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
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.
Other Noted Granger Roads Serving America's Heartland
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
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. To see a detailed, circa 1912 map of the M&StL system please click here.
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. For more information about the M&StL please visit the Chicago & North Western Historical Society's website.
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.
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