrender thirty locomotives and over 2300 coal, box and flat cars.

On September 16, 1909, the purchase of the Ann Arbor Railroad by the D.T. & I. was invalidated by the courts which stated that Michigan law prohibited one railroad from buying the stock of another.

The railroad continued to decline and the Ohio Public Service Commission stated: “The road has been grossly mismanaged, exploited and allowed to deteriorate and the sale of the road should be made.”

Attempts to sell the railroad at foreclosure were delayed and its physical condition continued to decline while complaints about delayed passenger and freight trains increased. Floods and washouts of the roadbed in Ohio compounded the railroad’s woes and it was nicknamed “the line of a thousand troubles”.

Finally, on April 17, 1913, the Middle Division of the D.T. & I., formerly the Ohio Southern, was sold at foreclosure to the Central Trust Company and, on June 28, 1913, the Northern and Southern Divisions were sold to the New York Trust Company. All three divisions were reorganized as the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad on March 2, 1914.

The newly reorganized railroad began a policy of eliminating nonprofitable freight and began soliciting new freight business to balance the seasonal coal-shipping business. To upgrade the badly run-down railroad, $1,000,000 in bonds were issued. One consequence of this was the construction of a new inclined eight-pocket coaling dock at Tecumseh, replacing the sheds and chutes which had been brought from Addison when the Detroit and Lima Northern was completed to Tecumseh. The new coaling dock, located east of the D.T. & I. main track in Osborn Yard, a short distance north of Russell Road, consisted on a long wooden trestle with coal pockets underneath. Coal cars would be pushed up the ramp to the trestle and their contents emptied into the pockets underneath. TheTecumseh Herald, in its issue of October 6, 1914, mentioned that most of the material was being provided by local businesses. It also noted that switching services for shippers in Adrian and Tecumseh were again being provided with the engine and crew remaining overnight in Tecumseh and concluded: “We are glad to this road making improvements. Let the good work continue.”

Two daily passenger trains each way once again gave the town access to Detroit.

Some idea of the poor condition of the D.T. & I. can be gained from the recollections of a former Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad switchman named Jack Wynn who worked on the D.T. & I. in 1915 as a “boomer”, that is, an employee who changed jobs and moved from railroad to railroad rather frequently, often traveling from coast to coast.

Writing in the September and October 1950, issues of Railroad Magazine, Mr. Wynn described the D.T. & I.:

“The pike badly needed motive power… at that time the Federal boiler law allowed 11 flues plugged for leaks in each engine, and the D.T. & I. had the limit. We actually received, on the ready track, engines that could not get hot even standing still, let alone pull 30 cars of ash over 104 miles of single-track road.”

Mr. Wynn’s first trip on the railroad was as a flagman on a run from Napoleon to Tecumseh. His description of that trip follows:

“D.T. & I. freight speed limit was 20 miles per hour, passenger trains 35 mph. I am not sure that any of them ever made the limit. A few miles north of Napoleon we crossed the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern main line in fairly good shape. I knew my fireman friend was in for a bad time on this, his first run, but I heard the pops go up and I felt fine. But soon we began dragging along, finally coming to a dead stop miles from nowhere, on the main stem. I flagged the rear while our boy skipper (the conductor who was barely in his 20’s) flagged the head end.”

“After a 2 1/2-hour wait, I learned that the engine had died a natural death (there was no steam in the boiler.) The big ox (the husky fireman) found a telephone on a nearby farm. After a while an engine came up behind us with orders to pull us back to Napoleon, which he did… We were relieved after being duty only four hours.”

Mr. Wynn continues: ”A train was made up but needed a crew. The callboy got busy registering bums he found at the Aihambra Hotel (in Napoleon), about two miles from the yard office, across the street from the county jail.

From those two buildings he finally got a crew together—and what a crew! The general yardmaster made a deal with the sheriff to get a conductor out of the jug.”

