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Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad - A Capsule History
The M&StL was a small but spunky railroad that ran between the Twin Cities and Peoria, IL. Because it was supposed to allow freight to by-pass the congestion in Chicago, it sometimes used the slogan “Peoria Gateway”. It also had other appendages in Iowa, plus a branch that ran out to South Dakota.
Because the C&NW merged the M&StL out of existence in November of 1960, few people remember it in action. Those who do, remember the early dieselization and then the repainting of the diesels and freight cars in the striking red and white scheme around 1956. That scheme attracted the attention of modeling companies, and their red and white models accounted for the production of a disproportionate number of M&StL models.
The M&StL began life in Minneapolis in 1870. Its sister railroad, the Iowa Central began in Iowa in as a predecessor in 1866. The two railroads merged in 1901 and formed the system that was solidified in 1916, when some smaller railroads were absorbed. The actual purchase of the Iowa Central took place in 1912. However, some Iowa Central equipment retained its identity for many years after the purchase.
The M&StL was not the strongest road, and went into receivership in 1923, which was a decade before the Great Depression. Over the years a number of parties, including the government, suggested that the M&StL be abandoned or sold to a stronger road. But what actually happened was that Lucian Sprague, a strong leader, took over as receiver in 1935 in the depths of the depression. He sold off all the scrap and made the railroad more efficient. He eventually became chairman/president and took the road to reorganization in 1942.
Sprague was a hero to the workers of the M&StL and he had national recognition. But he did not have a modest life style and his little extravagances added up. For example, he bought a Stanley Steamer – a collector’s item even then – and charged it to the railroad. At this point an unknown named Ben Heineman made a concerted attack on the Sprague administration. Soon Heineman took over as Chairman in 1954. A new president, Albert W. Schroeder, managed the changes that resulted in the red and white scheme in 1956. And in 1956 Heineman went over to the C&NW, but he did not forget the M&StL.
The M&StL had a good deal of bridge traffic, much of it originating in the Minneapolis area where the M&StL had its corporate offices. But it carried many agricultural products since it traversed farm areas for the most part. A major traffic center was Mason City, where there were cement plants and a meat packing plant. Beginning in 1941 the M&StL purchased and used highway trailers to transport LCL cargo out of Minneapolis. Later LCL service expanded to use box cars.
The M&StL steam power was a collection of unremarkable, Granger road power. The exception was Sprague’s semi-streamlined 502, a classy looking Pacific. But steam was scrapped early and only two engines survived, one of which is on display in Mason City. The diesels that took over from the steam were mostly F units for road power and RS-1’s for road switchers. Towards the end, some F units were traded in on “modern” geeps. The RS-1’s had multiple paint schemes.
Passenger trains were run competently, but the M&StL could not compete with the larger roads for long-distance travel. Gas Electric cars hauled most of the passenger traffic. The conversion of passenger trains to RDC’s never went anywhere, partly because the M&StL made the RDC’s pull trailers beyond their capacity, so the RDC’s failed and were traded away. All passenger service was gone by the end of 1958.
Dates of Importance on the M&StL
compiled by Joe Piersen
- 1866 The Iowa Central was organized. It was one of the predecessors to the M&StL
- 1870 The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Co. is established. (May 26th)
- 1886 Agent Richard Sears of North Redwood, MN receives a shipment of watches. It was unclaimed and he soon started the mail order business that became Sears Roebuck.
- 1899 The Wisconsin Minnesota & Pacific is merged into the M&StL.
- 1912 The Iowa Central is purchased
- 1916 The M&StL absorbs four predecessor roads.
- 1923 The M&StL is in receivership.
- 1925 – 1926 The State Center to VanCleve branch is abandoned
- 1935 Lucian Sprague is appointed (co-) receiver.
- 1936 The Montezuma branch is abandoned, along with the Spencer – Storm Lake branch.
- 1938 The ICC does not allow the M&StL to be broken up. Employees and friends celebrate with a three-day Victory Jubilee. Also that year, the M&StL purchases its first diesel to switch in the Minneapolis area.
- 1939 The VanCleve to Laurel branch is abandoned.
- 1940 The Conde to Alaska, SD line is abandoned.
- 1942 Receivership is terminated and the M&StL is restored. (July 24th)
- 1943 December 1, 1943 is the date the railroad is returned to the company.
- 1945 Diesel road units are purchased and used successfully.
- 1956 The Minnesota Western is purchased.
- 1957 Two RDC4’s are purchased for passenger service on trains 3 and 4 between Minneapolis and Des Moines. They had a custom configuration and were not regular RDC4’s. The M&StL overloaded them with trailers and they proved unequal to the task, so they were traded to the C&O in late 1958.
- 1958 The geeps in the 700 series are purchased and put in service. These were the last locomotives purchased on the M&StL.
- 1959 The Minnesota Western is renamed the Minneapolis Industrial Railroad.
- 1960 The C&NW absorbs the M&StL on November1st.
The M&StL in Color by Gene Green
Mileposts on the Prairie by Donovan
North Western Lines magazine, our C&NWHS publication, has a number of M&StL articles. For example, there is an article on the gas electrics in the Spring 1994 issue. The Fall 1982 and the Summer 1988 issues had M&StL caboose information. Many of the NWL issues that featured the M&StL are now out of print. This web site intends to make all out of print issues available over the web.