Excerpted from Memories of a
by Curtis L. Newstrom, 1995
THE MINNEAPOLIS & RAINY RIVER RAILROAD
Many references have been made in
previous chapters about a railroad, but with no actual detail as
to the name of the system. This chapter will give all of that
detail about the only means of transportation in the early 20th
It was before 1900 when Itasca
Lumber Company began the construction of rail lines from Deer
River north to lake areas for the purpose of transporting logs.
You see, logging was the only industry in the quite remote
forests in the northern part of Itasca County. Below is a
picture of the first train station in Deer River taken in 1905.
The next picture taken in 1909 is
the same building with a sign added to show ownership by the
Minneapolis & Rainy River Railway Company.
The first tracks of the railroad went to a
station that was named "Elbow" and which was close to Little
Bowstring Lake. The name was later changed to Suomi. In 1901 the
Minneapolis & Rainy River Railroad was formed and then spurs
were extended to Graves Lake and Smith Lake. The spurs were
built out on the lakes so logs could be loaded on to flat cars
of the train. By 1911, the company had extended a "main line" to
Jessie Junction. This was later changed to "Alder". A station
was built there to be the maintenance shop and two lines
extended out from that station. Here is a picture of that
This picture taken in 1909
About 1911 two main lines were extended from
Jessie Junction for the purpose of providing transportation to
areas further north and west. One line left the junction in a
northwesterly direction and terminated in Pomroy Township. The
other line went straight north and terminated at Craig about 60
miles south of the Canadian border. It was 1912 when the Lundeen
Store was built along this line just a few miles north of Jessie
Junction - now called Alder. This was the new location for the
"new town of Marcell" that I told about in Chapter III. The
train ran this north route through Marcell to Bigfork, Effie &
Craig on Saturdays, Tuesdays & Thursdays. The "odd" days of the
week it covered the line to Pomroy Township. There was no train
on Sundays. It is an interesting fact that the Minneapolis &
Rainy River Railroad did not start in Minneapolis, nor did it
terminate at the Rainy River.
Now this is a good time to tell about the nick
name given to our railroad system. I honestly have no idea who
came up with the name, but the story goes that the train was
hitting so many cows in its travels that it was called "The Gut
& Liver Railway". Over all my years in Marcell, that was the
common terminology used when talking about the train.
In the early 20th Century there were no cars
and any roads were just trails for horse drawn vehicles. The
train was the life line of the area. All commodities arrived on
that train and was your means of getting to one of the other
towns. There being no train on Sunday, if you wanted to go to
church, you used a horse and buggy. At first, I believe the only
close church to Marcell was in Bigfork.
There are probably many stories that could be
told about the train that provided service to Marcell. One of
those stories I shall tell now is a very faint recollection for
me. In Chapter IX I will tell about Camp Idlewild and owner,
Walter Stickler. Now Mr. Stickler had some great visions for his
business and the train was going to help him tremendously. As I
recall, now and then the train would "deposit" two railroad cars
on the spur in Marcell that ran onto the bay of Big Rainy Lake
in Marcell. Earlier the spur had been used for loading logs from
the lake. One car would be a "sleeper" and the other a "diner".
Mr. Stickler had many contacts back in Indiana and "guests"
would come by the train and leave those railroad cars on the
spur. I do have some proof to attest to this story in an article
from the Sunday August 11, 1940 issue of the Minneapolis Star
Journal where reporter Ed Shave tells of an interview with Walt
Stickler about those early days in the north woods. It seems
that Walt had a file of railroad time tables and would write to
officers of railroads and tell them about the great fishing in
the Marcell area. This promoted much business for his American
In the process of researching the railroad, I
made many contacts and had several sources for information. One
of these contacts was Marion Brown who worked for the railroad
for many years. Now in his late 80's and retired, he told me his
memory was not good enough to help me with any details. I did
obtain some information from the Deer River Western Itasca
Review...some of which will be included in this chapter. Another
source of information was my good buddy Iivo Saari, now
deceased, who gave me a copy of a letter he had received from
Walter Stickler that told about early days of the railroad.