“Our watch inspector was a guy named Allen. If, at inspection time, one of us was lucky enough to have a watch, weld use the same turnip for the whole crew. I remember the day I was called as flagman to go north to Delray, Mich., with only an engine and caboose and an all-boomer crew. We headed first for Tecumseh, Mich., end of D. T. & I. rail, after which we’d use the old Lake Shore track for 44 (actually 14) miles to Dundee, Mich., where we’d hit D.T. & I. iron again.”

“We had several positive meets between Napoleon and Tecumseh, taking 8 1/2 hours for the 48 1/2-mile trip. When we reached Dundee we’d been on duty 15 hours. The dispatcher agreed to our demand for 10 hours’ rest. Then back to the grind. Leaving Dundee, we fought the (locomotive number) 108, a teakettle that leaked badly, no steam, no water. At Delray our hogger (engineer) resigned while we were eating in a beanery.”

“Trainmaster Humphries, in town on business, looked me up and asked, ‘When Mr. Frazier hired you at Springfield, he said he’d promote you on experience, is that right?’”

“’Yes’ I replied.”

“’From this moment on, you are a conductor. You will be in charge going south.’”

“That made me feel good, an ORC (conductor) at age 23. ‘Thanks, Mr. Humphries,’ I said. ‘How about the crew?’”

“’I have borrowed a Wabash engineer. Your head brakeman is a boy learning the machinist trade.’”

“But when we were ready to leave, the boy’s mother would not let him go so far from home. It was only 104 miles, but a week or 10 days might pass before he’d get back. So we used a yard snake (switchman) to work the head end.”

“Old-timers might remember a hogger named Hess who had been mixed up in a wreck near Amherst, Ohio on the New York Central. He came to the D.T. & I. and his first run on this road was with me, on my first trip as conductor. Hess knew so little about the D.T. & I. that I rode in the cab with him. We left for Napoleon, but we hadn’t gone far before I noticed that our fireman, a boomer named Hayes, was spilling coal over the deck. Drunk, in plain English. When we stopped at Dundee for a meet, Hess and I loaded him into an empty boxcar and I took over the additional work of firing.”

“We had plenty of trouble. Hess needed advice about the road. I needed tips on keeping the 106 hot. When we whistled for the board at Tecumseh, end of the Lake Shore track, I was using a broom to sweep up the last of the 16 tons of coal. We had to take on coal, water and sand. Also, I had to go into the telegraph office to register and get orders. I told Hess to get help from the coal-dock man and, to cover up for Hayes, report that the tallowpot (fireman) had dropped off at the beanery for headache and stomach pills. It worked fine.”

“We stopped a few more times to blow up and get the 106 hot and make four meets, and finally whistled for the Napoleon yard board. Brother, was I happy when we cleared the main line and I saw that switch target go green! I had made my first trip as conductor and fireman without seeing my caboose except from a distance.” (Conductors always rode in the caboose.)

The D.T. & I. inadvertently provided some excitement for residents in the southeast part of Tecumseh in the early morning hours of May 18, 1916, when a mistake in judgement on the part of a brakeman allowed a string of cars moving downgrade toward the bridge over the Raisin River to collide with several other cars with a loud bang awakening nearby residents. Three of the cars, one of them containing drums of alkali and calcium cloride overturned. The Tecumseh Herald remarked: “Had the standing section been a rod further on the bridge the cars would have precipitated into the river, and the freight would have been the death of every fish in the stream for miles.” (5/20/1916)

Under its new and more competent leadership, the D.T. & I. improved its track and facilities and bought several new locomotives. The railroad also gained its own line into Toledo in 1916 when it leased the Toledo-Detroit Railroad, a former interurban line, from Dundee to Toledo.

