Saturday, October 22, 2022

By Private Train to Duluth and Winnipeg (Summer 2000)

Greater Winnipeg Water District 201. Photo by D. Arthur

I originally planned to write this from memory, but while going through old emails I found some detailed reports about the trip by the late J. David Ingles. Much of the detail in this article comes from those reports. In 2000 I was shooting pictures on film instead of slides. I've been unable to locate those pictures. Friend David Arthur has provided the photos used to illustrate this article.

Every year the annual meeting of AAPRCO, the American Association of Private Railcar Owners, is held in some railroad hub where the privately owned cars gather for a three to four day meeting. Prior to the convention, the cars generally assemble at a rail hub like Chicago and then move to the host city via a special train. After the meeting they are moved again in a special train usually to the original starting city. Riding the special train is the highlight of the convention.

Usually a big attraction is the route that these special trains take--which are often purposely circuitous to cover routes that do not often see passenger trains. At the start of the century the host city was Winnipeg, Manitoba and the special train was to get there via Minneapolis with a side-trip to Duluth that would be powered one way by a steam locomotive.

When Nav Fosse, owner of the dome observation sleeper Silver Solarium, offered space in the car I signed up for the one way trip from Chicago to Winnipeg.

I originally had the idea of flying back to Pittsburgh after the train reached Winnipeg instead of staying for the whole convention and riding the train back to Chicago via Sault Ste. Marie, but two things happened to change my mind. The first was that Clark Johnson arranged a ride on the Greater Winnipeg Water District railroad for the day after the special's arrival in Winnipeg, and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum announced a circle trip out of Duluth on the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railroad to take place a few days after the special train's arrival in Winnipeg.

On Sunday, August 27, 2000, I caught a USAir flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago arriving mid-afternoon. I made my way to the Amtrak yard south of Union Station and boarded my home for the next four nights as we made our way to Winnipeg where I was greeted by my hosts Nav and Snick Fosse. I was joined by friends Rick and Phil Moser. Later in the trip we’d be joined by friend Dave Ingles.

The convention train. Photo by D. Arthur

During the night they made up our train and the result was a very uncomfortable sleep...lots of noise and motion...but at 5:20am on the 28th we left town on the ex-Milwaukee Road West Line to Bensenville (tower B-17) then up the connector to the Union Pacific's Milwaukee Subdivision at Bryn Mawr. From there we went to Butler, south of Milwaukee. The consist of the train was:

  • VIA F40 6413
  • VIA F40 6425
  • Dagny Taggart, observation
  • Palm Beach, sleeper-lounge
  • Virginia City, business car
  • Silver Quail, sleeper
  • Cimarron River, sleeper
  • Pine Tree State, sleeper-lounge
  • Burrard, business car
  • Hollywood Beach, sleeper-lounge
  • Vista Canyon
  • Jane Marie, business car
  • Colorado River, sleeper
  • Scottish Thistle, sleeper
  • Georgia 300, business
  • Vista Dome, dome coach
  • Northern Plains
  • Northern Nites, sleeper
  • Northern View, dome lounge
  • Northern Sky
  • Sierra Hotel, dome observation
  • Silver Solarium, dome observation
  • Caritas, business car

Quite a long train.

The 400 Club (along the Adams Line) Photo by D. Arthur

From Milwaukee we went to Minneapolis via the ex-Chicago & North Western's Adams line...the route of the original "400" and a line I'd always wanted to ride since the CNW was my “home” railroad (my Dad commuted from Ravinia, IL to Chicago for years, as did I when I got older.) We arrived at Minneapolis Junction at about 11:30pm. Enroute we were treated to Wisconsin (and some Minnesota) scenery from the dome of the Silver Solarium along with great meals and drinks prepared by the on-board crew including Kim from Charles City, IA and Susan from Aspen, CO.

