Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway
|Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway|
|Locale||Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota|
|Dates of operation||1870–1960|
|Successor||Chicago and North Western|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway (M&StL) (reporting mark MSTL) was an American Class I railroad that built and operated lines radiating south and west from Minneapolis, Minnesota which existed for 90 years from 1870 to 1960.
The railway's most important route was between Minneapolis and Peoria, Illinois; a second major route extended from Minneapolis into eastern South Dakota, and other trackage served various areas in north-central Iowa and south-central Minnesota. The M&StL was founded in 1870, and expanded through line construction and acquisition until the early 20th Century. Most of the railway's routes saw only relatively light traffic, and consequently the company's financial position was frequently precarious; the railroad operated under bankruptcy protection between 1923 and 1943. The M&StL was acquired by the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1960, and much of its former trackage was later abandoned.
In 1956 it reported 1550 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 2 million passenger-miles on 1397 route-miles and 1748 track-miles operated; those totals don't include the 117-mile Minnesota Western.
The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway was created on May 26, 1870 by a group of Minnesota investors interested in establishing a railroad connection between Minneapolis and the agricultural regions to the south. Minneapolis was home to the largest flour milling operations in the country at that time. Wheat was the primary commodity grown in southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa. Not wanting to be captive shippers for railroad companies from Milwaukee and Chicago, the Washburns, Crosbys and Pillsburys - the men who owned the flour mills in Minneapolis - formed their own railroad as a way to ship wheat in and ship flour out. By 1880, the road had reached Albert Lea to the south and used NP's St Paul & Duluth road to ship flour to Duluth for transport to markets served by Great Lakes shipping and to ship lumber south from the Big Woods of Northern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin using the St Paul and Taylor's Falls road as a means to capture a large portion of the lumber market. As the wheat growing regions moved north and west, the company eventually acquired and built lines in to South Dakota.
Ultimately the railroad's primary line was extended south from the Twin Cities into Iowa and then east to Peoria, Illinois. It ran through Mason City, Iowa, which became an important traffic center for the railroad. One of the major attractions of the railroad was that it allowed freight bound for Illinois to by-pass Chicago.
The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway had spurs into various parts of Iowa and a line into South Dakota. During the 1880s the M&StL went into its first receivership leaving the Rock Island interests in control of the M&StL. The Rock Island turned over the operation of the western district of the Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific (another Rock Island road) to the M&StL by 1889 which ran from Morton, MN to Watertown, SD (the eastern district of the WM&P ran from Mankato, MN to Red Wing, MN and later became part of the Chicago Great Western - the two districts of the WM&P were never connected). After receivership ended in the mid-1890s the M&StL purchased the western district of the WM&P in 1899 from the Rock Island and built an extension from Morton, MN eastward toward Minneapolis connecting the western mainline with its southern mainline at Hopkins, MN thereby connecting the two mainlines and creating a continuous railroad system. In the 1890s the road built its Southwestern branch from Winthrop, MN through New Ulm, St James, Sherburn in Minnesota continuing to Estherville, IA, Terril, Spencer and reaching Storm Lake in Iowa. A huge mile-long bridge was built over the Little Sioux River that spanned the mile-wide valley at Sioux Rapids, IA.
Its sister railroad, the Iowa Central Railway began in Iowa in 1866 and merged with Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway in 1901. Even as far back as 1870, the company looked immediately to the Iowa Central as a natural ally to capture the Iowa wheat market and to feed the hungry mills along the banks of St Anthony Falls in Minneapolis. By 1916 the combined system had become stable and was absorbing other, smaller railroads.
The railroads sold land to prospective farmers at very low rates, expecting to make their profits by shipping farm products out and home goods in. They also set up small towns that would serve as shipping points and commercial centers, and attract businessmen and more farmers. The M&StL in 1905, under the innovative leadership of its vice president and general manager L. F. Day, added lines from Watertown to Le Beau and from Conde through Aberdeen to Leola. It developed town sites along the new lines and by 1910, the new lines served 35 small communities.
