Colonel William Luce built the “Luce Line” or “Electric Short Line Railway” from downtown Minneapolis, through the countryside, and continuing on to Gluek in west central Minnesota.The original intent of the line was to capture the farm to market traffic originating in central Minnesota and to provide transportation for people to downtown Minneapolis via electrically propelled trains.
However, due to budgetary constraints, no overhead electric trolley wires were ever constructed. During its entire lifetime, the “Luce Line” operated with gasoline-electric rail coaches for its passenger trains. Freight cars were pulled by either the gas-electric coaches or conventional steam and in later years, diesel locomotives.
One of the Luce Line employees, who probably worked for the railroad longer than anybody, was Francis Littfin of Winsted. Francis started working for the Luce Line on September 4, 1928.
For approximately two and a half months, he worked on the line in Blomkest, Minnesota, after which he transferred to Winsted and worked as the depot agent until that facility was closed during the spring of 1967.
Francis then transferred to Hutchinson where he worked until April 14, 1972, at which time the Chicago Northwestern Railroad abandoned the Luce Line. He then retired.
Although during its last years, the line offered erratic service and frequent derailments, when the railroad reached Winsted on February 13, 1915, its future appeared bright.
A turntable and engine house were built on the present site of the old Green Giant plant (now Sterner Lighting) and promotional maps suggested Winsted as the hub of potential rail lines north through Howard Lake, south through Lester Prairie to New Ulm, and west to Watertown, South Dakota.
While neither of the north or south extensions were ever built, the line did progress westward to Hutchinson, arriving there on February 28, 1916.
In 1927, the line finally reached its terminus of Gluek, which referred to as the “coast” by the railroad.
While rail freight and passenger traffic generally declined as roads and automobiles improved, a record of 250 passenger tickets were sold in February 1929 at the rate of one cent per mile per person.
Freight traffic also used to be extensive. During 1946, over 1,000 carloads of freight were shipped through the Winsted depot of which 321 carloads were cheese.
Up to 16 carloads per month of coal for the Western Condensing Company boilers used to be unloaded trackside by Herb Kubasch and then hauled downtown by trucks. It was also not unusual to see 15 carloads per month of whey shipped out or up to 100,000 pounds of LCL (less than carload lots) merchandise per month handled at the depot.
The last passengers were carried in gasoline-electric car Number 38 in 1948, and after that, only freight trains would traverse the rails of the Minnesota Western Railway, as the Luce Line was then officially called.
In those days, the grain elevator company, Cargill, controlled the Minnesota Western. Eastbound and westbound grain trains of up to 80 cars in length would meet at Winsted daily. This was the only location on the line that had long enough sidetracks to allow the trains to pass one another.
On October 17, 1953 at 2:30 p.m., while an eastbound freight was crossing the trestle over the south bay of Winsted Lake, the structure collapsed.
The locomotive and one car of cheese had made it across, while seven cars of corn and two carloads of oats suffered the inglorious fate of being inundated in the ooze of Winsted’s most famous body of water.
Several carloads of sugar beets and the caboose remained on the western side of the trestle and were later dragged back to town.
Work was then begun to restore service by replacing the trestle with an earthen fill. However, after several loads of fill hauled in sank into the unstable muck on the lake bottom, a decision was made to lay track on the shoreline around the south bay of the lake.
By Tuesday, October 27, the new track was complete, and freight service was resumed. Workers continued to labor, dismantling the trestle and removing much of the wreckage with the exception of a wooden “Soo Line” boxcar and a few of the freight car wheels and tracks, which still remain in the lake to this day.
From 1927 until 1956, the Minnesota Western was managed and operated by officers of the Minneapolis, Northfield, and Southern Railway, which also provided freight locomotives and rolling stock.
Operations continued in this manner until August 3, 1956, when the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway, which then changed the official corporate name of the Luce Line to the Minneapolis Industrial Railway, purchased the Minnesota Western.
Much effort was expended by the Minneapolis and St. Louis management to attract new industrial development along the line, its biggest success being an industrial park located in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth.
However, in 1960, the Minneapolis and St. Louis, and along with it the Luce Line, was purchased by the Chicago Northwestern Railroad.
Rail traffic in general was declining. With reduced revenues and maintenance difficulties, the Luce Line was no longer efficient competition against trucks.
The Chicago Northwestern abandoned the line from Hutchinson west to Gluek in 1967. Five years later, the remaining track from Hutchinson east to Highway 494 in Plymouth was removed.
Today Colonel Luce’s railroad empire is part of the Department of Natural Resources trail system.
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