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Edition #68, December 15, 2007

Time and Memories

Photographer: Jeff Mast

                                         Photo by Jeff Mast

Time and Memories

Durand, Michigan is known as the crossroads of the Grand Trunk Western, and Michigan, long known for the famous shots in the steam days of multiple steam-powered passenger trains meeting at the classic depot before heading off for Detroit, Grand Haven, Chicago and Toronto.

My first trip in 1971 was on the GTW “Chicken Hawk”, still with a mail contract most likely the reason for its existence right up to Amtrak, which was just a week away. The train was the Detroit connection for the Chicago-Toronto Mapleleaf. The diamonds all were still protected by manual swinging gates with red lights, operated by a watchman who resided in a shanty just north and east of the main diamonds. Once inside the depot, the smell from the steam radiators brought home that classic smell from an era long ago. A walk upstairs got you a lineup from the operator who had a nice view of the diamonds from the west side of the depot. 

A couple years later in high school I would drive up on Saturdays early and watch trains until long after dark. Usually waiting for the Ann Arbor train from Toledo with it’s Mars light waving a haunting beam through the mist as it moved closer on the AA trackage paralleling the GTW.

It would get a highball from the crossing watchman before crossing the GTW Holly Sub at the south end of the depot, then running along the east side of the depot and finally crossed the GTW Flint Sub. The drone of the usual three GP35’s is still fresh in my mind as is the GTW westbound that arrived just as the AA northbound cleared. The westbound with a single SD40 and 90 empty PFE reefers slowed for the mandatory stop sign 250 ft. east of the diamond. When almost stopped it blew for a signal from the crossing watchman, who was still swinging the gates at the diamonds lining up the westbound. The impatient hogger blew again for a highball and the watchman chucked and said to me “ that guys in a hurry!” as he walked up to the mainline. He swung a highball toward the westbound with his lantern; before he had swung his raised arm down the westbound answered with a highball, switched the headlight to high beam and started to pull.

The engineer had that SD40 screaming in run eight by the time he approached the diamond and throttled down as he hit the diamonds. Once crossing quickly pegging the throttle and headed west for Battle Creek with determination – soon the forward green marker on the caboose approached and once past, the flickering red kerosene markers disappeared around the curve west at a speed any dispatcher would be happy to see.

Fast-forward ten years and the depot had fallen into great disrepair. It had no windows, many people felt it was just a matter of time until it either was burned by vandals or was torn down by the Trunk.  Locals stepped in and the restoration process started. Today it houses a museum, a model railroad, an Amtrak stop and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Quite a turn around from what might have been for the old depot. 

As we see the depot in this shot taken last December, although there was no snow on the ground there is a Christmas tree in every window, decorations in just the right places and the Depot is festive and alive once again.  While taking this photo the memories came flooding back from long ago; the crossing watchman shanty I spent so much time in hearing the old railroad stories stood right where the track panel lies to the right; the double diamond is now gone with the Holly Sub losing a track as well as the Ann Arbor track long ago removed from the east side of the depot.

It has been nearly 37 years since my first visit to Durand. The diamonds remain reflecting in the photo as the crossroads of time.  But how things change as time marches on. Sometimes a photograph evokes many things such as changes in Time and indeed Memories!

Jeff Mast

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