No. 122 -- The Intellectual Line Its Prosperity Founded on Salt, Published 30 August 1947
A Geography Lesson
I am now entitled to sign myself Austin F. Cross, P.H.D., because I have ridden the Port Huron and Detroit Railway. This makes No. 122 on my list. The P.H.D. runs from Port Huron, Michigan, (just across the river from Sarnia) down into Michigan 19 miles to Marine City. It makes its living servicing the big manufacturing plants, and you could say that its prosperity is founded on salt.
When I arrived in Port Huron, I was met by James E. Duffy, jr., who Is vice-president and general manager. He briefed me on the railway, let me prime myself a bit for the impending trip by visiting the Grand Trunk Western roundhouse, and then he ordered the diesel engine freight train to stop in front of the office so I could go aboard. To begin with, the Port Huron and Detroit is part of what is left of the old original Detroit, Bay City and Western. This line Is now pretty much ripped up, though a few of the seams survive up north in the Detroit, Caro and Sandusky railroads. (That's another railroad I may ride some time.) The old D.B.C. & W. used to carry passengers, but its reorganized offspring the P.H.D. is 100 per cent freight. It has never operated a passenger train.
* * *
The P.H.D. has rightly been dubbed the Salt Line, because it manages to pick up the staggering total of 12,000 cars a year from the Diamond Crystal Salt Company, and the Morton Salt Company. Then you add 3,000 cars from the Chrysler Corporation. Part of the year, when navigation is closed, the Port Huron and Detroit also does considerable coal business. Interestingly enough, this railway parallels the Saint Clair river, and yet is able to hold its own, and more than hold its own, with the potentially cheaper steamship competition.
I might mention that the P.H.D. had been called the Intellectual Line. This it was also dubbed by the New York Times not so long ago, when that august Journal noted the P.H.D. sequence. In a university it means a Doctorate of Philosophy, on a box car it means Port Huron and Detroit.
The time soon came when they wheeled around the new diesel. and put me aboard with Engineer Ben Reed. You will recall that it has been hot during the past few weeks. It was about 100 that day, as I sat in the diesel engine. Thinking to rest my tired feet. I took off my shoes, but the steel floors of the throbbing engine all but burned my feet and so I had to shove my feet back into my footwear.
I cannot say that the P. H. D. gave me the fastest ride I ever had, as their top speed limit is 20, and since most of the time, we settled for a happy compromise. We had about 40 cars, plus a caboose as, like a great big lazy, meandering snake we wound our way downstream toward Marysvllle, St. Clair and Marine City. I really got a kick out of it when a big lake ateamer overtook us, then passed us. So we weaved our way .through bosky dells and sylvan alleys and fragrant uplands.
* * *
At St. Clair, while the train shunted, I got off and walked around the street, visited a couple of stores, watched the boats on the river, then climbed back into my deck chair on the diesel. At long last, about three hours out of Port Huron, I managed to arrive at Marine City. This works out to 5.3 miles aa hour, but if you think I didn't get a kick out of this slow motica railroading, you're crazy. This was a lot of fun. The line only operates 19.1 miles, but I had the satisfaction of saying that I had covered the whole line. That's more than I can say for almost any other railroad.
The P.H. D. had 500 cars, and 400 survived the war. They are leased, and earn the company money on a per diem rental basis to other railroads. The railway also has three cabooses, but its pride and joy is a light metal (Dow metal) snowplow that weighs oniy 350 pounds, and which can be handled by a section crew. It was the brain child of W. N. Boyd, superintendent and chief engineer, who originally built the P.H.D.
They tried it out last winter, and it works like a charm. There are also two diesels. these having replaced five broken down steam locomotives which spent a lot of their latter days in the repair shop. This line is therefore 100 percent diesel.
So the little "Intellectual Line" sends its train down every day, and its train back every night, and it sets out its empties, and picks up its salt cars, and stays on the right side of the ledger.
Manager Duffy and I came to the end of a perfect day. when on the verandah of the St. Clair Inn. we had ourselves a drink of sarsaparllla and sat in the cocl breeze and saw the sail boats skim over the water, watched the swimmers disport themselves in the green-blue waters of the St. Clair, and gazed at the endless pageant of stately ships up and down this gorgeous river. I watched the sun's rays get red and long, as it flocd-lit my own Canada across the river, and I sighed a little as I realized that tomorrow morning I'd be back on Sparks street.