The Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company
In March of 1878, D.B. Harrington, John P. Sanborn, Henry Howard, Fred L. Wells, Charles A. Ward, William Hartsuff, James Beard, Henry McMorran, Silas S. Ballentine, Peter B. Sanborn and Charles R. Brown, came together to form the Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company. They formed the company to construct a railroad with a gauge of three feet that would travel in the city of Port Huron and through a portion of St. Clair, Sanilac, and Huron counties to the village of Port Austin. Each member held 100 shares in the railroad, except D.B. Harrington; he held 110 shares.
The company commissioned the Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works to build a narrow-gauge steam engine capable of hauling passenger traffic and freight. The contract was signed December 5, 1878. It was anticipated the engine would weigh 19 thousand pounds and exhibit driving wheels 36″ in diameter and cylinders 8″ in diameter. Excitement was felt throughout the city as all waited for delivery of the machinery. When the new Locomotive No. 1 (2-4-0) arrived in Port Huron, it was christened the “D.B. Harrington” in honor of the original shareholder who had passed away the previous July.
The engine only ran on the railroad for a short period. It was sold some time after 1884. Over the years it held many different homes, but in 1991, it found its way back home to the Port Huron Museum. It is amazing this little engine survived all of these years. I was very happy to read the Community Foundation, Port Huron Museum, SC4 and the Gaffney family have all joined together to restore and preserve this historical treasure.
The Road to the “Henry McMorran.”
While the D.B. Harrington was the first engine purchased by the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad, it was not the first narrow gauge engine built by Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works to catch their eye. In fact, before the purchase of the D.B. Harrington all the eyes of Port Huron were focused on the little narrow gauge steam engine James Beard was running to haul lumber in Alcona County, Michigan. A little engine he called the “Henry McMorran.”
James Beard and Henry McMorran were well acquainted in business. They were both shareholders in the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad and the Port Huron Savings Bank. However, their connection ran deeper than just business. It is obvious a strong friendship and trust existed between the two men. This is marked by the fact that James Beard named the beloved little steam engine that saved his business in Alcona County the “Henry McMorran.” James also named Henry to act as the fiduciary of his estate, which he did when James passed away in 1882. I imagine their friendship as a meeting of the minds, as both men liked to have their hands in the cookie jar and shared an entrepreneurial spirit. During their lifetimes both men would be associated with many business ventures.
In. 1842, when James was 27 years old, he and his brother, John Beard, took over the lumber mill business originally run by their father. Because of the high demand placed on vessels to haul lumber and the inflated costs to ship it, James and John had to split the chores of the business. One of the brothers took leave of cutting the logs, while the other oversaw hauling the logs to Detroit to be sold. This would have proved taxing and laborious for the brothers, not to mention costly to their business. To remedy the situation, James moved to Detroit in 1845 to start a lumber yard. He chose a location close to the waterfront situated down river from the old Detroit waterworks dock at Jefferson and Randolph street. While James lived in Detroit he also started a fire company there. This would seem a likely choice for James, as fire would have been the greatest threat to the lumber industry.
By 1856, the Beard brothers dissolved their business, and James partnered up with a friend he had met in Detroit, Elijah R. Haynes, and together they ran a lumber mill business in Port Huron. According to William Lee Jenks, the men bought and operated the mill that David Whitman had built in 1853 on the St. Clair River next to the Simon Petit and A. & H. Fish mill. At this location, their business operated off of logs that were transported down the Black River from Sanilac County. They ran this mill until about 1863.
The next business venture for Haynes and Beard came about in 1865 in the lower northern region of Michigan in Alcona County. The catalyst behind this grand adventure into Michigan’s wilderness had to be a reaction to high competition in the lumbering business in Port Huron at the time. Too many mills were operating and logs were scarce, making them dependent on lumber from outside of the area. The costs associated with transporting the lumber were high. By constructing a saw mill in a remote location, Beard and Haynes would have access to plenty of lumber in their own backyard, which would equate to greater profits. They built the first saw mill in Alcona Township in partnership with two other Port Huron natives, John Johnston and F. H. Vanderburg. They went by the firm name Johnston Haynes & Co.
In the beginning, the work was tough. Workers were scarce and hard to come by because of the remote location. Men demanded a higher wage to come out and work in an uninhibited place. Supplies were limited and could only be delivered by small boats to the edge of the lake shore. Further complicating the delivery of supplies was the fact that large vessel owners who could transport the small boats necessary to approach the shore line did not think it worth their time and effort to deliver a meager volume of supplies to a small band of logging men working in this remote area.
By 1871, Johnston and Vanderburg decided to get out of the lumber business in Alcona due to the hardships associated with it. Beard and Haynes held firm in their belief their business could be successful and pushed forward. Little by little, they made a dent in overcoming the hardships. They brought working men to the area and set up logging camps for them to live in. They began cutting timber along the shore of Lake Huron, and they managed to haul logs to the mill on carts using manpower along wood rails and carts pulled by horse power. However, these forms of transportation were limiting. Hauling logs was best completed by aid of the snow that would cover the area in the winter months (Prescott, R.E., 1934).
In 1875, Elijah Haynes died. James assumed his part of the business and took his son, F.E. Beard, into business with him as James Beard & Co. As the timber along the shore of Lake Huron was used up, Beard & Co. had to reach back westward into the expansive pine woods to feed their saw mill. This made transportation by cart and horsepower very time intensive, and hauls to the mill took greater lengths of time. While logging was known to be highly profitable, these profits were heavily dependent upon transportation. The logs had to be able to get from the woods to the mill, then from the mill to the shoreline to be transported to the consumer. Any interruptions or delays in transportation could spell bankruptcy.
