The ABCs of Lowell History: M is for Malta

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about the Malta railroad watch tower which was located just south of the Grand River. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

 

Malta was a railroad watch tower located on the southern edge of Lowell, just south of the Grand River. It was built at the intersection of the north – south Pere Marquette (PM) Railroad and the east – west Grand Trunk (GT) railroad. The sign on the tower stated that the location was 49.35 miles from Grand Haven and 138.95 miles from Detroit. A mechanical interlocking switching system was installed in 1890. When the bridge over the Grand River for the Pere Marquette was completed in 1891, Lever men were employed to keep the crossing clear.

The first tower signalman was Fred Graham. He let the first train across the intersection of the Grand Trunk and Pere Marquette tracks.

In 1930, Malta was also used as a telegraph relay station. The telegraph operators passed on orders and sent out telegrams during the evenings and night hours.

Accidents were part of life at a railroad crossing. The following are examples of notable accidents. In 1904, an accident resulted in six cars being thrown from the tracks, four badly smashed. Fortunately no one was badly injured. The following account was given, “The right of way was given the PM, so the watchman was amazed to see the GT freight come thundering toward the crossing at a terrific gait, and without a warning whistle having been heard. Before he could do anything the derail had done its work and six cars were in the ditch, some wheels upward and all more or less wrecked. We understand the engineer claims his brakes refused to work and he lost his head and forgot the warning whistle which would have given the watchman a chance to have saved the train. The engineer was summoned to headquarters.”

Malta tower with Operator Will Mullen standing on the stairway

In 1924, several freight cars were wrecked, along with the engine and tender of a Pere Marquette train which overturned. The train crew jumped and escaped uninjured. Signals were set against the PM train to avoid a collision with a train on the Grand Trunk at the crossing, but the freight was heavily loaded and being on a down grade the train men were unable to stop the train.

In 1954, an extremely damaging accident from a broken train car wheel caused 7 cars to jump the track, damaged a car on a siding, and tore up 100 yards of track between the Lowell Station and the Malta Tower. It took repairman days to fix the damages.

Malta tower closed on June 23, 1955 after over 50 years of service. An automatic interlocking plant replaced the five Lever men operators who manned the tower around the clock. M.R. Wood was the last full time operator. When the tower closed he took semi-retirement. Other operators who were transferred to other jobs with the railroad included Dale Page, Ralph Mullen and Emil Paulson. Robert G. Crouch had the most years of duty at the tower, with twenty four and a half years.

Train No. 21, originating in Saginaw bound for Grand Rapids, is about to storm across the Malta diamond after crossing the Grand River south of Lowell in 1950.

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