Mesabi Trail

Railroading in the "Great Land of Mesabi"

Northern Minnesota's hidden treasure of historical locomotives, rails and stories.

Chug "K" chug "K" chug... A locomotive (the old type steamer) simply heats water into steam and used the energy to move anything one can imagine to every place imaginable, including into the Land of Mesabi and the Iron Range within it.

The waist or middle of a steam locomotive engine is basically a horizontal water tank with flues (a series of hollow pipes) running through it. On the backend of this water tank is a "fire box" Yep, that is where they stoke a fire. The hot gas from the fire must travel through the flues to the front of the engine where there is a "smoke box". As the hot gasses pass through the flues they heat the water to steam.

The smoke box in the front end has a smoke stack, and its job is to do more than just vent the smoke and hot gas. The smoke stack goes down into the smoke box more than half way, and below this stack there is a steam exhaust nozzle, for "used" steam escaping from the steam drive cylinders.

This nozzle points directly upwards through the center of the stack. Because this steam is under great pressure as it enters the bottom of the smoke stack, it creates a vacuum in the chamber as it exhausts steam and smoke mixture. The vacuum pulls the fire gas through the flues and creates a hotter steam in the boiler water chamber.

So the harder the smoke stack vents, the hotter the fire, and the hotter the fire the more steam it vents and faster and faster till it is roaring down the tracks going chugKchug every time a cylinder vents into the smoke stack.

The chug comes 4 times a revolution of the main driver, once at the top, once halfway down, once at the bottom and once half way up. Chug kchug kchug kchug.

"Blow the Whistle" What is a railroad section doing inside the trail web site?! One easy answer is 'Rails to Trails,' a national program for returning existing abandoned rail beds to new trails and new uses, but...another answer is that the Mesabi TrailSM is a project of the Regional Railroad Authority, a two-county organization formed to maintain and operate the North Shore Railway, and then given the responsibility of developing the Mesabi TrailSM and all its potentials.

There is another reason that is better however: The Land of Mesabi (all of northeastern Minnesota) is truly a rail road enthusiasts dream. There is not one aspect of this area that is not directly affected by the history or the current condition of the railroads.

Switch yards, loading docks, round houses, engines and rolling stock, are a part of almost every landscape. There is not one community that cannot boast at least one spur, or one element of the essence of the rail roads, let alone several which reflect the large scale of the iron industry.

Many communities are still currently heavy shippers of the taconite iron pellets, and trains can be found moving in and out constantly. The historical equipment can also be found, and if you are a fanatic or a novice, we will be developing a section here to help you find it all.

Think of it this way, the Mesabi TrailSM is made of old rail beds, footpaths and horse drawn carts passage ways, reclaimed farm land and the edge of mining pits. Some elements of the Mesabi TrailSM have been used as a pathway into the Land of Mesabi for hundreds of years.

When the iron was discovered, tracks were laid down, people by the train load came in and ore, timber, and farm produce were taken out.

What was left were communities rich in ethnic diversity, and an American slice of life as lived in the Northland, and... railroad stuff.

Our section on the railroads will be expanding to collect, capture and bring photos, stories and historical information about our rails heritage. Also your stories and information are a welcome contribution. If you have a touch point with the golden age of rails or if you have an interest, get in touch with us and share.

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