Summer is coming quick and since my honey-do list is of great length, I need to start planning my history and train outings otherwise I’ll never leave the house. I set out to create an outing list that had a good mix of new places, revisits, father-son or companion oriented. All are within the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Metro Area.

1. Hennepin Overland Railway Historical Society HO Scale Model Train Layout

This one I need to do right away as the Hennepin Overland Railway closes for the season at the end of April and won’t re-open until next fall. According to it’s website they have a “65 foot long by 29 foot wide HO scale model train layout” serving two fictitious towns, a logging camp and a spectacular hand-made trestle bridge. There are “multiple upper level storage yards and industrial spurs, and lower-level storage/staging yards.” My son will definitely think this is cool.

2. Twin City Model Railroad Museum at Bandana Square

Twin City Model Railroad Museum

Twin City Model Railroad Museum: Minneapolis Riverfront

I go to the Twin City Model Railroad Museum at least two times a year in the former Como shops of the Northern Pacific. My son enjoys playing with the wooden Thomas table as well as pushing various interactive buttons. While the main feature is the O Scale layout depicting the Twin Cities in they heyday of rail service (complete with a model of the famous Stone Arch Bridge) the Toy Train Division in the adjoining building is a bonus with about a dozen layouts, some providing even more interactive features for kids. When both the Model Railroad Museum and the Toy Train Division are open, only one admission price is needed to see both.

3. Bike-Ride Down Bruce Vento Trail

The Bruce Vento Trail extends from Saint Paul to Maplewood and uses the former Northern Pacific’s Skally Line right-of-way. It goes under the Seventh Street Arches which were built in 1884 and designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2000. It also goes through Swede Hollow and past the old Hamm’s Brewery, alongside Lake Phalen, up into the northern suburb of Maplewood where it ends around former track mile post 8.

4. Train Spot from Phalen Boulevard Bridge

West end of Westminster Junction Wye

West end of Westminster Junction Wye

Early in the morning several trains can be seen passing and going under the Phalen Boulevard bridge at Westminster Junction. There is a pedestrian platform with on the north side of the bridge giving a spectacular view of the east side of the wye and the mainline heading northeast. A historical information kiosk is also displayed on the bridge. A modest barricade does exist between the walkway and traffic so it is friendly for children who don’t climb on 3 foot walls. There is no view of the tunnels but if you head south to the Lafayette bridge you can get a good view. The Lafayette bridge does not have a barrier and is not kid friendly.

5. Mill City Museum

Ran by the Minnesota Historical Society, the Mill City Museum is built into the ruins of the Washburn A Mill which was once the largest mill in the world processing enough flour per day to fill approximately 175 railroad cars. Built in 1874, the original structure was leveled by an explosion sometime after it was built. It was reconstructed in 1880 and used until 1965. In 1991 it suffered a fire, was later cleaned up and now has a museum inside.

6. Jackson Street Roundhouse

Son on Northern Pacific Caboose 1264 at Jackson Street Roundhouse

Son on Northern Pacific Caboose 1264 at Jackson Street Roundhouse

My son has accompanied me many times to the Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Jackson Street Roundhouse that he has taken up the task of leading me around to the exhibits. I just let him lead the way and enjoy watching him take in the caboose or bus ride, tour the various locomotives and passenger cars, and run the interactive displays. He really feels at home. Besides, I can go there and just “hang out” on my own time as I have a membership and occasionally volunteer there!

7. Minnesota Street Car Museum

The Minnesota Streetcar Museum operates two lines: the Como-Harriet Line in southwest Minneapolis along Lake Harriet, and the Excelsior Line near Hwy 7 in Excelsior. The rides are about 15 minutes long, are inexpensive, and scenic. I’ve been on both, but most recently the Como-Harriet Line. The cars are beautifully restored with period advertisements along the inside ceiling.

8. Find White Castle Building Number 8

On the corner of 3252 Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis there is an old White Castle which is listed on the National Register of Historic places. What makes this White Castle unique is that it was built to move and has–3 times. Known as White Castle Building No. 8, it is a movable, prefabricated 28 by 28 foot restaurant that once stood near the University of Minnesota on Washington Avenue. When the land owner refused to extend the lease it was moved to Central Avenue. When that location built a larger White Castle, building number 8 was moved to its present location and put on the register.

9. Ride Osceolla & St. Croix Valley Railway

Soo Line 559 and Burlington Northern 6234 in Osceola, Wisconsin

Soo Line 559 and Burlington Northern 6234 in Osceola, Wisconsin

The Minnesota Transportation Museum also operates the Osceolla & St. Croix Valley Railway. It operates on an active mainline and two different routes are offered. Both routes originate at the Osceolla Depot, one going east to Dresser, Wisconsin, the other west to Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota. I have only ridden on the Marine on St. Croix route, which was scenic as it crosses the river into Minnesota. I have yet to ride to Dresser. The train consists of a variety of cars, some of which are from the Great Northern Empire Builder.

10. Ride Northstar and Hiawatha Light Rail End to End

I’d like to take a weekday off from work, get up early around 5:30 a.m., drive 1 hour to Big Lake, Minnesota, and catch the Northstar Commuter train into the cities. At it’s terminus at Target Field I would then transfer to the Hiawatha Light Rail and continue south to Mall of America, maybe make a stop at Minnehaha Park along the way and in the afternoon take the light rail back to Target Field, hop on the first train out of the cities back to Big Lake. At some point I also wouldn’t mind rail spotting both the Hiawatha and Northstar as I haven’t done so yet.

I’ve Mapped it all on Google Maps

I’ll post pictures as I complete each trip on my list, you can see my progress on the Summer 2012 Google Map.

View 2012 Twin Cities To-Do List in a larger map

About Chad Leigh Kluck

Originally from Nebraska, I am a history and railroad enthusiast currently living near Saint Paul, Minnesota. I enjoy trains, photography, and nostalgic memories, as well as the history of transportation, agriculture, eateries, breweries, and railroad towns. More...

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