On a recent trip to Stillwater, Minnesota, I was taking the shortcut down McKusick and noticed, to my dismay, the new “Exempt” signs attached to the crossings of the Minnesota Zephyr. I had known that they had closed shop this year, but maybe I wished to ignore the truth. Well, this sign, no pun intended, drove it home. I will say I was fortunate in the Winter of 2007 to take a ride courtesy of my sister and her husband. It was to be the last season then, but the dinner train was actually to remain open for one more year.
Not quite knowing what the future use of the track would be (there had been talk of trails a few years back) I knew I had to get out there and “document” before it was torn up. It could be years, decades, or next spring. You never know with these things. My main concern was to catch a snapshot of the steam era cross-bucks decorating the entrance to the Sawmill Golf Club.
I’m not quite sure how this sign survived as all the other crossing warning signs are the modern 90 degree angle cross. Considering this particular sign was spared the “Exempt” designation, there must be more behind it’s story. One possible explanation is the fact that it is a private entrance and not a county or state road. There is at least one other private crossing along this route.
While capturing these photos, I found another gem. Just feet to the west of this sign, along the tracks was a similar era “Station One Mile” sign. Though the track hasn’t extended One Mile beyond this point for probably a decade or two, it is most likely referring to Duluth Junction (currently where the Gateway Trail meets up with Dellwood Ave south of Hwy 96). Duluth Junction is exactly one mile west of this point. It could also be for decor, paired with the old cross bucks as well as notifying the Zephyr engineer it was the end of the line for the dinner train. The Sawmill Golf club was actually the end of the line for the Minnesota Zephyr as it would stop here and then reverse to make its return trip home.
The history of the St. Paul and Duluth branch line from White Bear Lake to Stillwater, as well as the Soo Line route (currently the Gateway Trail) meeting up at Duluth Junction is a post for another day.
I’ve create a map of the old branch line route at Google Maps.
You can see all my pictures from this short trip at rrpics.chadleighkluck.net including the ominous EXEMPT signs.