The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad

(Photos above: on the left, the D.T. and I. Yard Office in 1911. First man on the left, Jack Downey; first man on right, Bill Lockard; second man on right, Bill Young. The photo on the right is a D.T. and I. engine.)

Probably few persons, including perhaps many of its present employees are acquainted with the interesting history of the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, which began with the construction of one of the pioneer railroads in Ohio incorporated by the industrial leaders of Ironton March 7, 1849, under the name of Iron Railroad Company. The chief purpose for building that road was to bring in iron ore, fluxing stone, coal, charcoal, and timber for use in the iron industry of the city, and to furnish a route for shipping out to the north the products of that industry, and to ship in the manufactures of the north for local use or transfer to boats on the Ohio River.

The Iron Railroad Company in 1849-50 constructed six miles of broad gage (4' by 10") railroad from the Ohio River at Ironton to the Vesuvius Tunnel Mines to Lawrence County. Timber cross ties and stringers supported from strap rails were bought secondhand from the Little Miami Railroad. The timber bridges were supported by stone abutments, most of which are still in use. The only tunnel on the DT&I is located at Vesuvius, being opened for trains in December, 1851, with a length of 956 feet.

The locomotives were brought to Ironton on Ohio River Boats and the first coal cars were mounted on four wheels. The Iron Railroad was extended from time to time, until it reached Center Furnace, 13 miles north of Ironton. Periodically, extensions and various takeovers of other railroads brought the railroad up to Lima, Ohio under the name then as the Ohio Southern Railroad -- and completed in 1893. The Lima Northern, incorporated March 27, 1895, built the railroad from Lima, to the Michigan-Ohio Line 1895-96 and passed through Napoleon in 1896. The builder overseeing the work was the late Hon. Charley Haskel. It has often later been said that Mr. Haskel built this part on his nerve. Money was hard to obtain, and the workers on the job were months behind in receiving their pay. This man Haskel built another railroad from Findlay to Ft. Wayne, Indiana (F.Ft W and Western Ry). After making these two lines, he moved on out to the state of Oklahoma and constructed an Interurban Railroad between two important cities. Later on he was elected Governor of Oklahoma.

Getting back to the D.T.&I.R.R, the next extension was built from the Ohio-Mich. State Line to Lenawee Jet. in connection with the Wabash Railroad. That part was purchased from the Detroit and Cincinnati Railway Company. That put the Lima Northern Railroad to South Adrian. Next in 1897 the line from South Adrian to Tecumseh was purchased from the Detroit and Chicago Railroad. From Tecumseh to Dundee trackage rights were secured. The Dundee to Durban Jct. was built in 1897 by the Lima Northern and the Durban Jct. to Trenton in 1897 and in 1898 from Trenton, Mich. to West Ave., Detroit, Michigan. The Lima Northern had changed its name from Lima Northern R.R. to Detroit and Lima Northern and now they had a continuous railroad from Lima to Detroit — and the first through train ran into West End Ave., Detroit, on Jan. 8th, 1898.

During the years of 1896-97 and until 1898 Napoleon was considered the northern terminus of the railroad and no commercial trains were running north of Napoleon. A small engine house and turntable was built and trains only came north as far as Napoleon. The first passenger trains came into Napoleon and then used trackage rights over the Wabash Napoleon to Union Depot-Toledo and from there to Dundee, Mich., on trackage rights over the Ann Arbor R.R. and then over their own line from Dundee to Detroit Union depot. There were four passenger trains in either direction and they were considered the finest of those days. They ran the full 378 miles between Ironton and Detroit crossing some 23 East and West Railroads — endeavoring to make close connections with the most of these rails. Also they were competing for the passenger traffic to the Southern States. Business was fairly good at first but later dwindled down to two trains either direction, and finally on down to one each way.

In March 1914, the old combination of systems was transferred to the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad Company. During the period 1849 to 1920 the old systems had been operated under many various names. They were in and out of receiverships several times, and more or less had a bad time with its finances. But finally good news was in store. The Henry Ford Industries was not satisfied with the deliveries of coal from the mines in West Virginia and Kentucky to their plants in Detroit. So Mr. Ford and his management figured by purchasing the D.T. and I.R.R. he would fix the many repairs the railroad badly needed and he would improve his transportation troubles. So in 1920, they bought the D.T. and I.R.R. and immediately commenced to make the necessary improvements — such items as new rail, ballast, drainage, double tracking in the Detroit District. Also they cleaned up right-of-ways, wrecking old out of date buildings and repairing and repainting those left for us. They also built a double track some 13.5 miles long from his Rouge Plant out to the Northern Terminus Switching Yards of the D.T.&I.R.R. This new branch was electrified and for the first time electric locomotives were used.

