Local resident tracks history of Luce Line

By Julie Yurek

Winsted resident Gary Lenz has spent hours digging up information and photos of engines, cabooses, and train depots.

For the past 15 years, he has compiled and composed the history of the Luce Electric Line Railroad.

“He loves history and he loved trains as a child,” said Jody Lenz, Gary’s wife.

In the case of the Luce Line, history and trains certainly go together.

While on the centennial committee and working on the centennial book in 1986, Lenz saw some of the train photos being submitted and was interested, he said.

He began to take a look at the railroad that had once passed through Winsted. “I wanted to see how much I could find out about it (Luce Line),” he said.

Through his research he found little bits of information here and there, like a puzzle, he said.

“I’d read a two-line sentence in a 1915 newspaper referring to the Luce Line, but there was not enough information included to know what happened,” Lenz said.

“Then, I would find a photo that would taken in the area around the year mentioned and a few more bits of information from other newspapers or railroad documents, and piece together what occurred,” Lenz continued.

Finding the facts and figures was hard to begin with.

Lenz visited the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul a couple of times a week. Luckily, he was working in St. Paul at the time too, he said.

“I searched through newspapers from 1909 to about 1920. It was all on microfiche,” Lenz said. “Sometimes it was hard not to get distracted by looking at all the different advertising and photos.”

Lenz also conducted personal interviews with people affiliated with the railroad.

He’s talked with Francis Littfin, Winsted’s depot agent; Gerald Lewis, a conductor; and Danny Hartell, a brakeman who worked in Winsted.

“They could identify and tell about the different pictures they recognized,” Lenz said.

Over the years, Lenz has given between eight and 10 presentations to various organizations. His most recent was at the McLeod County Heritage Center. The Luce Line Railroad Club hosted the event April 11.

It was the second time he had spoken at the heritage center, he said.

Lenz is also a published writer. His article, “Minnesota’s Western Railroad,” was published in the Chicago & North Western Historical Society in a 1999 issue.

In it, Lenz starts from the beginning with owner, William L. Luce and his son, Erle D. and their dreams of building a railroad. He chronologically archives the events of the Luce Line, from its brightest moment to its financial and physical demise.

Many photos, some not published before, accompany Lenz’s article.

“I’m always looking for photos. If anyone has any, I’d like to make a copy of them,” he said. Many from his collection are copies from various people and organizations.

“I give credit to the owners in my presentations, in my article, or when I show them to anyone,” he said.

Lenz is currently looking for photos of the “whistle stops or flag stops,” stops along the track where people could get on between town depots, he said. “Or a picture of the elevator at Sherman Station being put onto a flatcar and moved to Silver Lake,”

“This is a pastime for me,” Lenz said. If he has to give a presentation, he works on the collection, he said. At other times, he doesn’t work on it until a photo surfaces or he talks to someone with new information, he added.


Luce Line history highlights

Aug. 7, 1908
Electric Short Line Railroad Company started and land was acquired in Minneapolis. Trains traveled between terminal in Minneapolis (near the present Target Center) and Glenwood Junction, which was the western city limits.

1913 to 1916
Track was laid from Glenwood Junction to Stubbs Bay on Lake Minnetonka, to Watertown, Winsted, Silver Lake, and Hutchinson.

Construction reached west of Hutchinson to Cosmos.

Track reached Lake Lillian.

Luce Line bought by Minnesota Western Railroad; renamed Minnesota Western.

Track reached Gluek, MN. No more funds could be secured; so Gluek became the western terminus of the line.

Sept. 10, 1947
“Last run” for passenger service.

Minnesota Western bought by Minneapolis and Saint Louis Railway.

Minnesota Legislature acquired the abandoned tracks for state’s first nature trail, the Luce Line Trail.

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