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Trains Of The Past


Roxanne Friebohle


Today, there are actually some people that have never riddenon a train. These people have missed many happy experiences that were commonto the pioneers. Trains are becoming more and more uncommon every day. Nowpeople drive their car or take a plane when they are going somewhere. Theymiss seeing all the different people on the trains and the many sights alongthe way.

Today, the residents of St. Vincent could sleep all dayand never be bothered by the noises of a train. In the pioneer days it wasn'tthat way at all. Many people were awakened every morning at 5:30 by thecheerful Choo-Choo of a train rolling into town.

The train that came into St. Vincent at 5:30 A.M. was knownas the Great Northern Flyer. It started coming to St. Vincent in 1897. Thistrain was the passenger train. At that time St. Vincent was the end of theline so the train stayed at the roundhouse all day. The roundhouse was locatedat the west end of St. Vincent. Since the train stopped there, many passengersalso stopped at St. Vincent for awhile.

During the first years of the trains in St. Vincent, therewas a very large Great Northern Hotel located in the village. This hoteltook care of the trainmen and the passengers.

There were also freight trains that came into St. Vincentregularly. The freight cars brought such things as machinery, auto parts,raw peanuts, fruits and vegetables from California and Florida, and bananasfrom Honduras. There were also many immigrants that rode the freight trainswith their whole family, belongings, and even their livestock. Most of theimmigrants came from Iowa and Illinois and were on their way to Canada.They would have to stop at St. Vincent since it was the last town beforeCanada. They had to get checked by the Customs before entering the country.The veterinarians would have to check their livestock also before they couldget them through the border. There were cases when some of them settledin St. Vincent because they couldn't wait to get to Canada.

Coal was also shipped by the carloads to the St. Vincentdepot. At that time it was used to heat homes. The coal was taken to theelevator which was located at the east end of town. People had to go outthere to buy it.

After the freight was unloaded at the depot, it was takento its destination by a dray man. Archie Darrach devoted much of his timeto this job during the first days of the depot. He took care of all thefreight that came in. He also took care of the breweries in the town. Wheneverthey ran out of beer he hauled it to them. One time when he was haulingfreight to the town hall which was located at the west end of town, hishorses became frightened and over turned the wagon. A piano which he washauling hit him in the head and he never regained conscienceness. He wasjust one of the many men that lost his life for the railroad.

There was also much freight shipped into St. Vincent thathad to go across the river. At that time there was no bridge so it all hadto be ferried across the river.

The depot at St. Vincent was a very large one for thattime. It was approximately three hundred feet long. It consisted of theCustom offices at the west end and the warehouses at the east. The depotagent made his home right in the depot. That way he could be there at anytime to receive messages from other agents.

St. Vincent's roundhouse also played an important rolein the railroad days. In the year 1897, the roundhouse was built with thebacking of James J. Hill. The roundhouse was erected right west of the townof St. Vincent by Lake Stella. Today, the old stock yards are located inplace of the roundhouse.

Today, you'd never believe that at one time St. Vincentwas a thriving city. The days of the St. Vincent railroad were filled withmuch excitement and hard work. The train service in St. Vincent could almostbe referred to as William Wordsworth (1) once stated, "Small serviceis true service while it lasts." The train service was a small onebut there was always a way of getting from place to place. The old timersthat remember the first trains remember them as a true service.

The depot went through two very hard floods, one in 1897and one in 1950. The one in 1950 washed the tracks up so badly thatthey looked like a snow fence. The ties that were washed up were from 150to 200 pounds. Most of the rails were about sixty pounds a yard and thirtythree feet long. After all the hard work and slaving to lay the tracks theflood finished them off. The flood also played an important part in finishingthe trains coming through St. Vincent altogether.

One experience during the flood in 1897 was when a womendied. Because of the flood they had no place to bury her. They ended upkeeping her body at the depot for a month and when the water finally wentdown they buried her. She was the first person to be buried in the St. VincentCemetery.

