We help the Southern Michigan Railroad in its mission to preserve the Clinton Branch and develop a world-class railway museum. Most of our efforts relate to unique, large projects, allowing SMRS to focus on its core business.


Our philosophy

We help the Southern Michigan Railroad in its mission to preserve the Clinton Branch and develop a world-class railway museum. As a rule, we help with large, ambitious projects that would be too much of a burden or distraction for SMRS to tackle alone.

So far, we have focused on buying land for a future museum site, for shops, car-barns and visitor amenities. We also help SMRS acquire needed equipment, starting with an additional Coach.

Doing the impossible

SMRS is focused on the day-to-day business of its mission - keeping money flowing in, and reversing many years of deferred maintenance on railroad, equipment and facilities. It can't afford the distraction and expense of a big project. Friends can focus on that project alone. SMRS can't afford the cash loss of a potential boondoggle. What if there's toxic waste, or equipment has an expensive repair enroute? What if a project just doesn't work out? With the Friends taking on the project, SMRS bears no risk at all. In fact, SMRS Bylaws require a Membership vote to approve large projects. That's to stop managers from taking business risks hastily. But sellers don't want to deal with waiting 2 months for a "maybe" while we send out ballots and tally votes. That also blows secrecy - now the whole world knows! Most of our deals are "under the radar" - nobody's competing because nobody knows. A ballot, and the forum talk, wakes them up, and they can move faster than us. That puts us at a huge disadvantage, especially against larger railway museums with long wish-lists and deep pockets. Friends can act separately, swiftly, and secretly.

Railroad, Land and Car-barns

Railway museums worldwide are discovering that the rain and snow is no place to store a museum artifact. To be successful, museums are finding they must make a staggering investment - in "car barns", large buildings with railroad tracks running into them. This gets the historic collection out of the weather.

Car-barns are rather expensive, but even so, they are the least of the expense. It would be foolish to build a car-barn on someone else's land, so car-barns cannot happen until the museum buys land. But the land can't be anywhere; it must be alongside the railroad that the museum operates on (if they operate). It must also be suitable for car-barns; it's foolish to install them in flood plains, for instance.

It would also be foolish to buy land along somebody else's railroad. Which means the railway museum needs to own the railroad before buying land even makes sense. (now it's true some railway museums do it anyway. But they are counting on being able to re-sell the land if they are forced to move. They don't make a large capital investment in a single-purpose building, such as a car-barn.

So it's a simple sequence:

  1. Own the railroad - the Southern Michigan Railroad already does.
  2. Buy land next to the railroad - that's what we're doing right now.
  3. Car-barns!

The Southern Michigan Railroad Society has owned its railroad since 1985. The Friends organization closed on two parcels, totaling 45 acres, including a 22,000 square foot shop, and is environmentally cleared. There is also an option on another 45 acres.

Next: Car-barns.