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History Of The Prototype

The Arcadia & Betsey River Ry.

The Beginning

In the early 1870's a German immigrant named Henry Starke came to a tiny settlement called Arcadia in the northwest corner of Manistee County, Michigan . He was a builder and contractor for bridges, harbors and piers.

His first project was to build a sawmill at the north end of Bar Lake and open a channel across the sandbar that separated the little lake from Lake Michigan. This access to the "Big Lake" made it possible to ship his lumber on schooners to Chicago and Milwaukee.


As time went on Starke had to go farther and farther from the mill for his timber, so in 1880 he started building a narrow gauge railroad. He laid wooden rails capped with strap iron about two inches wide for this railroad. The first engine reportedly had an upright boiler but it is unknown whether it was a geared or rod type.

Lay of the Land

There are steep rolling hills around Arcadia, so the new logging road had to cross many steep ravines. A pile trestle across one of them was 450 feet long and 65 feet high.

Business Boomed

Starke's business boomed and he soon needed a better railroad so in 1893 he formed he Starke Land and Lumber Co. with seven stockholders and a capitalization of $123,000.00. The company was issued a charter in 1895 to operate a standard gauge railroad from Arcadia to Henry, about 17 miles away where it interchanged with the Chicago & West Michigan Railroad. Starke could now ship his lumber all year around.

Growth Continues

In 1896 the line was extended another five miles to the logging town of Copemish, where it interchanged with the Ann Arbor and the Manistee & North Eastern railroads. The cost of the entire project was $150,000.00.

The railroad's early standard gauge motive power and rolling stock consisted of one 30-ton locomotive, called "The Grasshopper", 15 flat cars and 35 log cars. A car known as the Conductor's Way Car, which was used partly for passengers, was added later. Still later a full passenger coach was acquired along with three 4-6-0 locomotives.

The End Approaches

Many settlements sprang up along the line providing the need for freight and passenger service but the railroad finally petered out as the freight and passenger service disappeared when more and better roads were developed in the area. In its last full year of operation, 1936, passenger revenue was only $3. In 1937 the rails were taken up and sold, the rolling stock moved out, and the Arcadia & Betsey River became a fallen flag.

Source: Sail And Rail by Lawrence & Lucille Wakefield

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