Another reason the railroad was taken out of St. Vincentwas that the Northern Pacific train which came from Winnipeg wouldn't mergewith them. They had the plans all ready for building new tracks but it didn'twork out as planned.

Railroads helped to open a new era in mail and expresstransportation. There had been much talk of projecting a railroad throughKittson County long before the plan came true. Until 1862, Minnesota hadno railroad service at all. In 1857, a charter was granted to the Minnesotaand Pacific Railway Company. Later this company became the St. Paul andPacific. At first, the railroad ran from St. Anthony to St. Paul, whichwas a ten mile stretch. Later this railway stretched all the way to St.Vincent and even later all the way to Canada.

The first engine used was the William Crooks engine namedfor its first engineer, who was a citizen of Crookston. This engine wasthe Great Northern's first engine.

As well as the other accomplishments of the railroads,it greatly increased and stimulated the settlements in many ways. Naturally,there had to be settlers to build the railways but the railroad companyalso induced settlement by offering its lands for sale. The company hadbeen given a state government grant of every odd section in a strip extendingfrom the Red River twenty miles east and running from Marsh River to theinternational border.

Railroad lands were offered at $5.00 an acre and rebatesof $2.00 per acre, were followed if settlers broke three fourths of theirtacts. The land was a little higher if it contained timber.

The settlement of Kittson County began slow in spite ofland being sold. This was due mostly to the lack of drainage in the valley.

In order to build up the railroads in the northwest muchhard work was needed and strong men to carry it out. James Jerome Hill,a farmer from Rockwood, Ontario was one of the many men that devoted hislife to the development of the railroads. He first entered into the railroadbusiness as a freight forwarder in 1865. He kept expanding into varioustrading and transportation enterprises. He built up the Great Northern muchmore than any other one man.

James J. Hill also built a very large house in Northcote,Minnesota for his son Walter. Many people from St. Vincent can recall thedays when Walter Hill would come racing into town in his jeep, as some peoplecalled it. It was really an early Ford that didn't have a top, today knownas a convertible. Some days he would be racing into town so fast that hishat flew off his head. But it didn't seem to bother him. He was said tobe a very carefree person and full of fun.

Of the many experiences I've heard of people riding ontrains, I especially enjoy the one that my grandparents used to tell abouttheir trip from Emerson, Manitoba to Quebec, Ontario. It was a cold dayin the middle of winter when they decided to take this trip. They got readyto leave and went to the depot in Emerson to wait for the train. Their parentswere worried because it was a little stormy out and they hadn't got so thatthey trusted trains yet because they were still a new thing to them. MyGrandmother and Grandfather didn't have any worries at all. When they finallystarted out it had gotten a little stormier and it was hard to see. Theygot three miles out of Emerson when the train ran into a bigger snowbankthan it could cope with. It turned out that this storm lasted a bit longerthan they had expected. They sat in the train for six days and nights beforethey could get help. In those days, trains didn't carry much food like theydo today. The trainmen killed a cow and went to a nearby farmhouse and gotsome eggs and a few other things so the people could eat. When the stormfinally ended they started out once more for Quebec. After two weeks theyfinally got there.

From that day, trains have improved greatly. Passengersare as comfortable as if they were at home when they take long trips. Stillit seems like it doesn't matter how comfortable they are, they are stillfading away into the past.

Today all that is left in many places is the memories andfew traces of where they once went.

(1) Bartlett, John Familiar Quotations Little Brown andCompany c. 1955 William Wordsworth



Colliers Encyclopedia; James J. Hill

Friebohle, Glenice, I.; Interview, January 1, 1972

Friebohle, John, A.; Interview, January 1, 1972

Gooselaw, Eli; Interview, January 4, 1972

Kittson County Enterprise; 50th Anniversary Edition; page68

Nordhaugen, Clarence; Interview January 1, 1972

Ryan, Margaret; Interview January 4, 1972

Anniversary Edition; page68

Nordhaugen, Clarence; Interview January 1, 1972

Ryan, Margaret; Interview January 4, 1972