To most resident of the Thumb District, the Handy Bros. railroad means very little. But to William N. Boyd, retiring superintendent and chief engineer of the Port Huron & Detroit railroad, and to quite a few older residents it brings back memories of America during the railroad boom days.
Mr. Boyd was honored Saturday night in Lauth hotel by fellow officials and employees of the P. H. & D. on his retirement effective Dec. 31 after 45 years of railroading.
The railroad, which ran from Bay City to Port Huron, was really known in the early 20’s by four names, the Handy Bros. railroad, the Handy line, the Detroit Bay City & Western and by the workers themselves as “Do Be Careful & Wait”.
Mr. Boyd was born Jan. 26. 1889, in Houtzdale. Pa., son of the late Arthur and Margaret Boyd. He was taken by his parents to Columbus, Ohio where his father attended Ohio State University. The Family then moved to Saginaw where the elder Boyd was employed as an engineer in coal mines which then dotted the area around that city.
At the age of 15, Mr. Boyd left High School and took a job as a rodman on surveying trips with his father. As Mr. Boyd laughingly recalls, “At 18 I knew everything, I thought, so I took a job running a transit in the West Virginia coal fields.” In 1907, he retuned to Michigan and took a position in Bay City with the Handy Bros. Mining Company as an engineer. The firm decided in 1908 to build a railroad to Port Huron and Mr. Boyd was named chief engineer in charge of construction. The road was completed in 1916. It ran from Bay City through Caro, Snover, Sandusky and Peck to Port Huron. It was originally planned to terminate at a station at Lapeer Avenue and Tenth street, it ran instead to Tappan Junction where it connected to Pere Marquette tracks to the present Grand Trunk station.
As Mr. Boyd remembers, the railroad was built in a period when there was plenty of everything except money. Most of the right of way was donated and considerable sums were contributed by residents along the line who were in need of transportation. According to Mr. Boyd, “Without the assistance and co-operation of public-spirited citizens in towns along the line the railroad, could never have been built.”
“Some of the ‘old timers’ recall, most of whom I believe have passed on, were Charles Montague. A. D. Gallery and Timothy Quinn Sr. of Caro; O.A. Munn, Andrew Tyrell and David Innes of Snover; Robert McKenzie, William Dawson and Thomas Moore. of Sandusky; James Foster, Thomas Graham and Doctor Cochrane, of Peck, and last but not least Henry Heinmiller, who had a store in Fargo. Henry contributed $l ,000 which he paid in groceries furnished to the track construction gang.”
For a few years, two passenger trains daily were operated between Port Huron and Bay City but good roads with a resulting increase in auto and truck traffic proved too much competition. The line went out of business about 30 years ago. Most of the track was taken up, especially between Port Huron and Peck and Caro and Bay City. The remainder became the Detroit, Caro & Sandusky railroad which was abandoned only a few years ago.
Most remembered ln the construction of the Handy Bros. railroad, was work on a trestle and in a cemetery at Ruby. Mr. Boyd said the trestle over Mill Creek was of wood, 80 feet high and 800 feet long. At the south end of the trestle, worker found an abandoned cemetery through which a 10-foot cut had to be made. “The stones showed dates of about 1812 with the latest reading 1856,” Mr. Boyd said. “We removed what little remain we found to the present Ruby Cemetery, where they were re-buried in lots purchased by the railroad.”
After the Handy Bros. line was completed, Mr. Boyd accepted a job supervising construction of the Port Huron & Detroit railroad. It started at the southern terminus of the Port Huron Southern railroad, opposite the Morton Salt company plant and continued south in its present location to the Marine City sugar plant which was razed many years ago. The initial plan was to complete the road to Detroit by way of Chesterfield and Mt. Clemens, making a connection with the Pennsylvania railroad, then under construction from Toledo to Detroit. The Handy Bros. and Pennsylvania railroad officials met here at Gratiot Inn in 1917 and made plans to have that railroad use the P. H. & D and Handy lines from Detroit to Bay City.
World War I interfered, after a survey had been completed to Detroit and part of the right-of-way had been obtained. The Government prohibited any further construction toward Detroit but did allow the railroad to build the Marine City sugar plant and the Diamond Crystal plant in St. Clair. These plants were food producers considered essential to the war effort. Mr. Boyd remembers that the War Production Board made the work possible by releasing 2,000 ton of track known as “Russian rail.”
This was part of a large stock of rail which had been rolled for the Russian Government and had been stores at the east coast Hog Island shipyard waiting for the Russians to pay for it. Mr. Boyd said that he recalled that the revolutionary Russian Government, “then headed by a chap named Kerensky” was unable to find money to pay for the rail and we “we then didn’t know about the lend-lease and give away” the P.H. & D. was able to obtain the track.
After the railroad was completed in 1918, Mr. Boyd entered the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant in the Corp of Engineers. He was stationed at Fort Harrison, Ind., as instructor in the laying of narrow-gauge track, common to European railroads.
After the war, he returned to work as Chief engineer and was named superintendent and chief engineer in 1930.
Mr. Boyd recalls that the P. H. & D. was the only railroad in the United States which was built entirely during the war. The cost was 50 per cent more than the estimate and he railroad seemed to be a poor risk. The United States Railroad Administration, then operating all of the railroads in the Nation, refused to take it over. Until 1920, when roads were returned to private operation, the P. H. & D. operated on its own from the Morton Salt plant to Marine City.
Before the railroad was built into St. Clair, Diamond Crystal company ferried salt across to Courtright, Ont., where it was loaded into railroad cars. At that time, the Michigan Central railroad (abandoned many years ago) had a line located about a mile south of St. Clair but claimed it was not practical to construct a spur into the salt plant. The P. H. & D. was able to build a spur into the plant and had been hauling alt from there for 35 years. Mr. Boyd constructed the tracks in 1920 to serve the Marysville power plant of the Detroit Edison company, and recently, at the request of the power company, constructed tracks to serve the new Belle River power plant.
Mr. Boyd and Miss Gladys Covey, of Bay City, were married in 1913. The Couple, moving here in 1923 from Bay City, live at 2671 Military Street. The have two daughters, Mrs. John Westover, Bay City, and Mrs. Robert H. Garr, Detroit, and three grandsons.
Mr. Boyd has been a member of First Presbyterian church 30 years, served as chairman of the building committee in 1930 when an addition to the church was built and has served for many years as elder and member of the board of trustees. The couple plans to leave Jan. 1 for a vacation in Florida.