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Farewell to the Erie Mining Railroad Trip and the Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway

by Chris Guenzler

As a fund raiser for the Friends of the Milwaukee Road 261 for their trip to Baltimore next year and for the Lake Superior Transportation Museum they scheduled a rare mileage and Fall Color Trip on the shutdown Erie Mining Railroad on September 21 and 22, 2002. Since I had not ridden this mining railroad plus the fact the trees should be peaking in their Fall colors, I decided to do this before I took the last Coast Starlight trip. I went to and ordered my ticket plus a bus ride from Duluth to get there. Next, I called the Alaska Air Line Mileage Plan's Partner desk and got a round trip on Northwest Airlines again. I called the Best Western for a reservation at the downtown Duluth location. The only other thing, was a rental car which I called Mike at AAA Tustin who set me up again. Then all I had to do was take all of my trips and go back to work having my assignment change before the first period of the school year. I now work with Mr. Stevens doing 8th Grade RSP. On 9/7/02 I was on Lets Talk Trains again. I started coaching JV Football having tryouts before picking my 2002 team and began working on the playbook. With all that done, I was ready for a trip.

To Minneapolis and Beyond 9/20/2002

Up extremely early on Day 2802 of my sobriety, I packed after running a quick errand to the post office for stamps. While having breakfast I read an article about Rush who I would be seeing for the first time next Saturday night before driving my mother to the airport in our van. I checked in to get my boarding pass but was told when I am ticketed in advance just go to the gate to get the pass. I am still learning this flying game! I was whisked through security to gate three where I waited for Northwest Airline flight 116 to board. Once on board and having taken seat 16A, I just sat back and relaxed. We pulled away from the gate at 6:42 AM and was fourth in line for takeoff after the 7:00 AM curfew for takeoff was allowed. This flight does continue to Baltimore where next year NRHS Convention is taking place so maybe I will fly Northwest there. Flight highlights were the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell. We arrived at MSP ten minutes early.

I made my way to Hertz Rental Car and in less than five minutes I was driving away heading towards Duluth. I stopped at A&W in Rush City for lunch before driving the rest of the way to Duluth. I visited the Lake Superior Transportation Museum and toured the collection again using the tripod that they provided me after I had e-mailed them. That way I should get nice pictures of the engines inside.

I drove out to Proctor to photograph the Duluth, Missabi & Iron Range 2-8-8-4 225 on display there. I drove back down to Duluth where one of the DM&IR ore trains was unloading out on the docks and with the help of another railfan found a DM&IR public viewing platform. I next drove out to Two Harbors getting to see the scenery in daylight which I did not get to see from the train I took out there in May. Here I found a wonderful DM&IR station along with both the DM&IR 2-8-8-4 229 and Duluth Iron Range 2-6-0 3 on display. With me having gotten a shot of the DM&IR 2-8-8-4 227 in the museum in Duluth means that I got a shot of all three of the remaining DM&IR 2-8-8-4's left in existence. I came back to Duluth, checked into the Downtown Best Western before driving to KFC to get dinner. After a little television, I called it a night.

Farewell to the Erie Mining Railroad 9/21/2002

Before the sun rose in Duluth, I was enjoying a continental breakfast and checked my e-mail as a free service of this hotel. CNN was on while I was eating and I learned that the Anaheim Angels had won and was still only one game out in baseball's American League West race. I walked down to the museum and waited for the bus where I took the front seat. The bus headed out north out of Duluth on US Highway 53 to Eveleth. Turning east there onto Minnesota Highway 37 to Aurora where their town's symbol is the Northern Lights where we turned off onto County Road 110 to Hoyt Lakes. A truck flew by us on the way there only to get nailed by the local police in Hoyt Lakes. We went north to the LVT Mining Plant stopping at the guard's house where I collected all of the bus rider's releases to be on the property forms. The bus then took us to the train where I boarded my old friend the Nokomos taking a right hand window seat. I detrained for the usual pictures of our train powered by Erie Mining F-9A 4211, DM&IR 193 and the Soo Line FP-7A 2500 with cars from the Milwaukee Road 261 and Lake Superior Transportation Museum making up the fourteen car train.

Erie Mining Railroad History

A little background information for you on this interesting railroad. The Erie Miming Company was formed back in the 1940 to research the commercial feasibility of Taconite mining. They picked an area in Northern Minnesota near Aurora to build a plant in 1948. Construction of the pellet plant at Hoyt Lake and the 1,200 foot ore dock as well as other related buildings at Taconite Harbor was began in 1954 and completed in 1957. The railroad was 72.2 miles in length and was difficult to build as the construction involved blasting deep cuts through basaltic rock, grading the high fills on the descent to the dock and the boring of the Crammer Tunnel {1,800 feet}. In 1986 LTV Steel acquired 100% controlling ownership of the Erie Mining Company and the name was changed to LTV Steel Ming CO. Ore movements over the line continued until LTV announced the shutdown of the railroad on May 24, 2000. The last road pellet train ran down to Taconite Harbor on January 4, 2001 and returned on January 6th ending 43 years of service. The trains had hauled well over one billion tons of ore while they were operated all 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at the mines while over nine months a year over 320 tons were hauled down the mainline to the docks. This will be only the third passenger train ever operated over this railroad in the railroad's history.

