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The White Creek Railroad is a private 7.5-inch gauge track constructed by Russ and Mara Eldred and is located in a rural country setting in Western Michigan on approximately 120 acres of land. The track meanders through densely wooded hills and open fields, across marshy lowlands and nearly encompasses two picturesque lakes.
The first section of track was laid on December 6, 1994, six months after Russ retired from working as a high school teacher and three months after discovering one-eighth scale railroading. Initial planning, building and roundhouse construction began a few months prior to the inaugural track laying.
In mid to late December 1994, a good portion track that was to become known as the Mirror Lake division was laid into place. During the December holiday season, an unusually mild winter with little snow and warm temperatures enabled the construction of Trestle One and Two that span low ground on the northeast side of Mirror Lake. Track ballasting of the Mirror Lake division continued through mid March 1995 as weather conditions allowed. The track swings as close as 3 feet to the waters edge, providing great opportunities to catch a glimpse of an occasional swan or blue herring that make Mirror Lake their home.
In mid May 1995 with the Mirror Lake division primary complete, initial work on what was to become the Hidden Valley Yard was started with a simple turnaround “Y”. In late May 1995, Mirror Lake Station was erected to provide a gathering area for the local division. By mid June 1995, the dirt work that provided a track bed for the Northern Reed Lake division was complete. In July 1995, Trestle Three, located at the northern end of Hidden Valley Yard, was built to provide access to the northern leg. During the same month, construction on the 320-foot long MT Trestle began. The MT Trestle, which stretches to nearly 9 feet tall and climbs a 2.3% curving elevation, provides a bypass for the dangerous six percent grade which previously served as the only access to the Mirror Lake division. The trestle, completed in early August 1995, required approximately 3 weeks from the initial survey to the final “golden spike.”
In September 1995, a thirty by twenty foot area was added to the northern portion of the roundhouse to hold the growing fleet of White Creek Railroad’s rolling stock.
From October 1995 to November 1995, the first revision of the Hidden Valley Yard was laid into place. In December 1995, Hidden Valley Yard’s transfer table, steaming bays, and unloading ramps were added to provide greater unloading capacity required for the many meets that occur throughout the year.
During the period from October 1997 to early 1998 the nearly 1.5 mile loop of track that stretches south of Hidden Valley Yard to the South Ridge/Cliff Side area was laid into place. This loop boasts the most densely wooded section of track with a near 100% deciduous canopy covering the track and its surroundings during the spring and summer months.
The last day of May 1998 brought a ferocious windstorm that struck much of western Michigan with straight-line wind speeds topping 80 mph. The damaging winds toppled hundreds of trees and sent large branches careening onto the main line, essentially making it impassible. Two days of laborious chain sawing reopened the line, yet the fallen trees and branches warranted replacing various lengths of track in at least ten places in addition to one switch.
During the period of mid June 1998 to June 1999 no new main line track was laid. However, during August 1998, a 43-foot single span Warren curved top chord steel bridge was installed over Green River, located just southwest of Mirror Lake. Additionally, during June and August 1998, Hidden Valley Yard underwent extensive reconfiguration. Approximately 12 switches were moved and 4 new switches were added. Also, supplemental freight yard track was laid.
During the fall of 1999 and early spring 2000, the Three Mile Island Division was laid into place extending the southernmost point of the railroad past South Ridge. The Three Mile Island Division encircles a large field, previously a small gravel pit. Its southern edge slopes gently downward toward Cornertown, following an old fencerow of trees that provide ample shade during the warmer spring and summer months. Cornertown, which serves as a small switchyard, marks the southeastern most point of the railway. North of Cornertown, across a 200-foot trestle, lies Three Mile Island nestled in the center of a remote swampy area blanketed with cattails and underbrush. The island provides just enough space for a turnaround “Y” and a tight loop to weave its way through the towering pines that cover the land. Three Mile Island was named after the Pennsylvanian near nuclear catastrophe site which Russ and his family happened to visit one day after the real incident while on vacation.
On May 1, 2000 the railroad statistics included 5 miles of mainline with 6.5 miles total track, over 1000 feet of trestles, 190+ switches, bi-directional running with 30 passing sidings, 30 signal blocks, 27 industry spurs, 2 yards, and 9 junctions.
The story continues...