Here, in Napoleon in 1921 things began to hum; Napoleon in those days was what the railroads called a “Division Point" — where trains stop to change crews and give locomotives inspections and any needed attention such as lubrication, and cars in trains were inspected for safety travel and lubrication. In all departments we had some 375 employees here in Napoleon. The railroad was the largest employer of men in this part of the country. There were days when we dispatched 40 or more crews in a 24 hour period, ordinarily five men to a crew. Locomotives were of steam and of course coal fired. They never left this terminal without boilers being shined on the outside, any nickel or brass trimmings polished, etc. The Ford ownership raised all employee wages making the rate of pay much higher than other rails in the same class or work. Men flocked here from other railroads, and made applications for jobs. Some were hired and some were not depending on their past service.

The Ford management had efficiency men out checking various things every day. No one was allowed to loaf on the job.

No smoking was allowed while on the railroad property. If an employee was caught violating, he usually was given six days off without pay. Train and enginemen while out of the terminal on trains waiting at meeting point or other reasons were asked to shine up the locomotive or clean up the caboose, etc. Also they checked their trains for safety defects.

During the Ford administration, the employees had the privilege of investing one fourth of their pay each payday in what was called “INVESTMENT CERTIFICATES." Interest paid on these ran as high as 16 percent per annum. Inspectors would come through once in a while checking the employee's "Pass Book" to see how much he was saving. If it didn't look too good, he was reminded to try and do better. The Ford organization owned mines and the D.T.&I. employees had the privilege of buying coal for their own individual heating use at cost.

(Above: D.T. and I. Roundhouse (1922). Man on right is Jack McCoy)

Mr. Henry Ford came to Napoleon several times. It was his pride to bring his son Edsel's two boys down to Napoleon to see the locomotives, and other sites around the locomotive house. In those days the DT&I had a small passenger locomotive, and that's the one Mr. Ford would request to pull him. He had a special, favorite engineer or engineman and he was a Napoleon man. His name was Harry Cochran. So Harry would be called to come to Detroit to bring Mr. Ford and his two grandsons to Napoleon or wherever else he may want to go. Sometimes Harry would let Mr. Ford sit on the locomotive engineman's seat and Mr. Ford would run the locomotive — but Harry would always be close to Mr. Ford in case some emergency showed up. Mr. Ford had a private railroad car he used once in a while. The private car was called the "Fairlane." Once Harry was called to Detroit to pull Mr. Ford and his friends in the "Fairlane" on a trip over the D.T.&I. and then over the C&O from Waverly to Whitesulphur Springs, W. Va. I believe it was in the summer of 1923.

They arrived in Napoleon and for some reason Mr. Ford wanted to put in a long distance call to his private office in Dearborn. Mr. Ford came in the office of the depot and asked me to get him Mr. Leobold, his private secretary, on the long distant phone. We got the call through and Mr. Ford was talking to him and the writer looked out the window and saw some people walking around on the platform. Later I found out who they were: Mrs. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and wife, and Mr. Harvey Firestone, and his wife. Mr. Ford was a very common man to talk to.

The DT&I RR also constructed a cut-off in their main-track under the Ford ownership — years 1925-1929. This was done to expedite traffic faster. This cut-off was between Malinta and Durbin Junction — some 55.5 miles. Viaducts were built over heavy traveled highways and other railroads. That feature or improvement was a blow to Napoleon in general. First it took the division point away -- extending it to Flat Rock Yards. Napoleon lost around 300 workers. They went to other terminals to work. Also it curtailed the service to shipping patrons to points Napoleon to Tecumseh. Under the new improvement the old line stopped at Tecumseh, as the leased NYC railroad tracks from Tecumseh to Dundee were no longer needed. After that it was known as the Malinta-to-Tecumseh branch. There were no passenger trains and only a local freight train daily.

In 1954-56 the Campbell Soup Company located a soup plant here at Napoleon. This is a large plant costing around $25 million and employing some 2000 people. It requires three railroad switching crews with a locomotive to give them the desired service needed. They and other new industries take up the slack created by moving the large DT&I terminal out of Napoleon back in 1929.

The author of this report: Frank F. Bartz, Agent-telegrapher and Yardmaster 1915 to 1959

The above article is from Henry County, Ohio, Volume Two, A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family Histories Compiled by Members and Friends of The Henry County Historical Society. Dallas, TX, Taylor Publishing Co., pp. 46-48.