The Trip

Our train headed east out of Knox at 10:35 AM. We passed two of the old ore pits which are now lakes. Our train went by the site of Balsam, the former small marshaling yard before traveling 5.7 miles to Dunka Junction where the line to the old Dunka Mine took off from the mainline. Further east, we crossed over the Reserve Mining Railroad now Cliff Northshore Mining running from Babbitt to Silver Bay, MN to the southeast. The 785 foot siding at Reserve was passed next as we continued east through the miles of roadless forest. We traveled along the southern end of the 100 Mile Swamp and out along it was the old station site of Muskeg. My seatmate was Herb Meckola and I was very lucky as Herb used to work for this very railroad. We crossed the North River before coming to Sarto named for State Road number two where we stopped to flag the highway where a few chasers waited to photograph our train at one of the few locations along this isolated route.

Once on the move again, the Greenwood River was bridged next before the former station stop of Moose. Will we see any Moose on this trip? We traveled over the culvert for the Stoney River. Our train went under the Salem Bridge now a forest service road on the former DM&IR line to Wales prior to reaching the 7,120 foot siding at Trow named for project manager C.F. Trowbridge. Further east we rolled through Murphy passing the former Erie Mining track maintenance structures before stopping at Minnesota Highway 1. Here the smaller trees were displaying their Fall Colors. Our train crossed the culvert for the West Branch of the Manitou River. A little down the tracks at MP 58.6, we crossed 100 feet high above the Manitou River. Our train climbed the short grade to the 1,800 foot Crammer Tunnel. It was carved in 1956 and is the only true rock tunnel in the state of Minnesota.

Upon emerging from the Crammer Tunnel, we had arrived at Tunnel Siding where we stopped to do a Photo Runby. They pulled the train back to a white stake which was then removed for still photos. Our train then backed into the tunnel prior to running by us with the DM&IR SD-18 really smoking up the scene nicely. The 5,400 foot siding here was originally called Cole, but that sounded too much like Trow so they changed its name to Tunnel. On the move again, we crossed the Two Island River which is an excellent trout stream so I was told by passengers. The train reached Crest after which we started down the 2.2 % grade to Taconite Harbor. We made the steady descent making a giant tight "S" curve with the flanges from the wheels of our cars squealing as the dock came into sight. Our train made the last 180 degree curve at the bottom over the North Shore Highway 61 at Taconite Harbor. The Special Train then run over the spring switch and slowly out onto the Ore Dock. Due to the length of our passenger cars being so much longer than the ore cars used by the railroad, we had only a one inch clearance on the curve leading onto the dock. The train was walked out onto the dock being very careful and safe doing this unique train movement. I mean in my over 703,000.0+ rail miles this was a brand new experience for me. The view looking down was incredible but the panorama of Lake Superior was totally stunning. Once we had cleared the Ore Dock at that very slow rate of speed we curved off to the west around the balloon track used for the unloading of the pellet trains. We returned to the spring switch by crossing over the highway twice and running through a deep rock cut. Taconite Harbor was an incredible rail experience and one I will always remember!

Our train returned up the 2.2 % grade to Crest as I met and spent time with people I had met on previous trips and getting caught up with them. We passed through the Crammer Tunnel and proceeded back at a greater rate of speed despite the fact that the DM&IR SD-18 was not loading over 18 mph and the Soo Line FP-7A 2500 was not even working so the Erie Mining F-9A 4211 pulled the train solo all by itself doing an excellent job. I then rode the vestibule through a cold rain shower followed by a beautifully intense rainbow. I rode out in the cold air until MP 20 when I returned to the warmth of the train as the outside temperature continued to drop. I talked with Steve Sandburg of the 261 group and told him of my mentioning on my Lets Talk Trains interview on 9/7/2002. He asked me if I would push the 261 trip to Baltimore as the 261 Friends are trying to raise $100,000 to take the engine to the B&O Museum celebration next year. So if you would like to contribute to this cause like I have, go to and click on donate. The rest of the trip was relaxing as I continued to talk with Herb. Our train returned to Knox at the LTV Plant at 6:32 PM thus ending an excellent trip on the former Erie Mining Railroad. A special thanks to the Friends of the Milwaukee Road 261 and Lake Superior Transportation Museum for sponsoring the trip and to Cliff Northshore Mining for allowing the trip to take place. I was first back on the bus and then went for a few last pictures then waited for the stragglers before the bus could leave. Our bus returned us to Duluth with me listening to Jethro Tull's "Bursting Out" from Hoyt Lake to the Duluth city limits. I walked back to the hotel before I called it a night.