The railroad was beginning to show a profit when the United States entered World War I. On January 1, 1918, the United States Railway Administration took over the operation of all of the nation’s railroads and they remained under federal government control until the end of the war. The railroad received fifteen new locomotives during USRA control, when a large number of locomotives originally destined to Czarist Russia were diverted to the USRA in part because of the Russian revolution and in part because of the locomotive shortage in this country. These had been built for the sixty-inch gauge Russian track and the wheels had to be regauged for the 56 1/2-inch gauge U.S. Track. The throttles worked in an opposite fashion from those of American locomotives with the engineer required to pull the throttle out to stop the train and push it in to start it. The difference resulted in several accidents with at least one locomotive plunging into a turntable pit.

The railroads had been pushed beyond the limits of normal performance by the USRA and the D.T. & I. was badly in need of rehabilitation when it was returned to private ownership. It had a debt of $1,800,000 and faced additional problems when the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would dredge the Rouge River to allow the lake ships of the Ford Motor Company to dock at the huge Ford Rouge plant. This would require the D.T. & I. to improve its bridge over the Rouge River but the financially-ailing railroad was not able to obtain any monetary help.


An article in the July 1938 issue of Railroad Magazine entitled “Henry Ford’s Railroad Experiment” outlined the railroad’s pathetic condition:

“…according to conservative estimates, $8,000,000 would have to be tossed into it to revive it, and then its chances for traffic might not be describable as glowing. Its passenger business wasn’t worth much because the D.T. & I. (ran) cross-wise to the flow of traffic and tapped no large towns into which competing lines didn’t offer better service. Moreover, a ride on its trains was a trial, to be avoided whenever possible.”

“The biggest plum in its speculative freight basket was what it might get out of the Jackson coal fields, but even this could not be picked without grief. Coal operators demanded cars in the fall, when there was a scarcity of them on the D. T. & I. and they would threaten to have the D. T. & I ‘s charter revoked when the cars were not forthcoming.” (Pages 11-12)

Clearly the railroad needed a savior, and the savior proved to be Henry Ford. When Frederic Osborn, the son of the largest stockholder of the D.T. & I., talked to Ford about the possibility of guaranteeing the bonds needed to build a new lift bridge over the Rouge River, Ford not only loaned the money for the bridge but decided to buy the railroad. Ford was interested in the D.T. & I. since he could ship coal over it from Ford-owned coal mines in Kentucky to his new River Rouge plant and use the railroad to carry automobiles from the plant to dealers. In addition, Ford had several novel ideas concerning the operation of railroads, and the ailing D.T. & I. seemed to be the ideal patient to practice on. Consequently, on July 9, 1920, Henry Ford, his wife Clara and their son Edsel bought the D.T. & I. for $5,000,000. Since it was estimated that the railroad and its locomotives, cars, buildings and equipment were worth between 16 and 20 million dollars, it would appear that the Fords had bought it at a bargain-basement price. However the railroad’s prospects were so bleak at the time that 5 million was probably a quite realistic price.

Titans of industry on a DT&I train: Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison

Titans of industry on a DT&I train: Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison (Source: University of Michigan Library, Saline Area Historical Photos collection)

The D.T. & I. offered Ford access into the coal fields of Southern Ohio and Kentucky and connections with all the east-west trunk lines which blanketed Ohio. The railroad became the major connecting link for inbound raw materials to the Rouge plant as well as outbound finished automobiles. It was thus changed from a coal-hauler to an auto-manufacturing hauler overnight.

Ford’s plan for operating the railroad profitably could be summed up in his statement to “… simply cut out the loafing of the men, the loafing of the engines, and the loafing of cars.”

Ford believed in good wages and paid engineers and conductors $375 a month, firemen $275 and brakemen $225, with a minimum wage of $6 a day for everyone else. Employees worked no more than 208 hours a month, and no one worked on Sundays. At the same time Ford refused to recognize labor unions and extra pay for overtime. There was no seniority system and employees were promoted entirely on the basis of merit. Ford officials used strict company standards to evaluate employees.

