“Lumberjacks and Locomotives”
By Jim Smith
Northern Michigan had its share of log drives on the rivers that carried huge cork pine logs down-stream on the spring floods to the waiting mills where they were cut into millions of board feet of lumber. But in the larger view, more timber was moved by the small logging railroads than any other way. If you know what to look for you may still find the remains of the grades, some ties and the occasional rail spike along these abandoned trails.
Last year the Tom Welsh family and his sister, Joanne Welsh Doty, donated several pieces of railway artifacts to the Crawford County Historical Museum. One of the pieces was an 18” bronze bell that came from a locomotive with a Grayling history.
Tom and Joanne’s Great-great-grandfather, Thomas R. Welsh and his partner, Charles T. Kerry, operated a company in Reed City. In 1914, their grandfather, who had worked for the company moved to Grayling and became the Assistant Manager, and then the Manager and President of the Kerry and Hanson Flooring Company in 1927. The Kerry and Hanson Flooring Company was located on M-72 where the current Wolohan Lumber Company building sits idle. The company produced hardwood flooring and included a custom wood mill, a lumber warehouse and a wholesale building supply company.
At that time Kerry and Hanson obtained their hardwood from sites near Alba. According to the Atlas of Michigan Logging Railroads “In the Pines”, by James S. Hannum, M.D., back then the main line running through Grayling was the Mackinaw Division of the Michigan Central Railway. MDMCR ran north through Frederic and on to Mackinaw. David Ward started to build a railway from Frederic to points past Alba in 1886 to access huge stands of white pine and hardwoods. David Ward passed away in 1900. Seven months later the railroad was incorporated as the “D & C” by his heirs and eventually became part of the Michigan Central system which continued the operation of the David Ward line and provided service to Grayling.
Fred R. Welsh went on to found the Crawford Wood Products Company in Alba. The Crawford Wood Products Company supplied the hardwood for the Grayling flooring mill. The company was dissolved in 1937 and, as was common at that time, all the railroad hardware was turned to scrap. Fred R. Welsh salvaged the bell from the scrap yard and preserved it as a memento and passed it down, along with several other railroad items, through the family.
A large part of the collection at the Crawford County Historical Museum is devoted to the early railroads. The Museum is in the old Michigan Central depot next to what is now the Lake State Railway system. Planning for the display of the bell started immediately last fall and was finalized over the winter. Museum Board Director Faith Dandois, arranged a $1,000 donation from Weyerhaeuser Corporation to help pay for the materials.
J. C. Milliken Excavating donated the labor to erect the pedestal which supports the bell. The Museum intends to attach a pull rope to the bell so anyone who wishes may ring the bell. When one considers that these locomotive bells were designed to be heard over the huff and chuff of the steam locomotives upon which they were mounted, the clang of the bell should serve as a reminder to all downtown Grayling of this very important part of their heritage.
Many heart-felt thanks go to the entire Welsh family for their generous donation of these logging railway artifacts and to the numerous individuals and businesses that help the Crawford County Historical Museum properly display the items in a manner that helps tell the Crawford County story.
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