The Last Engineer
Coal was likely supplied from Ohio and West Virginia, delivered to the sidings along Depot Street by the Ann Arbor Railroad. After the daily train from Detroit to Jackson went through, the coal cars could be moved farther east along the Michigan Central main track to the U-M siding. Here it was up to the large supply locomotive to do the heavy work of moving the C & O coal cars from their mainline tracks to ours. Leaving the consignment of full cars on the lower siding, it would come up the grade to couple to our empty ones, taking them back down to link up with the full cars. Pulling forward and then backing up our hill once again with this full load, the locomotive would leave the coal-laden cars for us and then head out again with the empties.
That's when our real work would begin. While the U-M Plymouth engine seemed large to me, it was tiny by most standards. We could take four to six empty cars down in one trip from the power plant, but the climb back up with a full hopper had to be done one car at a time. Apparently the women in the university's old maternity hospital used to report how much the overburdened engine backfired and wheezed. I had a much more romanticized image in my head of our locomotive as "The Little Engine That Could," simply repeating "I think I can, I think I can ..." as we churned steadily up the hill. When snow and ice coated the rails, the crewman would throw down sand to gain traction.