Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Stop at Trout Lake

The "Y" at the middle of the intersection in Trout Lake, MI

After crossing the Big Mac into the Upper Peninsula, I pay the four dollar toll at St. Ignace for the privilege.   But I don’t follow US 2 which runs along Lake Michigan shoreline, opting instead for Michigan 123 that runs into the heart of the UP.   The road follows the former roadbed of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad which Ernest Hemingway rode a few years after the Great War as he and friends headed to a fish camp along the East Branch of the Fox River outside of Seney, Michigan.  That adventure provided the fodder for his classic short story, “The Big Two Hearted River.”  In those days, one had to cross the Straits of Mackinac by ferry, but in 1957 the bridge opened, spanning the straits.

It’s getting late in the afternoon when I stop at Trout Lake.   There is a small IGA here with wonderful sandwiches, piled high with sliced meats.  As I plan to have dinner with friends once I arrive in Marquette, I choose instead a cone of hand-dipped black cherry ice cream.  Waiting for the clerk, I look around the store for a minute.  In addition to groceries and a deli, they have fishing gear and some hardware.  The store seems to be a place from the past, which is why I like stopping here.

As I step outside, the bells of the railroad crossing are clanging and I walk around the building to watch a CN engine pulling a mixed assortment of log and tank cars in from the Sault.  The engineer stops at the “Y”, just shy of the road crossing.  The brakeman steps off, unlocks and then turns the switch.  The train then proceeds, its diesels rumbling and the cars swaying, as it makes its way through the junction and across the highway, taking the tracks that will lead on toward Seney and probably eventually to the paper mill at Munising.   I watch it rumble down the tracks for a few minutes, then get back in my truck and continue driving.

I’ve stopped at Trout Lake many times, but have never lingered more than a few minutes.  But I like the area and I like the IGA with its wonderful ice cream and homemade sandwiches.  There’s a nice lake here but I’ve only seen it from the road.  Today, this area seems so isolated, mainly a place for fishermen on the lake to replace tackle or buy beer and for snowmobilers in winter to race through on their cross-country runs across the UP.  It’s not always been this laid back.  A 100 years ago, Trout Lake was a small but bustling community at  the crossroads of the Eastern UP.  The Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad that ran across the South Shore of Lake Superior crossed the Soo Tracks here as it headed toward St. Ignace.  The Soo ran from Ontario, through Sault Ste. Marie and past Trout Lake to Naubinway and along the North Shore of Lake Michigan through Manistique, Gladstone, into Wisconsin and eventually to Minneapolis.  Today, the old Duluth line only runs from this point to Munising, mainly servicing a paper mill and a lumber yard.  The old Soo line is still intact, but the track gauge is light as is the amount freight along the line. Over the years these railroads have gone by a number of names and an equal number of owners.  Today, they’re operated by the Wisconsin Central (it’s an old name but a new corporation that handles a collection of lines own by the Canadian National). Sadly, the Duluth and Boston Express and other passenger trains along this line stopped running long before my birth.

I drive west, I cross the lines of the old Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic several times as I head across the UP on Michigan 28, passing through the quiet towns of McMillan, Seney, Shingleton and Chatham.  

This recollection was from last Wednesday as I drove up north to join a group of volunteers working on a Habitat for Humanity project.  I'm back at work for a few days and tomorrow take off for another trip so I'll be in and out for the rest of the month.


  1. I always like your travelogues. I guess IGA is everywhere - neat that you can count of them for a good lunch.

  2. I really like your header. Tolls. I used to hate them (still dislike them) until I realized life always demands tolls for each moment in our lives. Have a fun week, Roland

  3. Boy, I want your job in the summers. ;-) Love the bridge and love to see the water but if I head up to Houghton/Hancock/Iron Mountain like I would like to this fall, maybe I should take an interior road.

  4. Trout Lake sounds like an interesting place. I can just picture you with your ice cream watching the train pass by.

  5. "old Duluth", magic words. I remember a song by Dylan describing areas between Duluth and Hibbing. Different areas, same phrasing. The picture looks a lot like where I grew up way out west. Sage, you've struck a universal chord here. Bravo!

  6. I can tell you now you wouldn't get me crossing that bridge. What happened, did they run out of cash and couldn't put in a solid deck.

    The rail industry in the US was never seen as being part of the National Strategic infrastructure once built. Which is a bit of a stumper given the huge subvention given to the rail speculators to build em.

    Is the entire upper P heavily forested ?, for on the bing map there seems to little or nothing by way of fields. This can be deceiving as with Arkansas and SC where it seems entirely wooded but the undercroft is totally clear, well mostly.

    1. See. On September 22, 1989, Leslie Ann Pluhar died when her 1987 Yugo plunged over the 36-inch-high (91 cm) railing . A combination of high winds and excessive speed was initially blamed.[19] Later investigation showed the driver had stopped her car over the open steel grating on the bridge's span. A gust of wind through the grating blew her vehicle off the bridge.


  7. I've always wanted to construct a vehicle which could ride the rails with a sail. Made of, maybe bicycle parts -- something light but strong.
    Head out west and fly . . .

    Just a thought.

  8. Trout Lake sounds like an interesting place indeed. I may need to add it to my travel bucket list.

  9. little places like that are def cool finds...would not mind a bit of that ice cream...pretty cool too watching the brakeman...sounds like a peaceful little stop over....

  10. In light of the Lac Megantic, Quebec tragedy, this photo and your observations of the rail industry's trajectory are particularly poignant. We can always count on you to tell the story of a place with so much grace.