Arch structures such as these along the border of Allen Park and Melvindale are one of a number that continue to stand along Canadian National tracks in central Downriver left over from Henry Ford's failed attempt to electrify his Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad. Photo from FarleyIn July of 1920, following a three-year United States government takeover of the railroad system, automotive pioneer Henry Ford purchased the local Detroit, Toledo and Ironton (DT&I) railroad spur, in the hopes of extending the line into his burgeoning Rouge factory complex.  Most factory goods were being shipped to Rouge by rail, and Mr. Ford disliked the high fees the various railroad companies would charge for freight distribution.

Mr. Ford was branching out into other areas of interest beyond automobiles, possessing a vision of redefining how railroads would operate; including but not limited to: reducing shipper's tariffs significantly, cutting labor costs, eliminating many work rules, and eliminating the majority of the lawyers working in conjunction with the railways.

His enthusiasm was evident, but his practical experience in the rail industry was lacking, and he would eventually sell out his interest within a decade.

One of the frugal Mr. Ford's main concerns was the increasing cost of petroleum, which he sought to end on his rail route, running from Ironton, Ohio, through Lima and Springfield, toward Detroit.  His solution, announced in 1923, was to electrify the railway with electricity produced at his factory complex, eliminating the need for more expensive steam.   It would be part of a larger plan to eventually electrify the entire route, which he would then link to railways through Charleston, West Virginia and on to Newport News, Virginia.

Bypassing the need to build power substations throughout the route to keep voltage steady, he erected the catenary arches which remain prevalent today.  The arches were completed from the Rouge complex to the village of Carleton.  Foundations were built to continue the arches further to near the interchange with the Ann Arbor Railroad in the small hamlet of Diann, south of Dundee, but they were never completed.

The experiment -- which involved a high voltage line strung above the arches, through a substation-like structure on top of each engine to step down the voltage, then convert it to DC current which actually ran the engine -- was not a success.  The first engines began running the line in 1927 but were pulled out of service in 1930, one year after Mr. Ford sold his interest to the Pennroad Corporation.  In a cruel irony of sorts, Pennroad's analysis determined operating costs could be reduced -- by converting the line back to steam power.

Soon afterwards, demolition crews had started to demolish most of the arches, but then gave up the insurmountable task of removing them due to their impervious construction: a total of 190 cubic yards of concrete were used just to create the bases for each arch.

What is left of the arches

Four sets of arches remain today. The longest extends from just south of Oakwood Junction and just west of the western end of Russell Street in Allen Park south to between Penford Crossing and Superior Boulevard in Taylor. However, that set has three gaps: two where only the foundations remain and another near the Pelham Road Railroad Crossing where the remains of an arch lie in a pond next to the track. Another set remains at Oakwood Junction itself. Yet another remains at Oakwood Boulevard and the fourth remains between Eureka Road and Pennsylvania Road.