Railroads were instrumental in the development of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. They opened the land for settlement as their lines expanded in all directions through the northern Red River Valley. The first railroad into the Red River Valley was the Northern Pacific Railroad. This railroad built a transcontinental route through the Fargo-Moorhead area in 1872. Railroads did not expand into the northern Red River Valley until 1878, when the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad completed a line from Glyndon to St. Vincent. After the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad became the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad, a branch line was built from Crookston to Grand Forks/East Grand Forks in 1879. The second railroad that arrived in the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area in early 1887 was a branch line of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Other railroads, like the Grand Forks and Missouri Valley Railroad, planned to build into the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area, but never did.
FIRST TRAIN CAME FIFTY YEARS AGO
Only One Member of First Crew Into East Grand Forks Now Living.
It was 50 years ago last Wednesday, that the first railroad train nosed its way through the Minnesota prairies and was stopped by the Red River of the North at East Grand Forks, it was pointed out by several of the “old timers” last week.
Only one man of the crew that brought in the train is still living. He is Phil McLoughlin, of Grand Forks, who for years has served as county justice and was re-elected Tuesday. The train was a work train which carried material for the construction of the Great Northern railroad track, into East Grand Forks. The bridge over the river to Grand Forks was not built until January, 1880.
The conductor on the train was Jack H. Bunnell, whose wife and daughter still live in Crookston; Mr. McLoughlin, who was an extra fireman on the train; William Thomas, the conductor, and Sam Smith, the brakeman. When the train was brought into the city, the business portion was where the Northern Pacific depot is now located. The crew of the work train, all but Mr. McLoughlin, whose place was taken by the regular man, Hank Depew, manned the first passenger train into the city.
Every station had a wood yard at that time, the largest in this section being at Fisher’s Landing; the wood was loaded in the wood car and if it didn’t last from one station to another there was plenty along the tracks. Most of it was cut in two-foot lengths, but if that ran out, the four-foot wood was used. The cooking was done in one car and the meals served in a diner. There were three cars loaded with rails and ties. Blair and Grant, two Scotchmen, had the contract for laying the rails, and William Thompson was their secretary. The workmen were mostly Scandinavians, the number varying from 25 to 40 men.
After the track was laid to the river the train backed into Fisher. The crew went on to the Fergus Falls – Barnesville division, where two other crews started laying track until they met each other. There was no celebration when the work train came into the village, but a greater part of the population of both towns on the river were in the crowd watching the train.
When the passenger train came in there was a demonstration as again when the bridge was completed. Until the completion of the bridge those who wished to get across the river from either side did so by the ferry, which was run by Ed. Williams.
“Yes, things have changed a lot since the time when we brought in the first train. Now instead of two straggling posts there are two thriving cities, equal to any of their size in the country,” Mr. McLoughlin said. “The men who founded these cities at this point knew that some time the situation would be as it is, for there would be great cities located here and it was the vision which they had that made Greater Grand Forks possible. I sure have enjoyed every minute of the time I have spent here and I hope to be here a long time to come.”
The Grand Forks Daily Herald
Sunday Evening, November 9, 1924
Volume XLIII, Number 266, Page 15