BNSF has honored Minot, N.D. with a Heritage Community Award. The award recognizes towns that embrace their past, present and future ties to freight rail.
Minot Mayor Chuck Barney (left) accepts BNSF Railway Heritage Community Award from BNSF’s Andrew Johnsen
“BNSF has grown along with Minot. This is a railroad town that appreciates the strong tradition, but also today’s good jobs and the economic benefit that come with a robust railroad network,” said Andrew Johnsen, assistant vice president of community affairs at BNSF. “This award recognizes the Minot community and its leaders. We look forward to another 100 years here and more.”
Johnsen was joined by Mayor Chuck Barney for a presentation of the award in Minot on Sept. 22. Johnsen presented Barney with a model BNSF locomotive during a dinner served aboard BNSF vintage passenger railcars. He also gave the mayor a $5,000 BNSF Railway Foundation check for the city’s parks and recreation department and a $5,000 check to the Scandinavian Heritage Association, which was accepted by Scandinavian Heritage Association President Gail Peterson.
BNSF’s ties to Minot date back to the late fall of 1886, when BNSF predecessors first arrived at the city’s location. BNSF has maintained a strong presence in “The Magic City” ever since.
In the late 1880s, railroad tycoon James J. Hill’s St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (SP&P) was pushing through Minnesota and into Dakota Territory. By Oct. 1886, the main line reached the Gassman Coulee, a valley located just outside of what is now the city of Minot. In order to cross the valley, the railroad needed to build an extensive trestle. Rather than try and build during the coldest months of the year, construction was halted until the dead of winter passed. The area did not remain empty, however. As if by magic, a tent city sprang up, and within five months the population of “The Magic City” had increased from less than 600 to more than 5,000.
SP&P approached homesteader Erik Ramstad, who had claimed 160 acres on both sides of the Souris River in 1883, about officially establishing a town on his land. Ramstad, who later became one of the city’s first leaders, agreed to relinquish 40 acres south of the Souris to the now renamed St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company (SPM&M). After reaching an agreement with Ramstad, Hill obtained a government scrip laying claim to an additional 40 acres immediately south of Ramstad’s claim. On June 28, 1887, those 80 acres officially became the city of Minot. Hill named the city after his friend Henry D. Minot, an investor, director and executive of the railroad who was also vice president of the Eastern Minnesota Railway Company, another railroad formed by Hill.
SPM&M 158 with a snow plow attachment in Minot in 1887.
SPM&M completed the Gassman Coulee Trestle on May 1, 1887, allowing the railroad to continue its expansion. The railroad spent the winter months stockpiling supplies for the surge west, with The Magic City serving as its base of operations. SPM&M laid 545 miles of track from Minot to Great Falls, Montana Territory between April and mid-October 1887. By November, Hill’s 8,000 men and 3,300 teams had laid 641.5 miles of track between Minot and Helena, Mont. No other railroad had ever laid that much rail in one season.
Today’s Gassman Coulee Trestle is a steel bridge measuring 1,792-feet long and 117-feet high.
Upgrades to the railroad in the Minot area continued after Hill’s Great Northern Railway (GN) leased the SPM&M in 1890. A new steel bridge across Gassman Coulee, still in use by BNSF today, was completed in 1898. The cutoff between Fargo and Surrey, just east of Minot, was completed in 1912, shortening GN’s transcontinental line by approximately 60 miles. In the 1920s, new signals were installed through Minot.
Minot was a key rail terminal for GN. Its location made it ideal for channeling both eastbound and westbound traffic. Cars could be classified (sorted by destination) at Minot for final delivery to customers or connections at either end of the GN system. In the early 20th century, the yard in Minot had a working capacity of 2,197 cars.
In 1949, Minot became a federal grain inspection and sampling point. The number of grain cars held for inspection at Minot went from 4,123 in 1950 to an average of 18,788 cars a year in 1954-1955. The volume of “hold” grain was heaviest in the fall, when the railroad was also hauling considerable amounts of coal, fruit and livestock through Minot.
To alleviate the bottleneck, GN’s Board of Directors authorized construction of a modern hump yard with “push-button”-controlled switches and computer-controlled retarders at a cost of $6.5 million in 1954. The new yard was to be named in honor of Frank J. Gavin, GN president from 1939 to 1951, when John M. Budd took over as GN president. Gavin became chairman of the board of directors.
The three-mile-long facility contained 56 miles of track.
Gavin Yard construction began on April 15, 1955. Once completed, the three-mile-long facility extended the length of the entire Minot terminal to more than seven miles and more than doubled its car capacity to 4,584. Within those three miles, Gavin Yard sported 56 miles of track.
Frank J. Gavin, after whom Gavin Yard was named, speaks to the audience at the yard’s dedication.
John Budd, President of Great Northern Railway, addresses the crowd.
The ceremonial “first car over the hump” at the Gavin Yard dedication.
The facility was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1956 to mark Gavin’s 59th year of service with GN. This brochure was included in press kits handed out at the Oct. 12, 1956, dedication. Take a look for more information on Gavin Yard.
On March 2, 1970, SP&S, GN, Northern Pacific Railway (NP) and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) merged to become Burlington Northern (BN). BN merged with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) in 1996 to form Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, now BNSF Railway.
The Minot Car Shop, which opened in 2012, houses two 500-foot-long tracks that can hold up to five cars each.
An interior of the shop just before the dedication.
Minot and Twin Cities Division employees, retirees, and local and state officials who celebrated the shop’s opening.
In 2012, BNSF celebrated the official opening of a new car shop and two 9,200-foot inspection tracks at Gavin Yard. The car shop and inspection tracks represent a $30 million investment for BNSF in expanding the railroad's infrastructure to serve the growing freight volumes in North Dakota and along BNSF's Great Northern Corridor.
This building, located in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, N.D., is a replica of Gol Stave Church in Norway. About 40% of Minot’s population is of Scandinavian descent. Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
More than 400 active BNSF employees work in Minot. BNSF is proud of its enduring partnership with the city of Minot, which has been an important part of our network for more than a century.
Minot is the second city on BNSF’s 32,500-mile rail network to receive the Heritage Community Award. Pasco, Wash. received the honor in July.