The Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range carries one of the most interesting and unique histories of any railroad. Its existence was tied directly, and almost exclusively, to iron ore. In many ways, the company varied entirely from all others. Ironically, its heritage begins with gold. In his book, "The Missabe Road: The Duluth, Missabe And Iron Range Railway," Frank King details how a gold rush hit the region around Lake Vermilion in 1865 when prospectors claimed they had stumbled upon the precious metal. The hope turned out to be false and the flurry of activity had ended by 1868. However, a few stuck around, recognizing the region seemed to contain rich sources of iron. The most notable is George Stuntz who had heard stories from others that Indians had told tales of finding iron in the region for generations. While he was convinced there was a vast supply of iron here he failed to convince those with the resources available to begin mining exploration His efforts, though, did put into motion this endeavor.
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).
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
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|
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.
For more reading on the DM&IR you might want to consider the book The Missabe Road: The Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway
by author Frank King. This 224-page publication provides an in-depth look at the Missabe Road from its earliest beginnings in 1884
to present day operations (just prior to the CN takeover). It has received very good reviews and if you’re
after a more detailed, very accurate history of this fascinating ore hauler Mr. King's book covers it all. If
you're interested in perhaps purchasing the title please visit the link above which will take you to ordering
information through Amazon.com.
Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range