Minneapolis and St. Paul
September 20 and 21, 1996


Jan and I left on Thursday afternoon for the twin cities, a four-hour interstate run from Indianola. She was to attend the Less Commonly Taught Languages Summit at the U. of Minnesota, and I to do some train-watching. Her conference started at noon Friday, so we had time to look around some in the morning. Our fifth-floor motel room overlooked a number of grain elevators and a BNSF yard full of covered hoppers. It was cloudy and rainy most of the time both Friday and Saturday.

Friday, Sept. 20:

After breakfast we used our city map to locate the Amtrak station, and arrived just in time to see ATK 383, with four Superliners and three material cars, leaving for Chicago. They kindly stopped for a late passenger, on her way to a funeral. This train, the Empire Builder, currently terminates/originates in St. Paul on alternate days, and is a through train to/from the northwestern U.S. on the others.

We next headed toward downtown St. Paul, using directions emailed to us, a little dead-reckoning and just plain track-following. After checking out several areas with double-track mains running through them, we came upon the Minnesota Transportion Museum's storage area, home to several pieces of old railroad equipment. On the property were a diesel switcher lettered MNTX 101, a cabless Pacific, NP 1256, captive caboose NP 1294, a rusty (electric?) loco (I learned later that this is an ex-Armco Steel Westinghouse Electric diesel - VTWI Thanks to Alan Fricker!), and a small industrial switcher. To the west of the old roundhouse were what appeared to be old stone-walled shop buildings, rennovated and now being used as business offices.

We worked our way back to the East Bank Campus, I dropped Jan off at the Nolte Center and returned to the motel room to check my email. I'd been offered a couple of invitations for personal tours of the area by twin city railfans, so I made a phone call to one, Fred Hyde, and offered to buy his lunch in return for some train-watching instructions. Fred gave me directions to a restaurant right beside the BN tracks, where we met and watched trains over lunch. He helped me mark up a twin cities map with the locations of train-watching spots and hobby shops and also gave me a few more scanner frequencies. Thanks, Fred!

Since the weather was poor and Jan, who loves trains but doesn't share my interest in hobby-shopping wasn't along, I decided to check out the hobby shops on Friday afternoon. Using Fred's directions I went first to Scale Model Supplies, on Lexington Parkway, just south of University Ave. This large shop is in a basement under a NAPA franchise. In addition to all the usual stuff, I found that they had a great selection of old stock - organized so that you can tell what's there without having to dig for it. This basement also housed some large club model railroads, which were not in operation, but were open for visitors to look over.

After leaving Scale Model Supplies, I went north a few blocks on Lexington and turned west on Energy Park Drive to get to Bandana Square. This was once the site of the NP Como Shops, and the area has been converted into shops, housing and restaurants, using the old shop buildings. A small shopping mall there still has the shop rails in the floor of the main concourse. A railroad theme has been preserved throughout the complex, including an 0-8-0 switcher and combine out front, and a short freight withan F unit in back. A transfer table remains between the mall and a motel to the west. A five-level parking ramp at the north end of the shopping mall overlooks the busy BNSF (ex-NP) mainlines.

The northeast corner of the second floor of the Bandana Square shopping mall houses the Twin City Model Railroad Club O-Scale layout. This is a large model railroad has four 2-scale-mile long mainlines, and is open, with some trains running during most mall business hours, and with full operation on weekends. The railroad represents railroading in the twin cities' area in the 1930s and 40s, and includes models characterizing the era, and a backdrop of downtown area. The club is on the WWW at: http://www.tcmrm.org/

There is a hobby shop, Como Shops Inc., just below the layout in the Bandana mall. This shop specializes in railroad books and magazines. I brought Jan back to Bandana in the evening to see the layout and the renovated shop area. If you visit the twin cities, be sure to check out Bandana Square.

Before going back to Bandana on Friday evening, Jan and I followed Fred Hyde's directions to a couple of other railroad sites. Just south of the Amtrak depot, we visited the Minnesota Commercial headquarters and found units 73, 63, 110 and 314 sitting outside the old roundhouse, which is labeled "Minnesota Transfer Railway". Minnesota Commercial uses a number of Alco engines.

We also followed Randolph St. down into the area by the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. On the way, we met a CP switch move on the old CM&StP line, with SOO 1547 and 405 pulling autoracks. Continuing around on Shepherd and Warner to the southeast beside the river, one reaches the busy Hoffman Avenue Junction area. After turning off of the divided four-lane, we found SD CNW 6628 switching and SOO 1545 nearby. Just back to the north, railfans from Wisconsin and New Jersey were video-taping the traffic at Hoffman Junction.

We parked at the junction and watched the parade, often involving more than one train at a time. Here's a sample from just a few minutes of train watching at the junction:

Saturday, Sept. 21

Before Jan had to go to her Saturday morning meetings, we went back to the Amtrak depot in St. Paul to see the through-train version of the Empire Builder. The train had arrived early, at 7:21, and in spite of the cool and cloudy morning, passengers were enjoying an opportunity to stretch their legs before the scheduled 8:20 departure. Today's train: The Empire Builder sailed right on schedule, and I took Jan back to the university for her morning meetings before checking out of the motel.

After getting the car loaded, I went northwest to the BN's Northtown Yard area. Two overpasses, both with pedestrian walkways, provide good views of the yard. To the north, on 44th Avenue NE, a fairly new bridge provides a close-up look at the engine house and a hump control tower. Engines outside today: BN 6121, 8011, 6113, 6919, 8110, 2778, 3106 and 3117. The walkway, on the south side of the bridge, has a chain-link fence, so photography with the QuickTake camera was tricky. A portion of the yard to the north is visible from the end of the bridge. Also, a road running parallel to the east side of the yard affords through-the-fence views at the ends of dead-end streets and at a small park south of the engine house.

To the south, an older overpass over the yard on St. Anthony Parkway has walks on both sides, with no fencing to spoil the view. This area is at the far end of the hump yard. Here, I found BN engines 6136, 6123, 6108, 6127 and 6107. Behind the yard to the south of the bridge, one can see the downtown Minneapolis skyline.

Just before picking Jan up for lunch, I went back along Energy Park Drive to see if there were any activity on either of the two main lines that converge just east of Raymond Avenue. All I found was a pair of BN switchers, 181 and 242, at the east end of an intermodal yard. It was pouring rain, but I drove Jan around the Northtown Yard before we had a quick lunch and she returned to afternoon meetings. After lunch, I went back to Hoffman Junction to catch some more traffic. Two other railfans were in attendance as as the weather alternated between showers and sunshine. At the turnoff, southbound geese had stopped at an elevator to feast on spilled grain. I arrived at the junction at 1:30 with just an hour before I had to head back to campus to pick up Jan. Here's what I saw:

I had to leave at 2:30, just as another eastbound appeared behind two UP units. This train was behind a parked cut of cars, so I couldn't see the numbers. Jan and I were on I-35 southbound by 3:30 and arrived back home around 8:00.

That's It!