South to Osceola 9/22/2002

Following a continental breakfast and check out, I drove down to see the Museum's new arrival, a Fairbanks Morris H-10-44 last owned by Hallet which the Soo Line GP-30 700 had picked up from the BNSF yesterday while we were gone. I then drove out to Proctor where I found the DM&IR shops photographing some DM&IR engines plus some stored LTV units. I headed back to the Interstate 35 and about 60 miles south hit strong cold winds blowing out of the west. I took Highway 95 across the St Croix River into Wisconsin, turning south at St Croix Falls onto Highway 35 through Dresser to Osceola and my next train rides.

Osceola & St Croix Valley Railway 9/22/2002

I parked and then photographed the Osceola red wire cut brick depot with sandstone trim built in 1916. The line I would be riding today was built by the Soo Line in 1887 from Minneapolis to ultimately Sault Ste Marie. The first passenger train for the Twin Cities left at 7:00 AM for the two hour five minute trip on September 10th, 1887. The last passenger train on the line ran in 1961. The line was sold by the Soo Line to the Wisconsin Central who in the year 2001 was bought out by the Canadian National. I then photographed a Soo Line wooden caboose 99110, Northern Pacific 105 {ex LST&T} and Andersen Windowall 3110 SW-1 {ex Wabash}. The train I was to ride consisted of Soo Line GP-7 559 {ex Rock Island}, Northern Pacific 1102 triple combine working Railway Post Office car, Rock Island 2608, 2604 coaches, Erie Lackawanna 2232 coach, Great Northern 1097 coach {ex C&NW}, GN 1096 coach {ex C&NW}, GN 1213 coach and GN A-11 Business Car used for first class. The GP-7 pulled the train out of the storage track, spotted it at the depot before it ran around train to run high hood forward to Marine on the St Croix.

I boarded the GN 1096 and with two toots of the horn we were off and rolling towards Marine. Once out of the yard, we came out from behind the hill with the St. Croix River far below. To the east was the old abandoned Bethema Mineral Springs Bottling house before we ran along the vertical rock with the railroad cut out of the slope. We slowly descended towards our crossing of the river. Our train crossed a long fill that was once a wooden trestle to the welded drawbridge across the St. Croix River into Minnesota at Cedar Bend. We continued south through the forests which is late in its Fall color changing as we ran away from the river. The train ran through William O'Brien State Park. We crossed Cough Road on a high fill which the road tunneled through before we arrived at Marine. Our GP-7 ran around the train for the trip back to Osceola. I sat on the east side going back and after crossing the St. Croix River back into Wisconsin, I played the spot the waterfall game finding both with Buttermilk Falls being the larger of the two. There are a lot of springs coming out of the rock and in the winter turned into ice flows which were very dangerous to operating trains on this route. We arrived back in Osceola and I toured the A-11 before detraining.

The 1:00 PM Train to Dresser 9/22/02

After I did a little more photographing, the crew asked if I would like to pick up the mail on this train. The Northern Pacific 1102 is a working Rail Post Office Car and hanging up on the mail stand is a sack of 12 post cards to be picked up on our next trip. Well, I never have caught the mail ever in my 703,000+ miles of train riding so of course I said, Yes! I would now get to do what thousands of railroad employees used to do in those by gone days yet I would be doing it in 2002. After I received instruction in the art of mail bag grabbing plus how to operate the hook I was all set. At 1:00 PM, the train backed down a half mile of track to get a running start as you must be going at least twenty five miles an hour to make everything work right. We started forward and when we reached the depot, I grabbed the hook handle pulling in towards me so the hook would be at a ninety degree angle. When the train reached the mail stand, the hook grabbed the bag which sent it back down the hook to where I grabbed the mail sack. I bought the sack into the RPO car and a group of passengers who had watched me work clapped and cheered. I now had a 100 % average when it comes to mail sack grabbing. I thanked the RPO crew and walked back to GN coach 1213 for the rest of the ride to Dresser. Thinking about it, I just did something today that no one else in all of North America did and probably in the rest of the world. I felt really special at that moment of my life. What a unique thing to have done! The trip to Dresser was through woods then out across the farmlands with businesses and homes scattered about. At Dresser, we were allowed to detrain and the original wooden 1887 depot still stands. I photographed the depot plus the engine running around the train. I had a really nice relaxing trip back to Osceola. It had been two great trips on the Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway. If you are ever in the area make sure to stop by and ride their train!

On my way home 9/22/2002

I took Highway 263 across the St. Croix River back into Minnesota then Highway 95 to 97 back to Interstate 35 to the Twin Cities. I got off on Highway 5, gassed up and returned the rental car at 3:08 PM. I went through security and had a Burger King hamburger before getting my boarding pass to Flight 177 at 5:22 PM. I watched some football on Fox and relaxed before boarding my flight. With my music, the flight passed quickly and we arrived at John Wayne Airport twenty minutes early. I waited for my mother and I drove home stopping off at Savon to drop off my film before arriving at home ending a very unique and interesting trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin.