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layout planning gone Haywire

Research on a regional bridge line’s interchange partners leads to a modeling diversion

Long-term subscribers to Railroad Model Craftsman may recall my previous articles on the Ann Arbor Railroad (August 2008 and November 2011), and how each article concluded with a reference to my plans for constructing an N Scale car ferry. In preparation for this massive undertaking, I decided to take a fresh look at the Ann Arbor’s car ferry operations to assure I had the relevant details in order. This started out innocently enough, but quickly turned into a major distraction, as my discoveries temporarily dry-docked my ship-building intentions and instead resulted in the unexpected but very enjoyable creation of a track plan for a unique fallen flag.


Please be advised this is not a cautionary tale to suggest that research on car ferries is a dangerous exercise that can sabotage previously well-planned projects. On the contrary, my intention is to share the importance of keeping an open mind throughout the layout development process, because sometimes new information can provide a spark of fresh interest and lead to rewarding new modeling challenges. In this case, learning more about the history of Lake Michigan car ferry service led to some very interesting and creative opportunities.         


My studies revealed that the Ann Arbor Railroad’s 292-mile main line was actually exceeded by its car ferry mileage, which over the course of 90-plus years featured service to five Lake Michigan ports totaling 320 route miles. From the Ann Arbor’s northwestern terminus in Elberta, MI, its original cross-lake connection was established in 1892 at Keewaunee, WI, with the Keewaunee, Green Bay & Western. Over time, ferry connections expanded to include the Soo Line and Chicago & Northwestern in Manitowoc, WI; the C&NW and the Milwaukee Road in Menominee, MI; and for a brief period of time in the early 1900s, the Soo Line in Gladstone, MI, until that operation was moved to Manistique, MI, and a connection with the Manistique & Lake Superior Railroad on the northern shores of Lake Michigan.


The Chicago & Northwestern, Soo Line, Milwaukee Road, and Green Bay & Western were all prominent and well-known road names, but I had never heard of the Manistique & Lake Superior. Further excavation into the archives uncovered the fact that the Manistique & Lake Superior was actually a subsidiary of the Ann Arbor Railroad. Now this was intriguing: the Ann Arbor had owned a secondary short line in the Upper Peninsula? Why had I not known this before? Well, it turns out there was a good reason, as I was less than two years old when the last car ferry departed Manistique in July of 1968!


Fascinated, I began a more in-depth investigation and stumbled upon a terrific book entitled The Haywire: a Brief History of the Manistique & Lake Superior Railroad by Hugh Hornstein. The book explained that the railroad was originally called the Manistique and Northwestern and it was established in the late 1890s with the intention of extracting lumber and iron ore resources from the southern Upper Peninsula landscape. Within a few years of its creation, the railroad went into receivership and was re-named a handful of times before eventually falling under Ann Arbor control around 1911 and taking its final name as the Manistique & Lake Superior Railroad. It was apparently known locally as “The Haywire,” owing at least in part to reports that railroad crews would allegedly make liberal use of discarded hay-bale straps in order to implement oft-needed equipment repairs!  


From its car ferry dock in Manistique Harbor, “The Haywire” extended about a mile northerly into Manistique where it served the Manistique Paper Company and interchanged with the Soo Line.  The route then carved its way roughly 37 miles further north through the Upper Peninsula forests toward Lake Superior. There were a handful of logging spurs generating on-line traffic along the route at sparsely-populated settlements such as Steuben and Hiawatha Junction, and as the line approached Lake Superior just a few miles southeast of Munising at a small town named Shingleton, the M&LS connected with the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic. The line then altered direction and went about four miles westerly, ending at a town named Evelyn (now called Doty) where it interchanged with the Lake Superior & Ishpeming. Both the DSS&A and LS&I provided a variety of bridge traffic to the M&LS for transport to connections with the Soo Line and the Ann Arbor car ferries in Manistique.


Lumber products were the main industry initially served by the M&LS, although iron ore, coal and miscellaneous mixed freight made regular appearances during the early years of the railroad. Through the late 1940s a modest fleet of small steam engines and a handful of wood cabooses were sufficient to cover both on-line and bridge traffic. However, shortly after World War II, on-line traffic began to significantly diminish as lumber and mining resources in the region grew thin. By 1952 all steam was retired and, as of the late 1950s, the railroad operated with just a single Alco S-3 switcher and one ex-Ann Arbor caboose.