However, the best source of information came in another story I
shall tell now.
One day in July 1994 as I was sitting in my
rental cabin on Big Bass Lake - working on this book - my phone
rang. Upon saying "hello", a voice asked if I was Curt Newstrom
and then told me he was Pete Bonesteel. Now I knew Pete in
1946-47 when he had stayed at Stone Acres Resort on Big Smith
Lake with his parents. It was just a brief stay for them as his
Dad was there for health reasons. Pete attended high school in
Deer River and would come in the store when making contact with
the school bus. Well, on the phone Pete told me he had talked
with a lady that told him I was writing a book about Marcell. .
. . and he could help me with some materials he had collected.
That phone call led to more visits by phone and materials
received through the mail. Then in October 1994 I met with Pete
at "PERKINS" in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. What a visit we had!
We talked for 4 hours and shared stories, materials & pictures.
Many of the pictures that will now follow are compliments of
Pete Bonesteel and I shall ever be grateful to him for his help.
He will get a complimentary copy of this book and he has been
invited to come to Marcell in 1995 when the book will be
unveiled to the public at the 90th Anniversary Celebration for
Now I shall take you on an imaginary trip on
the Minneapolis & Rainy River Railroad. The year could be 1932
when the railroad lines were extended as far as they would ever
go and just before the end of the railroad.
We shall board the train pictured above at
Alder. The picture below shows what was left in that small town
just before the train line was abandoned. It is Monday and this
ride will take the route that terminates in Pomroy Township.
This picture obtained from an article in the Deer River Western
Our first stop after leaving Alder is just 3
miles west at the Mack Station where there was a small store and
a couple residences.
Not too many passengers here, but the train
did deliver the mail & commodities.
Leaving Mack we could stop off at Turtle
Junction and the Coal Dock stop, but there are no stations at
either. Our next stop is in the town of Jessie Lake seen in the
picture below which was also obtained from the Deer River
newspaper. Jessie Lake had two stores at one time with a post
office in one.
The depot is the building on the left. Sorry about the poor
Leaving Jessie Lake the train winds its way
past Starks (just a stop off if necessary) before coming to the
small town of Spring Lake. Sorry - no pictures available of
those two places. We then keep on our journey past "whistle
stops" at Fox Lake Junction, Summit and Bass Lake before
arriving at Stanley (later changed to Wirt). below is a picture
of the train at Stanley.
Picture provided by Pete Bonesteel.
Our next ride will start again at Jessie
Junction (Alder) as we traverse the route straight north which
terminates in Craig. Our first stop is at Marcell. Here the
train might take a while to unload passengers, mail, food items
for the store and feed for the Farm Bureau. Perhaps there will
be a passenger going north.
Sorry about the quality of these two pictures.
I had to do some digging to find these. The picture above
(probably taken about 1920) shows the long platform for this
station stop. Right rear in the photo a barn is visible. It
later burned down. The picture below shows two ladies waiting
for the train to arrive.
Leaving Marcell going north we come to the
"whistle stop" of Pines. The train only stopped if there was a
passenger on or off. Only 2 miles north of our Marcell, the
building was done away with early on.
Picture supplied by Robert Barse Jr.
The next stop is just a few miles
further on at the Jaynes Station midway between Marcell and
Bigfork. Here again there may be no reason to stop excepting for
passengers. Mail went to Marcell or Bigfork for the residents in
Again - a picture from the Deer River newspaper.
And now we come to Bigfork, one
of the larger towns on this north route. As you can see from the
picture below there were a number of business places that lined
the west side of the railroad. There was only one home and the
station depot on the right side of the tracks. Bigfork has
changed a lot since this picture - said to have been taken about
1930 according to the newspaper.
Picture from the Deer River paper.
The picture below is of the
original station depot of Bigfork. It was replaced, but I could
not obtain a picture of the new station. This photo supplied to
me by Pete Bonesteel.
