THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of The Sebewa Center Association, June, 1981, Volume 16, Number 6. Submitted with written permission of current Editor Grayden D. Slowins: THE C. K. & S. AND WOODBURY by ViVerne Pierce
Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw, alias Cuss, Kick and Swear, alias Cow Kicked Susie was not the original name of the railroad that ended in Woodbury. Surprisingly, to many of you, it was organized as the Kalamazoo, Lowell and Northern Michigan Railroad, December 8, 1871 and was to extend from Kalamazoo to Hastings to Smyrna to Greenville and thence northerly through the “Pineries”. Rights of way were bought and the road was graded to Hastings and then came the Panic of 1873. It was a recession similar to our 1929 Depression. Everything came to a standstill. In 1883 interest was renewed, new money came from investors and a reorganization with a new board of directors changed the name to Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw Railroad Company. The new route was to run from Kalamazoo to Hastings and thence northeasterly, cutting out Lowell.
In 1886 the building of this road was renewed with vigor and in 1888 the first train run from Kalamazoo to Hastings was made. On September 1, 1889 the service opened from Kalamazoo to Woodbury. The stops from Kalamazoo on the C. K. & S. run were East Cooper, Richland Junction, Cressey, Milo, Crooked Lake, Delton, Cloverdale, Ackers Point, Shultz, Hastings, Coats Grove, Woodland and Woodbury. There were two passenger runs daily. The first from Kalamazoo at 6:10 AM arrived at Woodbury at 8:35 AM---a trip of approximately 47 miles in 2 hours 25 minutes with 13 stops---not bad. The train arrived in Woodbury, made contact with the Pere Marquette Railroad, the engine turned around on the turntable, rehooked to the cars and returned to Kalamazoo. The second passenger run left Kalamazoo at 2:20 PM and made the same run. The fare to Hastings was 93 cents. A freight train was made up each day except Sunday and left at approximately 9 to 10 AM and did all the necessary switching along the line.
Due to automobile and bus line competition the passenger runs were discontinued in January of 1934. After that a passenger car was hooked to the freight run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Finally in 1937 on July 18 there appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette the following report: “Tearing up of 15 miles of track between Hastings and Woodbury had begun. The Hastings-Delton strip will be removed next.” Thus ended an approximate 50-year era, some of which I’ll never forget and hope to keep alive in memories for years to come.
There were many obstacles to overcome in the building of this railroad. There were no steam shovels, bulldozers, earth movers as we know them today. Instead there were horses, slush scrapers, hand shovels and one heck of a lot of muscle and brawn.
South of Hastings near Shultz, after the track was laid, sink holes started to appear---six of them. The way these were treated was for men to cut down big trees, manhandle them into the sink hole, trunk, limbs and all, making a basket effect and then hand shoveling dirt on top until the hole was completely filled.
Then came the time to cross the Michigan Central Railroad tracks near Hastings and to cross the Thornapple Rive. The law of the day was that once you crossed another track with a railroad line, the right of way remained yours. The trick was to get the line across without being stopped. Michigan Central kept an engine and two cars working in the area constantly to forestall the C. K. & S. from making the crossing.
Then on one Sunday, when the M. C. R. R. moved the engine and two cars out of the area to let another train through, the C. K. & S. took advantage of its being Sunday and M. C. R. R.’s guard being down, and pushed a track across and continued building to the northeast.
This brings up the most asked question about the C. K. & S. Why was the name of Saginaw used when the road ended at Woodbury? My Grandpa Wells told me C. K. & S. wanted to continue the road but they had to lay tracks across another railroad, this time the Pere Marquette Railroad, which ran east and west through Woodbury. The C. K. & S. crew secretly planned to lay the crossing under cover of darkness but the Pere Marquette people heard of the plan and were lying in wait for the work to begin. There were broken limbs, head busting and blood letting and when the battle subsided the C. K. & S. had not made it across. Consequently the turntable was built to turn the engine around and the line stopped at Woodbury. I have always maintained that every train running on the C. K. & S. tracks started from Woodbury---even if it did start back.
In the days before prohibition, Barry County was dry and Eaton County was wet. Woodbury, being just across the line in Eaton County, had several soloons. Today M 66 divides Woodbury into Eaton and Barry Counties. Just to show you to what lengths some fellows would go for a bucket of beer, the C. K. & S. started a special run from Hastings with stops at Coats Grove and Woodland for an evening in Woodbury. The train would hardly come to a stop when the men jumped off to run to their favorite watering hole to fill their tin lunch buckets and covered lard pails with beer. Then they stood at the bar, drinking as many glasses of beer as they could until the train whistle signified that the engine was turned around and ready for the return trip to Hastings. My Grandpa Wells has told me that many of the men who ran to catch the train for the return trip were not speedy enough. They ended up walking home or simply staying over until the next night.
The “Turntable” was a point of curiosity and interest in Woodbury. How many people have you heard say, “I remember the C. K. & S. turntable in Woodbury”? From age six through ten it was truly a big experience for me. From the time I heard the familiar whistle coming from across the road behind Victor Eckardt’s barn, I would drop whatever I was doing and run for the C. K. & S. tracks about two blocks away. I say tracks because there were three. The main track came into town and ran down behind Smith Bros. Velte Elevator and stopped. The second track was a siding that ran beside the other and could make a connection to the P. M. R. R. track. The stockyard was adjacent to this track. The third track led to the turntable and all the fun.
