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Charlotte Southern Rail Road Old Dinner Train 5/13/2013

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I met at the rental car and we drove to Charlotte and stopped for our usual McDonald's breakfast before driving to the Charlotte Southern Rail Road Old Dinner Train parking lot and checking in with Sarah Jennings. Now we had two stations to take pictures of.

The first station was the Michigan Central one built in 1902.

Also here is the old Grand Trunk Western station built in 1885. We walked back over to the Michigan Central station for more pictures.

Two more views of the Michigan Central Station. In 1868 the Grand River Valley Railroad constructed the first railroad line through the village and constructed the first depot in Charlotte that same year. In 1870, the GRVRR was folded in to the larger Michigan Central Railroad. Also in 1870, the Peninsular Railway constructed a second line through the village with its own depot. By 1880, Peninsular was part of the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway.

By the early 20th century, the Michigan Central decided to replace the 1868 GRVRR depot. Although the reason for the replacement is not known, it is likely that the older depot was too small to handle the required volume of passengers and freight passing through the station. Michigan Central tasked the Detroit architectural firm of Spier & Rohns, who designed nearly all the company's depots between 1884 and 1913, to design a new depot in Charlotte in 1901. N.J. Rogers of Detroit was the contractor for the construction, and the new depot opened to passengers in July 1902. For a time, the 1868 depot was retained to handle freight, allowing the new depot to cater exclusively to passengers. The depot served passengers until it closed in about 1948.

After its closure, the Miller family of Eaton Rapids purchased the building and refurbished it into a restaurant and ice cream parlor. The building continued to be used as a restaurant under several owners. It now houses Don Tequilla's Mexican Grill.

It has some very nice glasswork.

There is where our trip would start.

We would be going down these rails to the southeast.

Canadian National 8958 West came through Charlotte this very early morning.

Charlotte Southern Rail Road Old Dinner Train A Brief History

The Charlotte operation of the Old Road Dinner Train operates on the Grand River Valley Railroad that once ran from Jackson to Grand Rapids, completed on January 1, 1870. The railroad arrived from the southeast during Fall 1868 and was extended on to Hastings to the northwest by Spring 1869.

When the GRV was built, the two railroads were competing for Detroit to Chicago traffic. These railroads were the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern {controlled by Cornelius Vanderbilt} and the Michigan Central {controlled by a consortium of Boston bankers}. Each of these two railroads were building to try to gain an advantage. The LS&MS soon built a line to Grand Rapids and the Michigan Central responded by leasing the Grand Valley Railroad to get into the same market. Six years later, the Commodore bought the Michigan Central, gaining a monopoly on all rail transportation in the Detroit/Chicago region. The Michigan Central formally merged the GRV in 1916. The railroad eventually became part of the New York Central, then Penn Central then Conrail. Not needing this duplicate route, most of the line was abandoned by Conrail in 1976. The three miles of track at Charlotte was sold to the Grand Trunk Western, who quickly sold it to the Charlotte Southern in 1999.

Charlotte Southern Rail Road

The Charlotte Southern Rail Road began operating January 1999. It is 3.25 miles long and its major commodity is grain. Charlotte Southern provides freight service between the Canadian National to the north and the Eaton Farm Bureau Cooperative. The CHS is owned by the Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road Company. The Old Road Dinner Train makes a leisurely two-hour round trip through historic Charlotte and the countryside east of town.

Our Train's Consist

Charlotte Southern 44 ton switcher 3, kitchen car 5874, coach 2502 "Battle Creek" and coach 5208 "Butternut Creek".

The Trip

Charlotte Southern coach 5208 "Butternut Creek", nee Canadian National "Canadian Flyer" coach 5208 built by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1937.

Charlotte Southern bar-lounge-snackbar 2502 "Battle Creek", ex. VIA Rail 2502, ex. Canadian National 44 seat coach 3018, nee Canadian National 80-seat coach 5615 built by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1954.

Charlotte Southern kitchen car 5874, ex. VIA baggage-express 5874, nee Canadian National 5874) built by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1949.

Charlotte Southern 44 ton switcher 3, ex. Bay Colony 411 1986, nee Danvile and Mt. Morris 1 built by General Electric in 1956.

The train was reversing into our departure boarding location.

Charlotte Southern 3. We all boarded coach 5206 "Butternut Creek" and at 8:00 AM, we departed the loading site and slowly headed down the rails doing 1.8 miles an hour.

We crossed Michigan Highway 50 as we made our way slowly east.

We rolled by the Michigan Central station. Someone spotted one of our people who was supposed to be aboard running alongside of the train trying to get someone's attention. Bart then had the train stopped so he could be boarded. Soon after that excitement Bart announced we would be doing a double photo runby in a few minutes. We stopped the train and Bart told us of the three different photo locations we could shoot from, and with the train only going 1.8 miles an hour, I knew I could get all three during the first runby.

Two more views of Charlotte Southern 3.

Reverse move 1. Now for Photo Runby 1.

Photo runby 1.

Reverse move 2.

Photo runby 2.

Another picture of Charlotte Southern 3. We reboarded the train and headed a little further to our turn back location and on the way there, Bart announced another photo runby was going to be held on the return trip by the lumber yard in Charlotte.

We detrained at the location of the photo runby.

This building was once an old railroad hotel.

Reverse move 3.

Photo runby 3 in Charlotte.

The photo line.

The train had to be moved forward to clear the crossing so this ambulance could get through. We returned to the boarding area and I had two thoughts in my head. Number 1 was I was glad to finally ride this railroad, so thank you Bart Jennings, and number two this train now ranks as the slowest train I have ever been on, beating the old Minnesota Zephyr Dinner Train's three miles an hour.

Elizabeth and I took off for Clinton but had a few stops to make along the way, the first was in Jackson at R.A. Green Park.

Grand Trunk Western 2-6-2 5030 built by Baldwin in 1912 as Grand Trunk 100. It was donated in 1957 and has been on display in the park since then. We continued south down Michigan 50 to US 12, where we made another surprise stop and did not believe what we were seeing in Onsted.

We found the Train Car of Terror.

The Terror Train station.

Chespeake and Ohio business car 4, part of the Stagecoach Stop Amusement Park which opened in 1968 and closed in 2008. The owners re-branded the car as "Train of Terror". We back-tracked across the highway to our next surprise.

We found Grand Trunk Western caboose 77xxx. From here we drove into Clinton for our next trip at noon.