In 1876, Winfried Scott Gerrish, a lumberman in Clare County, Michigan, attended the World’s Fair in Philadelphia where he witnessed a locomotive that could run on a narrow-gauge track. On his return, this new discovery led him to build a narrow-gauge track to haul the logs for his mill. He was able to haul logs all year round, and with a speed he had not been afforded before. While logging railroads were in existence in 1876, there were none in Clare or Alcona County. Many in the area were skeptical until the implementation of hauling logs via a narrow-gauge railroad changed Gerrish’s fortune. At the time Gerrish built his railroad, he was facing bankruptcy and the use of this new method of transportation quickly made him into a very rich man.
By 1876, with the use of a logging railroad in close proximity, success for a lumbering entrepreneur in the Alcona area was guaranteed. This is well established by the fact the area drew the attention of Alger, Smith & Company, who put down a mill with a team of 600 men in the Black River area of Alcona Township. Alger, Smith & Company specialized in long timber logging and would become the largest logging company in the world from 1876 to 1880.
The winter of 1877-78 was a mild one. The lack of snow caused transportation issues at the Beard mill and spelled a loss of profits for the company. With the Alger, Smith & Company in his backyard and the winter loss under his belt, Beard followed in Gerrish’s footsteps and began cutting out and leveling road to build a narrow-gauge railroad track in May of 1878. By July 3 of the same year, three miles of track had been completed, and his new steam engine was running on it. He christened the narrow gauge steam engine “Henry McMorran.” By August, four and a half miles were completed and his little logging railroad was fully operating. On August 20, 1878, The Port Huron Daily Times reported on the Beard road as follows: “… for about two miles the road runs through a thick cedar swamp, where nothing can be seen except the narrow opening for which the track runs and the thick branches on either side …. the road has cars all made by the Phoenix Iron Works of this city and costing $75.00 dollars each … the company have one locomotive and in hauling logs eight cars carrying 2,500 feet of logs, make up a train … we are pleased to learn that the road is likely to prove an entire success, financially and otherwise.”
On August 28, 1878, The Port Huron Daily Times ran an article about James and his railroad originally published in the Alcona County Review that gave the following details about his handsome locomotive: “The locomotive ‘H. McMorran’ used on the road was built expressly for Messrs. Beard & Co. at the Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works of Pittsburg, PA, and we do not hesitate to say that it is an excellent piece of machinery. Its weight is 10 ton; size of cylinder 10 x 16 inches; drive wheel 36 inches in diameter. The engineer, Benjamin Dupont, is certainly practical in his business. He not only knows how to care for and run a locomotive, but can build one if required. He was formerly an employee in the shop where the McMorran was built, and came with it to Alcona.”
It was at this time that James Beard decided to switch gears and leave the long timber logging to Algers, Smith and Co. and concentrate on short logging. He felt with the advancement of such a large company entering his area, it would be a relative short time before long timber prices dropped due to mass manufacturing. His tract of land contained pine that numbered approximately at 25 to 30 million. He had 70 men within his employ. He operated a general store to serve local farmers and his employees. With the construction of his tiny railroad, James Beard had plenty of work to do, and he was content in his backwoods wilderness.
The Work of Time
As I continue to pursue my research of Henry McMorran, I am frequently reminded of those who came before me and dedicated themselves to the act of presenting historical information that offers historical accounts of events, people, and places. Further, I am truly appreciative of those individuals and organizations that work diligently every day to preserve and provide access to historical materials. Without these two communities, my research would not be possible today. Historical research and preservation is truly a gift that keeps giving to the whole of society, whether we are cognizant of it or not. What we can derive from this gift is bountiful and forever endless in what it teaches us. Those of us who seek knowledge of the past can also contribute to its teachings by passing on what we have found in our research and study, often finding new details that lead to further discovery or clarification of historical events that can enrich our history for future generations to expound upon. This blog post serves as an example of just that.
This post is possible through the culminating efforts of Roland E. Prescott, writer and publisher of the Alcona County Herald, the Library Board of Alcona County, Michigan, Charlotte McMorran, Pamela Fox, the Port Huron Museum, William Lee Jenks, and T.J. Gaffney. I wanted to end this blog by taking the time to pay homage to these individuals and organizations who took the time and effort to create, research and preserve the printed materials and artifacts which allow me to tell the story of the Henry G. McMorran and the D.B. Harrington narrow gauge steam engines. My appreciation is best expressed by the words of Roland E. Prescott, who said in great wisdom, “It is of great events – physical, political, and social, that histories are written. It is of small events and by ordinary human beings that history is made, and records compiled by historians reflect only the surface. The facts – or versions accepted as facts – omit two most important elements necessary for their understanding: the ‘atmosphere’ prevailing at the time, the events transpiring, and the human equation. A frontier region is open by adventurers who are followed by settlers and permanent home builders. Era blends into era each generation too busy with the present to record the past; and links with the earlier days are broken, unless some effort is made to preserve them in printed form. This is the mission of these little books – to give a picture of existing conditions and to preserve the ‘atmosphere’ of the era, as described by those who lived through it or from information obtained from other authentic sources.” Prescott’s mission resonates with me and is exactly the reason why I perform and share my work through this blog. Without the writings of Mr. Prescott and William Lee Jenks, the research efforts of Charlotte McMorran, and the preservation efforts of Pamela Fox, the Library Board of Alcona County, Michigan, the Port Huron Museum, and T.J. Gaffney, this post would not be possible. Thank you.
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