Duluth’s Missabe Junction

Everything came together at 27th Avenue West

View looking southwest from atop the 27th Avenue West overpass showing the DM&IR Railway coal dock located on the waterfront at the foot of 29th Avenue West. The purpose of this dock was receipt and storage of fuel coal. Missabe Junction’s lower yards served this dock. Most homes and businesses on the Iron Range were still heated with coal at the time, so coal coming from this dock was destined for home heating use. Most of it funneled north to the Range through Missabe Junction. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
View looking southwest from atop the 27th Avenue West overpass showing the DM&IR Railway coal dock located on the waterfront at the foot of 29th Avenue West. The purpose of this dock was receipt and storage of fuel coal. Missabe Junction’s lower yards served this dock. Most homes and businesses on the Iron Range were still heated with coal at the time, so coal coming from this dock was destined for home heating use. Most of it funneled north to the Range through Missabe Junction. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
First shift yard clerk Gus Olson is poses in front of the DM&IR's Missabe Junction yard office at 10:20 a.m. on August 7, 1961. This was the gateway for the Missabe to interchange most of its non-iron ore business with the other carriers in Duluth. All interchanges between the Missabe and the NP; Great Northern; Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway (Omaha Road); Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road), Lake Superior Terminal and Transfer Railway; and Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific were conducted at Rice's Point Yard just a mile down the track from this location, and most of that traffic came through Missabe Junction. The Soo Line and DM&IR interchanged cars at Missabe Junction yard, as did the NP on occasion. In 1961 the top floor of this building was not in use. The agent, chief clerk, two interchange clerks, and a yard clerk worked on the first floor. The yard clerk station was just behind the big bay window. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
First shift yard clerk Gus Olson is poses in front of the DM&IR’s Missabe Junction yard office at 10:20 a.m. on August 7, 1961. This was the gateway for the Missabe to interchange most of its non-iron ore business with the other carriers in Duluth. All interchanges between the Missabe and the NP; Great Northern; Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway (Omaha Road); Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road), Lake Superior Terminal and Transfer Railway; and Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific were conducted at Rice’s Point Yard just a mile down the track from this location, and most of that traffic came through Missabe Junction. The Soo Line and DM&IR interchanged cars at Missabe Junction yard, as did the NP on occasion. In 1961 the top floor of this building was not in use. The agent, chief clerk, two interchange clerks, and a yard clerk worked on the first floor. The yard clerk station was just behind the big bay window. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Here’s first shift DM&IR yard clerk Gus Olson on the phone at his desk inside the Missabe Junction yard office. During the war years the lake boats could not keep up with the ore needs so during the winter months the Missabe was loading every gondola they could find with all-rail ore going to the mills in Chicago. All of this business went through Missabe Junction. This practice went on for many winters. During the 1950s and 1960s Missabe Junction could be a very busy place at times, but mostly later in the day. There were times when there was no day shift yard clerk—but there was always an afternoon yard clerk to handle all of the paper work for loads and empties going up and down the hill, to and from Rice's Point, Endion, and the coal dock yards down under the Missabe ore docks. There was also a lot of traffic to the Steelton yard, which served the Minnesota Steel Plant in Morgan Park. (Image: C. F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Here’s first shift DM&IR yard clerk Gus Olson on the phone at his desk inside the Missabe Junction yard office. During the war years the lake boats could not keep up with the ore needs so during the winter months the Missabe was loading every gondola they could find with all-rail ore going to the mills in Chicago. All of this business went through Missabe Junction. This practice went on for many winters. During the 1950s and 1960s Missabe Junction could be a very busy place at times, but mostly later in the day. There were times when there was no day shift yard clerk—but there was always an afternoon yard clerk to handle all of the paper work for loads and empties going up and down the hill, to and from Rice’s Point, Endion, and the coal dock yards down under the Missabe ore docks. There was also a lot of traffic to the Steelton yard, which served the Minnesota Steel Plant in Morgan Park. (Image: C. F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Eastbound Northern Pacific locomotive 801 approaches the 27th Avenue West overpass is, leading a five-car train past Missabe Junction yard on a cold day in February, 1963. