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by Jeffrey Dobek

On the chilly morning of October 1, 1977, a small group gathered outside the ex-New York Central yard office in Adrian, Mich. Speeches were made, and a black Alco S-2 broke through a banner. The Lenawee County Railroad Company (LCRC) was in business. With the ceremony completed, those in attendance scooted into the warmth of the yard office for coffee and donuts.

The formation of Conrail in 1976 was a landmark Opening day year for railroading in Michigan. Thousands of miles of branch lines owned by Conrail's predecessor roads were to be cast off and abandoned. Fifteen hundred of those miles were in Michigan, a legacy of the bankruptcy of the Penn Central Transportation Company.

The State of Michigan, reluctant to see many communities left without rail service, stepped in to preserve this service. Initially, the state purchased several segments of track (which became the Hillsdale County Railroad and the Michigan Northern), and on others provided a subsidy for Conrail to keep operating them. One of the lines Conrail continued to run under state subsidy was from Adrian to Lenawee Junction. This line, once part of the NYC "Old Road" between Toledo, Ohio and Elkhart, Ind. (NYC's secondary main line), was a spur off of Conrail's Toledo-Clinton, Mich. "Clinton Branch," serving a number of industries in Adrian.

After a year of Conrail operation, the success of the Hillsdale County Railroad in nearby Hillsdale led local shippers in Adrian to press for their own short line. A study showed that this could be a successful venture, so the LCRC was formed with the assistance of John Marino of the HCRC.

The LCRC was welcomed into Adrian on that cold October 1 morning in 1977, and two weeks later held a "grand opening" in which members of the public were invited down to the yard to ride in two borrowed Conrail cabooses.

After that, the LCRC set down to the business of moving freight. Operations were straight-forward. A Monday-Friday switch crew would switch the local industries, work the interchange with the Norfolk and Western Railway in Adrian, then venture out to Lenawee Junction to interchange cars with Conrail. Alco S-2 #1, named "Addison B. Comstock" after the son of a local railroad pioneer, provided the power for the line.

In 1978, S-2 #2 (the "George Crane") joined the roster. This was the year that the LCRC adopted its blue livery, that its engines would wear until the end.

April 1, 1980 marked an expansion of the LCRC, when the company took over operation of the ex-NYC "Morenci Branch" between Grosvenor and Morenci. This line had been operated under Conrail by state subsidy. The Adrian and Morenci lines were not connected, so LCRC was given operating rights (for locomotives only) between Lenawee Jct. and Grosvenor on Conrail's Clinton line.

During the late 70's and early 80's, state money was available for track rehabilitation, and LCRC took full advantage of this. Unfortunately, many of the crossties that were inserted were of the new "wolmanized" variety (rather than creosoted), and experience would later show that these did not hold up for very long.

A torrential storm in late 1981 caused several severe washouts along the Morenci Branch, especially near Grosvenor and Jasper. As a result, LCRC was forced to abandon the track between Grosvenor and Weston. On the Morenci Branch In order to maintain a connection to the remaining Weston-Morenci trackage, the LCRC purchased part of the DT&I's "Tecumseh Branch" between Leaf and Bimo, and obtained (locomotive-only) trackage rights between Leaf and Adrian over the N&W main line. (The 2.5 miles of ex-DT&I was the only the trackage that the LCRC ever owned; the remainder was owned by the state or the Penn Central estate.)

As the 1980's began, the LCRC entered a slow decline. Locomotive #1 was lost during the blizzard of 1982 when it was stranded at Weston and suffered a cracked block. It was replaced later in the year by RS-1 #3, an ex-Washington Terminal unit purchased from Amtrak. A small ceremony bestowed #3 with the name of "Howard D. White", after one of the company's board members.

The recession of the 1980's took its toll on industry in southeastern Michigan, including several of the LCRC's customers. The closure of Hoover Universal (Stubnitz Spring) in Adrian took away sorely-needed revenue.

In an effort to supplement sagging freight revenues, the LCRC began storing surplus cars for a number of tank car companies. Soon, every spare foot of siding space was plugged with stored cars. Some of the cars were the LCRC's own boxcars. The cars were caught in a glut of boxcars on the nation's railroad system and returned home. At one point, over 80 of them were shoved out on the west end of the LCRC line outside of Adrian.

In 1982, Conrail filed to abandon its Clinton line. Seeing an opportunity for expansion and to gain new traffic, the LCRC was able to convince the state to purchase the line from Riga to Lenawee Jct. At Riga, a new interchange was built with the Grand Trunk Western (ex-DT&I). Almost immediately, the Blissfield Coop constructed a unit-train load facility at Blissfield, and the LCRC began handling 100-car unit grain trains between Blissfield and Riga.

Overall revenues continued to decline through the 1980's, and state operating subsidies were sharply curtailed and eventually eliminated. Only 300 loads of freight were handled in 1989. Finally, with General Manager Charles B. Lockwood's decision to retire, the company announced that it would be going out of business. The LCRC ran its last train on Sept. 30, 1990.

The Alcos went to the Blissfield Coop, and were used to continue to run unit trains. The Morenci-Weston line was railbanked, and Blizzard of 1982eventually scrapped when it became isolated after the LCRC scrapped out the Leaf-Bimo trackage.

The track between Blissfield and Adrian was railbanked until early 1991, when the Adrian and Blissfield Railroad Company was formed. The A&B initially operated excursion and dinner trains from Blissfield, and handled freight on an as-required basis. The company has done a commendable job in resuscitating the freight business, and today that has become the focus of the A&B's operations. A new Solvay Polymers plant was recently located on the A&B just west of Adrian.

Although the A&B still uses the LCRC engine house in Adrian for maintenance, all other operations are based in Blissfield. The LCRC office building in Adrian is boarded up and unused. Alco's #2 and #3 were scrapped at Blissfield following the formation of the A&B.

For 13 years, the LCRC's blue Alcos worked to carry out the line's claim that "Service and Efficiency is our Motto." That trains still roll over this trackage today - when many of the other state-owned lines have been torn up - is testimony to the LCRC's efforts.

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