The Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern Railway has been running a daily transfer to the Soo Line in the Minneapolis, Minn., area ever since the line from Glenwood Junction (located in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley and site of MN&S Shops and the main yard) to the Soo main line at Crystal was constructed in 1927. Even today, under the ownership of the Soo Line, the transfers are still operated, although there have been changes since the Soo took control.
As far as our research has determined, this line has never seen the operation of passenger service - at least not until the run of ex-Northern Pacific 4-6-0 No. 328 pulling a steam special on September 29, 1984.
Until the mid-1970's, the transfer to the Soo and Burlington Northern (ex-Northern Pacific Northtown Yard) was one train. It operated out of the yard at Glenwood Junction swinging around the north leg of the wye at Western Avenue (just west of Glenwood Junction) where it would head north for the Soo connection at Crystal. The 5.36-mile line from Western Avenue to Crystal runs through typical suburban scenery - housing developments and modern industrial parks.
One railroad-the Chicago & North Western's spur to Plymouth - is crossed about 1 mile north of Western Avenue. This line had a history similar to that of the MN&S, beginning life as an interurban only to become a freight carrier. It began as the Electric Short Line Railway, then was sold to the Minnesota Western Railroad (whose roster in later years included a pair of FM switchers that were subsequently sold to the MN&S), then became a part of the Minneapolis & St. Louis before being absorbed by the C&NW. Once over 100 miles long, the old MW is but a spur to a Plymouth industrial park today.
The Soo/MN&S connection at Crystal, termed MN&S Junction, links MN&S trackage with the Soo's main line from Minneapolis' Shoreham Yard to Glenwood, Minn., and points west. The Soo trackage is equipped with CTC from Shoreham to Buffalo, Minn. (36 miles) and is being extended to Glenwood (120 miles), the first crew change point west of Minneapolis.
From MN&S Junction the transfer would continue east another 3 miles to the Soo's Humboldt Yard, where interchange would be made. Then the train would continue east, crossing the Mississippi River at Camden Place. The bridge at Camden Place is unique because the west end of the bridge splits to form a wye. After crossing the river the transfer would descend a steep track to reach BN's 35th Avenue Yard, adjacent to Northtown. After picking up and setting out, the transfer would return to Glenwood Junction.
In the mid-1970's this operating practice changed. The train continued to depart from Glenwood Junction Yard and go to Humboldt, but then would return to Glenwood Junction. The same crew would then depart Glenwood Junction, head east to the BN (ex-Great Northern) main at Lyndale Junction where trackage rights on the BN would carry MN&S trains past the old GN depot to Minneapolis Junction. Minneapolis Junction was the site of the Great Northern's engine servicing facilities in Minneapolis, but with Northtown Yard serving that purpose today, the roundhouse has been leased to the C&NW. Trains would swing north through the wye at Minneapolis Junction and on into Northtown Yard for BN interchange.
After steam, the Soo transfer almost always rated one of MN&S's famous Baldwin centercabs. MN&S rostered a total of six of the big Baldwins: Nos. 20-24 were DT6-6-2000's, while No. 25 was an RT624. The centercabs handled road runs to Northfield, Minn., as well as the transfers. By the early 1970's only one centercab remained operable; MN&S No. 21 finished her days working the transfer to the Soo Line until retirement in 1974 (today the unit is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum). One other Baldwin saw work on the transfer: DRS6-6-1500 No. 15 would occasionally handle the transfer when it wasn't working the "High Line" job to Richfield or switching at Glenwood Junction.
Following retirement of the centercabs, switchers were sometimes used, but usually one of MN&S's two EMD SD39's (40 or 41) would get the call after arriving each morning from Northfield with the road freight. Generally the unit was run northbound with the long hood forward, with the nose leading on the return southbound run.
Following the Soo's purchase of the MN&S on June 3, 1982, the two SD39's were put into systemwide road service on the Soo. Switchers took over the transfer, still operating out of Glenwood Junction Yard. In 1983, however, the Soo finally realigned its MN&S operations, originating all operations out of Shoreham or Humboldt yards. The MN&S Shops at Glenwood Junction were closed at this time, but the yard remains open.
Today the transfer goes on duty at Shoreham Yard, runs light to Humboldt, picks up the train and goes on to Glenwood Junction. Depending on time and the amount of traffic, the transfer may head to downtown Minneapolis for industrial switching before returning to Humboldt and Shoreham. The trains no longer go into Northtown yard via Lyndale and Minneapolis junctions now that Soo interchanges directly from Shoreham to Northtown, which are right next to one another anyway.
As of this writing no MN&S locomotives or cars have been repainted into Soo Line colors, so the transfers continue to look as they always did under MN&S ownership. Soo seems to be slow to repaint, plus the fact that MN&S is considered a subsidiary, and as such a separate railroad.
For years the bread and butter of the MN&S was bridge traffic. The MN&S for most of its life served as a route to avoid rail traffic congestion in the Twin Cities terminal. Shippers were urged to route traffic from the south to the north and vice versa via the Randolph and Northfield gateways. Chicago Great Western traffic received at Randolph and Milwaukee Road and Rock Island traffic from Northfield was brought north on MN&S road jobs to Glenwood Junction, where it was broken up for distribution to the Soo, NP and GN.
As a bridge route, MN&S trains contained a variety of cars which could be easily modeled, from standard 40-foot boxcars to covered hoppers containing grain or fertilizer. For years MN&S trains carried traffic from Canadian points to RI or CGW connections, so flatcars carrying lumber could even be included in a model consist. MN&S boxcars and covered hoppers carried MN&S's distinctive blue paint scheme; in latter years the road adorned its freight fleet and cabooses with large red "MNS" lettering.
As bridge traffic declined following the BN merger and the demise of the CGW and Rock Island, the variety of cars on the transfers slowly eroded. Grain heading for Malt 0 Meal's plant in Northfield was carried, as well as boxcars for shippers at the Airlake Industrial Park in Lakeville. Today's consists feature covered hoppers and boxcars from Soo, BN and MN&S bound for local industry. Runs are no longer made from Northfield to the old CGW connection at Randolph, as CGW successor C&NW now serves Northfield directly via the ex-RI "spine line."
In addition to freight cars, MN&S transfers always carried one of the road's bay-window cabooses. Painted blue with the MN&S diamond emblem as well as the large lettering, the cabooses were a familiar sight to residents of the western suburbs of Minneapolis. In the late-1970's one caboose was painted yellow with large red MN&S lettering and assigned to the "High Line" local. Since the Soo purchase, many MN&S runs trail Soo's standard white and red cupola-equipped cabooses, although the MN&S waycars are still around.
Two other jobs continue to work ex-MN&S trackage in addition to the Soo transfer. Each night a road job departs Shoreham/Humboldt for the 53-mile trip to Northfield, returning early in the morning. This was a night operation in MN&S days and continues to be one under the Soo Line. The second job still in operation departs Humboldt Yard each weekday and serves the branch into Bloomington and Richfield (suburbs of Minneapolis) by leaving the main line at Auto Club, 25 miles from Shoreham. This branch is called the Nicollet Avenue spur in Soo timetables, but was always referred to as the "High Line" by MN&S men.
The future of the ex-MN&S main may be a bright one. Even if the Soo fails in its bid to purchase the Milwaukee Road, it almost certainly will be granted trackage rights over the ex-RI "spine line" into Kansas City. If this occurs, Soo trains would use MN&S trackage to Northfield to gain access to the ex-RI, which should make the MN&S busier than it has been in years.