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).  

Other Classic Railroads Of The Midwest

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, A Legend All Of Its Own

Missouri Pacific, Where Eagles Fly

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, The Fabled Granger Road

Illinois Central, "The Main Line Of Mid-America"

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy: Serving America's Heartland

Union Pacific, Still Going Strong Since 1862

Burlington Northern, The West's First Mega-Railroad 

Milwaukee Road, From The Midwest To Seattle

Great Northern, James J. Hill's Road

Chicago Great Western, "The Corn Belt Route"

Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, Bypassing Chicago

Minneapolis & St. Louis, "The Peoria Gateway" 

Northern Pacific, Opening Service Across The Northwest

Chicago & North Western, Spanning The Midwest

St. Louis Southwestern: "The Cotton Belt Route" 

Wabash, "Follow The Flag"

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.    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.

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 competitive.

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).

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.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
FA-1205A-211A, 205B-211B, 2220A-2223A (WC), 2220B-2223B (WC)1948-194922
RS1100-107 (Ex-DSS&A), 350-353, 2360-2368 (WC)1945-195421
RSC3372-374, 2380 (WC)1950-19514
S22103-2110 (WC)1942-19498
S42116 (WC)19521

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

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
DRS-6-6-1500384-387 (Ex-DSS&A)19494
AS616388-395 (Ex-DSS&A)1951-19528

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).

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
F3A200A-204A, 200B-204B, 2200A-2200B (WC)1947-194812
F7A212A-214A, 212B-214B, 2201A-2203A, 2201C-2203C, 2224A-2230A (WC), 2224B-2230B (WC)1949-195326
NW2300-301, 2108 (WC)1939, 19483
GP7375-378, 381-3831950-19527
GP9400-414, 550-558, 2400-2413 (WC), 2550-2556 (WC)1954-195745
F7B500B-503B, 2101C-2203C (WC), 2204C (WC), 2500B-2501B (WC)1949-195210
FP7500A-503A, 504-505, 2500A-2501A (WC)1949-19528
SD10532, 534, 543Ex-Milwaukee Road3
SDL39582-590Ex-Milwaukee Road9
GP40732-756, 2000-2067 (Ex-Milwaukee Road), 4605-4659 (Ex-Milwaukee Road)1967-1971148
SD40-2757-789, 6600-66231972-198457
GP38-2790-799, 4410-4452, 4500-4515 (Ex-Milwaukee Road)1973-198169
GP20946-981Ex-Milwaukee Road36
NW1A2100-2102 (WC)19383
SW92111-2119 (WC)1952-19539
SW1200321-328, 1200-1204 (Ex-MN&S), 1204-1222 (Ex-Milwaukee Road), 2120-2127 (WC)1954-196540
SW15001400-1401 (Ex-MN&S)19662
F3B2200C (WC)19481
MP15AC1500-1563 (Ex-Milwaukee Road)1975-197664
SD92381 (WC)19541
GP15C4100-4106Ex-Conrail GP9 Rebuilds6
GP9r4200-4204Ex-Conrail GP9 Rebuilds6
GP30C4300-4302Ex-UP Rebuilds6
GP39-24598-4599 (Ex-Kennecott Copper)19782
SD396240-6241 (Ex-MN&S)19682
SD40-26300-6316, 6349-6370, 6375, 6380-6382, 6384-6388 (All Ex-Milwaukee Road)1973-197442
SD406400-6405 (Ex-KCS), 6411 (Ex-B&O)1967, 19707
SD40A6406-6410 (Ex-IC)19705
SD456491 (Ex-Frisco), 6492 (Ex-BN)1969-19702

Soo Class H-3 4-6-2 #2710 pulls a passenger train out of St. Paul on July 23, 1949.

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Soo Class N-20 4-8-2 #4019 pulls into St. Paul with train #6 on June 5, 1950.

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

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.

Steam Locomotive Roster

For more information regarding the Soo's steam roster please click here.

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
ASaddle Tank0-4-6T
B Through B-4Switcher0-6-0/T
C Through C-5American4-4-0
D Through D-3Mogul2-6-0
E Through E-2Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
F-1 Through F-12Consolidation2-8-0
D Through D-3Mogul2-6-0
H Through H-3Pacific4-6-2
L Through L-4Mikado2-8-2

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).

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