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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Elmer Bridge
Saint Louis River Trail Crossing
Meadowlands, MN

Elmer Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A
• Location: River Mile
• River Elevation: 1,238 Feet
• Trail: Alborn—Pengilly Railroad ATV Trail
• Daily Traffic Count: N/A
• Bridge Type: Steel Deck Plate Girder
• Bridge Length: 290 Feet (Estimated), 100 Foot Longest Span (Estimated)
• Bridge Width: 26 Feet (Estimated), 2 Tracks
• Navigation Channel Width: Non-Navigable
• Height Above Water: ??? Feet
• Date Built: Crossing Dates To 1906
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 few years.

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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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 bridge deck.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge
Elmer Bridge
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.

Elmer Bridge

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