When the train slowed down or came to a stop, I would jump up into the caboose with Charley McCall, the conductor. The caboose was side tracked and the cars were backed to the elevator. The engine was unhooked and switched to the third track. Every time the engine had to cross the highway (dirt road) I would get a chance to pull the whistle rope to warn the automobiles, horses and wagons of our coming.
The engine would proceed to the turntable at a slow pace and stop at the precise spot of balance. When I jumped down from the engine I watched Charley unlock the turntable and then I would jump into the air and grab hold of one of the big steel arms (there was one at each end) and while the men were pushing the engine around, my legs would be churning in the air, but I was helping.
To better understand the wonderment of this, consider how a turntable was built. It consisted of a huge steel hub in the center, much like an old round oak table top. The tracks were laid across this long enough to accommodate the engine. These tracks at each end had smaller railroad car wheels attached and these wheels rode on a circular track like the outside edge of the turntable. The engine was driven on and the two men, one on each of the steel pushing arms, would turn the engine around 180 degrees so it could be driven off in the opposite direction from which it entered. But consider forty to fifty tons of locomotive, coal tender and coal, how well it had to be balanced on the table so that only two men could turn it around. If the engineer was getting along with the crew that day, it was a simple job but if he were out of sorts and stopped the engine two or three inches one way or the other from center, those men pushing on the arms had their work cut out for them that day. Then you knew where the Cuss, Kick and Swear nickname originated.
George “Baldy” Kussmaul worked on the section gang for C. K. & S. for quite a few years. The gang office was in Woodland and for Baldy to get to Woodland and home every day he had a little 3-wheel hand car whose handle he pumped back and forth to make it go. It was hard work going uphill but going downhill, that arm was like a pendulum on a clock gone wild. The third wheel was nothing more than a support or a balancing wheel. If you were going at a reasonable speed, the third wheel would ride the track very well. If you got going too fast and the track curved just right, the third wheel would lift in the air and you went sailing, handcar and all. When some of us boys got a little older, we would sneak down to the depot in the evening, get Baldy’s handcar out and pump it up the track to between Victor Eckardt’s and Carl Brodbeck’s, turn it around and head back for town. I can testify now that, although the countryside there looks level as a billiard table, there was an incline downhill to town because that handcar would get going so fast the pumping arm would be just a blur going back and forth. When we would hit the curve going around the elevator, the handcar, boys and all, would leave the tracks. The Good Lord must have been smiling on us because we were never hurt, much less killed.
I’ve often said, “The game of euchre originated in Woodbury”. As far as I was concerned, it did, right in the C. K. & S Depot and Luther “Mose” Brodbeck was the instructor, not only of that game, but also of Pedro, Rounce, Whist, Poker and many more. At eight years of age, I could hold my own with Mose, Baldy, Ernie Schelter, Gayle Pfeiffer, Kenneth Geisel and others. If any one had a free afternoon and Mose had his book work caught up, we would drag out the boxes, crates and benches and set up for a card session. What fun that was, especially in winter when the old potbellied stove would be cherry red and making you wish you were not wearing those wollen long johns.
Just north of the turntable, between it and the P. M. tracks, was a triangular piece of ground, nice and level with no trees and sodded to grass. We in Woodbury called it the Y. It belonged to the railroad companies but every one used it. I remember well the Vern Slout Players from Vermontville using it for tent shows. My Grandpa Wells told of having circuses there and of how the gypsies with their horses and wagons would camp there until they were chases out of town.
My father told me about the baseball field they used to have and how proud he was to tell me about how my mother played first base on the men’s team. Naturally, the men could throw much harder and Ma’s hands were not as tough as those of the men.
At the end of a game her hand would be all swollen and red. Feeling sorry for her and still wanting her to play, the men got the idea of stuffing her first baseman’s mitt with feathers. After that the highlight of the game was watching Mom catch the ball from an infielder and seeing the feathers fly in a downy cloud. In later years I used that railroad Y to pasture my pony.
There were many things to learn from those old railroad tracks. If you don’t think so, ask Carl Gerlinger, better known as Cobby. Cobby and I were growing up together in Woodbury and at about age of seven or eight he was still having trouble tying his shoestrings. One day while playing down on the tracks his shoes became untied as usual and he asked me to tie them for him. I had been doing this for a long time and it was becoming exasperating. I set him down on the tracks, tied his shoes and then untied them and told him he was going to have to learn once and for all how to do it or the train would run over him. He worked at it for a while but couldn’t get the hang of it and wanted to give up. About that time the train whistled, signaling a passenger run coming into town. I guess that my ultimatum that he was going to have to sit there until he could tie his shoes was all he needed. You would be surprised how well you can learn anything with a steaming, whistling locomotive bearing down on you, even if you are on the siding. Today “Cobby” is still one of my truest friends.
A short time ago Victor Eckardt, knowing of my sentimental feelings and interest in the C. K. & S and Woodbury, dropped off at my house an old rusty railroad tie spike. His dog had dug it up on the site of the old railroad bed. I have it on my desk and whenever I look at it, memories come flooding back. Is it any wonder that I always say, “Don’t say anything bad to me about Woodbury---that’s where I grew up”?
Last update November 16, 2013