Not all the new towns survived. The M&StL situated LeBeau along the Missouri River on the eastern edge of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. The new town a hub for the cattle and grain industries. Livestock valued at one million dollars were shipped out in 1908, and the rail company planned a bridge across the Missouri River. Allotment of the Cheyenne River Reservation in 1909 promised further growth, but the Milwaukee had beaten M&StL to the punch crossing the Missouri River and becoming the last trans-con in 1909 when Seattle was reached ending M&StL's push to cross the Missouri River. LeBeau would be the western terminus of the road. By the early 1920s, however, troubles multiplied, with the murder of a local rancher, a fire that destroyed the business district, and drought that ruined ranchers and farmers alike. LeBeau became a ghost town.
By the early 1920s the railroad was also having financial problems due to mismanagement at the hands of the USRA during WWI. Unable to sufficiently recover from the USRA experience, the road again went into receivership in mid-1923. William Bremner was appointed receiver and the road struggled mightily throughout the remainder of the 1920s. Government loan applications through the Reorganization Finance Corporation (which came in to existence with the USRA in 1917) were denied and the court overseeing the receivership would not allow expenditures that would have contributed to improved physical plant and greater efficiency, such as new locomotives, modern rolling stock and heavier rail. Bremner soldiered on overseeing the operations of the road, but there were almost no efforts made at reorganizing the road as what little cash was available was used to pay bankruptcy creditors. In 1927, Great Northern and Northern Pacific announced their intentions to merge and would include M&StL in the new Great Northern Pacific Railway. On an inspection tour of the road with Bremner as part of goodwill in the merger proceeedings, GN's Ralph Budd found the M&StL to be in deplorable condition and wrote to a colleague that he was even more convinced that M&StL could never make it as a stand-alone carrier. Still, the case was brought before the ICC which approved the merger, except that GN/NP would have to divest of CB&Q. Not wanting to part with its very lucrative link to Chicago, GN/NP dropped the merger case and M&StL remained independent while remaining in serious financial trouble with the Great Depression just around the corner. During the first part of the 1930's, several suggestions were made to sell off M&StL piecemeal to whomever wanted its disparate pieces. Illinois Central, CB&Q, Soo Line, GN, Wabash and C&NW comprised a syndicate called Associated Railways that was to determine how the M&StL should be broken up. Competing forces with company employees and its receivers on one hand and Associated on the other brought further complexity to M&StL's already precarious postion each lobbying their positions before the ICC on the matter. Despite the fight for the railroad to be sold to a larger operation, broken up piecemeal, or shut down entirely, Lucian Sprague took over as receiver in 1935 after Bremner unexpectedly died in November 1934. Sprague streamlined the company and its assets by selling off scrap, increasing efficiency and ordering significant abandonments, mostly in Iowa. The most notable abandonment was the portion of the Southwestern between Storm Lake, IA and Spencer, IA which was abandoned in 1936 and the huge bridge that spanned the Little Sioux River valley was sadly dismantled. The Milwaukee Road offered to take over operations along the Storm Lake, Truesdale, Rembrandt remnants of the Southwestern north of Storm Lake thereby allowing abandonment to proceed. Other abandonments were granted in the late 1930s in Iowa and South Dakota trimming 17% of railroad in Iowa alone. With these cost saving measures, Sprague began efforts at reogranizing the property in 1940. By 1942 Sprague was elevated to chairman/president and orchestrated a reorganization that year. The effort was a success and in 1943 the receivership was terminated and ownership was returned to the railroad. Sprague remained president of the M&StL until 1954 when he was ousted in a dramatic shareholders battle orchestrated by Benjamin W. Heineman.
