Course, the Grand Traverse & Western railroad was as much tied to its time as anybody else. When the tracks were first laid down they stimulated the entire region’s economy by allowing fresh-cut logs another route south other than the river, moving manufactured furniture south to Chicago and bringing tourists north to Grand Traverse Bay. Little cities sprang up where the GT&W crossed other rail lines, with main streets and businesses springing up near rail depots like weeds. The line was at its peak between the wars, with plentiful rolling stock surplussed from the old USRA.

After the war, though, things took a turn for the worse. The interstate and highways began to link together many of the destination previously served by rail; thousands of trucks chugged along the route, each stealing a little more from the GT&W’s coffers. Passengers increasingly drove or flew to their destination, leaving the passenger cars GT&W was required by law to maintain mostly empty. Many rail lines reacted to the pressure by consolidating, but no one was particularly interested in merging with or acquiring the GT&W, viewing it as an unprofitable spur. The last train thundered down those tracks in 1980.

Most of the rail depots were torn down in the years that followed, and the downtowns around them withered as the commercial nuclei moved toward the highways. Rusting and overgrown rail lines came to be seen as an eyesore, and were pulled up for scrap. The ties were sold as building materials; it wasn’t unusual to see them lining gardens or even fashioned into toolsheds. In time, the graded rail areas were turned into paved trails.

Decades later, with diesel prices on the rise and an increasing number of Osborn and SMU students picketing against “anti-green” policies, the decision appeared particularly shortsighted.