An abandoned piece of rusted construction equipment is decorated with “dope” graffiti along a side path of the Clinton River Trail System.

An abandoned piece of rusted construction equipment is decorated with “dope” graffiti along a side path of the Clinton River Trail System.

Photo by Deb Jacques


City officials comment on rusted landmark

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 5, 2021

 To players of Niantic’s geolocation games, the vehicle husk is known as the “Dinosaur Crane.” However, other people have identified the equipment as either a power cable shovel or a dragline excavator.

To players of Niantic’s geolocation games, the vehicle husk is known as the “Dinosaur Crane.” However, other people have identified the equipment as either a power cable shovel or a dragline excavator.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Like a workhorse put out to pasture, the husk of what used to be a construction vehicle stands along a narrow path in the Clinton River Trail System, just north of Dodge Park’s bridge over the Clinton River.

Its appearance is dilapidated and riddled with rust and graffiti. Yet its presence remains a curiosity for anyone willing to venture into the woods and perhaps risk muddy shoes to get there.

Niantic, a developer of mobile geolocation games like “Pokemon Go” and “Ingress,” has turned the landmark into an in-game hub, dubbing it the “Dinosaur Crane.” But where did this landmark come from, and is it technically even a crane?

City officials and historians have their hunches. Several city officials believe that the construction vehicle was around even before Sterling Heights was established as a city in 1968, and before the city acquired nearby Dodge Park from the state of Michigan.

Sterling Heights Facilities Maintenance Director Jared Beaudoin said the machine isn’t a crane but the remnants of a power cable shovel. He said he talked about it with a few retirees who used to work for the city’s parks and grounds department in the 1970s.

Beaudoin said he learned that the abandoned rig was there back when the retirees used to work — and likely was there before the city of Sterling Heights acquired the property.

“They always knew about it, and the thing is, it was the remnant from old farmland, or it was (at) a golf course at one point in one of those two eras, probably the ’50s or ’60s,” Beaudoin said.

Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said in a text message that he wasn’t certain of the heavy equipment’s history, but he had a hypothesis about why it ended up where it’s at.

“A lot of the area was farmland before becoming a park and likely was abandoned at that time,” he said. “That, however, is just a best guess.”

Sterling Heights Community Relations Director Melanie Davis also delved into the topic and said in a text message that “this has turned into a real Sterling Heights mystery.”

“It’s been there so long, all the trees have grown around it,” Davis said.

But according to records from Karen Turk, the Sterling Heights Public Library’s local history and archives librarian, Dodge Park, near the trail system, also has a long history.

Dodge Brothers State Park No. 8 opened in the 1920s when Dodge Brothers Co. reportedly donated roughly 40 acres to the state of Michigan in 1922.

However, the book “Images of America: Sterling Township 1875-1968” credits the role of Fred Heldt, who reportedly lived on a farm on 15 Mile Road west of Hayes and later lived in the Upton House, at Dodge Park and Utica roads. The book says Heldt “conveyed” part of his property to the state in 1922, forming Dodge Park.

“Presumably, some of the land was also donated by Fred Heldt in 1922, according to the book,” Turk said.

When trying to pinpoint the origin of the construction equipment, Turk also referred to an article featured in The Rotarian’s October 1969 issue, which describes a cleanup of the Clinton River in the Dodge Park area. The article said the project involved 10 miles of river.

“In the early morning mist, heavy machinery (some 200 pieces of it) churned into operation,” according to the article. “It was placed in position along the river Friday on roads and trails previously carved out for this purpose. … (B)ulldozers, cranes, cherry pickers, and trucks worked in unison along the water’s edge.”

The article said that when 80% of the cleanup was done, around “12,000 tons of debris and junk” was carried away. A photo shows “the steel jaws of a crane scoop up a load of water-logged wood and tangled rusting steel,” adding that local contractors donated most of the cleanup’s heavy equipment.

Based on Turk’s available research, it’s not conclusive whether the trail’s construction landmark was once part of that cleanup equipment.

“But if the ... (Rotarian) publication is correct, then the earliest it was abandoned would have been 1969,” Turk said. “You can see in that publication that they had to unstick a bulldozer from the muck during the cleanup.”

Turk also pointed to photographs on the Flickr website, as well as claims about the construction vehicle’s ownership and when it was abandoned. Photographer Dan Pieniak, under his FrogLuv Flickr account, called the equipment a “dragline excavator” in a caption dated to 2014.

“Of what I could find out from our local Sterling Heights historian, Doug Harvey, it has been here since the late 1950s or early 1960s,” Pieniak wrote. “It was owned by William Malow, who later sold it to Jo Trevor.”

Elsewhere on his account, Pieniak refers to it as a crane too. In another caption, he writes, “It was used back in the 1950s to dig trenches and such for the farmers in the area.”

Turk said she couldn’t find out when Dodge Park’s ownership was turned over from the state to the city of Sterling Heights. But Langlois estimated that both Dodge Park and the Clinton River Trail System became the city’s sometime by the 1970s.

Erik Skurda, Sterling Heights’ Department of Public Works operations manager, said he doesn’t know why the chassis is still there and hasn’t been removed.

“But I do know that it’s a visited attraction now in the trail system,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a need to remove it. It’s something that’s back there and there to stay.”

Find out more about Sterling Heights’ parks and trails by visiting www.myshpr.net or by calling (586) 446-2700.

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