Railroads Come to Bessemer

By Ed Sandene

The discovery of Iron ore on Colby Hill sparked an interest in the area in many ways. Workers were needed to build homes and businesses in addition to working in the mines. This meant that people had to be brought to the area and iron ore had to be shipped to steel mills in other areas. It didn’t take long for the railroads to take notice and take an interest. The Federal government provided some incentives for the extending of rail service which is another story.

In 1884 the Milwaukee Lake Shore Railroad platted the City of Bessemer and laid tracks in to ship iron ore. The Duluth South Shore had tracks north of town as early as 1895, maybe earlier. The Chicago Northwestern railroad and the Soo Line also made an appearance in those early days. These latter two both had tracks to the Anvil and Palms mines.

The Chicago & Northwestern track was near US 2 north of the Anvil Palms area. They came up the hill from the north side, at an angle from the northeast toward the southwest. They crossed the Palms road and then switched to another track heading in an easterly direction to the Palms and Anvil mines. The Soo Line was located near Colby street and then went south to the other side of the hill, then East toward Anvil. An old Youngstown Mine map shows joint ownership of the tracks by the Soo Line and C & NW in this area. This allowed access to both mines by both railroads.

This picture shows a C & NW engine at the Palms mine stockpiles. There were several sets of tracks in this area so that the railroad cars could be located near each stockpile.

The switch engine would take the loaded ore cars back toward the west, then they would switch to the downhill track and head on toward the main line. There was a side track there where the cars would be connected together to form a longer train for the journey to the ore docks.

This picture shows the Palms shaft, stockpiles and the car that took the ore from the shaft and dumped it on the piles. The car was loaded at the shaft when a skip brought the ore from underground.

Two skips were used which were connected to opposite ends of a cable. The skip tender, who was about two thousand feet underground, would load a skip and then send it up to surface. The other skip which had just dumped its ore would then come back down.

During the shipping season the skips were emptied directly into the railroad ore cars. A “steam shovel” was used to load the ore from the stockpiles into the cars. During the winter there was no shipping so the stockpiles were again used to store the ore for the next shipping season. (one of the skip tenders was my wife’s father “Gigo”)

This photo shows the cars being loaded directly from the skip.
The road is Palms Road looking west from near
the Anvil road which comes up from US2 to Anvil.
Another interesting railroad story is the part that
the Canadian Pacific railroad played in the immigrant and railroad history of the Gogebic Range. This will be covered in another story.