The DT&I RR was pieced together by joining the Detroit and Lima Northern RR with the Ohio Southern RR and then adding the Iron Railway in 1903 to make one railroad stretching from Delray, Michigan, to Ironton, Ohio, on the Ohio River. The name DT&I was chosen when the property changed hands after foreclosure in 1905. Some of the pieces that became the railroad actually began in the 1840s and the evolution is a complex one involving many financial failures. The story is well documented in “The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, Henry Ford’s Railroad,” by Scott D. Trostel, a copy of which is available in the Local History Room of the Flat Rock Public Library.
The Railroad was reorganized in 1914 and was profitable for a short time. It was nationalized for the War effort at the end of 1917 and not released until March of 1920. By that time, the Railroad was extremely run down.
Henry and Clara Ford bought controlling interest in mid-1920 and, after removing the existing management and laying off half of the workforce, Henry personally took control with a management team from Ford in March of 1921. He had been frustrated with the unreliable and inefficient service that the railroads were giving and was intent on building a first class operation. It took much more capital to completely rebuild the railroad than to purchase it. In addition to rebuilding the roadbeds, tracks, locomotives, and freight cars, Ford paid attention to detail including communications, engine design, time keeping, maintenance, and safety. He tested and studied every aspect to optimize efficiency. For example, he had load sensors installed to determine if the engineer was bumping cars too hard (a common source of product damage). Everything was kept clean so that any damage or deterioration could be readily spotted. He demanded discipline to maintain the highest standards. Within a short time the DT&I was consistently profitable and the workforce was larger than it had been when he bought the railroad. Of course, much of the success was due to the large amount of business from Ford, particularly the raw materials and finished products, which were higher value than the coal hauling that had been much of the Railroad’s earlier heritage.
Henry stepped down from personally guiding the company in 1927, presumably because of his frustration in dealing with the bureaucratic Interstate Commerce Commission and he sold the DT&I to Pennroad, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, in June of 1929.
A few other interesting notes include: All of the refurbishing of engines was done on Ford’s property, particularly in the Fordson facility which was a part of the Rouge Plant. Henry Ford formed another railroad, the Detroit and Ironton RR in 1920 to form a shortcut from Flat Rock directly to the Rouge Plant. The Flat Rock Yard went into operation in 1926. The Telegraph Road underpass, one of many grade crossing eliminations done for safety, was also built in 1926. The electric train experiment was begun in 1924 and two electric locomotives ran regularly between the Rouge Plant and the Flat Rock Yard from 1926 to 1930 using the concrete arches which still exist in some sites downriver.
There were many trials ahead for the DT&I and for railroads in general including the Depression, World War II, the rise of trucking and the interstate highway system. The DT&I, however, had a firm foundation and a proud and loyal workforce to help it weather the downturns. The DT&I name was gradually phased out after it was bought out by the Grand Trunk Western RR in 1980.