Then in the early 1960s, a merger of the DSS&A and the Soo Line circumvented a major portion of the M&LS bridge-route function and, except for a brief period while Lake Superior was impassable in the winters of 1965-66 when efforts were made to route large quantities of iron ore through the Ann Arbor ferry connections, both on-line business and bridge traffic declined to the point where the railroad was simply no longer profitable. Consequently, after more than 70 years of operation, the railroad was approved for abandonment in July 1968 and dismantled by the end of that same year.


Without going into too much more detail (and I heartily recommend Mr. Hornstein’s book for those who wish to learn more), suffice to say I had discovered a gem of a small railroad for modeling: a 38-mile main line with short feeder branch lines for logging; a paper plant, car ferry operation, and an interchange with a Class 1 at its southern terminus; interchanges with an ore carrier and a general freight hauling line providing bridge traffic at its northern termini; and operations into the late 1960s featuring a single locomotive and caboose, both of which were based on Ann Arbor equipment…. My plans had now officially gone “Haywire,” and I set out to design an N Scale track plan to capture the flavor of this unique short line circa 1967, in the last full year of its modest existence.


As luck would have it, my job entails travel throughout the state of Michigan and I make it to the Upper Peninsula on a semi-regular basis. Since discovering The Haywire, I have been through Manistique on a number of occasions and walked the old right-of-way to get a feel for what once was there, and to generate modeling ideas.  The ferry apron was still intact at my last visit, although condominiums and a parking lot now occupy a portion of the former ferry lead and yard area. Canadian National has absorbed Wisconsin Central, which absorbed the Soo Line – but near the old M&LS/Soo Line interchange you can still find the old M&LS station and engine house, albeit re-purposed for other enterprises.


The right-of-way between Manistique and Doty is now a recreational trail, speckled with remnants of former station sites and spurs that led off into the north woods where once upon a time busy sawmills produced the daily carloads that gave the M&LS its initial reason for existence. And in Shingleton, near the former connection to the DSS&A, if you stand next to the Canadian National siding you can vaguely still see the old grade and envision the former M&LS interchange track.

Having visited the abandoned line and browsed through numerous historical photos, my plan for the N Scale version of the M&LS was to recreate four signature elements of the line: a vignette of the Manistique ferry dock facilities (F); the paper plant and Soo Line interchange in Manistique (M); a meandering route through forested land, featuring one of the old logging spurs at Hiawatha Junction (H); and a hybrid/fantasy compilation of the northern connections at Shingleton and Doty (D).


The track plan was specifically created as a modular design, so that it could be expanded or contracted to suit individual preferences and available space. While the initial idea was for a point-to-point island layout with an option for a continuous loop, a simple reconfiguration and minor modifications to the modules could easily and quickly adapt the plan into a point-to-point around-the-walls shelf layout. The Manistique and Doty modules are also intentionally designed with straight run-through options for the interchange railroads, or as stand-alone switching layouts, in the event a modeler may wish to incorporate only a portion of these scenes or concepts on their own layout. The drawings provided herein show just a couple examples of the flexibility of the modular design.


Specific construction materials or techniques are at the discretion of the modeler, but with lightweight N Scale equipment, framework for the modules could be construction grade 1x3 or 1x4 pine, with foam insulation board used as a layout and landform base. The original design envisions an 8-ft. by 9-ft. central island-style footprint, such that one sheet of 4x8 material ripped into four dimensional strips would yield the complete layout base: the Manistique and Doty modules are each 14-in. wide and 8-ft. long; the Hiawatha module is 9-in. wide by 6-ft., 8-in. long; and the Ferry module is 10-in. wide and 6-ft., 8-in long. The Ferry module has an integrated backdrop set at 9-in. deep to hide the continuous loop connection track; this backdrop also curves to the front of the layout at the Doty end to separate the Lake Michigan scene from the industrial buildings. At the Manistique end, the loop connection track begins under the highway overpass, which can be supported by a pier or an embankment to further disguise where the track disappears through the Manistique backdrop. When assembled as an island, the layout would fit neatly into the middle of a 12-ft. by 13-ft. spare room with 2-ft. aisles on all sides, but it could be scaled down easily (see dashed red break points) to fit smaller spaces or room entrance requirements.


