Michigan Shore Railroad

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Michigan Shore Railroad

Unread postby OwlCaboose2853 » Sat Dec 18, 2004 11:29 pm

Dave Kemler, a conductor and engineer with the
Michigan Shore Railroad, pulls on the train horn
to warn traffic of the train's approach to an
intersection in Muskegon.
http://www.record-eagle.com/2004/dec/09train.htm (photo)

Shore workers enjoy routine on the tracks
They deliver to same places every day

MUSKEGON (AP) - This time of year, workdays on the 6-mile-long Michigan Shore Railroad begin well before daylight and sometimes stretch long past sunset.

An unseasonably warm drizzle is falling on this late November morning when engineer Dave Kemler and conductor Ben Vainavicz arrive at the former Grand Trunk Western facility just before 6 a.m. The men head straight for the building's dingy, cement-floored office and silently begin sorting through the curling sheets of paper spilling from a fax machine smeared with greasy black handprints.

The Michigan Shore is all that remains of Grand Trunk Western's 135-mile-long Durand-to-Muskegon line.

Grand Trunk was one of three Class 1 railroads that served Muskegon in its rail heyday before World War II. As the Class I railroads lost ground to the trucking industry in the 1970s, short lines and regional railroads rose in importance following Reagan-era deregulation.

Today, short line and regional railroads operate and maintain nearly a third of the nation's rail miles. There is only one shorter "short line" in the state, a 1-mile stretch in Detroit.

Vainavicz said he and Kemler are mailmen delivering 200-ton packages to the same two or three addresses each day. Vainavicz said he prefers track work - replacing railroad ties, aligning rails, rebuilding grade crossings.

"There's more of a sense of accomplishment with track work," Vainavicz said. "You can see what you've accomplished, like building a house."

Vainavicz has worked for the Michigan Shore for 11 years. He's worked for railroads since taking a summer job with CSX predecessor Chesapeake & Ohio 26 years ago. Vainavicz was a business student at Western Michigan University at the time.

Kemler said he enjoys the railroad's routine. A former high school art teacher, he said teaching was a high-stress job. Working on the railroad is a no-stress job.

Kemler earned his master's in secondary education from Central Michigan University and taught art at Central Montcalm High for 23 years. His illustrations of turn-of-the-century steam-powered farm equipment have been published.

A farm boy at heart, Kemler always has had an appreciation of heavy machinery. He is an avid collector of tractor replicas.

This morning, as they sort through the faxes, the men exchange small talk about the weather and its effects on the opening day of deer season. Vainavicz drove straight to work from his deer camp near White Cloud.

Vainavicz said he dreams of the day he can retire and move into his hunting cabin. It's the solid retirement program offered by the Michigan Shore's parent company, RailAmerica Inc., that keeps Vainavicz working on the railroad.

At 6:30 a.m., No. 73 crosses Henry Street to pick up a dozen empty hoppers from its three-track freight yard behind Campbell Wyant & Cannon Foundry Co. - once the largest producer of auto castings in the world.

No. 73 will deliver the empty hoppers to Nugent Sand and pick up a string of cars loaded with processed sand headed for auto foundries in Defiance, Ohio, and Indianapolis. Nugent is, by far, the railroad's biggest customer, making up at least 80 percent of its business.

On most days, Engine No. 73 will deliver about a dozen railroad hoppers filled with almost 1,500 tons of sand to CSX. The hoppers will leave town as part of CSX's nightly freight, still called the "Cannonball" after more than half a century.

"It's probably the only train on a Class 1 railroad which still has a caboose," Kemler said.

A CSX crewman rides the caboose to Grand Haven, where he reopens the swing bridge over the Grand River once the Cannonball has crossed. When it reaches Grand Rapids, the hoppers from Nugent will be switched to trains headed for downstate auto foundries.

At the Michigan Shore speed limit of 10 mph, it takes No. 73 the better part of an hour to make the round trip from the engine house to Nugent. Although it's now just barely 8 a.m., on most days the crew will have only three more stops to make.

All that keeps them from the swift completion of their appointed rounds is the CSX main line that cuts the Michigan Shore line neatly in half.

The CSX dispatcher won't permit No. 73 to cross from one half of the Michigan Shore line to the other if there's a CSX train anywhere on the main line between Holland and Fremont. The day before, the crew cooled their heels for four hours while waiting for clearance from the CSX dispatcher.

Once they get the "all clear" from CSX, all the crew needs to do is hook the empty tank cars collected from Webb Chemical the day before to the hoppers from Nugent and deliver the lot to North Yard.

Once there, they'll pick up empty hoppers for Nugent and tank cars filled with chemicals to deliver to Webb.
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