Moving Limestone via Missabe Junction

Missabe Junction: Part 4

Our series on Missabe Junction concludes this month. First we’ll look back to see what things looked like from the air before we examine the modern era operation of moving limestone through this facility. Most people associate limestone trains with Missabe Junction because they are still the one constant that remains to take advantage of this historic facility. As we will see, it takes a coordinated effort between the railroads and their train crews to bring empty cars down from Proctor, to position them for loading, and to get them back up the hill fully loaded with limestone destined for the taconite plants of the Mesabi Range. [Click on images to enlarge them]

This 1989 helicopter view is looking northeast into the heart of Duluth’s West End. The steel approaches to the Missabe ore docks mark the western edge of Missabe Junction and the town that grew up around it. The tracks that cross in the lower right (near the billboard) are the original St. Paul & Duluth (NP) Short Line from St. Paul and the Soo Line’s mainline into Duluth from Superior. The Soo interlocking tower can still be seen at the crossing. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
This 1989 helicopter view is looking northeast into the heart of Duluth’s West End. The steel approaches to the Missabe ore docks mark the western edge of Missabe Junction and the town that grew up around it. The tracks that cross in the lower right (near the billboard) are the original St. Paul & Duluth (NP) Short Line from St. Paul and the Soo Line’s mainline into Duluth from Superior. The Soo interlocking tower can still be seen at the crossing. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
From this angle it’s easy to see the swath of land taken over by the expressway (top center) that effectively eliminated Slabtown. The cluster of brown buildings (bottom center) belongs to Elliott Packing. To the left of that is the Soo Line main track into Duluth. The Soo Line’s interlocking tower protected the crossing of the Northern Pacific at the middle of the Soo Line’s S-curve. The tracks nearest right that go under the Missabe ore docks are the former Duluth Transfer Railway tracks that eventually became part of NP, then BN, and today belong to BNSF Railway. This is the only remaining direct connect rail line between Duluth and Superior. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
From this angle it’s easy to see the swath of land taken over by the expressway (top center) that effectively eliminated Slabtown. The cluster of brown buildings (bottom center) belongs to Elliott Packing. To the left of that is the Soo Line main track into Duluth. The Soo Line’s interlocking tower protected the crossing of the Northern Pacific at the middle of the Soo Line’s S-curve. The tracks nearest right that go under the Missabe ore docks are the former Duluth Transfer Railway tracks that eventually became part of NP, then BN, and today belong to BNSF Railway. This is the only remaining direct connect rail line between Duluth and Superior. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
From the opposite side of the ore docks it’s easy to see where the build out of businesses in Duluth’s West End came to a halt. The two ore dock approaches that we see here, for Missabe Docks 5 and 6, are the tall steel approaches that connect with the ore docks on St. Louis Bay. The lower steel approach on this side of those approaches is the DM&IR’s physical connection between Proctor and Missabe Junction. That little piece of track curves around and runs under the expressway and into Missabe Junction yard. It is the lifeline that has connected the Mesabi Range with Duluth from the very beginning. Lower right, just above the expressway, is the “balloon track” that connected Missabe Junction yard with Duluth Brewing & Malting, Clyde Iron Works, and the Soo Line tracks that are just out of picture, right. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
From the opposite side of the ore docks it’s easy to see where the build out of businesses in Duluth’s West End came to a halt. The two ore dock approaches that we see here, for Missabe Docks 5 and 6, are the tall steel approaches that connect with the ore docks on St. Louis Bay. The lower steel approach on this side of those approaches is the DM&IR’s physical connection between Proctor and Missabe Junction. That little piece of track curves around and runs under the expressway and into Missabe Junction yard. It is the lifeline that has connected the Mesabi Range with Duluth from the very beginning. Lower right, just above the expressway, is the “balloon track” that connected Missabe Junction yard with Duluth Brewing & Malting, Clyde Iron Works, and the Soo Line tracks that are just out of picture, right. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The heart of Missabe Junction yard is in the middle of this 1989 aerial view. Remnants of Duluth Brewing & Malting still exist as do most of the Clyde Iron Works buildings, though many of those are gone now. In the foreground center is the former Northern Pacific freight house built during 1966. Looking at this picture it’s hard to believe that at one time this area was fully fifty-percent residential. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The heart of Missabe Junction yard is in the middle of this 1989 aerial view. Remnants of Duluth Brewing & Malting still exist as do most of the Clyde Iron Works buildings, though many of those are gone now. In the foreground center is the former Northern Pacific freight house built during 1966. Looking at this picture it’s hard to believe that at one time this area was fully fifty-percent residential. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The 27th Avenue West viaduct crosses the tracks and the expressway. What was once the lower portion of Slabtown is now dominated by the expansion of Duluth’s water treatment facility. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The 27th Avenue West viaduct crosses the tracks and the expressway. What was once the lower portion of Slabtown is now dominated by the expansion of Duluth’s water treatment facility. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The eastern end of Missabe Junction shows in this 1989 view with the water treatment plant dominating the scene. Less obvious is the S-curve track that runs beneath the expressway. It was the lead into Scott-Graff Lumber but in 1971 this track was extended to connect the NP with the Soo Line. In this view Scott-Graff is gone, but the new connection and the old Soo Line mainline can be seen in the center of the picture just above the expressway. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The eastern end of Missabe Junction shows in this 1989 view with the water treatment plant dominating the scene. Less obvious is the S-curve track that runs beneath the expressway. It was the lead into Scott-Graff Lumber but in 1971 this track was extended to connect the NP with the Soo Line. In this view Scott-Graff is gone, but the new connection and the old Soo Line mainline can be seen in the center of the picture just above the expressway. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
Great images tell a story, almost without explanation. Like this 2006 view taken from the 27th Avenue West viaduct looking west. The S-curve tracks at left are the former Duluth Transfer Railway now operated by BNSF Railway. The dirt road down the center is the roadbed of the former NP Short Line (or NP Skally line) that started out as the Lake Superior & Mississippi and became the St. Paul & Duluth. This line once supported traffic coming into Duluth on the NP, DW&P, and Milwaukee Road. All are gone now. The tracks at right are part of Missabe Junction yard. Today both the yard and the Missabe ore dock in the background are controlled by Canadian National. If anything, railroads are about gradual change, and pictures like this one help us to better understand the natural transitions from established dominant players in this marketplace to newer, even more dominant players. (Image: Joe Seidl, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Great images tell a story, almost without explanation. Like this 2006 view taken from the 27th Avenue West viaduct looking west. The S-curve tracks at left are the former Duluth Transfer Railway now operated by BNSF Railway. The dirt road down the center is the roadbed of the former NP Short Line (or NP Skally line) that started out as the Lake Superior & Mississippi and became the St. Paul & Duluth. This line once supported traffic coming into Duluth on the NP, DW&P, and Milwaukee Road. All are gone now. The tracks at right are part of Missabe Junction yard. Today both the yard and the Missabe ore dock in the background are controlled by Canadian National. If anything, railroads are about gradual change, and pictures like this one help us to better understand the natural transitions from established dominant players in this marketplace to newer, even more dominant players. (Image: Joe Seidl, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Missabe Junction has long been a favorite haunt for camera-toting rail fans because of the combination of rail traffic and great sunlight during the morning hours. The 27th Avenue West overpass provides the perfect location to wait for trains to arrive. This view taken in September 2000 shows a limestone empty train that came down from Proctor to fill up near the Missabe docks. These trains ran down from Proctor and then stopped at Missabe Junction where the locomotives switched ends of the train before heading down to the water’s edge. The track to the limestone dock is located directly under the I-35 overpass. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
Missabe Junction has long been a favorite haunt for camera-toting rail fans because of the combination of rail traffic and great sunlight during the morning hours. The 27th Avenue West overpass provides the perfect location to wait for trains to arrive. This view taken in September 2000 shows a limestone empty train that came down from Proctor to fill up near the Missabe docks. These trains ran down from Proctor and then stopped at Missabe Junction where the locomotives switched ends of the train before heading down to the water’s edge. The track to the limestone dock is located directly under the I-35 overpass. (Image: Jeff Lemke)
The problem for many of the limestone movements was that the limestone moved on Missabe rails, but the limestone industry was served by Burlington Northern (BN). In order for the Missabe to get the loads, the BN needed to pull the loads from the limestone dock first. The Missabe would then pull their empty cars down into the “hole” under the expressway and ore docks. This is where the two crews would have their safety briefings to figure out how they would safely exchange the loads and empties. BNSF and CN perform this same ritual today. (Image: Eric Hirsimaki, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