When configured as a shelf layout, the Manistique and Hiawatha modules would need to be lengthened or shortened depending on actual room size. To accommodate this, stretches of tangent track were intentionally used on each side to enable re-sizing as desired (again, see dashed red break points).  In this version, the continuous loop connector track is omitted, stub-ending under the overpass and disguised by scenery. Whether set up as an island or shelf layout, modules could be attached to each other by lag bolts, with quick-connect wiring plugs for either DC or DCC operation - although my vision for the layout would utilize wireless DCC to enable easy walk-around access.


I used a commercial software package to draft the layout concepts, opting for Atlas Code 55 sectional track components to ensure that everything would line up and fit within the prescribed space. However, with a small layout like this, flex-track could readily be substituted or one could even choose to hand-lay the track. In any case, the narrow modular design favors the use of 10-in. radius curves and #5 turnouts, which are reasonably adequate for the era and equipment being modeled.  


Designing the track plans for this “fallen flag” also provided an opportunity to research the M&LS operations and roster in the year before its demise. Records indicate service was down to a single daily run two or three times a week, with trains frequently consisting only of a handful of cars and many times even running light in one direction. As mentioned previously, the railroad’s motive power consisted of one Alco S-3 switcher (#1) and one ex-Ann Arbor caboose (#8). Producing a reasonable representation of the entire M&LS fleet wouldn’t be a huge effort but it would require some kit-bashing and painting.


Alco S-1, S-2 and S-4 switchers are offered in N Scale by Atlas, Arnold and Bachmann respectively, although the Atlas and Arnold units would require some alterations to match the look of the M&LS S-3, which featured AAR-1 trucks.  In pursuing my Haywire scheme, I modified an Arnold S-2 into M&LS #1 by installing low-profile Northwest Short Line wheel sets, grafting new sideframes from an old Atlas SW-9 unit, and adding DCC with a functional cab roof beacon. The paint scheme is a simple and elegant black body and cab, featuring end platform and running board striping, with basic cab lettering that can be obtained from a standard decal set. The same decal set yielded suitable lettering for a quick conversion of one of my customized Ann Arbor cabooses into M&LS #8 – a classic case of art imitating life!


To further demonstrate the expanded possibilities of a modular bridge-route layout featuring multiple interchanges, I obtained a stock vintage Soo Line RS-1 and caboose for the Manistique section; but found myself stymied in the search for ready-to-run LS&I equipment to service my Doty module. As I felt it was important to feature both of these connecting lines, I did a little more research and then tackled some kit-bashing and custom painting projects to create a modest stable of LS&I equipment, which you see featured in some of the accompanying photos.

It should be noted that I have not actually constructed the M&LS layout presented herein, as my primary basement space is dedicated to my future Ann Arbor layout. However, in order to provide pictures for this article, I negotiated the removal of some old bookcases and built an integrated storage cabinet and DCC test/display layout on the outer wall of my utility room (see sidebar) to provide a suitable backdrop for my new models, with generic scenes intended to capture the general flavor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  


In summary, the creation of the track plan and subsequent modeling of M&LS and LS&I equipment serve to demonstrate my main point: sometimes a temporary distraction can actually result in a great opportunity to learn new things, explore new ideas and try new techniques - all of which can enrich your enjoyment of this great hobby.  So while my plans truly went “Haywire” and my car ferry project is still in dry-dock, I hope my story has provided you with some new layout ideas along with an introduction to an obscure but unique short line that begs to be modeled. Meanwhile, I promise to regain my focus and at least come up with a ferry-related article next time!

N Scale M&LS ALco S3 and AA boxcar
Ann Arbor Railroad Car Ferry Routes
Manistique & Lake Superior Route Map
M&LS Caboose #8
M&LS Track Plan - Island
M&LS Train with LS&I boxcar
M&LS Track Plan - Shelf
Soo Line RS1
M&LS logo
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