Family donates railroad artifacts to Crawford County Historical Museum
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
I think it’s fantastic. I live here in Grayling and I can come by and see them anytime I want. I think this is the perfect place for it.” – Joanne Welsh Doty
A family with deep roots in Crawford County recently donated items to the Crawford County Historical Museum to help with its storytelling mission regarding the lumbering era and the railroad.
Tom Welsh II, of Bridgeport, and Joanne Welsh Doty, of Grayling, visited the museum on Tuesday, July 3, to donate the railroad artifacts.
Their great-grandfather, Thomas R. Welsh, was a partner with Charles T. Kerry in the Welsh & Kerry Co., which operated in Reed City from 1907 to 1918. Their grandfather, Fred R. Welsh, worked for the company.
After that company was liquidated, Fred R. Welsh founded his own company in Saginaw, which he operated for four years.
In 1914, Fred R. Welsh relocated to Grayling and became the assistant manager of the Kerry & Hanson Flooring Co. He became manager and president of the company when Kerry and lumber baron Rasmus Hanson died in 1927.
The first item donated to the museum was a bell that was mounted on a train engine. The bell came from Crawford Wood Products based in Alba, which served as a supplier of wood for the flooring mill in Grayling. That company was liquidated in 1937. Fred R. Welsh took possession of the bell when the railway, logging cars, and train engines were no long needed.
“That’s what they did in 1937, they scrapped them,” Tom said.
Tom figures the bell was mounted on a full-sized train engine which was used in the 1920s and 1930s.
The next item donated to the museum was a wheel from a railroad cart, which was used to put Rasmus Hanson’s steamboat into Lake Margrethe in the spring and take it out in the summer.
Hanson had a home on a high bank near Lake Margrethe, while the Welsh siblings’ parents, Thomas R. and Marion S. Welsh, and uncle, Fred C. Welsh, owned homes on the lake.
Tom discovered the wheel when he was swimming in the lake.
“I don’t know how I found it, but it was uncovered slightly,” he said. “I rolled it up out of the lake.”
Tom believes the cart was discarded into the lake after the steamboat was no longer used.
“I can only figure they pushed it off into the lake when they got rid of the boat or whatever they did and left it there,” he said. “There may be three other wheels there.”
Tom found the wheel during his high school years in the late 1960s.
“I had to be at a pretty good size to pull it out, because it is heavy,” he said.
Finally, the family donated a switch used to change the direction the trains could travel on the railways.
“It’s a manual switch stand to change the direction of the tracks,” Tom said. “All the switches in all the yards had them.”
Tom purchased the switch from a fellow train memorabilia collector in 2008. He said the switches were located throughout Michigan and were probably made in 1920s.
Tom is a railroad buff who still has a train set he received for Christmas in 1960.
Joanne said the train set is surrounded by houses, churches, stores, business buildings, and trees.
“It’s a whole community,” she said. “It’s really elaborate.”
Tom said the bell was kept on an oil drum by Lake Margrethe.
“It has beautiful tone,” he said. “It was well weathered.”
The family hopes the bell and switch can be mounted near the caboose on the museum grounds and visitors will be able to ring the bell.
“I remember when we were kids, we would run by and ring it as hard as we could,” Joanne said.
The wheel from the rail cart Rasmus Hanson owned will likely be displayed in the main museum building.
“For a historical value, it has more meaning here than the dollars,” Tom said.
Joanne said she appreciates the opportunity to showcase the family’s keepsakes.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “I live here in Grayling and I can come by and see them anytime I want. I think this is the perfect place for it.”
Jim Smith, a member of the Crawford County Historical Society’s Board of Directors, said the donated items will help museum volunteers to share stories about the lumbering era and the railroad.
“We’re very, very grateful for it,” Smith said regarding the donation. “We have an ongoing effort to covert the museum into a storytelling entity that actually tells a story about points of history of Crawford County as opposed to having unrelated items on display. We want to pull it all together to be a cohesive representation of the history of Crawford County from the very beginning and the people that helped make it into what it is today.”
The Welsh family was instrumental in running the Kerry & Hanson Flooring Co. along with the other lumber barons of that era.
“It really was the Welsh family that ran it, but the name doesn’t tell you that,” Tom said.
In 1932, Fred R. Welsh bought the Brunswick Lumber Co., a business which manufactured bowling pins and sports equipment. Located in Big Bay, 32 miles north of Marquette, the site featured a saw mill, planing mill, dry kilns, and a bowling pin mill. The deal also the came with 20 million feet of lumber, which was brought to the flooring mill in Grayling.
“By that time, there weren’t any trees around here,” Tom said. “They were all lumbered off.”
In 1936, Fred R. Welsh bought the town of Big Bay and its lumber camps. The deal included 33,000 acres of timber and land. The property also featured resort lands on Lake Independence, Big Bay, and Lake Superior.
In June of 1943, Fred R. Welsh sold the town of Big Bay and the mill site to Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Co. The sale included 15,000 acres of the original 33,000 acres of land.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the remaining land was sold as resort property.
Closer to Grayling, in January 1946, Fred R. Welsh purchased an apartment building and garage located in 500 Norway Street from George Berke, who had an already established Ford dealership.
He established Welsh Motor Sales through a partnership with sons, Thomas, Fred C., Robert and daughter Gail.
In May 1948, Fred R. Welsh bought the adjacent building, which served as an Independent Order of Odd Fellows Temple. The Brickery is now located in the building.
In 1956, Fred R. Welsh and son purchased property on the corner of Huron Street and Maple Street and built a Gulf Gas Station. The station, located where Subway now exists, was later sold.
The Ford dealership was sold to Bill Hart in 1966. The apartment building was later sold to Loren Goodale, who opened up Goodale’s Bakery, which has operated there for the last 47 years.
The family previously donated snowshoes to the museum, which were made by David Shoppenagon, who trapped, hunted, and was a guide for sportsmen in the Grayling area.
Museum volunteers are also focusing on stories regarding Native Americans, who would meet at the headwaters of the AuSable River and Manistee River. The area, located just a half mile apart, allowed tribes to travel across the state.
“This was an area where all Native American nations could come together in peace,” Smith said. “It was a common meeting ground and something that legend says was agreed upon by all the various tribes.”