Feb. 10, 1951 - Houghten Lumber and Grain Co. Fire​​


Saturday afternoon, February 10, 1951, three trains were idled on the track here by the numerous fire hoses crossing the rails. East bound freight No.3755 which arrived at 1:18PM didn't get underway until 3:34PM; more than two hours late, according to Harry Buck, station agent for the Grand Trunk.

One bit of humor out of the whole conflagration. At the time when the trains were held up by the fire hoses across the tracks a brakeman approached one of the St. Johns department members and asked when they were going to break the hose and let the train through. The answer was, "Hell, you fellows haven't worked for two weeks, another hour won't spoil your record."

The following article is from The Clinton Republican dated February 15, 195

Houghten Loss the Costliest Fire in Many Years Here
Brilliant Work by Local Department Keeps Blaze From Spreading Further

Loss in the Houghton Lumber and Grain Co. fire in St.Johns, Saturday, which razed the huge elevator building, ie expected to mount to more than $75,000. The loss may reach $100,000, depending on building replacement costs. This was the costliest fire in many years in this community.

Lester Houghten, who owns the company with his son, Herbert, reports that the $20,000 loss in grain was completely covered by insurance.

A $30,000 policy covered the elevator as well as the feed room office building and other property, which was only slightly damaged.

St.Johns firemen worked valiantly for nearly four hours to subdue the flames which broke out about 11 AM and had a good start before the fire was discovered. Other truck were called from the John Bean Co. in Lansing and Corunna.

Hard working, ice covered volunteer firemen from St. Johns battled in near zero weather in a successful effort to keep the fire from spreading to the lumber company office next door and to the lumber yard in the rear.

Smoke and water were responsible for only slight damage to the lumber comapny office which was stripped of records and furniture as soon as the alarm was sounded.

Louis Brya had just seen two loads of his wheat unloaded and stored in the elevator and was in the company office about to receive his check when the fire was discovered.

His two loads of wheat were among the 5,000 bushels destroyed. Three thousand bushels of oats were also lost. Trucks were rushed to the feed room to empty contents which were saved.

Hundreds of townspeople and Saturday shoppers from surrounding area watched as more than 30 firemen from three departments fight the blaze. Hoses which were strung across the Grand Trunk rail track held up three trains.

Mr. Houghten will rebuild if possible, replacing the out of date elevator with a silo type affair. However, he has nothing definite in mind yet. Insurance adjusters have not been here to survey the loss.Type your paragraph here.

Little Vacation Journeys on the Old Reliable D. & M.

This article was in The Clinton Republican newspaper dated December 7, 1916 with no author noted. We have added images of some of the places noted from that era.

If one wants to get away from the fret and care of business and enjoy, for a time, peaceful and quiet surroundings, a little vacation on the old reliable Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee railroad will fully supply such want.

[Shepardsville Station] Making the trip from St.Johns to Detroit for instance, will furnish a reasonable amount of change and relaxation. Leaving St. Johns at 8:06AM, a comfortable hour for departure, you pass through fertile farms for seven miles until Shepardsville is reached, where the first halt is made and a little chat held with the station agent about crops, weather prospects, wars in Europe, etc. Two or three miles further east you reach the limits of Ovid where the speed ordinance slows you train to right miles an hour, enabling the engineer to come to a gentle stop at the station. Ovid is a pretty, prosperous town, well worth looking at.

Getting under way again we pass through some of the finest farms in Michigan, and about five miles east reach Burton. Burton is not a large place, but there are a lot of good people around there and sometimes one of them takes the train. Five miles more and we pull up for the M.C. crossing at Owosso Junction if they can avoid it, for it might enable you to catch a train on the Michigan Central or the Ann Arbor that you would otherwise miss by getting off at the station a mile farther east. Owosso also has a slow up ordinance, and as corporation limits are generous, it gives on plenty of time to read signs on the casket and furniture factories and observe what is going on in our neighboring city.

[Owosso Junction] From Owosso we make a run of three miles without stop, unless per chance we are side tracked to permit a freight to pass, arriving at Corunna and McCurdy's court house, this being a county seat town. A little halt and we go soon arriving in Vernon, the center of the sheep feeding industry, with big red sheep barns on every hill side.



