The photo included with this story is one that I used to tell you, in 2008, about the C. W. & L. E. Lake line.
In this article I would like to explain how, and why, the underpass was built at Charing Cross.
Originally the C. W. & L.E. was to be built in four stages, the first of which was to be the Chatham to Wallaceburg line in 1905; the lake line, Chatham to Erie Beach, in 1908; the Pain Court branch, Baldoon Road to Pain Court, in 1909; and the Blenheim line, Cedar Springs to Blenheim in 1911.
The first three lines were built on time but the Blenheim branch, although under construction, was cancelled on the death of majority owner George W. Kipp in 1911. Had Mr. Kipp lived a few more weeks, the line would have been completed.
Although gone for nearly 90 years, there are still places where evidence of the railway continues to exist. One of these is the ancient subway at Charing Cross.
The lake line was important as it would be a money-maker for the railroad in the summer months, transporting passengers to its venue at Erie Beach. The railway owned a park at Erie Beach with a large dance hall. It also owned beach-front property which it planned to, and did, convert to summer cottage lots.
At one stage, and for an extended period of time, the railway was sending 11 cars per day to the lake, many of them standing room only.
Freight was to be a major section of business, as the C. W. & L. E. would connect with the GTR (CNR) and CPR at Chatham, the Michigan Central at Charing Cross and Pere Marquette at Cedar Springs.
Deals were soon made with the GTR, CPR and PMR, but the MCR proved to be a major obstacle that would end up costing the C. W. & L. E. a great batch of cash.
The MCR was double-tracked and fast, hosting both freight and passenger traffic.
There was a sharp “wow” just west of Charing Cross and the MCR, rightly so, stated that a grade crossing at Charing Cross would be a disaster just waiting to happen.
The MCR was adamant – there must be no grade crossing at Charing Cross.
The solution to the problem was either over or under, and the C. W. & L. E. chose to go under the MCR.
In the early days of the lake line, previous to the construction of the underpass, the C. W. & L. E. maintained a special car on the south side of the MCR tracks. You can see that car on the right side of the included photo.
Passenger cars, lake-bound from Chatham, would stop on the north side of the MCR, disgorge the passengers who would then walk across the tracks and board the south car for the final leg to the lake. This function was awkward but it was the only way that lake service could be established prior to construction of the underpass.
Construction of the subway was a difficult project.
The technology for excavation was still primitive; yet there were steam shovels, but the actual digging was done by horse drawn scoops which were little more than wheelbarrows with handles but no wheel.
Adding to the frustration was the fact the ground in the area was an exceedingly hard class of clay. Any person who has ever had a septic tank and weeping bed at Charing Cross will know whence I reference.
As well to be considered was the fact the maximum grade could be no more than four per cent, which would require extensive approaches on both sides of the underpass. I estimate that at least 20 feet of clearance would be needed under the MCR tracks.
Eventually the underpass was completed and direct service to the lake commenced.
The underpass was filled in in the early 1950s.
Next time you are out that way, stop at the point where the old MCR tracks crossed County Road Ten. If you look on the west side of the road, you can still see the concrete abutments of the underpass.