Sorry - no pictures of train stations at Effie or Craig. Given
another couple of years, I may have come up with some. And now I
tell of another encounter with old friends that proved fruitful.
I was eating a meal in Richie's
Marcell Inn one day in October 1994 and ran into Mrs. Lloyd
(Clara) Stickler and her son, Robert. We visited briefly and I
asked if they would send me any memorabilia they might be able
to find. It wasn't too long when I did receive a letter from
Clara which included this original railroad ticket used by The M
& R Ry. I learned something from this "antique item" with its
dates of 1911-1912. I had never realized that all the "train
stops" existed that are shown on this ticket. I therefore have
used these references in the foregoing pages about the various
stops along the train routes. Those good friends shall also get
a complimentary copy of this book.
This ticket had been used by Lloyd Stickler so is not in A-one
Now for one last article about
the Minneapolis & Rainy River Railroad. The following item is
from the April 25, 1991 issue of the Deer River Western Itasca
Review which somebody clipped and gave to me.
THE M & R RAILROAD (GUT AND LIVER)
WIR, Thursday, April 25 1991
1903 picture of a M&R railroad
engine taken at Marcell, was submitted by Evelyn Dysart of Deer
River. of the men are Bob Lundeen and Emil Krantz. In 1890 the
Duluth and Winnipeg Railway came west to Grand Rapids and later
to Deer River. In this same year construction began on the
Itasca Railroad, reaching 18 miles into the Suomi Hills area. In
1887 the railroad was moved to Deer River. By 1898 the line was
completed to a station just south of Little Bowstring. In 1901
the Itasca Railroad was incorporated as Minneapolis and Rainy
River Railroad. By 1911 the line reached to Craig, north of
Bigfork. There was a branch line at the Alder station that went
past Jessie Lake and terminated north of Wirt. The April 23,
1931, Deer River News announced that a petition had been filed
by M&R to abandon the 63-miles of line. Editor H.E. Wolfe wrote,
"Public interest determining the outcome of this request lies
almost entirely north of Deer River, not in the village. In this
north country are people who came in and bought farms and home
because the area had railway service...It is expected the state
commission will set a date for a hearing, which will probably be
held in Deer River, some time this summer."
The railroad tracks are gone. There are a few
traces left to show where it once traversed the northern areas
of Itasca County. You might walk along one of the right of ways
and stumble onto an old railroad tie....but most have been
removed long ago. As you visit many lakes in the area you can
find remains of the trestles that were built into the lake for
the logging industry. Right downtown Marcell you might see a
"deadhead" sticking above the water if the lake level is low.
Over the years, living right on the lake, my wife and I watched
Otter sit on those "pilings" while they chewed away on a fish.
At the south end of North Star Lake there is the sign for a
public access to the lake. Putting in a boat at that access and
going south from the landing leads you through the remains of a
trestle that went across the bay. I learned a lesson about those
old trestle pilings one year not too long ago....right there at
North Star Lake. My 15 year old grandson was running the
outboard on my bass boat and he ran atop one of the pilings
before I thought to warn him. It took some maneuvering before we
got the boat off . Take heed and be forewarned in case you
should ever be on a lake that had a trestle. There are many
other such trestles left here and there and I have seen most of
One last interesting item to conclude the
chapter. After I retired in 1978, I took up the hobby of making
canes & walking sticks using the Minnesota willow tree for my
material. Those who have seen the results using that material
know that they make a very beautiful cane....especially if the
tree had lots of what we natives refer to as "diamonds". As the
tree grew over the years it may have experienced a condition
caused by the wet & dry weather and lost some branches. As the
tree aged for many years, diamonds formed where the branches had
been. Most of my best sticks for the canes and walking sticks
came from along the old railroad right of ways! Did the train
smoke cause this phenomenon? Perhaps one of the amazing facts of
life! Today it is difficult to find a good willow tree with a
lot of the diamonds. I -and other carvers like me - have
depleted much of the supply. Perhaps twenty years from now there
will be a new supply. Good luck to any future would-be "Diamond
Willow Cane" makers.
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