Ypsilanti Citizen Opinions ]]>

Thank you Ypsilanti
By Dan DuChene & Christine Laughren
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   5:07 p.m.

Christine Laughren and Dan DuChene, co-owners of the Ypsilanti Citizen, pose in front of their company's banner at Frenchie's during the Citizen's one-year anniversary party.

The Ypsilanti Citizen was launched in November 2008 to inform the Ypsilanti community about the news and events that were happening in their area.

Since our launch,...read more

Crossroads Summer Festival; rockin’ ladies night
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   4:37 p.m.

Barbara Payton and the Big Boss Trio rock Washington Street.

A special Ladies Night was held Friday at the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Just...read more

Crossroads to hold Ladies Night for Relay for Life
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 16, 2010   ·   9:13 a.m.

On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.

Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more

Electric rail pollution leads to dirty laundry
By Laura Bien
Jun. 15, 2010   ·   11:42 a.m.

From the approximate vantage point of the present-day Materials Unlimited, the interurban car barn and powerhouse on Michigan Avenue loomed large.

Maggie Smith was not looking forward to a forenoon of sewing pleats.

She put down her newest customer’s summer dress. Downstairs, she offered to get potatoes...read more

EMU students in wartime
By Laura Bien
Jun. 1, 2010   ·   10:32 a.m.

The 1942 Aurora yearbook, the 50th
anniversary edition, included images that contrasted modern and
old-time students.

Leroy Grindle was an Ypsilantian soldier who lost his life in WWII. He was a member of the Michigan Normal (EMU) class of ’41, and is memorialized with a black...read more

Ypsilanti's battery-powered depot

This photo shows the depot's baggage room at right, the baggage handling area at center, and the main building with passenger waiting area at left. Photo by courtesy of Ypsilanti Archives

This photo shows the depot's baggage room at right, the baggage handling area at center, and the main building with passenger waiting area at left.
Ypsilanti Farmers Market

To the Archives

By Laura Bien
Mar. 2, 2010    ·    10:02 a.m.

Batteries power our phones, tools, clocks, iPods, smoke detectors and sometimes our hearts.

Batteries came into widespread popular use only after World War II and we tend to think of the pre-war era, compared to modern days, as more or less battery-free.

However, a century ago, the Ypsilanti Depot contained exactly one battery—a very important one.

Rail commuters approaching the Depot around that time would first have seen the baggage room on the southern side of the depot. Residents were still adjusting to seeing the depot as a modest one-story red brick building, rebuilt after the 1910 fire that destroyed its former ornate splendor. Trunks and suitcases were stored inside the baggage room. Express mail offices handled packages and shipments.

An open, roofed-over space connected the baggage room and the Depot’s main building. Here, several heavy-duty handcarts were used to move trunks and packages on and off of the trains.

Morning passengers gathered in the main building’s waiting room. Despite the massive coal stove there, the waiting room was often “so chilly that the pail of drinking water with cup attached to a long chain was near freezing,” recalls one old-timer. “Though the stenciled letters on the pail read 'Drinking Water Changed Hourly,' a goldfish could have lived undisturbed.”

This old-timer was onetime Ypsilanti historian and retired blind linotype operator J. Milton Barnes. Two Ypsi Press articles in the Archives, one undated and one from May 13, 1979, feature his recollections of the early depot.

Barnes continued, “With the crowd of morning commuters conversing or looking over recent acquisitions to the rack of timetables, the station master solemnly walked to the blackboard and chalked ‘Train 207 (the Doodlebug) 10 minutes late.’”

A “Doodlebug” was a self-propelled motorized single railroad passenger car. It was useful to railroads because it could service small branch lines and short-distance routes under its own power without the hassle and expense of attaching a locomotive engine. It was not unlike, in appearance and function, a slightly stretched-out interurban streetcar, except running on regular railroad tracks.

The waiting passengers, said Barnes, “could hear the telegraph instruments ticking and the relays’ [amplifiers’] sound like echoes. We’d know that the Eastbound due at 6:55 had passed Ann Arbor. We could still make it to work on time.”

That is, unless there was a late passenger sprinting for the eastbound train. “It happened at almost every stop,” remembers Barnes, “and conductors were accustomed to being inveigled by station masters to delay for a moment... Here comes the laggard, hotfooting over the brick pavement between depot and waiting train.

“‘All Aboard!’ The fireman would add a couple of shovels of Hocking Valley Lump [coal] to the engine’s firebox because that 15 seconds of lost time must be made up and the train was due in Detroit in 28 minutes.”

And there went the Detroit-bound train, curving out of sight and picking up speed. The emptied waiting room “wasn’t like the ballroom floor after a dance, the janitor sweeping up crushed rose petals and confetti, a tiny program with chewed-off ear, a trampled ear-ring, a silken glove and a love-note torn to bits,” Barnes said.

“No! In Ypsilanti’s Michigan Central Depot, after the conductor’s ‘All Aboard!’ and two quick toots of the engine’s whistle, the screams of compressed air, and the rollaway groans of the iron wheels, the Depotmaster made a quick survey. He erased from the blackboard ‘North Shore—five minutes late’ and chalked in ‘Sunset Limited’ and ‘Motor City,’ always ‘on time’—till the telegraph clicks told different.”

Listen to the telegraph clicks! The Wabash is five minutes late coming into Detroit,” Barnes said. “Wabash? What has that train to do with the local Michigan Central trains? You might know! They’ll hold the Sunset Limited in Detroit long enough for passengers to buy tickets.”

The telegraph was the linchpin of the Michigan Central railroad system. Messages buzzing up and down the wire sent by the railroad’s “lightning slingers” informed stations of schedule changes and tracked lost baggage.

The Michigan Central began installing a telegraph system in 1855, and was one of the first railroads to adopt this technology to coordinate trains. In the pre-telegraph days, operating a railroad was far more hazardous.

“When two trains which should have met and passed each other are more than half an hour behind their regular time, they must both proceed with the greatest caution, each sending a man with a flag, if in the daytime, or a red light by night, ahead around the curves,” says the 1852 MCRR rulebook.

In Ypsilanti, all of the passengers commuting to work, the family members waiting to greet a relative and travelers coordinating a trip depended on the depot telegraph.

The telegraph, in turn, depended on a giant five-gallon glass vat filled with liquid underneath the telegrapher’s desk.

At the bottom of the vat lay a copper plate and a pile of blue copper sulphate crystals. Near the top, a large zinc quarter-starburst resembling a crow’s foot lay suspended horizontally in the liquid. Wires led from this “crowfoot battery” to the telegraph lines, powering the system.

Crowfoot batteries took advantage of electrochemical reactions between the metals, chemicals and liquid in the vat, which threw off electrons. These electrons were siphoned off into wires and used to power telegraph messages.

The device produced one volt, less than tiny modern-day AAA batteries. But crowfoot batteries were ideal for appliances that required only an intermittent use, alternated with a downtime to recharge, such as the telegraph.

As a large vat of liquid, the “wet cell” was not portable, but was well suited for stationary use in the depot. Crowfoot batteries were one of several wet cells used in telegraph history.

Barnes remembers the Depot battery, “The clicks of the relay of the telegraph are mighty weak today. No wonder. The [liquid] is getting low in the big... five gallon glass battery under the instrument bench, with the enormous zinc crowfoot and its copper shield. Bring it to life. Needs another lump of blue vitriol [copper sulphate].”

Like the cell phone (containing a completely different type of battery, which will be ignored for now), Ypsilanti’s depot telegraph was a high-tech battery-powered communications device . . . from a century ago.

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