September 9, 1861: Locomotive Wm. Crooks arrives in Minnesota

On this day in 1861, the Wm. Crooks, the first steam locomotive to serve on a Minnesota railroad—and a fixture of Duluth’s Lake Superior Railroad Museum—arrived in Minnesota. The engine was made for the Minnesota & Pacific Railroad, founded in 1857 as the state’s first railroad and the original predecessor of the Great Northern Railway. According to railroad historian Jeff Lemke,the locomotive “proudly carried the number 1 and when it went into service in 1862 it was named in honor of the railroad’s chief engineer, William Crooks, who had become a colonel in the Minnesota Volunteer’s Sixth Regiment during the Civil War. The Wm. Crooks started its career pulling trains along the railroad’s ten-mile route from between St. Paul and St. Anthony (known today as Minneapolis), but it would eventually become an ambassador of the nation’s rail history. James J. Hill purchased the railroad in 1890 and renamed it the Great Northern Railway. The Wm. Crooks made its final passenger service run in 1897. Although scheduled to be scrapped, Hill himself stepped in and had the locomotive restored to pull his own private train. The last official use of the locomotive for true railroad functions is believed to be Hill’s 70th birthday in 1908. There is much more to the story of the Wm. Crooks, including how it ended up in Duluth’s Lake Superior Railroad Museum—and you can read it all here.

Here’s one of the earliest known images of the Wm. Crooks showing its original straight top boiler and triple domes before it was rebuild after the roundhouse fire of 1868. The logs in the tender are the fuel that fire the boiler of this wood-burning locomotive. (Image: Twin Ports Rail History)crooks

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