Freight Room and Scales
Railway Stations were the economic hub of rural communities like Durand. Smaller depots had rooms that combined service for freight and baggage, but Durand Union Station was designed as a larger hub.
Freight rooms like this were used to track and ensure proper fares were charged for shipments. To accomplish this, large scales were used to weigh a small sample of each train’s cargo. In fact, the original scales for the Depot are still beneath the wooden platform in the breezeway! Once the weight was recorded, it would be multiplied by the number of loads onboard by the going rate for the freight’s destination. This would be checked against the waybill, and the total fee would be charged to the railroad.
If a mail room was not present, mail service was handled in the freight room. In Durand’s case, bags of mail were sorted for destinations all over the state. In addition, Durand was a distribution center for major magazines.
At its peak in the 1920s, Durand Union Station saw 42 passenger, 22 mail and 78 freight trains a day. 140 trains making stops created organized chaos that required separate, specialized rooms for freight and baggage. Unlike in Europe, passengers in America paid for their luggage to be cared for as part of their fare.
While the freight room handled all shipped cargo on the rails, workers in the baggage room made sure the luggage of hundreds of passengers was accounted for. Most passengers took a connector train at Durand en route to their actual destination, so baggage switching was necessary. While passengers were enjoying a quick meal in the Depot’s restaurant or having a smoke in one of its two elaborate lounges, porters were hard at work sorting and loading the bags for the next leg of their journey.
Depots with large baggage and freight facilities were hubs of employment for the local community. At one point, nearly every family in Durand worked for the railroad or for someone who did. A station like this would have as many as twenty or more clerks, porters, gate keepers, and other personnel to move mail, cargo, and luggage from train to train. To assist travelers and customers, these employees were expected to uphold the highest standards of personal conduct. Depot employees had to maintain a vast amount of knowledge of the railroad’s schedules and operations.
Baggage and Coffin Carts
The carts you see around the Depot were used for many purposes. The smaller cart with the spindle was pulled by a horse and used to transport firehose. The larger flat carts were used for baggage and could be connected to one another with pins to create a small train. The baggage cart with partitions was modified to carry coffins.
As a major rail hub in an era before flight or long-distance automobile travel, respectful handling of the deceased was a serious consideration for all Depot staff. A coffin cart with multiple spaces is a sobering reminder of the impact of war, as soldiers did not always return home under their own power. Durand was still a major hub during both World Wars.