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Marcell, Minnesota History

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6

Excerpted from Memories of a Small Town
by Curtis L. Newstrom, 1995


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 Century.

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.

First train station in Deer River 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.

Minneapolis & Rainy River Railway Company Depot in Deer River Minnesota, 1909

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 building.

Jessie Junction Railroad Depot, 1909
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 Plan Resort.

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 Marcell Township.

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.

Minneapolis & Rainy River 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 Itasca Review

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 picture quality.

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.

Minneapolis and Rainy River Railroad at Stanley Minnesota (now Wirt) 1909
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.

Minneapolis and Rainy River Train Depot in Marcell Minnesota

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 that area.

Jaynes Depot on the Minneapolis & Rainy River Railroad
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.

Bigfork Minnesota Train Depot, around 1930
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.

Minneapolis and Rainy River Railroad ticket from 1911
This ticket had been used by Lloyd Stickler so is not in A-one condition.

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.

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 them.

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.

 Continue to Marcell History Page 3

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