Saturday, August 11, 2012

Highland Park Industrial Track

In my last post, I looked at the Conrail Union Branch, which forms the western limit of the DTRR on the map at the left. After traveling north from Dearborn, the right-of-way turns east and terminates before reaching the kink where the tracks turn slightly northeast.  Before the original DTRR was abandoned, this "kink" is where the west end of the DTRR interchanged with the Pennsylvania Railroad's Union Branch, and the latter railroad ended. The DTRR continued northeast through Highland Park, turned briefly eastward, and then south to the the Grand Trunk Western's North Yard. Conrail tore up the entire northeasterly section between the Union Branch and what is now called the Highland Park Industrial Track.

Here's a closer view from Google satellite imagery, showing what remains of the Highland Park Industrial Track. In our tour of the line, we'll start just north of Conrail's North Yard, at a complex junction called CP Bonita.

In the image from Bing Maps Bird's Eye view to the left, we are looking eastward at CP Bonita, with the northern tip of Conrail North Yard at the left edge of the picture. The double-tracks running due north are the Conrail North Yard Branch/Sterling Secondary. The Highland Park Industrial Track diverges northwest from the North Yard Branch, curving out of the top right corner of this photo.  You may also be able to see another track diverging southeast from the North Yard Branch trackage, which is the Detroit Terminal East Industrial Track. More on the latter in another post, but at one time the Highland Park and Detroit Terminal East industrial tracks weren't separate branches, but the continuous main line of the Detroit Terminal Railroad's East End.  The DTRR crossed the Michigan Central and Grand Trunk Western tracks, and a large volume of traffic was interchanged between DTRR's Davison Yard and both the Michigan Central North Yard and Grand Trunk Western East Yard. The latter two yards were nearly indistinguishable; appearing instead to be one humongous yard smack dab in the middle of the Hamtramck neighborhood.

Just to the northeast, the Highland Park Industrial Track bisects the intersection of Mt. Elliot Street and McNichols Road.  Federal Pipe & Supply (the green building on the bottom right) and Merit Auto Parts & Salvage (the yellow and white building at the top left) are not rail-served, but would be great models. This scene wouldn't be a priority, but given sufficient space, its inclusion would impart a lot of Detroit character.  Just look at the Google Streetview photos of these two structures:

This is the Mound Correctional Facility, which stands on the site of the former DTRR Davison yard. This was the main classification yard of the DTRR, taking in rail traffic from both of its parent railroads - the Michigan Central and Grand Trunk Western - and routing cars all over Detroit. There was a roundhouse here, left over from the days of steam, as well as the DTRR's main offices. It had become dilapidated in its final days, with several stalls open to the elements after a fire.

The yard lead crossed a tangle of roads on the eastern edge of the yard, including Davison Street (from which the yard got its name) and Mound Road, which I'm sure caused many a traffic snarl!

This is the same intersection today, but trains pass by infrequently and without much notice.

Just across the tracks from the Mound Correctional Facility is Alpha Resins, which features an interesting track layout.  Consider that any train switching this industry (and the others nearby) will come from North Yard, traveling from right to left in this picture, with the locomotive in the lead.  While Alpha Resins' spur off the main track looks like a simple trailing point affair, if the engineer simple backs the train into the spur, his locomotive is now in the way for the switchback into the plant itself.  To deliver cars to the customer, the crew must use the Jailhouse siding to run around the train and lead the train into the spur engine-first. Then the crew can back the cars into the appropriate spots among the three spurs within the plant. If that's not enough, consider that the crew will likely need to pull cars out of the plant before delivering new ones, and you've got a lot of work to do!

Here's another view, using Bing Maps' Birds Eye view, from the trackside. I count at least three places to spot cars: first, at the left-most set of tanks; second, at the larger group of white tanks near the top right corner of this image; third, at the small group of rusty-looking tanks near the bottom of the photo. In addition, it looks like additional cars could be stored (or possibly spotted) along the spur that runs in front of the tall building near the bottom right corner of the photo. Lastly, the roll-up doors in the long, low building on the left side of the photo could be car spots too.

All in all, there's a lot going on here; Alpha Resins is definitely a high priority to model on the DTRR.

Across Ryan Road, just east of Alpha Resins, is another interesting set of industries. First is Metropolitan Alloys Corporation, which produces zinc alloys and aluminum products.  Right next door is Winston Brothers Iron & Metal, one of many scrap metal recyclers in Detroit.

I wasn't entirely certain that Metropolitan Alloys was still rail-served, but then I stumbled upon the image at left using Bing Maps.  Sure enough, that's a 50' boxcar spotted at one of the building's roll-up doors.

