The Merritt brothers discovered a high grade of iron ore in northern
Minnesota in 1890. A railroad line was established by the Duluth,
Missabe, & Northern railroad in 1892 running between Virginia and
Brookstone. The DM&N extended this line south into Duluth within a
The vein of hematite ore was determined to be 2 miles wide
and 100 miles long. Mines began to spring up along the entire Missabe
Iron Range. The DM&N built a branch from Alborn, located just north
of Brookstone, and running northwest towards the west end of the Missabe
Range. This line passed through the towns of Pengilly and ended near
Coleraine. It was a heavy double-track line from Alborn to a location
known as Hull Junction, and then north into Hibbing.
The DM&N merged with the Duluth & Iron Range railroad in the late
1930s to form the Duluth, Missabe, & Iron Range Railway. Traffic ramped
up during and after WWII, but by the early 1960s, the easy ore had been mined.
The shipments of iron ore tapered off as imported ore became cost effective.
The development of Taconite made the lower grades of ore profitable, and
traffic again picked up on the DM&IR. Despite the renewed traffic, a
wave of consolidation hit the mining industry. Both the Great Northern and
DM&IR began to consolidate railroad lines and abandon excess lines. The
route from Alborn to Coleraine fell victim and was abandoned.
The DM&IR roadbed between Alborn and Pengilly sat unused for many years.
Then, in 1996, an ATV riders club, The Range Riders, was awarded the rights
to develop the old railroad line into an ATV trail. The Alborn—Pengilly
ATV Trail opened as a 42 mile off-road trail available from early summer to
late November, and open to snowmobiles in the winter.
A signature feature of the Alborn—Pengilly ATV Trail is the former
DM&IR railroad bridge over the Saint Louis River near Elmer, Minnesota.
This bridge is a twin-track deck plate girder structure. What is interesting
is that part of the bridge deck has been dismantled, exposing the bridge
structure. What is curious is why this work was undertaken. If it was to
salvage the steel, then why wasn't the entire bridge taken down? If it
was to convert the bridge to single track usage, then why wasn't the entire
second track span removed? When the section of deck was removed, someone
went through the effort to add a walkway and railing to the remaining span.
Someone also spent a lot of time removing most of the lower bridge railing,
leaving small sections on each bridge support post. Finally, the main
rails that were bolted down were removed, but the guard rails that are
riveted in place where not removed. That was apparently too much effort
for the value of the scrap steel.
The photo above is looking to the northwest towards the southwest face
of the main river channel span. Note the concrete bridge piers. That
might be unusual for a 1906 structure, which leads one to suspect that this
bridge was rebuilt at some point. It is possible that the concrete was
used to encase the original cut stone piers, or the piers might have been
completely replaced. The photo below is the first view of the bridge when
traveling southeast on the ATV trail. The bridge is located about 1,700
feet southeast of the site of the former Schneiderman's furniture store on
Saint Louis county highway #199.
The photo above is a view of the bridge deck from the west corner of the
structure. The photo below is a similar view from the north corner of the
bridge. The rails on the southern span are guard rails. The actual
railroad track rails have been removed. Remains of the rivets that once
held the track in place on the northern span are still visible. It was
probably a lot of work to remove the tie plates, but it was necessary
in order for the bridge to be safely used by ATVs and snowmobiles.
The photo above is the end of the bridge deck on the southern span. A
railing has been welded in place across the gap. The photo below is
looking down the length of the bridge where the deck has been removed.
The cross bracing keeps the two plate girders upright and parallel,
giving the bridge its strength. Notice that every joint is riveted,
which suggests that the bridge dates to before World War II.
The photo above is another view of the bridge girders where the bridge
deck has been partially removed. The photo below is the end of the bridge
at the southeast bridge abutment.
The photo above is looking to the southeast down the ATV trail past the
end of the bridge deck. The right of way once supported two parallel
railroad tracks, but trees are slowly encroaching on the trail. The
photo below is a view of the southeast bridge abutment as seen from
the riverbank on the east side of the Saint Louis River.
These two photos are views of the southwest side of the bridge as seen
from the riverbank. The photo above is an overview of the bridge site.
The photo below is a closer view of the pier on the far side of the
river. The climb down to the river level is difficult due to the steep
embankment, but the view at the river level is worth the effort.
These two photos are views looking northwest down the length of the bridge
deck as we head back across the bridge. The photo above is an overview
of the bridge site, while the photo below is a close view of the steel
The photo above is a view of the bridge girders as seen from the south
corner of the structure. Trees are growing up between the bridge girders.
The photo below is looking upriver to the north from the bridge deck.
Note that the lower of the two bridge rails has been cut to allow that
railing to be salvaged. This seems like a lot of work to go through,
especially in an area of the state where iron ore is dug out of the ground
by the train load.
These two photos are views of the bridge deck looking to the northwest.
The photo above is a view of the northeast end of the bridge deck. The
photo below is a detail view of the deck on the southern bridge span.
The rails were once bolted to the tie plates, which remain because it
would have been too much work to cut off the 4 rivets that hold each
tie plate in place. The rails that remain are guard rails. They serve
to keep any derailed train wheels on the bridge to prevent any derailed
train cars from ending up in the river.