On August 29, the train was to leave Minneapolis Jct. for Duluth at 8:30am but air-brake problems wound up delaying us over an hour. Since we slept aboard it really didn’t matter to us except that it meant a later arrival in Duluth. For this segment the train was led by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261. We took the ex-Great Northern route to Duluth. At Pokegama, not far from Duluth, Dave Ingles joined the train to pick up some new Duluth Missabe and Iron Range mileage. We approached Duluth down the hill from Proctor and arrived about 6:00pm. Shortly after arrival in Duluth we all transferred to an excursion train that ran to Two Harbors where we had dinner before returning. After our return I wandered around the waterfront to find a place to dial into the Internet to check my email.

On August 30 we left Duluth at 7:10am for what was scheduled as a long day and turned out to be an even longer day. A passenger had overslept and missed the train but caught up with it before we left the yard limits and was able flag it down and board (with some unhappiness expressed on the part of railroad officials.) We spent the day relaxing in the Silver Solarium as we made our way from Duluth to Bemidji and Crookston on the ex-Great Northern to the Canadian border at Noyes, MN arriving at 7:31pm. We moved across the Canadian border to Emerson, MB, arriving at 7:57pm. We expected to be on our way quickly because everyone on the passenger list had been pre-cleared, but one of the customs inspectors got had a bug up his ass about something and refused entry for a few selected passengers on the train (including the cook in our car who was of Lebanese descent and the for some unexplainable reason the passenger who had almost missed the train earlier in the day)...this after taking hours to inspect everyone on our long train.

We eventually left Emerson at 11:37pm for the supposedly short run into Winnipeg. After nearly missing a car full of drunk teens just shy of our destination we finally arrived at 3:14am on August 31. We taxied over to the Lombard (a terrific CP/Fairmont hotel) where we spent $89 CDN for a very short night. (Most of those removed from the train at the border were able to rent a car and catch up with us the next day. Apparently whatever bothered the one customs agent did not bother the others.)

Our GWWD train. Photo by D. Arthur

It was very hard to get out of bed that morning but one of the highlights of the trip was an extremely rare ride on the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railroad. The 93 mile line had not seen passenger service in existed to construct and maintain an aqueduct to provide water to Winnipeg from Shoal Lake near the Ontario Border there were no roads in the area. The trip started from the GWWD station at St. Boniface. Our group was split in half. The first half (which I was a part of) rode in a more-or-less conventional train leaving at 9:18am and arrived at the end point (Indian Lake) at 2:05pm. We then transferred to a Brill railbus (that the other half had arrived on) leaving at 2:32pm and arriving back at St. Boniface at 5:48pm. My main memory of the ride is struggling to stay awake on the coach in the morning. I had less trouble staying awake on the very noisy railbus. I'm pretty sure we had dinner that evening at Earl's which was on the walk back to the Lombard. (It seems as we've eaten there every time we've been in Winnipeg because it is convenient to Union Station.)

The GWWD RailBus. Photo by D. Arthur

On September 1 Rick Moser went to the airport to pick up a full sized one way rental car to Minneapolis via Duluth. Four of us left the Lombard about 10:30am (Rick, Phil Moser, Dave Ingles, and I) and crossed the border at a phone-booth sized border control point near Lancaster, MN...the crossing took two minutes at most (this was before 9/11/2001 of course.) After a lunch stop at Thief River Falls we pushed on to Duluth arriving at around 7:55pm where we had dinner and retired for the evening in a Comfort Inn.

The DM&IR circle trip train. Photo by D. Arthur

September 2 was the grand finale of the trip. The Lake Superior Railroad Museum used the 261 (plus some diesels) to pull a special circle trip on the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway. We left Duluth and headed along the same line to Two Harbors that we had taken just a few short days ago. From there we went north to Biwabik and Iron Junction before returning to Duluth via Proctor arriving at 6:40pm. We were back in our rental car by 6:50pm and left for Minneapolis, driving through a somewhat heavy fog and drizzle. We stopped for dinner in Hinckley at about 8:00pm and got to our hotel near the Minneapolis Airport about 10:00pm.

After another short night I caught a shuttle to the airport at 6am on September 3 to make my 7:30am flight (again, remember, this was pre-9/11 so airport security was easy.) The flight left a bit late but arrived in Pittsburgh on time. I was home by 11:30am.

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