Part 3 - Early Years of the Railroad

Steam Shovel Construction
A steam shovel in action on the tracks during Copper Range Railroad construction.
Copper Range Railroad Construction, Nara 42-162, MS-797: J. W. Nara Photograph Collection.

After Wright and his colleagues lobbied for the road in 1898, controlling interest was transferred to the Copper Range Company. Shortly after, a first board of directors meeting was held. With a firm supporting organization and a drive to complete the railroad to receive the promised land from the St, Mary’s Canal and Mineral Land company, bidding was started for construction of the main line and early equipment.

Stock Holder Meeting Minutes
Northern Michigan Rail Company's stockholder meeting minutes.
Northern Michigan Rail Company stockholder’s meeting minutes, MS-080, Copper Range Records, box 1, folder 1.

Following the organization of the Copper Range Railroad Company, in November 1898 Thomas Appleton of Massachusetts was selected as chief engineer to oversee the line survey and the engineering challenges of construction and maintenance.

Special Edition Newspaper
A special edition of the Daily Mining Gazette about the Copper Range Railroad, featuring a photograph of Thomas Appleton (right).
Daily Mining Gazette, December 23, 1899.

Appleton was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and at the time of his hiring had vast experience in the construction of railroads. He had experience in building railroads in New England and the western US. He also once served as Assistant to the Chief Engineer for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul railroad. These experiences equipped him for the rugged terrain and weather of the Copper Country and its effects on building a railroad.

Soon after, Appleton and his crew began surveying the new railroad. The majority of these surveys were finished in the winter of 1898-1899, which by accounts from the Daily Mining Gazette was an exceptionally hard winter.

Winter in Calumet
Albeit a little further north than the Copper Range survey district, this photograph from Calumet in March 1899 shows evidence of the exceptionally snowy conditions that winter.
Calumet Snow, MTU Neg 00139, MS-687: Roy Drier Photograph Collection.

Further showing their resolve to complete a railroad, the team conducted their work while living in tents and using snowshoes to maneuver in the brutal Keweenaw winter. What resulted from the surveys was highly touted. The Daily Mining Gazette claimed the maximum grade of the entire road was no greater than 2% at the Houghton and Messner siding, while remaining below 1% on the rest of the line. This was quite an accomplishment.

Construction Progress
An undated photograph depicting construction along the Copper Range Railroad. This is likely post-1900.
Copper Range Railroad Construction, Nara 42-161, MS-797: J. W. Nara Photograph Collection.
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