D&IRR Locomotive # 3, Ore Car #251 and Caboose #22

D&IRR Locomotive #3

Central American Connection
The 3 Spot was built in 1883, by Philadelphia-based Baldwin Locomotive Works. The 3 Spot was originally built for the Tehuantepec Interoceanic Railway in Mexico. The Tehuantepec Interoceanic never took delivery, leaving the locomotive available to the D&IR who was in need of motive power at the time.

Along the Minnesota Frontier
The John S. Wolf and Company of Ottumwa, Iowa, was awarded the contract to build a 68-mile railroad line. The company was charged with laying track from a place on Lake Superior called Agate Bay to an iron ore mine near a town later known as Soudan. The first locomotive purchased by the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad was the No. 3, nicknamed the Three Spot. They paid cash for it in the amount of $9,750.

Perilous Lake Journey
Bringing the Three Spot from Philadelphia to Duluth was relatively easy. The locomotive came to the Lake Superior port on existing railroad lines under its own power. The thirty mile trip from Duluth to Agate Bay, later known as Two Harbors, was a different story. In Duluth, the Three Spot was carefully lashed down to a scow under the direction of the D&IR civil engineer William McGonagle. Towed on a barge by the D&IR’s steam tugboat Ella G. Stone, the vessels left Duluth for the short trip up the shore. Captaining the tugboat was Cornelius O. Flynn.

All was well until a northeaster blew up and threatened to sink the scow and locomotive into the lake. Many a Lake Superior captain in similar conditions would order the tow lines cut so that both boats would not be capsized. In his memoirs, McGonagle attributed their safe arrival in Agate Bay to Flynn’s seamanship and providence. The 3 Spot arrived in Agate Bay on August 29, 1883. 

Duluth and Iron Range Railroad Service
The Three Spot was pressed into service shipping men, supplies, rails, and all the necessary equipment from Agate Bay up to the track laying site and served as a construction locomotive for the railroad. The Three Spot was a perfect locomotive for this mission. She was a wood burning engine, able to gather wood and water along the wilderness route. Contrary to popular myth the 3 Spot did not haul the first load of iron ore down from the Vermilion Range. The 3 Spot was simply too light to pull heavy loads of raw ore.

Later Years
In 1899, the Three Spot was sold to the Alger-Smith Logging Company’s Duluth and Northern Minnesota Railroad, headquartered in Knife River for $3000. The renumbered D&NM No. 2 would be used in hauling logs, a task she was suited perfectly for being light enough to negotiate the often lightly built track beds of the logging railroad.

A Homecoming
After being sold several times and nearly lost to scrap the little 2-6-0 was brought home. The Thirty Year Veteran’s Association of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad Company was allowed to display the Three Spot by the D&IR Depot where it has remained since 1923.

 Ore Car #251 and Caboose #22

The first D&IR wooden ore cars were purchased from the Northwestern Manufacturing Co. in 1884. The first order was for 300 cars at a cost of $615 each. The cars had a capacity of 20 tons but were often overloaded. The lifespan of this equipment was relatively short as the Vermillion ore was extremely heavy, hard and abrasive. The rolling stock required constant maintenance and provided a lot of work for the car shop. The first ore cars were 28 feet long and did not line up with the pockets on the newly constructed docks. The car shop would eventually convert these cars into 24 foot cars that lined up better with the pockets on the docks.

Due to the opening of many mines, and the influence of the Porter Group after acquiring the Minnesota Iron Company in 1886, the railroad expanded at an enormous rate. The years between 1892 and 1899 saw the railroad purchase over 2,035 wooden ore cars at an average price of $429 each. The hard Vermilion ore  continued to exact its toll on wooden equipment and by 1899 the railroad had ordered new steel ore cars.

From 1900 on only steel ore cars were purchased and the last wooden ore cars saw service on the D&IRR in 1909. Many were sold to the Duluth & Northern Minnesota (Alger Smith). By 1919 the D&IRR had purchased 5,705 new steel ore cars.

D&IRR Caboose #52 was purchased in 1893 from the Duluth Manufacturing Company. It has the distinction of being the only caboose to begin life as a four wheel bobber caboose that was extended to an eight wheel caboose in 1909 and then returned to the original four wheel configuration for this display. This caboose stayed in service until about 1932 when it was retired. The caboose now displays the number 22 representing the first number in this series of cabooses.

In 1934 as part of the 50 Years of Ore Celebration the ore car and caboose were added to the 3 Spot Display. The original 28 foot ore car #251 arrived in Agate Bay by barge in 1884 and was in service until 1896. The original number of the ore car on display can best be narrowed down to 290, 316, or 340. It was transformed into gravel and ballast spreader #2 in 1899. It remained in service until the Great Depression forced the railroad to reduce it’s inventory. It was sold for scrap and after some negotiations with the scrap yard was reclaimed by the D&IRR Veterans Association and restored by the car shop here in Two Harbors. It bears the number of the D&IR’s first ore car, #251.

Some notes in general about the display. Two of the things not found on this equipment are air brakes and automatic couplers. Air brakes did not come into use until 1889 and automatic couplers were not installed on all the equipment until 1895.

It is amazing that more people were not hurt while these cars were in service. The image of traveling down the mainline at 35 miles per hour and having a brakeman jumping from car to car to   apply the hand brakes is simply unbelievable.  Imagine being between these cars holding the link and pin coupler in place as trains were being assembled.

The Ore Car and Caboose Restoration Project that included the installation of new interpretive panels for the display was made possible by the Labounty Family Fund of the Two Harbors Area Fund and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.