Another effort and we reach Durand, three or four miles further on. Here we hesitate, first in the yard, then later at the station. A delightful half hour or maybe three quarters is spent here, where trains are arriving from St.Johns, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Frankfort, Port Huron, Detroit, Saginaw, etc. While waiting you observe long lines of stock cars loaded with the cutest little pigs with curly tails and train loads of ham, bacon and lard, reminding on of Lord Byron's little poem about the Aisles of Grease. There is lots going on here and you have plenty of time to see it. Here one of those impossible individuals who are sometimes allowed to travel alone, was heard to remark that if one was traveling very far on the Grand Trunk he would die of old age before reaching his destination.

Regretfully we finally leave Durand and make friendly calls at Gaines, at Linden [this not the Linden where the sun is low and all bloodless lay the untrodden snow that was a Linden in Dutchland], the getting off place for Argentine, where Clinton County people go fishing; Fenton and Holly, where the 57 varieties are displayed on a series of bright yellow buildings, lending color and splendor to the scene. We also cross the Pere Marquette here, calling at for or five more towns before reaching Pontiac. Tamarack swamps, streams, beautiful lakes surrounded by green fields suggest the close relation of the loaves and fishes, brown fields, the bronze leaves on the oak forests, gravel pits and ice houses make memorable scene.

We halt at Waterford, at Clarkston, at Davisburg, at Drayton Plains, and Andersonfille, who would want to go running along through such a country at reckless speed, frightening hens away form the right of way so they would not lay an egg for a week, thus inviting damage suit by the farmers.

We arrive at Pontiac. Here we took a good rest, the passengers wondering whether the agent had gone up to the asylum to engage another train crew to take us in under the Adamson eight hout law or whether we were waiting for a chance to be switched on the P.&O., or the air line, or both to avoid holding up the freights. When we did leave Pontiac, we ran along beside the paved way between that city and City of the Straits. This was a downgrade trip, winding around the hills creating the sensation experienced on a roller coaster. We see automobiles pushing along at reckless abandon at a speed of twenty miles per hour, but they do not tempt us from the pleasant security of our vacation journey. Birmingham, Royal Oak and twenty miles of town lots staked out, intervene before reaching Milwaukee Junction and a half hour later Detroit. It is almost 1 o'clock United States time. If our train is on time, almost 2 o'clock and supper time by Detroit time but we have had a ripping good time, every minute a delight.

Returning from Detroit you leave at 3 o'clock and are supposed to arrive at St. Johns at 8 PM. Quite frequently of late the train reaches here at 9 PM but who would let the mere matter of a train schedule interfere with the joys of a vacation trip? How disappointing it is to stroll down to the depot a few minutes late for the evening train west and be brusquely informed that the train leaves at 8 PM. How much nicer it is to have the smiling agent say, "Kind sir, no passenger train has gone west this evening; we are expecting a train, if not today's train, maybe yesterdays train will come soon. Make yourself comfortable. This winter we have a latch on all the doors, and we can keep them shut to exclude the cold."

But going into Detroit in the evening, you can leave St. Johns at 4:08, change on the train from Chicago at Durand and get into the city at 7:30, standard time. Dear old delightful D.& M. We sing thy praises. Nowhere else can you get so much ride for your money ---- every freight train dodged, safe, peaceful, secure. For vacation trips you have them beat by a mile.

P.S. --- If you belong to that disagreeable class of beings who are always in a hurry and think that the chief purpose of taking the train is to get somewhere, instead of taking the 12:03 from St. Johns for Detroit, you can stay home for dinner, leave at 1:10 on the electric, stay 22 minutes in Lansing and take the Pere Marquette for Detroit, reaching there five minutes sooner than the 12:03 which left St. Johns an hour and eight minutes earlier.

This is photo is of the Shepardsville Station in 1907.
From Left to Right is; Station agent Bill Drum, Ramon Deitrich, Albert Longcor, section foreman Alex Olson, and Bill Decker

Railroad History of St.Johns


1864-1872 Early Accidents


Railroading on the Detroit & Milwaukee was very dangerous work. Speed wasn't high, 15 mph for freights, but there were no air brakes. The way a train was stopped in emergencies was the engineer would whistle for down brakes. When the brakemen in the caboose heard this whistle, they would run along the tops of the cars and set the hand brakes on each car. On the locomotive, the fireman would set the hand brake on the tender and the engineer would reverse the engine. This took a lot of time. Coupling was done with line and pin and frogs on cross overs and turnouts were not blocked with wood so a brakeman could catch his foot in them and be caught fast. The following are a few accidents taken from The Clinton Republican that happend in St. Johns.

