May 26 • 03:39 AM

Capac's past revealed in bills of lading

‘The Flyer’ train approaches depot in downtown Capac in bygone days.

July 30, 2008
Two weeks ago my column was about the railroad depots of Capac. I wished the walls could talk and in a strange way they did.

Attendance was up at the museum during the Capac Summer Festival, people showed up to view and give their memories. Some brought pictures of their ancestors and invited me to visit them, to go over their collection of old photographs of their families.

Others I met on the street and businesses of Capac, shared their memories with me as well. Some called and we talked of old times and eras long gone but evidently not forgotten.

Those memories are what make us what we are today and will determine our future. Like some continuous building project, every new block is dependent upon the former block for support. And history does repeat itself. Simply by the lessons learned over, so mistakes that are made are not repeated, as seems to be the problem of our present situation, in our great country today.

The depot sparked so much interest, I will kindle the fire of your memories and talk about the railroad depot again this week.

In the last column I mentioned bills of lading and old delivery receipts that were left in the depot. These documents covered more than 40 years of business transactions. These are the clues to the central enterprises of Capac.

But before we get started on that, let's talk about some of the earlier businesses that sprung up along the railroad, as the "City in the Woods'' became connected to the rest of the country and world.

One of the readers of this column, longtime friend of mine and my family and a contributing source I use to write Capac's history tells me as a young boy he remembers Capac's stockyards. Bill Stroup, longtime farmer and businessman around Capac recalls the stockyard was situated on the south side of the tracks and west of Main Street. Bill said he could not remember any cattle or other livestock there at that time.

The photo accompanying this column was from a postcard dated July 14, 1913.

It was sent to a Mrs. Byron Hendershot of Hiram, Ohio. The photo has seven people in it, probably employees. I just wonder if some of you can recall who worked there and does the name "Hendershot'' ring a bell?

Other industries during that era were the paper mill and chicory plant. If any of you have information or stories of that era please let me know. These stories need to be documented and told before they are lost in time.

The railroad bills of lading found at the depot are evidence of a thriving economy in Capac and the surrounding countryside.

One of the largest and farthest reaching shippers and was Michigan Peat. They loaded products that were sent all over the country. The destinations of peat humus went to such far away and diverse places as Kirkland Air Force base in Albuquerque, New Mexico; to Helena, Montana; Odessa, Texas to Pueblo, Colorado; Quincy, Massachusetts and the list goes on and on.

Another large shipper was Valley Elevator, later known as Capac Farmers Elevator. They sent wheat to Saginaw, Detroit, Toledo, Hillsdale and Chicago. Oats went as far as Richford, Vermont. Those were just some of the commodities. Corn and navy beans were also sold and sent all over the country.

During its heyday, Capac Plastics also sent products all over the country by rail, especially during World War II. If you served during that war, a little piece of Capac was always with you. That helmet liner was made right here in Capac. Capac was part of the arsenal of democracy. "Rosie the Riveters'' along with the other workers that made victory possible, were not just making planes and tanks in the big industrial cities. Small towns like Capac did their important part as well.

The freight receipts tell an interesting story of life in Capac. The freight delivered was as diverse as could be. Many of the businesses most readers will remember, the individual persons some will recall. But each is a story of conviction to improve the life in the "City in the Woods."

One businessman named William VanPoppelen came to Capac in 1930 and remained in business over 40 years. In 1931 he received a 110-pound box containing medicine and on August 1, 1938 a 90-pound box of soap was consigned to him.

Another icon of early Capac was Susie Lester. She received 5 bundles of brooms on March 15, 1935. The local butcher, R.H. Waltz, received three boxes of cheese on April 28, 1938. Another business, Capac Hatchery, had received one roll of wire fencing on March 6, 1935.

A different store I personally remember was Goudy's 5 Cents to a Dollar. It was a favorite of mine and other children of Capac. On March 1, 1940 Goudy's received 3 cartons of candy and glassware.

On January 15, 1935, H.C. Siegel of Siegel Appliance received a carton containing a radio console. Valley Elevator took possession of 98,000 pounds of coal on January 21, 1935. His competitor, Chris Abraham of Abraham Block and Cement, acquired 92,000 lbs. of lump coal on St. Valentine's Day, 1935.

Competition was very keen and to survive business had to be very sharp.

A.D. Bussell of Bussell Harness and Shoe Repair received one bale of horse collars on January 26, 1935. O.A. Prey of Prey Hardware was delivered one box of cast iron pump parts on February 4, 1935.

John Bower Furniture Store got a table and six chairs for their showroom on February 11, 1935. Antici-pating an early spring, W.A. Curriers obtained a shipment of garden seeds in late February 1935.

Douglas McLaren needed to build a fence in April of 1940. Grand Trunk brought him 50 steel fence posts. Earl Freeman of Yale and Richard Burton also of Yale, had trouble keeping the cows home. Both men had barbed wire brought to them in 1935.

Maybe the old saying is true—"good fences make good neighbors,'' because there were a lot of fences being delivered to the Capac Depot.

In the 1930s and '40s a man named Louis Sass bought a lot of fertilizer, more than the Valley Elevator. Sources tell me that Mr. Sass was a very successful farmer north of Capac but little is known of him now.

An immigrant from Germany who worked on the railroad to raise enough money in order to take over another business became a landmark in Capac.

Frank Postina and his family ran a shoe sales and repair shop. The thriving business served Capac for 61 years. The railroad served his store as late as January 15, 1951 when he received a 92-pound box of shoes and boots.

Also in January of 1951, Harold Schonemann bought a 101 lb. package of hardware from Sears Roebuck in Port Huron, Michigan. I called Harold many times as a source of historical information. Sadly, Harold passed away this past March at 104 years of age.

Another longtime institution also received a package from Fredonis, Missouri. Capac State Savings Bank took possession of 240 pounds of printed paper.

Earl Moss, the local John Deere dealer, acquired plow parts from Moline, Illinois. At the same time C. Wylin of Berlin Township received 61,200 lbs. of bagged fertilizer. On September 1, 1957 Shibo Hayashi was delivered garden seeds from Kansas City, Missouri.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s the only users of the once essential railroad were Mortimer & Son Lumber, Michigan Peat, Elmer Lang and Sons, Capac Farmers Elevator and Shull Feed Mill.

Times had changed dramatically, the automobiles and truck had administered the final straw. The one that broke the back of the local depot.

The once powerful and lucrative railroad system had become the victim of cheap oil. The iron rails that connected all points on the map were in dire financial straits. And the saddest fact is that nobody seemed to care. Big oil was in control and money was made by consumption, not conservation.

The lessons learned of the value of the railroad had been forgotten. The mistakes once again trump the lessons of the past.

I want to thank Freeda VanPoppelen, Carl Lang, Bill Stroup, Gloria Vigil, The Capac Historical Society and all others who have helped me gather the facts.

Stop by the Capac Depot-Museum from 1-4 p.m. on August 3rd and let the walls talk some more. . .

Email Doug at

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