By Allison Peters, September 2018
Fall in Cadillac can be the most idyllic time of year for scenic walks along the lakeshore with autumn foliage in Technicolor, self-guided color tours through local roads with great views of the changing leaves on the trees, and even color tours of the Cadillac countryside via antique trains that played prominent roles in Michigan’s history. There’s something about a vintage locomotive in autumn, picking up passengers as colorful leaves fall across the railroad tracks.
The fall color tourtrain ride through Cadillac’s countryside is made possible through a partnership between the Steam Railroading Institute and the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau. The Steam Railroading Institute teaches new generations about the technologies of the steam era through “the best possible exhibit—a living, breathing piece of history that comes to life in front of your very eyes!” Anyone can become a member of the organization, which accepts donations to the help keep Pere Marquette 1225 “steaming down the tracks.”
Exploring autumn in Cadillac on a train ride through the countryside offers passengers one of the most unique, immersive, fall-feeling experiences in Northern Michigan. During last fall’s Cadillac Countryside Tour weekend, it happened to be a rainy day, which only made the experience more dreamy and serene, with the gold, red, and orange landscape of leaves outside your train car window shimmering through the raindrops on the glass. The setting looked like an oil painting, the colors blending together, shining with the wet of the rain.
With the tour occurring right at the peak of fall color season in Cadillac, the sights are spectacular, and being on a train gives passengers the opportunity to sit back, relax, and appreciate the scenery. It’s a whole new view of the Greater Cadillac Area, as the tracks stretch from the passenger pick-up location in Downtown Cadillac to the local farm fields of rural McBain. There’s a feeling you get stepping on an old train and hearing those whistles echo in the distance—a sense of nostalgia, maybe even a feeling of déjà vu—that makes the experience so intriguing.
Immensely popular and culturally transformative in the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution, train travel was an integral part of community development and Michigan’s overall growth, as investments in building railroads resulted in connecting towns and cities more efficiently than ever before. This led to the logging industry expanding, population increasing, and opportunities for public community and trade soaring. The story behind Cadillac’s origin (which began its history as Clam Lake) hinges on the railroad and logging industries, as the city was built upon the progressive vision and entrepreneurial spirit of its founders and community leaders back when trains were gaining steam in Northern Michigan.
A 1954 train car lined with sets of comfy red seats along the sides of the interior in pairs, with several seats facing each other to make conversations on the train throughout the duration of the scenic ride most enjoyable. From the City Park at Cadillac Commons—adjacent to the Shay Locomotive, an unusually small yet awesomely powerful lumber train invented in 1879 and patented in 1881 by Cadillac area logger Ephraim Shay—the train departed smoothly at two o’clock in the afternoon. It started by slowly chugging down the tracks, then quickly picked up the pace until we were gliding comfortably through the countryside to McBain, drops of rain dancing down the windows of the antique locomotive.
Since Cadillac Countryside Tour takes place just a couple weeks before Halloween, the train cars are outfitted with seasonal decorations, from autumnal leaves to little orange lights. Knowledgeable, helpful volunteers from the Steam Railroading Institute wear vintage uniforms, adding to the feeling of nostalgia and stepping back in time. Tickets are twenty dollars per coach seat or forty per seat on the caboose. From maps to magnets and puzzles to toys, there are souvenirs in the gift shop as well as concessions on board. Nearly 400 people rode aboard those vintage train cars last fall, sparking a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of this region in autumn as well as a newfound appreciation for the Cadillac area.
Cadillac to McBain on a train in the rain—it’s the epitome of autumnal experiences and a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends, family, or coworkers, rain or shine. Touring Northern Michigan’s colorful countryside landscapes by way of vintage locomotive presents such a memorable opportunity to see Cadillac in an entirely new way, from a fresh perspective that gives you permission to slow down, look out the window, and take a moment to appreciate all the natural beauty and constant change surrounding us.
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