On certain calm, sunny days with his truck’s window rolled down heading home from work, Greg Miller encounters a startling shrieking noise that causes him to nearly jump out of his skin.

To his ears it sounds like a massive 20-vehicle pileup every single time. In reality, it’s something he and others hear dozens of times during the course of the day at the J.H. Campbell Generating Complex: a locomotive pulling cars full of coal on the tracks at the site. When the train comes to a sudden stop, the knuckles of each wagon bump against one another causing an alarming ramming sound right out of a movie experience with high definition.

On the Move

It’s a noise with limited days as we transition away from coal to a renewable energy future. And one of the historic relics that has been helping the Campbell plant move coal for decades is on the move.

We donated one of our locomotives, a Center Cab 125 Ton Switcher originally manufactured in 1979 by General Electric, to the Friends of Coopersville and Marne Railroad – a nonprofit that preserves passenger and freight trains in west Michigan.

“The locomotives have become big part of Campbell and helping us serve our customers,” said Miller, a 14-year veteran who is a welder at the coal plant. “It was a background noise that you took for granted during our shifts, but I am glad to hear that there will be a use for it and the community will be able to enjoy it.”

It weighs roughly 250,000 pounds and in its prime could pull about 33 coal cars – roughly 8.7 million pounds of coal.

Jeff Dupilka, president of the Friends of Coopersville and Marne Railway board, said the locomotive’s future will be to transport lumber and passengers.

“This will allow us to continue helping west Michigan enjoy our vintage trains,” said Jeff Dupilka, president of the Friends of Coopersville and Marne Railway board. “We encourage folks to come experience the joy of traveling to the past and learning more about how folks got around west Michigan before the automobile.”

Dupilka said the current locomotive that serves the railway was manufactured in 1949.

“This is huge for addition for us,” he said. “It’s like a 30 year step up. We couldn’t be happier with this generous donation from Consumers Energy.”

See images here.

Leaving a Legacy

The J.H. Campbell complex began operating in 1962.

Nathan Hoffman, Director of Plant Operations at Campbell, said the locomotive holds nostalgic memories to many at the plant.

“It leaves a legacy in this community long after this site is gone,” Hoffman said.

Mike Cooper, Field Handling Manager at Campbell, spent the first four years of his career at the plant operating the recently donated locomotive.

He said it carries many of the same traits as the workers at the site.

“It showed up to work every time we needed it,” he said. “It did its job and was reliable. Now it’s last days will be spent helping Friends of Coopersville and Marne Railway. It’s a fitting ending.”

After our historic Clean Energy Plan was approved last summer, we plan to close all three generating units at the complex in 2025 in addition to two units at the D.E. Karn coal plant near Bay City this year.

We will be among the first energy providers in the U.S. to go coal-free, making the transition to clean, renewable sources by adding nearly 8,000 MW of solar power by 2040.