Narrow Gauge Operations and Predecessors

Updated: 28-MAY-2018

During its first three years, the Pere Marquette operated a 34-mile narrow gauge branch line from Port Huron through Memphis to Almont. This line, originally the Port Huron & South Western, was owned by the Flint & Pere Marquette at the time of the merger, and was the only one of the several Thumb-region three-foot gauge routes purchased by the F&PM in 1889 that was not already converted to standard gauge by 1900.

The Almont branch was operated with a quartet of narrow gauge locomotives built in 1879 by  Porter, Bell & Co. and in 1881 by Wyoming Valley Machine Works. Instead of numbers, each locomotive was referred to by a letter, A through D. One of these locomotives, 2-4-0 C still exists as the D.B. Harrington in the collection of the Port Huron Museum.

The Almont branch was converted to standard gauge in 1903 and the four locomotives sold to other railroads. The PM continued to operate the Almont branch until 1941 when the PM abandoned it altogether.

The most recent example of narrow gauge operation on an ex-PM right-of-way is the Huckleberry Railroad, near Flint.

PM lines originally built as narrow gauge

The PM's Narrow Gauge Predecessors

Several routes operated by the PM were originally built as three-foot narrow gauge lines. With the exception of the line from Poland to Sandusky and the line from Harbor Beach to Port Hope, all of the PM's trackage in the Thumb was originally constructed as narrow gauge.


Port Huron & Northwestern Railway

1884 Port Huron and North Western TimetableThe PH&NW was Michigan's largest narrow gauge railroad. Incorporated in 1878, the PH&NW's first line was completed from Port Huron to Croswell in mid-1879. The following year it was extended northward to Harbor Beach. A second line was built from Port Huron to Marlette in 1881. By the end of 1882, this line was extended to Saginaw, and a branch was constructed from Palms through Bad Axe to Port Austin.

In 1882, the PH&NW incorporated, constructed and absorbed the Port Huron & South Western Rwy., connecting Port Huron with Almont. Although the railroad had ambitions to extend the narrow gauge line from Almont to Detroit, nothing ever came of those plans.

The PH&NW was sold to the Flint & Pere Marquette effective April 1, 1889. The F&PM immediately set to converting the line from Saginaw to Yale to standard gauge, then constructed a new standard gauge line from Yale to a junction with the Grand Trunk west of Port Huron. The rest of the former PH&NW remained narrow gauge for a number of years, and the F&PM even built a five-and-a-half mile extension of the narrow gauge line from Port Austin to Grindstone City in 1893.

In 1898 and 1899, the F&PM converted all of its trackage north of Port Huron to standard gauge, leaving the Almont branch its only narrow gauge route. Port Huron & Northwestern 2-4-0 D.B. Harrington, which served the PH&NW from 1878 until approximately 1884 is the sole remaining PH&NW locomotive. it is now undergoing a cosmetic restoration.


Port Huron & South Western Railway

Incorporated in January, 1882 as a subsidiary of the PH&NW, the PH&SW was absorbed into the PH&NW upon the completion of its trackage from Port Huron to Almont in October, 1882. This route was to become the only narrow gauge line operated by the Pere Marquette following the 1900 merger. It was conmverted to standard gauge in 1903.


Saginaw & Mt. Pleasant Railroad

The S&MtP was incorporated on 1879 as a subsidiary of the F&PM to build a line connecting Mount Pleasant with the F&PM at Coleman, about 14 miles northeast. It was a flat and straight line, and as such could afford to rely upon a pair of diminutive 0-4-4T Forney locomotives for power. Setting the S&MtP further apart from its contemporaries in Michigan was its preference for four-wheeled freight cars. This gave its freight trains an almost European look.

The F&PM chose to convert the S&MtP to standard gauge in mid-1884, and merged it in 1889.


Saginaw, Tuscola & Huron Railroad

The ST&H was conceived as a feeder route from the northeastern part of Michigan's thumb to the Flint & Pere Marquette at Saginaw. It was incorporated in 1881 and within a year had reached Sebewaing. A nine mile extension to Bay Port was completed by mid-1884, but Bad Axe was not reached until mid-1886. Traffic from the fisheries at Bay Port and the quarry northeast of Sebewaing sustained the ST&H. Its fortunes were aided by friendly connections with fellow narrow gauge line Port Huron & Northwestern at Saginaw and Bad Axe. By 1891, however, the ST&H was forced to convert to standard gauge to eliminate the costs associated with transshipping loads at Saginaw.


St. Joseph Valley Railroad

The StJV Railroad was chartered in 1880 and opened between Berrien Springs and Buchanan in the autumn of 1881. Although it was envisioned as part of a larger system linking Benton Harbor and South Bend, this road was never very profitable and remained as-built until it was sold in a bankruptcy sale in 1889. The new owner promptly converted the StJV to standard gauge. It was sold twice more before track was completed north to Benton Harbor in 1897 as part of the Milwaukee, Benton Harbor & Columbus- a line that was intended to continue much farther south than its terminus at Buchanan.

The MBH&C was sold in 1903 to the Pere Marquette, which operated the line as its Buchanan Branch until it was abandoned in 1924.


Toledo & South Haven Railroad

The T&SH was projected as a narrow gauge line to be built from Lake Michigan to Toledo via Hartford, Nottawa and Morenci. The first stretch was built as the standard gauge Paw Paw Railroad in 1867. This line, from Lawton to Paw Paw, was converted to three foot gauge in 1877, a year after it was merged with the Toledo & South Haven, which extended the line to Lawrence the following year. Following the sale of the line in 1887, it was extended northwest to South Haven.

In 1894 the line was sold again and reorganized as the South Haven & Eastern. Three years later, it was sold to the owners of the Milwaukee, Benton Harbor & Columbus, who converted it to standard gauge in 1899.

An unusual aspect of operations on the T&SH was the use of specially-built 3-foot gauge trucks which could be used to carry standard gauge cars without removing their standard gauge trucks. This experiment lasted from 1877 to 1881, during which time it permitted cars interchanged from the Michigan Central at Lawton to traverse the line. Presumably the top-heaviness of standard gauge cars riding on their own trucks on top of narrow gauge trucks was a factor in the decision to discontinue this operation.


The Huckleberry Railroad

Huckleberry RR GE switcher No. 7The Huckleberry Railroad is a special case. Narrow gauge trains currently operate over a section of ex-PM right-of-way today at the Huckleberry Railroad near Flint, but the line was built and always operated by the PM as a standard gauge line. It was only after it was abandoned that its right-of-way was converted to narrow gauge.

The Genesee County Parks and Recreation Department acquired the right-of-way of the ex-PM Otisville/Fostoria branch between Bray Road and the Genesee Recreation Area, east of the community of Genesee, and constructed the current three-foot gauge railroad upon it. The Huckleberry Railroad features a variety of equipment, including steam and diesel locomotives and cars from the Denver & Rio Grande Western, the Rio Grande Southern and the Alaska Railroad. Ex-PM standard gauge caboose #A621 is on static display next to the depot at Bray Road.


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