The Upjohn Spur in Portage, Michigan

The spur from the Pennsylvania Railroad to The Upjohn Company manufacturing complex in Portage was installed early in the construction of the site in the late 1940s. The spur divided into four tracks, all of which remain today. The facilities were designed around the railroad spurs as shown below. Incoming materials (blue line below) into the main manufacturing building (Building 41) moved across it and exited as product on the outgoing rail spur (red line below). 

Most of the construction materials and steelwork were brought in by railroad. From movies taken of the construction, it appears that the first Upjohn switcher, a GE 25-ton unit, did not show up on site until the initial construction was well under way. Before then, cars were moved around by a bulldozer so construction materials could be unloaded at the right place. Click on the photo below to see a video from when that first switcher arrived. There is no sound.

Here is a photo by Lance Ferraro, likely taken in the early years of operation at the site. The garage and power plant are in the background.

An article in the November 1954 edition of Upjohn News, the Upjohn employee newsletter, describes the switcher and railroad operations - Page 1 - Page 2 -

And here is a photo of that original switcher some 25 years later in the summer of 1976.

At the start of manufacturing, 91% of inbound shipping, not including coal, was by rail. This means that practically everything came in by rail. Boxcars and TOFC were used to send out Upjohn finished products to five distribution centers - New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. However, in 1973 trucking took over all ground shipping to the distribution centers. The rail spur continued to handle inbound materials, solvents and coal. By 1984 the percentage of inbound shipping delivered by rail was still 75% when including coal.  The amount of coal delivered at that time was 165,000 tons a year. It was stockpiled at the rear of the facility and taken to the power-house every day using a small fleet of Upjohn-owned open hoppers.

The date and location of the photo below are unknown. The Upjohn CPR Division was the plastics operation, which was mostly in Texas, so it's unlikely this tank car ever made it to Kalamazoo in revenue service.

In a slide I unsuccessfully bid on, here's a short GATX tank car on lease to Upjohn, shown in Forth Worth, 1972.

The GE 24-ton switcher was replaced in the late 1970's by a GE 44-ton unit. This unit was originally bought and used by the U.S. Navy. Here it is in Youngstown, Ohio in April 1977, prior to transfer to Kalamazoo. This is a another slide I unsuccessfully bid on.

The original G.E. locomotive was stored in a warehouse bay within the Portage site for many years, finally being transferred to a Monsanto facility in Missouri in the late 1990's. Pharmacia & Upjohn replaced the 44-tonner with a larger Alco S2 locomotive that is remote controlled. I found a notation that this Alco used to be #7 on the Pickens Railroad, a shortline in South Carolina. Here is an undated Mike Derrick photo of it in Anderson, South Carolina. 

After repainting, here it is in 2001 at the coal pile behind the Portage complex.

In 2015 the site is owned by Pfizer. Norfolk Southern (NS) delivers coal and tank cars of solvents via the spur. In summer 2015 there was a new boiler delivered on a special flat car. Here is some video of the Grand Elk Special with the boiler at Schoolcraft. Switching occurs daily. Pfizer replaced the engine and drive motors so it is in good shape. The old GR&I/Pennsy line is lifted south of Pfizer so all rail traffic goes via Botsford Yard in Kalamazoo. Here is an article from a 2007 internal employee newsletter describing the operation.

  April 2021 update - this announcement was distributed internally at the site. This is the end of the delivery of coal by rail.

Kalamazoo Site Green Journey, End of the Coal Era – Issued April 2, 2021


The Site Utilities Team is pleased to announce that on Sunday, March 28, the last coal-fired boiler ran out of fuel, signaling the end of the coal era at the site as well as the entire Pfizer corporation.  The Kalamazoo site has been burning coal to generate steam since the original four boilers were installed between 1948 and 1952, consuming as much as 65,000 tons per year at the peak of the coal era.  As a part of Pfizer’s overall sustainability program, site investments in new technology allowed us to reduce the coal-burn volumes to approximately 8,000 tons/year by 2015. 

In 2017, the Corporation approved preliminary funding for the roughly $30 Million dollar project to install additional natural gas boilers that would allow the site to generate 100% of steam from gas.

The project entailed:

- Installation of two new 120,000 pound/hour gas boilers
- Installation of a 60,000-gallon diesel fuel back-up system
Removal of six coal boilers (the original four installed were left-over World War II naval ship boilers installed between 1948 – 1952)

And now, after 3+ years of planning, preparing and outstanding execution, all the while we were keeping the Steam Production running uninterrupted, and even overcoming the challenges and delays of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are thrilled to announce that this massive undertaking is complete!

Ceasing usage of coal to generate steam will result in the elimination of 10,800 metric tons/year of Greenhouse gases (CO2e), 208 tons/year of non-Greenhouse Gas emissions, as well as 1,550 tons/year of landfill-bound coal ash.

In the coming year the remaining coal assets will be demolished, making way for future infrastructure enhancements.

July 2009 at the White Creek Railroad, a 7 and 1/2 inch gauge railroad in Cedar Springs, I ran across this working model of the Upjohn G.E. 44 tonner. It was made by Tom Briggs around 1970, runs on 2 x 12V lead-acid batteries, is remote controlled and can pull several scale freight cars.

You can see the current spur tracks by using the Birds Eye view at Microsoft Live search maps. For 65 years the spur has been used heavily and it continues to play a vital role in the manufacturing operation today.

For photos of the Pfizer switcher in 2012 click here.

Return to Rail Photos Page

 Last Edited 05 April, 2021