Steam hisses and massive boilers rumble in the muted light. The smells of coal and grease fill the air. A locomotive sits on a track, bellowing a column of steam and smoke into a smokestack while workers in dirty overalls shovel dusty coal into its belly, getting it ready to take it out onto the track for another day. This scene isn’t playing out in the 1800s, but in fact is happening today, in one of the few working roundhouses in the United States.
The Detroit, Toledo, & Milwaukee Roundhouse sits in the Railroad Junction district of Greenfield Village, Henry Ford’s outdoor museum opened in 1929. The roundhouse presides grandly over this section of the park, notable for its six massive black doors leading out to a huge metal turntable. Every day during the museum’s open season, steam engines are shuffled on and off the 42-ton Pere Marquette turntable, heading out to the track or into the roundhouse for maintenance.
The original roundhouse was opened in Marshall, Michigan, in 1884 for the DT&M railroad line. It was notable for being paid for through a form of late-1800s crowdfunding, as the people of Marshall were eager to draw business to their town through the railroad. The roundhouse remained in Marshall until 1989, when it was completely dismantled.
The Henry Ford Museum purchased the remains of the roundhouse and reassembled it in Dearborn, restoring it to its appearance around the 1920s. In June of 2000, the roundhouse opened to the public, allowing visitors to learn about railroad history while also seeing the sort of maintenance done on the park’s working locomotives and the Weiser Railroad, the locomotive track circling the village.
Visitors can still visit the roundhouse throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In the winter, after the village is closed, daily work still progresses for some of the roundhouse’s more intensive projects. The village’s steam locomotives are brought in daily for maintenance, and other projects are performed. Among the locomotives are the 1873 Torch Lake, the oldest-running steam engine in the United States, and the 1897 Baldwin #7, one of Ford’s personal engines. Visitors can also stand under the 1902 Atlantic, a 101-ton engine bought by Ford.
Know Before You Go
Greenfield Village is open daily from April until October, with limited hours in November. Check schedules online. The turntable demonstration is performed throughout the summer at posted times, weather permitting.