May 27, 1864
Brakeman

On Friday morning last a young man named Chas. McMillin, a brakeman on the D. & M. Railroad was instantly killed at this station while in the act of coupling freight cars, laden with staves. Several staves projected beyond the framework of the cars having been placed for the purpose of binding loads. The head of the unfortunate victim was caught between these protruding ends and crushed causing instant death. His remains were taken to Detroit, where his parents reside.

November 18, 1864
A Smash Up

The mixed train on the D. & M. Railroad due here at 1:20am arrived at the station yesterday morning with its engine in a disabled condition and laid over upon the track for repairs. The mixed 4:45 AM train from the East arrived here on time, and being under some headway, ran into the train upon the track, well-nigh wrecking one or two freight cars, breaking open boxes of freight, loosening axles from their fastenings, injuring the engine of the westward bound train, and covering the ground with debris of the wreck. One passenger only was slightly injured. No blame, we understand, attaches to any employees of the road. The loss to the company will probably be $10,000.

May 19, 1865
Fatal Accident

A train of cars left this place for the west on Sunday morning last and proceeded to Ionia, where a brakeman named John Kelly was caught by the food in a switch while coupling cars, and so mangled by the wheels of the moving train that he died a few hours afterwards.

In the report to the Commissioner of the Railroads dated December 31, 1872, there were five accidents to brakemen on the D.&M. Railroad for that year. Most of these resulted in amputation of limbs.




A Short Trip Through the Northern Country












This letter to the editor was first published by The Clinton Independant in December of 1871. The Image linked is a line drawing of the routes taken through the described trip. They included the Detroit & Milwaukee; Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw; and the Flint & Pere Marquette

Greenbush, December 4th, 1871
Editor Independent: -
Some three weeks since, I in company with Mr. Daniel Ridenor and daughter, who were about to visit some friends in Isabella county, started for the north - west township in said county. Thinking we might find some deer that wanted to be shot, we took our "shooting irons" along that we might be prepared to accommodate all such that might come our way.

We left St. Johns, the liveliest town of its inches in this State, by the 12:45 Mail and Express on the D. & M. R.R. for Owosso, from thence to Saginaw by the J. L. & S. R.R. I have wondered why they call this place Saginaw, but my wonderment subsided when I gazed upon the formation of the country in which the cities are located. I at once saw the "pint." owing to a big Sag and the [g] nawing disposition of the early settlers, they called it Saginaw. Not withstanding the peculiar manner in which it derived its name, the whole Valley is noted for its wealth, enterprise and prosperity. Its people consume a large quantity of our county's productions yearly, the benefits of which are readily conceived. Salt and lumber are the principle enriching productions.

We left the Valley by the F. & P.M. R.R. at 9:15 AM, and traveled about sixty miles northwest. The country, until you come into the pine and hemlocks, looks fine and promising. The fire in the country as well as our own, made sad havoc, destroying timber and consuming fences for miles along our route. The F. & P.M. R.R. is in tip-top order, and we learned is doing a good business for a new one through so wild a country.

We arrived at Lake Station about noon, where we found a good hotel, conducted by a gentlemanly and obliging man, and I regret that I cannot give his name. All trains stop here for meals and refreshments. From here, we took "shank's horses" and wound our way six miles through gigantic pines, and it was then we began to look for bears and feel the comfort and safety which a good gun can afford. We did not find a living object that desired to try the effects of Clinton County bullets, so we spent our time viewing the country, which, from all appearances, promises much for the future.

We arrived at our place of destination just before sundown, and on the following morning the hunt commenced. I am like the boy that went ducking and fell overboard - I got into the dense forest and had a lively time in hunting my way out. On the hunt I am good, but on the find I am "nix;" however, I got as much as the rest of the party. We saw plenty of tracks, and those which looked most promising to us, was our own, when directed toward home.

We called upon Mr. Toobs, Fords, Lutson and Gaumer, formerly of this township, and found them in a happy, thriving and flourishing condition. The lumbering business in the pine woods is unusually exciting this season and form $30 to $40 per month is being offered for good hands.

Uncle Jake.

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Engine 2246 at the St.Johns Depot from an undetermined year.
​This depot was constructed in 1868-1869 and was later destroyed by the 1920 tornado

Northeast view of the Junction Hotel at Owosso Junction.
Photograph is from the Mark Worrall post card collection.