The problem for many of the limestone movements was that the limestone moved on Missabe rails, but the limestone industry was served by Burlington Northern (BN). In order for the Missabe to get the loads, the BN needed to pull the loads from the limestone dock first. The Missabe would then pull their empty cars down into the “hole” under the expressway and ore docks. This is where the two crews would have their safety briefings to figure out how they would safely exchange the loads and empties. BNSF and CN perform this same ritual today. (Image: Eric Hirsimaki, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Yardmasters controlled train movements within, into, and out of their respective rail yards. At BN in Superior and DM&IR in Proctor, these men would call each other to coordinate limestone movements when full trains were loaded and ready to depart the docks. Each would dispatch a crew to bring their trains to the proper spot. In this case, at the east end of Missabe Junction yard where the two crews are exchanging information, they will decide jointly about how this interaction will occur to get the loads pulled and the empties spotted. (Image: Eric Hirsimaki, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Yardmasters controlled train movements within, into, and out of their respective rail yards. At BN in Superior and DM&IR in Proctor, these men would call each other to coordinate limestone movements when full trains were loaded and ready to depart the docks. Each would dispatch a crew to bring their trains to the proper spot. In this case, at the east end of Missabe Junction yard where the two crews are exchanging information, they will decide jointly about how this interaction will occur to get the loads pulled and the empties spotted. (Image: Eric Hirsimaki, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
This 1993 view shows a loaded Missabe train about to depart Missabe Junction for Proctor. The BN crew at right will push the empty cars back into the limestone dock where they will be filled overnight. The next day a similar exchange of cars and responsibilities will occur. The railroad is an endless conveyor belt of traffic that runs 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Industry and the national economy depend on this marriage of work and responsibility. (Image: Eric Hirsimaki, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
This 1993 view shows a loaded Missabe train about to depart Missabe Junction for Proctor. The BN crew at right will push the empty cars back into the limestone dock where they will be filled overnight. The next day a similar exchange of cars and responsibilities will occur. The railroad is an endless conveyor belt of traffic that runs 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Industry and the national economy depend on this marriage of work and responsibility. (Image: Eric Hirsimaki, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
The public’s view of railroad activities is generally seen only from publicly accessed areas. In Duluth, perhaps the least-seen area of rail activity is this location underneath the I-35 overpass near the Missabe ore docks. This is an empty limestone train traversing the S-curves between Missabe Junction yard and the connection with the old Duluth Transfer mainline. Empty cars come down this hill and move around the curve to the right. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
The public’s view of railroad activities is generally seen only from publicly accessed areas. In Duluth, perhaps the least-seen area of rail activity is this location underneath the I-35 overpass near the Missabe ore docks. This is an empty limestone train traversing the S-curves between Missabe Junction yard and the connection with the old Duluth Transfer mainline. Empty cars come down this hill and move around the curve to the right. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
After the Missabe crew dropped its empty cars for the BN to pick up it, coupled to the loads that the BN already pulled from the limestone dock in order to push them back up the hill though the S-curves to Missabe Junction yard. Protecting the shove is this trainman who is riding the first car up the hill. He communicates with the engineer on the locomotive set via radio. It is his job alone to communicate that the path is clear by giving approximate car counts so that the engineer can move the train at a speed safe enough to be able to stop in case something crossed the tracks ahead of this back-up move. Trainmen do this every day in Duluth. It’s a dangerous job, especially at night or in bad weather. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