Every employee was expected to work every minute of an eight-hour workday. If a train had to stop on a siding every man except the flagman had specific duties. The engine crew had to polish the engine and make any necessary light repairs, and the trainmen were required to wash the walls and windows of the caboose. All train crews were expected to be clean-shaven and to wear clean overclothes, goggles and a white cap. Smoking, drinking, chewing tobacco and gambling on the job were forbidden, and a second offense meant dismissal.

Ford even appointed a group of investigators to visit the home of each employee and maintain a file with information on each employee’s financial condition, savings habits, debts, marital status, household conditions and personal habits, but this program generated so much hostility that it was soon abandoned.

Cleanliness was emphasized, and the scrap iron and debris which had littered the D.T. & I’s right-of-way disappeared. Roundhouses were whitewashed, locomotives were kept immaculately clean, and even the interiors of desk drawers were painted gray to force the owners of them to keep them free of fingerprints and dirt.

All of the railroad’s locomotives were overhauled at Ford’s River Rouge plant and received brass trimmings, polished Russian iron and nickel-plated fittings. The engine cabs were outfitted with deep-cushioned chairs, plate glass windows, aluminum floors and nickel-plated valve handles. All running gear and footboards were illuminated by electric lights.

DT&I Fairfield Coaling Crane at Tecumseh, Michigan

DT&I #305 at Tecumseh, Michigan

DT&I #305 at Tecumseh, Michigan

DT&I company photos of the Fairfield Coaling Machine and 2-10-0 steam locomotive #305 at Osborn Yard in Tecumseh, date unknown. (Source: the John S. Ingles collection at the Lakes States Railway Historical Association; used under license)


Ford regarded most of the legal and claim staff as deadwood and fired them all. Legal charges dropped from $17,990 in June of 1920 to $207 one year later. He also fired nearly all of the railroad’s officials, appointed himself as president and picked men from the Ford Motor Company to run the railroad. The total number of employees dropped from 2700 in August of 1920 to 1326 in March of 1921.

Ford also advanced the idea of lighter rolling stock through the use of aluminum and alloy steels, ideas which were eventually adopted by the entire railroad industry.

On June 29, 1920, the railroad was reincorporated as the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad Company, and an employee investment plan was set in motion whereby employees could purchase savings certificates on which interest was paid in proportion to the railroad’s earnings. These certificates often paid interest rates as high as 14 and 16 per cent.

Much of the railroad was rebuilt with heavier rail and ballast. (The original line had been mainly unballasted and the railroad’s leaky engines had encouraged an abundance of weeds along the right-of-way.)

A new line was constructed from Flat Rock to the Rouge plant eliminating the time-consuming process of classifying cars at the yard in Ecorse and the expense involved with transferring cars to the Rouge plant on the Pere Marquette and Wabash railroads.

During the 1920’s Henry Ford made frequent trips over the D.T. & I. through Tecumseh in his private car, Fairlane. He was sometimes accompanied by his grandsons—Edsel Ford’s children, as well as Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone.

The project which had the greatest impact on Tecumseh was the building of the Malinta cutoff from 1925 to 1929. This line, built at a cost of $7.5 million, ran from Malinta, Ohio, to Durban, a few miles northeast of Dundee. It bypassed the longer, more circuitous route through Napoleon, Wauseon, Adrian and Tecumseh with its many sharp curves and steep grades in the Adrian area which had bedeviled the railroad for years. The most striking feature of the new line was the “Delta Hill”, a six-mile long elevated stretch in northern Ohio. This elevated portion required 2.6 million cubic yards of earth and allowed the D.T. & I. to cross eight roads and three railroads by means of grade separation. It was built because of the strong resistance of the Vanderbilt-controlled New York Central Railroad to a grade crossing on the NYC’s New York-Chicago main line with Henry Ford’s D.T. & I. (Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Ford-detested each other. Ford regarded Vanderbilt as a snobbish, aristocratic Easterner, and Vanderbilt considered Ford to be little more than a country bumpkin with money.) This elevated line can be seen today about a mile west of the town of Delta, Ohio, and is the most noticeable feature on the otherwise flat northwestern Ohio landscape.

