The Soo Line Railroad, Ship Soo To And Through The Upper Midwest
The Soo Line Railroad (“Soo” refers to the word "Sault" in the Canadian
city of Sault Ste. Marie, is spoken as "Sue"), officially known for much
of its life as the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie
Railway, was a medium-sized Class
I system that stretched throughout the upper Midwest connecting cities
such as Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul, with points west in North
Dakota and southern Canadian (such as Winnipeg and Sault Ste. Marie).
Somewhat of northern granger line the railroad was always a smaller line
surrounded by those much larger, such as the Milwaukee Road,
Burlington, and Great Northern.
Soo GP9 #2407 and a GP30 kick up the snow as they pull their train westbound through Chassell, Michigan during March of 1976.
However, up until its takeover of the floundering Milwaukee Road in 1985, for most of its life the Soo was a well maintained and managed company, earning healthy profits in a territory blanketed with competitors. Perhaps what makes this railroad so interesting is that its system crossed the U.S./Canadian border and along with serving the northern plains of America also served the southern Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba. The Soo has its beginnings dating back to the Minneapolis, St. Paul
& Atlantic Railway, incorporated in 1883, which was built to
connect its namesake cities (in the interest of shipping grain, a staple
of the region) to Sault Ste. Marie and a connection with the Canadian
Pacific (in an attempt to bypass busy Chicago).
The railroad was never finished as originally envisioned and required help from its subsidiary the Minneapolis & St. Croix Railway. The MStP&A later chartered the Minneapolis & Pacific to build west from Minneapolis into the Dakotas to ship even more grain traffic east. Among other reasons, grain is not a highly profitable product to ship
and all three railroads soon ran into financial trouble eventually being
assisted by the CP, which required them to merge in the summer of 1888,
to form the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, the
original Soo Line. After this the Soo was for the most part a
successful independent carrier and expanded throughout the rest of the
19th and early 20th centuries.
Some of the final new units the Soo ever owned were SD60/Ms purchased in the late 1980s. Seen here is SD60 #6053 and #6035 hustling their eastbound freight through Camp Douglas, Wisconsin on August 24, 1991.
Its first major takeover was that of the original Wisconsin Central, which operated between Ashland and West Menasha, Wisconsin in the early 1900s. At its peak, but before the takeover of the Milwaukee Road in 1985, the Soo stretched from Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie in the east to Winnipeg, the Twin Cities, and eastern Montana in the west; a carrier of just over 3,000 miles. The “new” Soo as we know it today was formed in 1960 from the merger of
the original Soo (the MStP&SStM); Duluth, South Shore &
Atlantic Railroad (another Canadian Pacific subsidiary); and the
Wisconsin Central, forming the Soo Line Railroad.
From this time forward until the 1985 purchase of the Milwaukee, the Soo was quite successful, mostly because of its frugal spending by president Leonard Murray, while also working to boost traffic and profits. During Murray’s tenure the railroad also became a lean operation, upgrading its physical plant (such as increasing CTC coverage) and buying new equipment. Following 1980 things began to change for the Soo. Murray left his
post as president in 1978 and while the Staggers Act of 1980 deregulated
the railroads the Soo found itself needing to expand to remain
In doing so it attempted to purchase the defunct Rock
Island’s “Spine Line,” which connected with the Soo at the Twin Cities
and ran south to Kansas City but lost this bid to the Chicago &
North Western. Around this time one of the competing Pacific Northwestern lines,
the Milwaukee Road, made a bizarre decision to abandon almost all of
its [profitable] western main lines and unprofitable Midwestern branches
to shrink down to a system of just over a 3,000 miles. While this plan worked to cut the railroad’s expenses it also made the Milwaukee a very sought after merger partner. Bidding again with the C&NW the Soo line this time won approval and took over the Milwaukee in 1985.
Two first-generation Soo units, GP7 #377 and F7A #2202-A await between assignments at the engine terminal in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan during July of 1975.
Unfortunately for the Soo the Milwaukee came at an extremely high cost and it took even more money
to upgrade poorly maintained Milwaukee trackage, which put the Soo in
serious debt. In another stroke of bad luck the Milwaukee’s remaining
lines turned out to be not as profitable as was hoped and the Soo’s
profits sank to only marginal status (also during this time the Soo sold
off unprofitable trackage of its former WC system, which ironically
became Wisconsin Central Ltd., now part of the Canadian National system). For more information about the Soo's history please click here to visit the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society's website. For more reading about the Soo please click here.
Wearing the Soo's first livery, an elegant blend of maroon and yellow, F7A #2202-B and its F7B mate are at the yard in Stevens Point, Wisconsin on August 23, 1966.
Soo GP9 #2556 leads a local Chicago-Minneapolis, unnamed passenger train through St. Paul during the evening of June 3, 1964.
The Baldwin Locomotive Works
An uncommon, Baldwin-built DRS-4-4-1500 road-switcher, #360, works the yard at St. Paul on June 3, 1964. The Soo predominantly purchased EMD products but did roster a small fleet of Alco and Baldwin models (and even a few from Fairbanks-Morse and GE).
Soo Class H-3 4-6-2 #2710 pulls a passenger train out of St. Paul on July 23, 1949.
Soo Class N-20 4-8-2 #4019 pulls into St. Paul with train #6 on June 5, 1950.
One of the Soo's largest steamers was its Class O-20 4-8-4 Northerns, of which it owned four numbered 4000-4003. Seen here is #4000 pulling a passenger train through Northtown, Minnesota on July 3, 1947.
A lost art in railroading today was the quite common car ferry operations. Soo GP30 #708 loads the S.S. Chief Wawatam at the St. Ignace, Michigan docks during June of 1979.
Notable Passenger Trains
Atlantic Limited: Connected Minneapolis to Boston in conjunction with Canadian Pacific and Boston & Maine.
Copper Country Limited: Connected Chicago to Calumet, Michigan in conjunction with the Milwaukee Road.
Duluth-Superior Limited: (Minneapolis - Duluth)
Laker: (Chicago - Minneapolis/Duluth/Ashland)
Mountaineer: Connected St. Paul to Vancouver, British Columbia in conjunction with Canadian Pacific.
Soo Dominion: Connected St. Paul to Vancouver in conjunction with Canadian Pacific.
Winnipeger: Connected St. Paul to Winnipeg, Manitoba in conjunction with Canadian Pacific.
GP30 #716 and GP9 #404 pull a westbound freight through Forest Center, Michigan on September 26, 1987.
Parent Canadian Pacific was no longer interested in the Soo Line after the buyout of highly debt-laden Milwaukee Road turned out a bad business decision. As a result, it decided to sell its majority
stake in the company in the late 1980s. Ironically, in a strange twist of fate
management soon reversed this decition and not only reacquired its majority stake but also the
remaining Soo stock in 1990 (due to a lack of buyers), taking over full
ownership of the railroad that year. Today the railroad is technically still an operating
railroad, albeit on paper only as CP has nearly entirely integrated the
Soo into its system (gone is the railroad's longtime red and white livery).