Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

Haywire—bankrupt: “belly-up.” Nick-name for the Manistique & Lake Superior Railroad. A term applied to any outfit operating “on a shoestring” and “held together with baling wire.” *
Baled hay bound with thin wire was carried by the railroad for the logging camp horses. “Engineers used pieces of discarded haywire to make emergency repairs—enough to get back to the roundhouse and shops in Manistique.” **

At the start of a hike on the old M&LS railroad bed, our small group looked down the narrow corridor stretching out before us. In our imagination, we could hear the train whistle and see the engine puffing slowly toward us near the end of its run from the lumbering town of Manistique.
Men bound for the lumber camps along the way, doctors and farriers making the camp rounds, schoolteachers going home for the weekend, hay for lumber camp horses, supplies and staples of all kinds were carried by railroads in the white pine boom days.
Grandfather Crowe writes of the time he and an employee of the Consolidated Lumber Company (successor to the Chicago Lumber Company) rode the “Haywire” from Manistique through Steuben, ending at Shingleton, then snowshoed seven miles in deep snow to check on a cedar cutting camp on the Upper West Branch of the Manistique River.
Steuben was a lively community around the turn of the last century, with a general store, hotel with restaurant and several logging camps in the surrounding woods. It was a center for logging drives down the Indian River to the mills in Manistique. Families often rode the “Haywire” train up from Manistique to have Sunday dinner at George Hughson’s hotel in Steuben. Mrs. Hughson had a reputation for the best food around, and it was all-you-can-eat for fifty cents.
The M&LS railroad did indeed go bankrupt in 1920; other trains ran on the rails until 1968. Now, the thirty-three miles of abandoned right-of-way is part of the Hiawatha
National Forest, and open to hikers, fisherpersons, hunters, snowmobilers and ATV riders. Today we would hike the eleven miles from Shingleton to Steuben.
Not far into our trek, we started to find small spikes left over from the pinning of the railroad ties—a blacksmith later told us the smallest spikes were the very oldest. We took only a few, to be made later into candle holders, plant hangers and towel hooks.
The railroad bed was built through sandy plains and, in the northern sections, an extensive wetland. Soon after we left the northern trail head, just south of Shingleton, we came to the first of eleven bridge crossings on our route—including three branches of Stutts Creek. The fisherpersons among us leaned into the shadows of the bridges, imagining the brook trout hiding there.
With each mile we hiked, the railroad corridor changed. We passed dry hummocks with huge white pine stumps that made good windbreaks for a lunch stop, then the ghost site of Scotts, founded in 1910 as a station on the railroad line. Finally, a sunny sandy stroll along the edge of the Big Island Wilderness Area, with its myriad of small lakes, camping spots and canoe routes.
When we came to Steuben in mid-afternoon, we hiked on just south of town to the railroad crossing of the Big Indian River. If we listened hard enough, it seemed we could hear the lumberjack shout of “timmmberrr” as the pines came down and could glimpse the river drive passing—part of our U.P. history that is not so very distant.
It had been a lovely day immersed in wild lands and history. Although we looked longingly south where the former rail corridor ran on out of sight and wondered what we might find around the next bend, that hike on the “Haywire” would have to wait for another day.
* Lumberjack definition of Haywire from: Lumberjack: Inside an Era in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, by Wm. S. Crowe. 50th Anniversary Edition edited by Lynn McGlothlin Emerick and Ann McGlothlin Weller 2002.
** Additional definition of Haywire from: Lumberjacks and Other Stories by Jack Orr, 1983.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or e-mailing

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