With the completion of the Malinta cutoff on November 6, 1929, the former main line through Tecumseh was relegated to branch line status with only a few trains a day. Passenger service between Tecumseh and Dundee continued with an “accommodation train” or “plug run” as it was usually called. This train consisted of a combination baggage and smoking car and a coach coupled to the end of the freight cars on the train. Stops were made at Ridgeway, Britton and Rea before arriving in Dundee.

Although the New York Central Railroad owned the track between Tecumseh and Dundee it stopped running trains of its own on this stretch on June 8, 1925, and allowed the D.T. & I. to carry all of its traffic. There simply was not enough business to justify two different railroad companies operating on this line. This situation continued until the D.T. & I. discontinued all of its service between Tecumseh and Dundee.

On January 6, 1930, the D.T. & I. discontinued passenger service and one month later also ended daily freight service between Tecumseh and Dundee. Since nearly the only income the New York Central received from the line was the fee for trackage rights previously paid by the D.T. & I., the NYC no longer had any use for it and permission was received from the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon it.

Meanwhile Henry Ford was realizing that there was a considerable difference between running an unregulated auto industry and a highly-regulated railroad. Frustrated by continued opposition from the Interstate Commerce Commission, he offered to sell the D.T. & I. to the Pennroad Corporation, a holding company of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The transaction was completed in June of 1929 with Pennroad paying Henry Ford $36 million in cash, an increase of $31 million from Ford’s purchase price.


Service to Tecumseh on the D.T. & I. was reduced to a single freight train every day which left Napoleon in the morning and worked its way through Wauseon and Adrian before arriving in Tecumseh in the late afternoon to pick up and deliver cars at the Hayden Flour Mill and the Hayden Fuel and Supply Company, a coal yard owned by Perry Hayden and his brother-in-law, Perry Satterthwaite. To reach these customers, the D.T. & I. retained trackage rights over the section of track along Cummins Street west of Evans Street which was owned by the New York Central.

At times, there would also be freight cars for a Standard Oil yard on West Patterson Street an for the Lenawee Sand and Gravel Company and the Tecumseh Gravel Company south of Russell Road. When the Ohio Turnpike was being built in the early 1950’s several carloads of gravel were shipped on the railroad to Wauseon for fill needed for the Turnpike’s bridge over the D.T. & I.

This service ended on a regular daily basis in the mid-1950’s and D.T. & I. trains made the trip from Adrian to Tecumseh only when there was a need for it.

The construction of the Fisher Body trim plant on Occidental Highway in 1965 provided a new source of traffic for the D.T. & I. A small freight yard was built at the plant and daily service was resumed from Adrian to the plant but these trains rarely entered Tecumseh.

Trackage at Fisher Body plant, Tecumseh, Michigan 1966

In May of 1978 the D.T. & I. abandoned large segments of its branch between Napoleon and Tecumseh and sold the segment from Adrian to Tecumseh to the Norfolk and Western Railway, which continued to provide rail service to the Fisher Body plant until 1981, when trucks took over the job.

Today very little of the line between Napoleon and Tecumseh exists. The Norfolk Southern Railway used a section in Adrian to provide service to the Cutler Dickerson Company until recently. The line between Adrian and Tecumseh is now the Kiwanis Trail. (Editor’s note: The NS no longer serves Cutler Dickerson, and a small remnant of the line was sold the Adrian and Blissfield Railroad.)

One remnant of the original Detroit and Lima Northern is engine number 7, an “American” type with four wheels under the pilot or “cow-catcher” and four driving wheels, which is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. This locomotive, which as built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in 1897, would have been a common sight pulling trains through Tecumseh one hundred years ago. In the 1920’s it was adopted by Henry Ford as his personal locomotive whenever he took trips on the D.T. & I. It was donated to the Henry Ford Museum in 1935.

