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August 27, 2009

Come All Ya Rounders

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Pat Coleman @ 8:23 am

Rails to the North StarRails to the North Star New

If you have been paying attention to our civic fathers lately you would have heard the news that a Nineteenth Century technology is going to lead us into the bright Green future. Sometime before I die, light rail (formerly known as Street Cars or the Trolley) is on track to whisk us to Minnesota Twins games and high speed rail is promising to take us to see the Chicago Cubs. Because of the significant role railroads played in the development and identity of this state and region, a train book must be on our list. The best work, I believe, is…

Prosser, Richard S.  Rails to the North Star. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1966.

Prosser’s book is a comprehensive and chronological description of the developments of Minnesota’s transportation landscape. As a reference tool it is indispensable and the maps alone make it worth your shelf space. There are over fifty pages listing railroad companies that built in Minnesota and six pages of companies that incorporated but never built a mile of track.

From Prosser’s last chapter, titled “20/20 Hindsight:”

One hundred years have elapsed since the birth of the original parent of Minnesota railroads, a ten mile stretch of track between St. Paul and St. Anthony over which wheels first turned on June 28, 1862. Growth of Minnesota Population, land cultivation, industry, and trade are all due in some measure to one or another offspring of that pioneer which, whether remembered by the name of William Crooks or St. Paul and Pacific, will be embossed forever in the annals of history. Today, Minnesotans can well be proud of the rails which lead to the North Star, with principal trains second to none – the rails which symbolize wealth and commerce.

The University of Minnesota Press reprinted the book in 2007 with a new forward by noted rail historian, Professor Don Hofsommer, and an uninspired new subtitle, “A Minnesota Railroad Atlas.” Sorry for that little snipe but as long as I am at it, I liked the original cover a lot better than the reprint’s image. Still, kudos to the U of M Press for keeping this available (the colored maps in the book must have given the publisher pause)  because for thirty years I have been wishing people “good luck” in finding and affording the original volume of this much sought after work.

Rails to the North Star maps

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2 Responses to “Come All Ya Rounders”

  1. Ulster Says:

    The book isn’t critical enough of the rail roads for my tatse although I can agree it is a great reference source. and what the hell is a rounder anyway?

  2. Matt Anderson Says:

    The new addition is a welcomed update. Deregulation and mergers have altered the physical and metaphorical railroad landscape so much since 1966. The ensuing line abandonments are particularly interesting. We once had three different rail routes between the Twin Cities and Duluth, and now we’re down to one. Sure would be nice to have that extra capacity as we look toward restoring passenger service.

    I believe “rounder” is a slang synonym for “boomer” – a railroad laborer who drifts from one line to another, going wherever work can be found.

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