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Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway

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Black and white photograph of cars on Dan Patch line of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester & Dubuque Traction Company, 1910.

Cars on "Dan Patch Line" of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester & Dubuque Traction Company, 1910.

The Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway (MN&S) was a Minnesota short-line railroad that operated between the cities of Crystal and Northfield from 1918 until 1982. It was a profitable bridge line, routing traffic past the crowded freight yards of the Twin Cities onto connecting railroads at Northfield.

The main route of the MN&S ran through the western and southern suburbs of Minneapolis. The southern terminus was at Northfield, with important connections leading from there to the Rock Island, the Chicago Great Western, and the Milwaukee Road.

The financially unsuccessful predecessor of the MN&S was the Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Dubuque Electric Traction Company. It was known as the Dan Patch line for the famous racehorse owned by the company’s proprietor, Marion W. Savage. Colonel Savage owned the International Stock Food Company, a mail order supplier of animal feed. Contemporary advertisements attributed Dan Patch’s victories to the quality of Savage’s product. Construction of the line began in 1908. Savage created an amusement park at Lakeville in 1910 to increase ridership. He sold stock and continued to assemble local backers to provide needed capital for construction.

Savage planned for the railroad to run from his farm on the south end of the metropolitan area north to Minneapolis. A small branch line would also extend to the edge of Minneapolis to serve riders who had reached the end of the Minneapolis streetcar system. Construction added several station stops, and the line reached Northfield in 1910.

Plans for expansion halted when the city of Faribault refused the railroad right-of-way. As a result, the company sought trackage rights over other railroads in order to provide service to Faribault and Owatonna by using the existing physical plant of other railroads. The road was to be electrified and use a system of overhead catenary wires to provide power to locomotives.

Freight traffic generally utilized steam locomotives instead. Passenger service was offered using “doodlebugs,” unique gas-electric hybrid locomotives that were ideal for providing limited passenger and even mixed-freight service over smaller railroads. Despite such changes, the company did not show a profit. Savage died in 1916, and the Dan Patch line entered receivership.

The MN&S grew out of the defunct Dan Patch line under Henry E. Pence in 1918. The new railroad used trackage rights over the Chicago Great Western to extend service to Randolph and Mankato. Rights also extended to the Luce Line railroad, an agricultural sister line that extended to the rich croplands of western Minnesota.

The MN&S also built an extension from its junction with the Luce Line west of Minneapolis northward to the rails of the Soo Line in Crystal. The MN&S was thus able to access Shoreham Yard, the Soo Line’s major local terminal in north Minneapolis. This also allowed the line an interchange with the nearby terminal of the Northern Pacific, the Northtown yard. The new line became a well-positioned road with access to the major carriers of the Twin Cities. The MN&S had a competitive advantage as a bridge line and offered many connections to virtually all larger freight carriers in the Twin Cities.

The railroad built a servicing facility for motive power at Glenwood in Minneapolis, connecting it to the main line by a small spur in Golden Valley. The line used 2-10-0 Decapod-type locomotives, having purchased seven in the 1930s and several more in the following decade. The doodlebugs maintained a limited passenger service over the route, and they came from several manufacturers, such as General Electric and the Wason Company. The MN&S eventually abandoned passenger service as less than profitable. The last run—a trip to Northfield—took place on April 30, 1942.

The late 1940s saw the end of the steam era on the MN&S and the switch to diesel. The line received its first center-cab road switching locomotive from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1948. The railroad took subsequent delivery of the unique diesel units in 1949 and 1953, as well as other units from Baldwin and the Fairbanks-Morse Company. The company acquired motive power from the Electromotive division of General Motors.

In June 1982, the Soo Line purchased the MN&S, and the line ran its last freight train. Most of the system continued to exist, operated in sections by several other railroads.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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  • Related Resources

Brady, Tim. The Great Dan Patch and the Remarkable Mr. Savage. Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 2006.

Diers, John W., and Aaron Isaacs. Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Gjevre, John A. Saga of the Soo, West from Shoreham: An Illustrated History of the Soo Line Railroad and its Predecessors in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana. Part 1. Moorhead, MN: Agassiz Publications, 1990.

Glischinski, Steve. Minnesota Railroads: A Photographic History, 1940–2012. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Hofsommer, Don L. Minneapolis and the Age of Railways. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Hilton, George W. The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Olson, Russell L. The Electric Railways of Minnesota. Hopkins, MN: Minnesota Transportation Museum, 1976.

Prosser, Richard S. Rails to the North Star: A Minnesota Railroad Atlas. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Walker, Mike. SPV’s Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America: Dakotas & Minnesota. Canterbury, Kent, UK: Stuart Andrews, 2005.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of cars on Dan Patch line of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester & Dubuque Traction Company, 1910.
Black and white photograph of cars on Dan Patch line of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester & Dubuque Traction Company, 1910.
Black and white photograph of cars on the Dan Patch line, 1910.
Black and white photograph of cars on the Dan Patch line, 1910.
Black and white photograph of the arrival of one of the picnic trains of the Dan Patch Electric Line at Antlers Park, c.1912.
Black and white photograph of the arrival of one of the picnic trains of the Dan Patch Electric Line at Antlers Park, c.1912.
Black and white photograph of a Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway freight train, 1929.
Black and white photograph of a Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway freight train, 1929.
Black and white photograph of the combined passenger depot for the MN&S at Minneapolis, 1937.
Black and white photograph of the combined passenger depot for the MN&S at Minneapolis, 1937.
Black and white photograph of the last run of passenger service on the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway at the station for Lakeville, 1942.
Black and white photograph of the last run of passenger service on the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway at the station for Lakeville, 1942.
Black and white photograph of a Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway locomotive 22, 1962.
Black and white photograph of a Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway locomotive 22, 1962.

Turning Point

On April 30, 1942, the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway ends its passenger service.

Chronology

1908

Construction begins on the Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Dubuque, also known as the Dan Patch line.

1910

The Dan Patch line reaches Northfield.

1913

The line buys a gasoline-electric freight locomotive, becoming the first American railroad to do so.

1916

Colonel Marion W. Savage dies; the Dan Patch line enters into receivership.

1918

Henry E. Pence organizes the new Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway from the remnants of the MSTPR&D.

1942

On April 30, the last passenger train on the MN&S Railway makes its run to Northfield.

1948

The MN&S begins to acquire diesel locomotives to replace steam power.

1982

In June, the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern railway is acquired by the Soo Line and thus ends its identity as an independent carrier.