After the Missabe crew dropped its empty cars for the BN to pick up it, coupled to the loads that the BN already pulled from the limestone dock in order to push them back up the hill though the S-curves to Missabe Junction yard. Protecting the shove is this trainman who is riding the first car up the hill. He communicates with the engineer on the locomotive set via radio. It is his job alone to communicate that the path is clear by giving approximate car counts so that the engineer can move the train at a speed safe enough to be able to stop in case something crossed the tracks ahead of this back-up move. Trainmen do this every day in Duluth. It’s a dangerous job, especially at night or in bad weather. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Here’s the locomotive set going by with more than 7,000 horsepower pushing on the loaded cars to get them up the hill and into Missabe Junction yard. The engineer of this eastbound movement is seated in the locomotive farthest from the photographer with a view westbound. He can see nothing behind him.  (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Here’s the locomotive set going by with more than 7,000 horsepower pushing on the loaded cars to get them up the hill and into Missabe Junction yard. The engineer of this eastbound movement is seated in the locomotive farthest from the photographer with a view westbound. He can see nothing behind him. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Nearing the end of the back-up move, the locomotives have passed under the expressway and are now passing under the Missabe mainline that connects Missabe Junction to Proctor. The trainman at the opposite end of the train is still hanging onto the last car, communicating by radio to this engineer that he still has room to keep shoving these rail cars eastbound. Railroad workers depend on each other to move trains safely from place to place. Often the only set of eyes that really knows what’s going on belongs to someone else. Safety is always played up on the railroad as being the most important thing. The men and women who operate these trains each day know that the real “most important thing” is a combination of trust in your teammates and over-communication on the radio. As long as everyone has their eyes open and they are sharing what they see in front of them, then everything works just fine. Everyone on the crew becomes the eyes and ears for everyone else too. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Nearing the end of the back-up move, the locomotives have passed under the expressway and are now passing under the Missabe mainline that connects Missabe Junction to Proctor. The trainman at the opposite end of the train is still hanging onto the last car, communicating by radio to this engineer that he still has room to keep shoving these rail cars eastbound. Railroad workers depend on each other to move trains safely from place to place. Often the only set of eyes that really knows what’s going on belongs to someone else. Safety is always played up on the railroad as being the most important thing. The men and women who operate these trains each day know that the real “most important thing” is a combination of trust in your teammates and over-communication on the radio. As long as everyone has their eyes open and they are sharing what they see in front of them, then everything works just fine. Everyone on the crew becomes the eyes and ears for everyone else too. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Having completed the eastward shove of this limestone train back into Missabe Junction yard, DM&IR 211 and mates now depart for Proctor with their train in tow. The grades are steep in this part of town and when the trains are loaded to capacity the length of these trains must be kept relatively short so that the locomotives can actually pull them. Missabe Junction has long been a stronghold for trains of all shapes and sizes. The future of Missabe Junction will certainly be much like its past. It will be indelibly tied to the national economy and all that industry requires of it at the Head of the Lakes. Even today, this is an important part of industrial Duluth that serves a purpose valuable to each and every one of us. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)
Having completed the eastward shove of this limestone train back into Missabe Junction yard, DM&IR 211 and mates now depart for Proctor with their train in tow. The grades are steep in this part of town and when the trains are loaded to capacity the length of these trains must be kept relatively short so that the locomotives can actually pull them. Missabe Junction has long been a stronghold for trains of all shapes and sizes. The future of Missabe Junction will certainly be much like its past. It will be indelibly tied to the national economy and all that industry requires of it at the Head of the Lakes. Even today, this is an important part of industrial Duluth that serves a purpose valuable to each and every one of us. (Image: Steve Lorenz, Twin Ports Rail History Collection)

Missabe Junction: Part 4

4 Responses to Moving Limestone via Missabe Junction

  1. Hi Greg-
    Glad to hear you enjoyed the story. Click on either tag line, “More by this Author”, or just above that, “Click here to catch up on Jeff Lemke’s previous contributions to Zenith City Online”, and you’ll find all of my stories. The 4 most recent ones cover Missabe Junction. Cheers!

  2. Hi Kent –
    You’re very welcome. Thanks for taking the time to comment on the work we do here. It’s fun to share what we know. And all the more fun knowing we have fans of these projects. Take care. Cheers!

  3. What a great collection of history and railroads. Thank You for this. How we wish that g.d. freeway had never come down our hill in the first place!!

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