The Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway is a Minnesota institution and best remembered for its primary source of traffic, iron ore. The railroads that eventually made up the DM&IR had their beginnings dating back to the mid-1880s when high-grade ore was discovered in northern Minnesota. The DM&IR was also somewhat unique in having the ability to move its product directly from the mine to dock without the need of another railroad or transportation source to do so. While the DM&IR would remain under steel interest ownership for much of its life, for over 120 years this chorus of moving ore kept the railroad quite profitable. By the 21st the DM&IR was one of only a small handful of classic lines still around. However, that all changed in May 2004 when Canadian National purchased Great Lakes Transportation, which owned the railroad, thus finally closing the book on the fabled Missabe Road.
The DM&IR has its beginnings dating back to July of 1884 when the Duluth & Iron Range Rail Road was chartered to connect Duluth with Babbit, Minnesota although the railroad’s original line only connected Agate Bay and Soudan. The D&IR would become one leg of the later DM&IR and moved its ore from the Vermillion Iron Range in northern Minnesota to wooden docks at Duluth for awaiting ships. The other half of the DM&IR was the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway, which was chartered in June of 1891 and originally connected Mountain Iron (in the Mesabi Range, located to the west of the Vermillion Iron Range) with Stony Brook, just west of Duluth. Eventually the railroad connected directly with Duluth building a large yard at Proctor and constructing its own dock on Lake Superior.
How the DM&IR came under ownership of steel interests dates all of the back to the aftermath of the 1893 financial panic when the DM&N was taken over by John D. Rockefeller who sold the railroad to the United States Steel Corporation. The D&IR itself was sold to a steel interest, Illinois Steel, which itself eventually became part of United States Steel resulting in both railroads coming under ownership of the same company. The railroads continued to run independently until the DM&N leased the D&IR in 1930 with both eventually merged in March of 1938 as the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway.
Of note, in the early 1960s the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway
lost its raw iron ore traffic as the final mine closed in the region.
What turned out to save the railroad was a low-grade iron called
taconite. This substance has iron mixed in with minerals and is
artificially mixed with a clay to make it more easy to transport. Today, the movement of taconite continues to be the primary source of traffic over the former DM&IR. While the Missabe Road is best remembered for its movement of
ore the railroad is also famous for its fleet of large steam locomotives
which included the big Yellowstone Type 2-8-8-4, 2-10-4 Texas Type, and
2-8-8-2 Mallets. Moving heavy ore trains these large steamers were a
sight to see lugging their product up grade.
After Word War II the Missabe Road began replacing its steam fleet with diesels ranging from EMD SW9 switchers to SD9s, the latter of which was primarily used in ore movements. Today, the former DM&IR (since the railroad is technically still on the books) diesel fleet includes all EMD six-axle units ranging from SD40-3s to SD38-2s. It is very surprising that a railroad, which at its peak only surpassed the 500-mile mark (by the 2000s the railroad only totaled a little over 200 miles) and had a traffic base made up of almost entirely one product, survived for over 100 years as an independent operation (outside of other railroad control). Today, the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway is no more, officially dissolved in 2012. However, continue to move taconite from the Mesabi and Vermillion iron ranges just as they did over 100 years ago.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
|Model Type||Road Number||Date Built||Quantity|
|Model Type||Road Number||Date Built||Quantity|
Steam Locomotive Roster
|C-3, K (Various)||2-8-0|
|E, E-1||Santa Fe||2-10-2|
|E-4 Through E-7||Texas||2-10-4|
|M Through M-2 (Various)||Chesapeake||2-8-8-2|
|N Through N-6||Mikado||2-8-2|
For more reading on the DM&IR you might want to consider the book Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway from author John Leopard. The book gives a fabulous general history of the railroad from its beginnings to present day operations under the CN system with plenty of colored photos included. If you have any interest in the Missabe Road you definitely won’t be disappointed with Mr. Leopard’s book. Also, another book of interest about the DM&IR is entitled The Missabe Road: The Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway by author Frank King. This 224-page publication gives a much more in-depth look at the Missabe Road from its earliest beginnings in 1884 to present day operations (just prior to the CN takeover). If you’re after a more detailed look at the DM&IR this book covers it all. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads. To learn more please click on the image below.