Rise of automobile ended rail route

A depiction of Herman Kallman, a Spanish-American War veteran who is considered to have been the last passenger to take a railroad journey along part of a route that traveled between Wells and Channing. That route was abandoned in 1956.

Story by Larry Chabot • Illustration by Mike McKinney
Herman Kallman, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, would climb aboard the Escanaba & Lake Superior (E&LS) train in the tiny hamlet of Woodlawn every Memorial Day and ride 14 miles to Escanaba with a speech tucked in his pocket. In front of the Memorial Day assemblage, he proudly recited Abraham Lincoln’s 271-word Gettysburg Address, considered by many the greatest speech in American history. In 1956, the E&LS abandoned that route, ending Herman’s annual train rides. It’s not known if he continued that tradition, but the railroad didn’t forget him.
This unique route ran through the forests from Wells in Delta County to Channing in Dickinson County, 63 miles away. What it really did was provide a link between the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad at Wells and the Milwaukee Road at Channing, giving people a shortcut to other areas. On a U.P. map, that route would be the crossbar on a huge letter “H.”
E&LS, established in 1897, still owns about 350 miles of tracks in Wisconsin and in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This fine old line serves dozens of companies as it did in its lively past when it ran two combination trains (with both passenger and freight cars) in each direction. A single departure would bring several hundred dollars in ticket sales, when a dollar was worth ten or 15 times what it is now.
At first, tracks were laid only from Wells to Watson, and then reached to Channing to connect with the Milwaukee Road. Along the way, the 63-mile route had no less than 30 stations, mostly flag stops. The E&LS usually had two or three passenger coaches hooked behind the freight cars.
Most passengers were lumberjacks going to or from camps, or teachers who were dropped at country schools along the way, or salesmen looking for customers, or deer hunters galore. The Wells station would receive boxcars full of deer for hunters to sort out and take home. And, of course, the E&LS delivered Herman Kallman to Escanaba.
The ticket price for a Wells-to-Channing ride was $1.90 in 1913, and annual ticket revenue was in five figures for many years until the rise of the automobile resulted in a rising number of empty train seats. Revenue spiked in 1918, partly due to World War One needs, but then began a long, slow decline.

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