The yard was used for football special trains carrying fans from the north and south, per this account from rail historian Jim Sinclair:
According to an article that appears in an old AARRT&HA publication, the football specials started shortly after the turn of the century. The trains grew in popularity during the twenties and thirties and were still going quite strong into the late 50s and early 60s. The Ann Arbor also installed an APB (Automatic Permissive Block) signal system between Milan and Ferry during the early thirties to safely move the fleet of football specials to or from Ferry Yard. While most of the specials came out of Toledo, some also came out of Detroit on the Wabash and in fact, a connection at Milan in the northeast quadrant was appropriately and officially named, "The Football Wye."
A photo of the building in the yard once used for operations: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnbaird/36196961/
- The Ferry Yard Turntable, Ann Arbor Observer, Grace Shackman, November 1992
Started in 1878, the Ann Arbor Railroad originally ran from Toledo to Frankfort, where it crossed Lake Michigan by ferry. Ann Arbor passengers ordinarily used the depot on Ashley--now the Law Montessori School--for trains bound south (the Toledo Torpedo) or north (the Frankfort Fireball). But Ferry Yard was the arrival and departure point of all the freight trains coming through town. All Ann Arbor-bound freight cars were dropped off at Ferry Yard, where the yard conductor would take over, directing crews to deliver the cars to their final destinations: the mills, lumberyards, coal yards, furniture factories, ice companies, and warehouses that lined the railroad's route along Allen's Creek through the Old West Side. In the 1930's and 1940's, according to retired yard conductor Ford Ferguson, a crew of three using a switch engine would move from twenty to fifty cars a day. The switch engine was also used as a pusher to help the bigger trains get over the Plymouth Road hill north of town.