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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Soo Line Bridge
Regional Trail Saint Croix River Crossing
Danbury, WI

Soo Line Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 122.9.
• River Elevation: 869 Feet.
• Structure Use: Corridor #43, Gandy Dancer State Trail.
• Bridge Type: Deck Plate Girder.
• Length: 520 Feet.
• Width: 12 Feet (Estimated).
• Navigation Channel Width: Non-Navigable.
• Height Above Water: 75 Feet.
• Date Built: 1912.
The Soo Line Railroad arrived in Danbury, Wisconsin, in 1912. This was the fourth mainline railroad to connect between the Twin Cities and Duluth, which included the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Milwaukee Road, and the Soo Line. Prior to that, Danbury was more or less out in the wilderness. Almost overnight, they were just a train ride from Duluth, and heading south, they were less than a day ride from one of the biggest rail hubs in the world. It was an exciting time in history when people could look forward to unlimited progress.

One of the biggest natural features that needed to be conquered was the 120 foot deep Saint Croix River Gorge. The gorge was very narrow near Danbury, only 500 feet, as opposed to being up to a mile wide in places. The Soo Line engineers decided to bridge the valley using a large deck plate bridge. That type of bridge has two large parallel steel beams. The beams are cross braced to keep them from twisting. The rail deck is placed on top of the beams. Support towers hold up the beams. It is a very simple yet very effective rail bridge. After factoring in the cuts and fills near the river, the bridge ended up being 75 feet above the water and extends 520 feet across the Wisconsin and Minnesota state line.

The Soo Line filed to abandon this rail line in September of 1986. As early as spring of 1987, local officials from both Wisconsin and Minnesota were meeting to discuss the possibility of creating a regional trail along the abandoned rail line. Local governments bought parts of the right of way starting in 1988 and 1989, then the state stepped in and bought the entire right of way in June of 1991. This was the genesis of the Gandy Dancer State Trail.

Today, the trail starts in Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and runs north through the timber country to Danbury. From Danbury, the trail crosses the Soo Line Bridge into Minnesota. The Minnesota section runs roughly parallel to the state line, until the trail crosses back into Wisconsin and ends near Pattison Park (famous for the tall waterfall). Near Pattison Park, you can pick up other state trails, and even head into the Twin Ports area. The Gandy Dancer trail, named after the work crews on the railroad, allows ATVs, snowmobiles, horses, hikers, mountain bikes, and cross-country skiers.

The photo above is a view of the northern half of the bridge. The southern half is obscured by trees, and there is no easy access to either riverbank near the bridge.


Soo Line Bridge
The photo above is a view of the south bridge portal looking to the north towards Minnesota. The photo below is a similar view after having walked out onto the bridge deck. Lengths of conveyor belt have been placed on the bridge deck to help make the crossing a bit smoother for bicycles.

Soo Line Bridge
Soo Line Bridge
These two photos are views looking north from the roadbed fill on the south side of the Saint Croix River. The photo above is the west side of the abutment, while the photo below is a view along the east side of the bridge. In both cases, the trees are so thick that it is not possible to see the river until you are 100 feet out onto the bridge deck.

Soo Line Bridge
Soo Line Bridge
The photo above is looking upriver to the east of the Soo Line Bridge. The photo below is a view along the west side of the bridge. The angle braces are the only way to brace the railings without taking up space on the bridge deck.

Soo Line Bridge
Soo Line Bridge
The photo above is a view looking northeast over the river valley from the west side of the bridge deck. The photo below is profile view of the former railroad bridge looking to the west. Wisconsin is on the south side of the river, Minnesota is on the far side of the river.

Soo Line Bridge

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