Heineman became president of the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) two years later in 1956. In one of his last acts with the M&StL, Heineman orchestrated the purchase of the Minnesota Western Railroad for the M&StL, which was the successor line to the famous Luce Line Railroad in central Minnesota. In a move that baffles many to this day in railroad circles, the M&StL purchase of the MW was intended to show increased focus on industrial development for the M&StL. The move had only marginal effects on traffic along the MW and contributed only insignificant profits to the M&StL. In early 1960, the MW was renamed Minneapolis Industrial Railway furthering the campaign of industrialization the road was trying to capture. Only one piece of rolling stock was painted in the MIR livery - a former MW caboose. Four years after leaving the M&StL for the C&NW Heineman arranged for the C&NW to acquire the Minneapolis & St. Louis on November 1, 1960, and with the stroke of a pen, the M&StL was doomed. Where possible, long-haul traffic was transferred immediately to former C&NW routes. The well-tested C&NW formula of forcing abandonments immediately took hold across the entire M&StL system - deferred maintenance, denial of service to shippers, among other components of the C&NW formula were all employed. M&StL track was to be targeted for abandonment at the earliest possible dates and large sections of the former M&StL were abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s. In the end, Ralph Budd had been right about the M&StL in 1927 predicting the company would never survive. The company survived another 33 years to 1960, but the M&StL was one of the earliest victims of the mass mergers in the railroad industry of the 1950s and 1960s ending M&StL's career as a stand-alone carrier and resulting in the eventual abandonment of nearly the entire property.
Today only a few short segments of the old M&StL remain in use. In Minnesota, The Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority owns the former M&StL line from Norwood/Young America to Hanley Falls and is currently operated by Twin Cities & Western affiliate Minnesota Prairie Line. The line from Hanley Falls to Madison is owned by the BNSF Railroad. The Montgomery Spur which runs from Merriam Junction just south of Shakopee to Montgomery is operated by the Union Pacific. The Minneapolis Industrial Railway west of I494 was completely abandoned by 1970. Bewteen downtown Minneapolis and Golden Valley, the far eastern portion of the MIR survives today as UP's Golden Valley Industrial Lead. The Chaska Industrial Lead from Merriam Junction to downtown Chaska was abandoned by UP following a trestle collapse along the Minnesota River in the spring of 2007 due to high water. UP later sold the Chaska Industrial Lead corridor to a coalition of area government entities to preserve it for future transportation use, sewer lines, and recreational trails. In Iowa, UP operates the line from Mallard to Grand Junction, from Northwood through Mason City to Rockwell, and from Ackley through Marshalltown and Grinnell to Oskaloosa. Now abandoned by Iowa Pacific Railroad from Steamboat Rock to Marshalltown, IA. Canadian National operates a short spur between from Ackley to Geneva. Most of the M&StL Mississippi River bridge still stands between Keithsburg, IL and Oakville, IA.
While the primary business of the M&StL was the haulage of freight, the railroad also operated a limited number of passenger train services. Since the railroad's route structure was not based on direct lines between major American cities, long-distance passenger service was generally not competitive with the trains of larger railroads. The premiere M&StL passenger train was the North Star Limited, which operated from Minneapolis to Albia, Iowa on the M&StL, and then continued to St. Louis via the Wabash Railroad. The North Star Limited was discontinued in 1935.
In 1929, the M&StL began acquiring a number of gas-electric railcars -- self-propelled vehicles that included compartments for baggage/express and mail. Some of the gas-electrics also included passenger compartments, and all were able to tow additional passenger and express cars as necessary. Soon, the railcars provided nearly all of the railroad's meager passenger service. The railroad also purchased two Budd RDC's in 1957 for Minneapolis - Des Moines service, but the cars proved unsuccessful and they were sold the following year.
M&StL passenger service declined throughout the 1950s, the result of significant drops in mail, express, and passenger revenue. The last M&StL passenger services—trains 13 and 14 between Minneapolis and Watertown, South Dakota -- made their final departures on July 20, 1960.
- Don L. Hofsommer, "Boosterism and Townsite Development Along the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad in South Dakota," Journal of the West (2003) 42#4 pp 8-16.
- Don L. Hofsommer, "A Promise Broken: LeBeau and the Railroad," South Dakota History (2003) 33#1 pp 1-17.
- Hofsommer, Don L. The Tootin' Louie: A History of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8166-4366-0.