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Eastbound Northern Pacific locomotive 801 approaches the 27th Avenue West overpass is, leading a five-car train past Missabe Junction yard on a cold day in February, 1963. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Caboose 1721 trails the same NP train, but this view looks east towards Rice’s Point with the interlocking tower in the distance. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Caboose 1721 trails the same NP train, but this view looks east towards Rice’s Point with the interlocking tower in the distance. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Missabe locomotive 137 leaves NP trackage at West DM&IR Junction and pulls into Missabe Junction yard in August, 1962, with a load of miscellaneous freight from points east. Later that day these cars would ascend Proctor Hill to the Missabe's Proctor yard, where they were reclassified into the next day’s outbound trains. Directly across the tracks from the tower is Pure Oil, served by the NP. Behind that is Scott Graff Lumber, served by the NP from this side of the facility and by the Soo Line from the north side. This spot, in the shadow of Duluth’s Slabtown, was the Missabe Railway’s most-important connection to the rest of the rail community. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Missabe locomotive 137 leaves NP trackage at West DM&IR Junction and pulls into Missabe Junction yard in August, 1962, with a load of miscellaneous freight from points east. Later that day these cars would ascend Proctor Hill to the Missabe’s Proctor yard, where they were reclassified into the next day’s outbound trains. Directly across the tracks from the tower is Pure Oil, served by the NP. Behind that is Scott Graff Lumber, served by the NP from this side of the facility and by the Soo Line from the north side. This spot, in the shadow of Duluth’s Slabtown, was the Missabe Railway’s most-important connection to the rest of the rail community. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
The epitome of the working-man look and feel of this 1960s neighborhood has got to be the old Trolley Lunch Diner, made from a retired Duluth Street Railway Company street car. It was owned and operated by Marie Sims and located at 2602 W. Michigan Street. This view shows it on August 7, 1961, after it closed but before it was boarded up for good. This site was probably the best-known of the four corners of the West Michigan Street Redevelopment Project and is where the signage and official announcement would be erected to explain the eventual razing of the Slabtown neighborhood that surrounded Missabe Junction. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
The epitome of the working-man look and feel of this 1960s neighborhood has got to be the old Trolley Lunch Diner, made from a retired Duluth Street Railway Company street car. It was owned and operated by Marie Sims and located at 2602 W. Michigan Street. This view shows it on August 7, 1961, after it closed but before it was boarded up for good. This site was probably the best-known of the four corners of the West Michigan Street Redevelopment Project and is where the signage and official announcement would be erected to explain the eventual razing of the Slabtown neighborhood that surrounded Missabe Junction. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
By the time this picture of the Duluth Brewing & Malting plant was snapped, most of the Slabtown neighborhood had already been razed in preparation for the area’s redevelopment. Pretty much all that remained near the tracks was the old brewery, which closed in 1966. Sadly, its time was running out too. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
By the time this picture of the Duluth Brewing & Malting plant was snapped, most of the Slabtown neighborhood had already been razed in preparation for the area’s redevelopment. Pretty much all that remained near the tracks was the old brewery, which closed in 1966. Sadly, its time was running out too. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Slabtown, along Railroad Street, was separated from the Missabe Junction yards by a simple hurricane fence. This view looks east and shows the houses that faced the railroad tracks. The depot roof and chimney are visible in the distance at right. Today, every inch of this property—and much of the original Missabe Junction yards—lies beneath the I-35 expressway just west of the 27th Avenue West exit. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Slabtown, along Railroad Street, was separated from the Missabe Junction yards by a simple hurricane fence. (Learn more about Slabtown here.) This view looks east and shows the houses that faced the railroad tracks. The depot roof and chimney are visible in the distance at right. Today, every inch of this property—and much of the original Missabe Junction yards—lies beneath the I-35 expressway just west of the 27th Avenue West exit. (Image: C.F. Sager, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)