Here's Winston Brothers Iron & Metal from roughly the same perspective.  It's hard to see in this view, but you can just make out the spur curving to the southeast among the rusting hulks and cranes.  You may also be able to see two empty gondolas sitting on the Metropolitan Alloys spur, waiting to be spotted in the Winston Brothers yard for loading.

I dig the sign painted on the building and the battered chain link fence. Even if it weren't for the fact that scrap metal is a key industry in Detroit, I'd include this scene in my model of the DTRR for sheer character.

Google sayeth the track endeth here, though Bing disagrees, and shows satellite imagery of the DTRR tracks continuing all the way to Ford Junction, where the Detroit Terminal crossed the CN (GTW) Holly Subdivision.

Both the DTRR and one of its parents, the GTW, served the large Ford Highland Park plant here.  It was here that the first assembly line was used for mass production of the famous Model T automobile. Most of the plant is now shut down.

The last point of interest is the DTRR overpass over Woodward Avenue. Woodward was the main road from downtown Detroit to Pontiac, MI, and every year the Woodward Dream Cruise is held along its entire length. Classic American cars of nearly every description cruise continuously, while scores more park in every parking lot, driveway and sidewalk along the route.  Though not a priority, given the space, I'd try to model this craziness in 1:87 just for kicks. Plus, I think the bridge looks pretty neat.

In my next post, I'll take a look at the Detroit Terminal East Industrial Track, mentioned near the beginning of this post.  As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Union Branch

The Conrail Union Branch represents the new West End of my modern day, proto-freelanced Detroit Terminal Railroad. On the map to the left, the Union Branch starts just north of Dearborn, slightly west of the Dearborn Industrial Track, which I covered in the last post.

The Union Branch runs due north before turning 90 degrees due east and, in the real world, terminates a few miles later. Conrail Union Branch jobs originate from Livernois Yard, just out of the picture to the south, and use the CSX Detroit Subdivision to access the Union Branch (just like the Dearborn Industrial Track).

Taking a closer look, satellite imagery shows the Union Branch travels along a corridor of industrial and commercial development on Detroit's west side.  There is an at-grade crossing with the Canadian National just south of I-96, but otherwise the action is purely industrial switching.

On this map, you may be able to make out the route of the now-abandoned west end of the original Detroit Terminal. From the end of the Dearborn Industrial Track near the bottom right corner of this image, the right of way continues due north through another industrial area that starts at Joy Rd. The right-of-way continued north until Schoolcraft Road, where it curved to the northeast. Near Lyndon and Livernois, the DTRR crossed and then interchanged with what is now the Conrail Union Branch. In the heyday of the DTRR, the Union Branch was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and was a competitor to the DTRR.

Starting at the southern end and working our way north, here is P Company Junction. This is the switch off the CSX Detroit Subdivision that provides access to the Union Branch. That rusty old signal bridge is a neat detail.

The first industry, just off the CSX mainline, is Hollingsworth Logistics. It's basically a big warehouse, and the main structure isn't rail served. The only thing I'm interested in is the small building surrounded by semi trailers.

I've rotated the view in this image to show the rail door and the truck docks. If I'm honest, I haven't the foggiest idea what goes on here, but I'd be willing to bet it involves transloading from railcar to trucks. While I'm out here on a limb, I'll jump up and down a bit and say it could be produce.

According to Hollingsworth's website, it is a certified Native American company. Otherwise, despite the lengthy text, I couldn't tell you what they actually do!

Just north of Tireman Street is this group of warehouses. All of the rail spurs look dilapidated and out of use. However, as Lance Mindheim has noted, such things can quickly change.

The trackage to these warehouses is fairly interesting, and could make for some interesting operations.

Continuing north, we cross Joy Road and immediately come to a passing siding and two spurs serving chemical plants. The first spur curves to the west and splits into two sidings serving PVS Nolwood. This plant produces a variety of chemicals for companies like Dow Chemical. Both Google and Bing maps show mostly tank cars spotted here, but there are some hoppers too.

The second spur parallels the mainline and serves Houghton International, which specializes in industrial lubricants. Tank cars are the only traffic here.

The longer spur serving PVS Nolwood would be impractical to model in its entirety on a shelf layout, but it could be respresented as an off-layout industry, with a spur disappearing behind a backdrop, hidden by the large Houghton warehouse structure.  Houghton itself would be very easy to model - even if it would require a ton of silos! Here's a trackside shot of Houghton from Bing maps:

JSP International is just north of the two chemical plants, and is a plastics manufacturing company. They serve a number of industries including the automotive industry, which is the likely reason for this plant's existence in Detroit.  Rail traffic appears to be exclusively cylindrical hoppers.

