Interurban Car 29 Makes One Final Trip through Grass Lake
Over 113 years after its inaugural trip along the streets of Grass Lake, Interurban Car 29 made its last trip Saturday, September 30th, along Michigan Ave to its final stop, The Lost Railway Museum.
While the trip from the Village of Grass Lake DPW barn was short and quick, the journey of Car 29 is anything but that. Car 29 was built in 1913 by the St. Louis Car Company and began service in 1914 by the Michigan United Traction Co. This new all metal car was designed to run along the high speed interurban railway. Unlike its wooden counterparts, it was designed to carry both people and freight. It could carry up to 84 passengers. The car ran on electricity from overhead lines and typically ran at speeds of 60 mph. The original car was Pullman Green in color, however it was later changed to orange and green to make it more visible.
The interurban railroad was a valuable infrastructure. Most roads and town streets were unpaved, and transportation was by horse-drawn carriages and carts. The interurban provided vital transportation links between the city and countryside. In 1915, 15,500 miles of interurban railways were operating in the United States. The automobile was the ultimate demise of the interurban railroad. Car 29 was taken out of service in 1929.
The history of Car 29 after it left service is fuzzier. Ed Greca, the previous owner of Car 29 believes the car had been on his property since the 1930s. It was reported to have been used as a cottage residence, a doughnut shop and for storage.
In the fall of 2013, the Grass Lake Historical Society, now the Grass Lake Area Historical Connections (GLAHC), acquired the car from a private residence in Gilletts Lake. Their plans were to restore the car according to Marilyn O’Leary at the time “We don’t want to just restore the car,” she said. “Our goal is to find a suitable location for it so it can be another museum for our village.” On November 19, 2013, the century old car made the trip from Gilletts Lake to the Village of Grass Lake Department of Public Works maintenance barn behind the Village offices. The building was able to accommodate the nearly 60ft long car. Restoration on the car began, including replacing steel, rivets and disassembling the car for individual pieces to be restored.
Controversy surrounding the future and direction of Car 29 embroiled the GLAHC members, leading to a group of volunteers leaving the GLAHC and forming the Lost Railway Museum. Car 29 continued to be owned by the GLAHC.
In March of 2016, the Lost Railway Museum announced they were opening their new museum along Michigan Ave in downtown Grass Lake in the former Troy’s toolbox building. The $1 million renovations was to focus on the interurban railway and its importance to the rural communities where horse and buggies were still the norm. Phill Willis was quoted at the time as saying “All of a sudden for a nickel you could get on this exciting car and go to Jackson, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek and see all these fascinating things you’d never seen before. That was some change in history.”
In April of 2016, the Lost Railway Museum acquired a 1905 wooden streetcar, previously owned by the Chicago Transit Authority to be renovated and displayed in the new museum. The wooden car was also built by the St. Louis Car Company and was similar to cars that ran along the streets of Grass Lake and Wolf Lake Rd along the Boland. That car is now on display in the Lost Railway Museum.
In June of 2016, the GLAHC acquired another car, Car 154 which was used for parts in the restoration of Car 29. That car was not in a restorable condition. It was stored behind the Coe House Museum until this past spring, when it was sold.
This past January, the Village of Grass Lake filed an eviction notice with the GLAHC to have the car removed from the Village Barn. The eviction notice was resolved in July when the GLAHC gave Car 29 to Ken Soderbeck. He agreed to have it removed from the Village DPW barn by October. Soderbeck then donated Car 29 to the Lost Railway Museum.
While Car 29’s traveling days are over, its journey is still in its infancy. It will wait at the station next to the 1905 streetcar in the museum. Both cars will continue to be worked on and restored by volunteers.
The Lost Railway Museum is located at 142 W Michigan Ave, Grass Lake. It is open Wed & Thurs. 11-4 PM And Sat. 9-4 PM.