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Special thanks to Fred P. Swanson for providing details about Missabe Junction operations during the 1960s. Fred worked in the yard as the afternoon yard clerk and went on duty at 4 p.m., relieving Gus Olson who usually worked the day shift. Fred recalled that Gus was a good old railroader who knew his business. He also remembered that the employee break room at the old Duluth Brewing and Malting plant had a spigot coming out of the wall that produced a delicious amber colored liquid called Royal 58 that tasted mighty fine on a hot afternoon. Those were the days!

Everything came together at 27th Avenue West

5 Responses to Duluth’s Missabe Junction

  1. Good questions. Here’s what I can tell you. Only the coal docks show in that picture you asked about. If the camera had been turned slightly to the right you’d see them. The coal docks took up quite a bit of real estate along the harbor west of 29th Avenue West. The dock itself was 1,856 feet long and 606 feet wide at the end. The Missabe had two tracks centered on the dock. Unloading of coal from boats was accomplished via five Mead-Morrison movable electric traveling straight-line cranes, each with a 40-foot reach, and a 250 ton per hour unloading capacity. Three of them were 2-ton capacity while the final two were of 4 ton capacity. You can clearly see these five cranes at the water’s edge. The dock also had two traveling bridge cranes each with a 2-ton bucket. You can see those towards the right side of the photograph. These were used to trans-load coal from the stockpile on the ground into ore cars or coal cars for movement by the railroad. The telltale just below the two bridge cranes protects the Duluth Transfer Railway main track as it passes under the roadway viaduct. Today this area serves as the taconite stockpile storage area for Missabe Ore Dock No. 6 now owned and operated by Canadian National. That area also occupies where the old DM&N log dock and limestone dock were located. The St. Louis Bay Dock Company took over operation of the coal docks and the limestone dock but I’m pretty sure that the Missabe retained ownership and operation of the of the limestone dock until the very end. I’d have to check my files to know for sure. I have some great pictures of these operations and when we get to the stories about coal and ore movements you’ll see those. The log dock was located between 32nd and 33rd Avenue West and was 1,364 long and 28 feet wide at the end and was used to ship timber and steel plates. The limestone dock was located at the foot of 33rd Avenue West and was 2,236 feet long and 52 feet wide and used by US Steel Corp. for the unloading of coal, limestone, slag, and pig iron. The Lower Yards (also known as the Hole Yards) were down under Docks 5 and 6 and the switch crews who worked those jobs went on duty in the Lower Yards, not at Missabe Junction yard office. There was a small shack for the yardmaster with crew room and not much else. The Lower Yard is where the Missabe stored ore cars used in limestone service and their “battleship” coal cars used in coal service. So yes, much of that coal ended up at the Gary Works that the Missabe hauled as well as the Zenith Furnace facility in West Duluth that the NP hauled. The Duluth Transfer Railway was the tributary on which most of this coal flowed to those plants. Although that line was controlled and eventually owned outright by Northern Pacific a large portion of it was leased to the Missabe to run these coal trains from the docks in this picture to Steelton and the steel plant located there.

    Hope that helps. Cheers!

  2. As a clerk on the ore docks in 1960, we were always relieved when a DM&IR train was routed to Missabe Junction. It meant we didn’t have to deal with it (unloading and billing) on one of the docks. Very fine and valuable research in these accounts. My father grew up in Slabtown in the early 20th century when the namesake lumber was piled along the bayfront.

  3. Excellent article, Jeff. Thank you. On page 2, first picture, I note the lack of ore docks. Is that trestle on the right Dock 5 being constructed circa 1915? Was the limestone dock constructed later? Also, didn’t the USS Gary Works in Morgan Park use lots of coal for coke making?

  4. Stan, I grew up in St. Paul, and when my next door neighbor Mike Ferderer was a retired railroad worker, not sure whihch outfit he worked for. He told a similar tale of timing their stops at Fitger’s with the brewery workers’ shift change, and all would gather at the base of the brewery near the railroad tracks, grab a pewter mug from the rack, and pour themselves a beer from a spigot sticking right out of the building. Coldest beer he ever tasted, he’d say.

  5. Another clear and informative article with great images.

    I worked 11 years for the DM&IR, with a short time in the Transportation Dept. My uncle John was a trainman with the DM&IR most of his adult life. I’ve heard a number of stories from my uncle, and others in the the Transportation Dept about switching out cars at the brewery. It always took longer there, because they had an open tap that workers (or others, including trainmen) could have a beer.
    Stan R Aug 20

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