Here's a trackside shot courtesy of Bing maps:
Best Block is just north of West Chicago Street, and has a single spur serving a simple concrete platform. Best is a masonry and landscape block supplier, and Bing maps shows product delivered by 50' boxcars.  Modeling Best Block would be simplicity itself, since the industry is basically just a flat lot with a concrete platform and stacks of blocks laying about.

Here's a trackside image from Bing maps:

J. Lewis Cooper is served by a facing-point spur that slightly overlaps the Best Block spur.  It is a wholesale distributor of wine and spirits, and this structure appears to be a warehouse and transloading facility.

There are actually two spurs serving this industry. The first goes into the J. Lewis Cooper warehouse through a roll-up door, while the other continues alongside the warehouse building.  This second spur appears to have once served the warehouse just to the south, but now the rails peter out in the weeds. This track could be used to spot extra cars or for storage.

Here's a trackside image from Bing maps:

Further north across Plymouth road is a small three-track yard. It runs alongside a Chrysler truck plant which, though it is not currently rail-served, may have been at one time.  This small yard would be a good place for a locomotive to run around its train in order to switch J. Lewis Cooper.

The primary purpose of this yard, however, used to be interchange with the CSX (formerly Chessie Sytem/Pere Marquette/etc.)  More on that in just a moment.

The interesting detail in the following Bing maps image is the Conrail caboose. Though I'm not sure when the image was actually taken, it seems likely this was long after cabooses were all but extinct!

Pictured to the left is the crossing with CSX, and you can clearly see the vestiges of a wye to permit interchange. Both legs of the wye are gone now, and the space inside the western side of the wye is now occupied by Basic Recycling.  Though not rail served, it has a lot of Detroit character and would make interesting modeling.

Next, the DTRR crosses I-96 on an overpass. There's not much to see here except 14 lanes of traffic and a secondary bridge that once carried a spur to a large warehouse on Fullerton St. This wouldn't be a priority to model, but if there was space, it would give the model a sense of place, cementing the location for Detroiters.

The DTRR continues uneventfully for several miles north of I-96, until the right-of-way begins to curve eastward.  Along this curve, a spur diverges northward to serve West Friendship Materials.  This business, similar to Best Block to the south, is typical Detroit. Since no big corporate stores are willing to risk investment within the city limits, old-fashioned, Mom & Pop style local businesses flourish to fill the need.

As you will see in the image below from Bing maps, building materials are delivered in 50' boxcars, spotted at various places along the spur.  While the spur strays relatively far from the mainline, this industry naturally lends itself to filling empty space in a corner of the layout. With the help of some selective compression, it could work very well.  For me, this scene is a priority to include in my DTRR model.

Here's the image from Bing maps, and you'll notice two boxcars - one in the bottom left corner, and another spotted at the curved building just to the left and above all the trucks.
Here is the end of the line, a relatively short passing siding and the spur serving Quaker Chemical Corporation.  Their website is somewhat vague about what actually goes on at this location, but the Bing maps image below shows four tank cars spotted here:

After this, the tracks continue east to Wyoming Ave. where they currently terminate. Before this portion of the line was abandoned, it continued east to Livernois Ave., where the old Pennsy Union Railroad crossed the original DTRR and interchanged with it.  Though I'm trying my best to avoid stretching the bounds of reality too far, I find the Wayne Bolt & Nut building that sits just north of this junction too tempting to resist.

You may be able to make out the vestiges of a rail spur running along the side of this building, and you can see the original (now abandoned) DTRR tracks to the south in the top left corner of this image.  Below is a Google Streetview screenshot showing the front of the building:
This place personifies Detroit for me.  Clearly built during the "good old days" of the Detroit auto industry and likely supplying all of the auto factories in town, the business is still alive despite the near collapse of the industry on which it depends.  Yes, the paint is chipped, the weeds are overgrown and the roof is sagging. So what. These are badges of honor, signs that the folks in charge put a higher priority on finding business to stay alive and keep the employees working.

In my next post, I'll continue moving clockwise around the theoretical modern-day Detroit Terminal Railroad and consider the Highland Park Industrial Track. Included along this right-of-way is the spot where the old DTRR Davison Street Yard once stood, the main yard and nerve center of the old railroad.  Therefore, this will also mark the transition from the West End to the East End of the DTRR.