The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway, The Peoria Gateway


The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway was a mid-sized Class I railroad which operated in the heart of America's breadbasket. The M&StL was one of just several Granger railroads that served this region (other such names included the Chicago & North Western, Rock Island, Chicago Great Western, and the Milwaukee Road) but its inability to directly serve the largest cities like Chicago and St. Louis hampered its efforts to remain competitive through the 20th century. Despite the railroad being taken over by the Chicago & North Western in 1960 and was one of the first mergers of the modern "mega merger" movement, the M&StL operated for nearly 100 years and in its final years became a rather lean and efficient operation. With its take over by the C&NW, much of railroad was abandoned and little remains of it today.


The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway was chartered on May 26, 1870 by a group of local Minnesota investors wishing to tap the growing and increasingly lucrative farming interests located to the south in Iowa and Missouri. Soon after its chartering the M&StL began to march south from Minneapolis where it would eventually connect with the Iowa Central Railway at Mason City, Iowa (a distance of around 160 miles). The Iowa Central would not only become an ally but also a merger partner by the turn of the century.  The Iowa Central had actually been organized four years prior to the M&StL in 1866 as the Eldora Railroad & Coal Company to tap coal reserves found near Eldora. A year later in 1867 the company was renamed the Central Railroad Company of Iowa and reached southward to Marshalltown where it connected with the Chicago & North Western. Three years after opening its Eldora-Marshalltown route the Central Railroad Company of Iowa was renamed the Iowa Central in 1870.

Two brand new SD40s, #871 and #872 peak out from within the shop building at C&NW's Proviso Yard at Melrose Park, Illinois on July 15, 1966.

Not long after the M&STL entered bankruptcy in 1888 due to traffic volumes which never developed (and a lack of funds to continue building) the Iowa Central began radiating northward through Iowa as well as southeast towards Illinois where it would eventually connect to Peoria.  In reality, the Iowa Central would come to make up the bulk of the M&StL system as it reached as far south as Albia, Iowa (and a connection with the Wabash Railroad). Through construction and takeovers of smaller systems the Iowa Central featured a number of branch lines and connected to the state's larger city of Des Moines.

A year after entering its first bankruptcy the M&StL leased the western region of the Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific Railroad, which was owned by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island). This line stretched from Morton, Minnesota to Watertown, South Dakota but was unconnected to the M&StL system. After exiting bankruptcy the railroad was able to finally purchased the route from the Rock Island in 1899 and completed an extension to it from Minneapolis. The completion of this extension gave the M&StL a 200-mile western division which tapped more agricultural reserves.

Former Minneapolis & St. Louis RS1 #751 is now numbered as C&NW 232 as it sits outside the roundhouse at Minneapolis, Minnesota with fellow RS1 #226 on June 14, 1964.

By 1901 the Iowa Central and M&StL officially merged creating although the two lines retained the latter's name, Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway. By around 1920 the company would reach its largest length, reaching as far west as Leola, South Dakota with an additional extension to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Despite the fact that the railroad connected to only one major artery, the Twin Cities region of Minneapolis and St. Paul it became very attractive for freight attempting to bypass increasingly congested Chicago with its connection at Peoria (thus giving it the classic slogan as the "Peoria Gateway", although it was also known as the Tootin' Louie). The M&StL was also able to reach Chicago, St. Louis, Sioux City, and Omaha via the Wabash and Illinois Central. At its final length the railroad stretched more than 1,600 miles.


By 1922, however, the railroad's weak marketing position again saw it dip into bankruptcy where it remained until new management under Lucian Sprague in 1935 streamlined operations and allowed the railroad to exit receivership by 1943. Sprague remained president until 1954 when a shareholder battle saw Benjamin Heineman gain chairmanship of the company. Interestingly, Heineman remained at the M&StL for only two years before becoming president of the Chicago & North Western in 1956. I would be under Heineman's watch that the C&NW gained control of the M&StL recommending that the railroad should be acquired.

Four years later in November, 1960 the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway came under the control of the C&NW. Ironically, despite the fact that the M&StL's most lean years were during this time and the C&NW wanted control of the railroad it spent little time tearing apart the railroad. By the 1970s much of the M&StL's original through routes had been either abandoned or sold off as the C&NW preferred its own lines in favor of its predecessor's (of course, during this time the C&NW was also having serious financial trouble itself). Today, only small sections of the M&StL remain in use.

Two GP7s and their slugs work a train through the hump at Proviso Yard on June 6, 1966.

In terms of passenger service, because the railroad served very few major cities directly it did not operate a very extensive operation. It's most well known train would be the North Star Limited, which operated between Minneapolis and the railroad's southern terminus at Albia, Iowa. From there the train was transferred to the Wabash and continued on to St. Louis. However, even that train was short-lived and was discontinued by 1935. With the development of the gas-electric railcar (the "Doodlebug") the M&StL began using it extensively for most passenger services as they were cheap to operate, could be used virtually anywhere and held compartments for both mail and passengers.

The railroad also experimented with the Budd Company's RDC (Rail Diesel Car) in the late 1950s for Minneapolis-Des Moines service but found them to be of little use and unprofitable.  The M&StL utilized a steam and diesel locomotive roster of mostly medium-sized power. For instance, the railroad's largest steam locomotives were only 2-8-2 Mikados and its heaviest diesel locomotives were six-axle EMD SD7s (the only two six-axle diesels it ever operated). However, given the railroad's geography and size this type of power performed quite well for its needs. The M&StL's final order of diesel locomotives was a batch of 15 EMD GP9s delivered in 1958.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
HH-660D-93919391
HH-1000D-53919391
S210219411
RS1146, 244, 246, 346, 446, 546-547, 645-646, 744-746, 751, 845-846, 849, 851, 944-946, 948-951, 1044, 1046, 1048-1050, 1144, 1148-1150, 1249-12501944-195135

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-1000D-145, D-3401940, 19452

Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
NW2D-13919391
SCD-43819381
NW1D-538, D-73819382
SWD-83819381
F2B147B19461
F7A150A-151A, 150C-151C, 250A, 250C, 350A, 350C1949-19508
F3A248A, 248C, 348A, 348C, 448A, 448C19486
FTA445A, 445C, 545A, 545C19454
FTB445B, 445B19452
GP9600-608, 700-7131956-195823
SD7852, 95219522

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
44-TonnerD-149, D-742, D-8421942, 19483

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
A1-11, A1-13Switcher0-4-0/T
B1 Through B3 (Various)Switcher0-6-0
D6 Through D9>American4-4-0
F1 Through F5 (Various)Mogul2-6-0
G1 Through G7Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
H1 Through H6 (Various)Consolidation2-8-0
K1Pacific4-6-2
M1, M2Mikado2-8-2


C&NW E7A #5015-A is today's power for the Kate Shelly 400 as it arrives at the depot in De Kalb, Illinois on a cold December 28, 1964.

For more reading on the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway you might be interested in the book The Tootin' Louie: A History of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway by author Donovan L. Hofsommer. Mr. Hofsommer's book gives an excellent, detailed narrative of the Tootin' Louie from its earliest beginnings to its final years in the early 1960s. The book covers nearly 400 pages and is likely the best single-source of information available on the M&StL. It is certainly worth the reading if you either study the railroad's history or would like to learn more about it.  Another book of interest, also authored by Mr. Hofsommer is The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway: A Photographic History, which gives an excellent pictorial history of the Peoria Gateway from its earliest beginnings to final days of operations. 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.

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