D&LN locomotive #7 is seen in operation at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan on 15 June 2014. (Doug Leffler photo)

D&LN locomotive #7 is seen in operation at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan on 15 June 2014. (Doug Leffler photo)

The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad disappeared as a corporate entity on June 24, 1980, when it was purchased by the Grand Trunk Western Railway.

No history of railroads in Tecumseh would be complete without mention of Perry Satterthwaite. Mr. Satterthwaite came from a railroad family as his uncle, Newberry Satterthwaite, was a station agent in Tecumseh for 35 years. Mr. Satterthwaite developed a fondness for trains as a young boy an spent much of his time at the Tecumseh Junction depot. His mother would make popcorn for young Perry to sell to passengers on the train, but he would usually eat most of it before the train arrived.

He would often ride the ‘plug run” between Tecumseh and Dundee, sitting in the cab of the locomotive on the way to Dundee and returning in the coach.

Perry Satterthwaite in 1949

Perry Satterthwaite in 1949

By the age of fourteen Perry had learned Morse Code. One night the Satterthwaite family was awakened by a knock at their door. Two railroad officials were there and told Perry’s father that the telegrapher who was supposed to be on duty at the depot was drunk and since Perry knew Morse Code, they wondered if he would be willing to fill in. For the rest of the night teen-aged Perry sat in the depot receiving and sending messages over the telegraph and giving operating orders to the crews of passing trains.

When Mr. Satterthwaite was operating the Hayden Fuel and Supply Company it was only natural that the depot, no longer owned by the railroad, would be his office. When he retired he continued to go to the depot every morning to answer his mail with the help of his long-time secretary, Elizabeth Manley.

Advertisement for Hayden's Fuel & Supply Company from the 1951 Tecumseh High School yearbook

Advertisement for Hayden’s Fuel & Supply Company from the 1951 Tecumseh High School yearbook. The Hayden office was located in the old D&LN depot, which had a scale installed on the Evans Street side. Coal was stored in the adjacent shed.

Perry Satterthwaite maintained a sense of humor throughout his life. Once he told me that he had forgotten the combination to the safe in the depot. Then he smiled and said: “I’ve also forgotten what was in it, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”

Thanks for the railroad memories, Perry Satterthwaite.

Edward D. Hodges

This monograph was completed on May 21, 2002.




Dunbar, Willis F., All Aboard A History of Railroads in Michigan

(William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1969).

Trostel Scott D., TheDetroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad Henry Ford’s

Railroad (Cam-Tech Publishing, Fletcher, Ohio: 1988).

Trostel, Scott-D., Henry Ford When I Ran the Railroads (Cam-Tech Publishing, Fletcher, Ohio: 1989).

Uckley, John, “Back Door to Michigan” Rail Classics Volume 14, Number 3, May 1985 (Challenge Publications, Canoga Park, California).

Waldron, Clara, One Hundred Years A Country Town The Village of

Tecumseh Michigan 1824-1924 (Thomas A. Riordan, Tecumseh, Michigan: 1968).

Wynn, Jack, “On the Spot” column, Railroad Magazine Volume 52, Number 4, September 1950 and Volume 53, Number 1, October 1950 (Popular Publications, Kolcomo, Indiana).

Anonymous Author, “Henry Ford’s Experiment”, Railroad Magazine Volume 24, Number 2, July 1938 (The Frank A. Munsey Company, Publisher, New York, New York.)

Adrian Evening Telegram

Adrian Messenger

Adrian Times

Adrian Times and Expositer

Tecumseh Herald

Toledo Blade

Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad Track Blueprints

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Edward Hodges has written histories of Tecumseh’s two other railroads:

Part 1—The Palmyra & Jacksonburgh Railroad

Part 2—The Michigan & Ohio Railroad (DT&M)


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