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Memories of Au Train: Former resident looks back

The Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette Railroad Engine No. 7 pulls in to the Au Train depot. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

“When I go to Au Train now, I don’t know anyone, but when I go to the cemetery nine out of ten people are related to me.”

Many of the small lumbering and mining communities in the Upper Peninsula lost population or even became ghost towns as the lumber or the ore gave out, but those communities are often fondly remembered by their former residents and their descendants.

Raymond Shaw moved from Au Train to Marquette in 1928, when he was only two, but his connections with Au Train remained strong. As he recounted his family history in an interview last year, it was clear how much of that history was tied up with the boom and bust of the Au Train lumber era.

Both of Shaw’s maternal great-grandparents came to Au Train from Canada in the late 1800’s. His great-grandfather, Cyrille Doucette, Sr., came from Quebec around 1876, leaving his family behind.. In Au Train he cut square timbers with an axe to be used as railroad ties and made enough money that in 1879 he was able to bring his family from Quebec, including a three year old daughter, Ann Marie Doucette, who was born while he was away.

The Doucettes became well-established and respected in Au Train. The book Alger County, a Centennial History, describes the family, saying “The Doucette name has become synonymous with the village of Au Train, where the roaring, lusty men of the family, each over six feet tall, were cock-of-the-walk.”

Former resident Ray Shaw is seen during his oral history interview. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

The oldest son, Cyrille Doucette, Jr, was a successful, though illiterate, lumberman who, with a partner, sent a raft of 3 million feet of lumber from the mouth of the Au Train River to Marquette in 1889 and later became a commercial fisherman and a boat builder. The bridge over the Au Train River was named after him and there are still Doucettes active in local government.

On the Shaw side, Ray was descended from British loyalists who resettled in Detroit, then under British rule, after being on the losing side during the Revolutionary War. His family was subsequently awarded a land grant in Southern Ontario in thanks for their service to the Crown. At age 18, Ray’s grandfather, Ogle Shaw, got restless living on the farm and struck out for the white pines of the Upper Peninsula. He took a homestead of 160 acres in Limestone in 1897, and was farming there when he met and married Ann Marie Doucette. They soon sold the farm and moved to Au Train, where Ogle did odd jobs for the rest of his life.

In contrast to the well-respected Doucettes, however, the Shaws were less welcome when they moved from Limestone. In Ray’s words, they were outcasts. The reason for the hostility was plain enough–the family had many cases of tuberculosis. One of Ray Shaw’s aunts died of it at age 25 and an uncle at age 31. (Many years later, they learned that the Shaws, and another family, the Camerons, had gotten the disease drinking the milk of infected cows). Unwelcome in Au Train, Ann Marie Doucette Shaw took her grandson Ray and moved to Marquette, where Ray’s mother, Viola, was already a live-in maid.

Although Ray never lived in Au Train again, he stayed connected though the Doucettes and through his grandfather, Ogle Shaw, who stayed there, living in a small home by the railroad tracks. For fifty cents, Ray could board the Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic passenger train at the Marquette depot, and, although the train conductor always grumbled at having to make the unscheduled stop, he got off right next to his grandfather’s home in Au Train.

Ray also sometimes took pulp-cutting jobs in the Au Train area as well. During World War II, while Ray was still a teenager, he was skidding for pulp in the area, using a horse supplied by his jobber, when the train with German prisoners of war pulled into the station. Armed guards then took them to the old CCC camp.

Later, Ray heard that Jim McCollum had a good contract with the paper mill in Munising but couldn’t find enough pulp cutters until the army drove up with two trucks full of prisoners of war and said “here are your pulp cutters.” Ray worked with them cutting pulp at Tioga Point. He remembers that he was working with them after V-E Day when a civilian plane went over and they remarked that it was the first one they’d seen in six years.

Ray had another story about a plane going over Au Train. His grandmother remembered Naubequan, a Native American man who lived at a bend in the Au Train River, which became known as Nobby’s Point. After Nabaquen moved to Munising, a moonshiner named George LaMont operated a still on Noby’s Point during prohibition. One day LaMont saw a low-flying plane go over and was so sure it was federal agents that he burned the still down, causing a fire that burned the entire point. “Never had such good blueberries,” said Ray.

Ray Shaw died on Feb. 27 and is now buried in Serenity Pines Cemetery in Au Train surrounded by so many other Shaws and Doucettes. There are even some blueberries there. Let this be a reminder that if you have family members with stories from small U.P. towns, there’s no better time than now to start collecting those stories.

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