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Magazine

All Aboard!

Michigan’s railroad history comes to life as we choo-choo-choose images from an extraordinary collection.

by Lara Zielin

Claude Stoner loved railroads and spent decades collecting photos of trains and railroad history. He rescued photos whenever he could—once saving hundreds of old pictures from the basement of an electrical contracting company. He even used his historic images to locate former landmarks, including old railroad trestles and bridges.

Stoner’s documentation of each photo and its contents was meticulous, often including the number or name of the train engine, construction number, date of manufacture, dimensions, and a list of owners (when available).

When he died in 1977, Stoner’s daughters donated his collection of more than 3,600 photos to the Bentley. Stoner’s collection also contains correspondence with other railroad photos collectors, providing some additional identifying information and context for the images.

Nearly every aspect of Michigan railroad history comes alive through these photographs.

Huge plows were attached to the front of trains to clear snow from the tracks, as on the Boyne City-Gaylord-Alpena route in February 1922.
In the logging boom of the late 19th and early 20th century, trains made it possible to transport cut trees without relying on rivers. Here, a train brings lumber out of Onaway, Michigan, in 1907.
The Michigan Railroad Club, the first railroad enthusiast group in Michigan, was founded in Detroit. Here, they gather in Jackson, Michigan, in 1952 to see a locomotive from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad.
A New York Central engine derailed and crashed in front of the Ann Arbor train station on September 16, 1940, killing one person. Rails were reportedly thrown 30 feet from the force of the impact.
The Ann Arbor Street Railway (AASR) runs along South Main Street in this 1893 photo. The AASR also connected to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Street Railway, which transported up to 600 passengers each day between the two cities.
Claude Stoner at age six, already drawing trains and displaying his love for all things railroad-related.

Sources for this story include:

Itzkoff, Donald M. Off the Track: The Decline of the Intercity Passenger Train in the United States (Greenwood Press, 1985). Hill, May Davis. Telltale Photographs: The Stoner Railroad Collection (Michigan Historical Collections, 1981). Michigan Department of Transportation. Michigan’s Railroad History: 1825–1914 (online 2014).