Continued from last month.
Although America remained out of the war until 1917, news continually flooded in via travelers and telegraph of the growing “European” war, which had broken out during the depot’s construction. By 1917, things had reached a level that President Woodrow Wilson and Congress had declared war on Germany and her allies, and the sons of Capac were soon called to duty.
A September 21, 1917, article noted that: “Last Tuesday at 11:30 am, citizens and country people gathered at the Capac School Campus, and headed by the Capac Brass Band and reinforced by school children, the soldier boys were escorted to the train, where they received an ovation from the vast crowd of citizens. As the train pulled out our boys showed smiling faces from the windows.”
Of course, several of those soldier boys never returned, something that the little community had not experienced since the end of the Civil War, nearly 50 years earlier. Business as usual continued into the 1920s, albeit a bit sadder for loss of some of their own.
Not a great deal of change happened to the depot over the next few decades, but around it, the world was vastly changing. A new fangled element called the automobile began to slowly make inroads into the number of individuals coming and going from the structure, but it was still considered one of the jewels of the community. An October 21, 1927, article proudly noted how “within the past week railroad painters have finished painting the depot, oil house, watchman’s shanty and other buildings,” and the fact that "a boy with a slingshot broke out a window at the Grand Trunk Depot” was still considered news in May of 1932. It remained a busy place, with several Grand Trunk Western trains coming through each day. Changes were coming, however. A big one was the end of steam locomotives on the Grand Trunk, something that had been part of the Capac landscape for over 100 years.
An April 6, 1957 column in the Times Herald noted: “The Capac Depot looked like a busy place Saturday afternoon at 2:15 PM when a crowd gathered to see ‘old 6327’ make its final run as a steam engine from Chicago to Port Huron. After watching and waiting for 25 minutes amid a snow storm and a strong west wind, the crowd caught a fleeting glimpse of the old engine doing 70-75 miles an hour through Capac. Its shrill whistle could be heard for over a mile. The engine had been cleaned and painted a shiny black, and the edges of the wheels and catwalk along the side of the boiler were striped white. Diesel power has taken over on all Grand Trunk overland runs and on passenger runs through the St. Clair River Tunnel. Thursday marks the end of the steam locomotive for this section of the country.”
Sometime after this, the Capac depot was removed as a passenger stop on the railroad altogether, and became freight only. Even this was not to last, as on October 8, 1973, Grand Trunk Western announced their intention to close the depot as an active agency. It was the end of an era, and the future looked grim for the depot.
After sitting empty and forlorn for nearly a decade, a group of history-minded citizens approached the Grand Trunk about the possible purchase of the station. After much negotiation, the Grand Trunk agreed, but under one major condition: the depot had to be moved away from the tracks due to liability. This was agreed upon by the local saviors, and the purchase consummated in 1987. A new location was found along old M-21 just to the east of town, and they began the process of getting the station moved. It was found that, due to its length, the old building would need to be cut into two halves to be moved. And so it was on October 21, 1988, the old station was moved to its current location, 401 East Kempf Court. Here, it serves as the community museum for Capac, a fitting end to a nearly 100-year-old story. Open during the summer months, it is a wonderful example of the classic American train station, and represents what was once great about the American railroad.
Gaffney is the former executive director of the Steam Railroading Institute and has worked as curator for the Port Huron Museum.
Gaffney is also owner of Streamline Historic Services. Five years ago, Gaffney authored his first book, Port Huron, 1880-1960. Images of Rail: Rails Around the Thumb, published by Arcadia Publishing, is also receiving accolades. Learn about the important contributions railroads made to the Thumb area; copies of Rails Around the Thumb are available through the author at 2747 Military Street, Port Huron, Michigan, 48060. Books are also available through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.