DMIR Roundhouse and Railworks
Two Harbors, MN

Daydreaming on a Crane

Nelson - (C)SUBSTREETThe first light of day was probably yellow—it was summer, after all—before it pierced the coats of creosote and cobwebs that clung to the sills of the lime-green skylights. I could see the texture from my perch; it was glass, I knew, but I could have sworn it was flypaper. It caught me, at least, in an artificial and calming way.

Archway - (C)SUBSTREETWhen you’re straddling the rail of a gantry crane, suspended by steel and kept aloft by adrenaline, it seems like the details alone elevate that blunt metal tightrope. The ‘big picture,’ people call it, but it can look so small even from a short distance, so long as you remember to look down.

That incessant buzzing wasn’t the flies unplucked from the dusty, greasy air by the polluted windows, the few that remained. A train whistled at a short distance, trilling and echoing through the long hallway, hinting at the source of the reverberating ruckus. I imagined a puff of steam and a locomotive backing-up under the crane I was sitting on. I imagined the walls vibrating with the awry engines misfiring as those wounded machines crawled backwards into this cave to heal under flaming, sparking torches and grinders.

Photo Comparison: Machine Shop

Diesel exhaust wafted through the kicked-down doors and my daydream alike. The fumes and smoke probably would have made it impossible to see from my altitude and I considered being blind and deaf, a worker guiding a limping train along. Behind me, where the rails stopped and a smaller crane waited on standby, the industrial surgeons huddled at their stations while metalworkers and engineers fabricated the boldly riveted organs of the sleeping, steaming giants.Andy - (C)SUBSTREET

Back on their round feet, they would surely take a long rest, right in the roundhouse around the corner, while waiting approval and paperwork before it was back to the grind of pushing and pulling.

Another whistle blew outside the thick brick shell, this time even closer, the tinny sound hung in the hollowness several long seconds after the engine pulled away getting back more rail yard play.

A dozen leaves reached into the still void and grabbed an unseen, unfelt breeze and rode it out across glass, concrete and moss, between the scarred pillars and graffiti and into one warm beam of yellow-green light.

I wish I could go where they go, and that I could take you with me.

This is one of my favorite doorways (yes, I have favorites) for a few reasons: 1.) You can see how the once-arched door has been squared-off for rectangular doors to fit; 2.) you can see one complete historic door and one ruined door, and the chain that used to hold them together before someone kicked-out the security, and; 3.) I like the texture of the bricks and design of the radiators in the room beyond--the blacksmith shop. Just do.
This is one of my favorite doorways (yes, I have favorites) for a few reasons: 1.) You can see how the once-arched door has been squared-off for rectangular doors to fit; 2.) you can see one complete historic door and one ruined door, and the chain that used to hold them together before someone kicked-out the security, and; 3.) I like the texture of the bricks and design of the radiators in the room beyond–the blacksmith shop. Just do.

Built to Work

The Duluth, Messabe and Iron Range Railroad began in Two Harbors with a 6-stall wooden roundhouse, but it didn’t take long for the railroad expand from there. By 1930, a machine shop, boiler shop, car shop, boiler house, storehouse, foundry, engine room and a 50-stall brick roundhouse blanketed the 30 acres of DM&IR’s lakefront property. 109 locomotives were maintained by the shop, half of which were overhauled annually, while 30 or so received light repair. The roundhouse and machine shop ran 24 hours, maintaining the fleet for both a long ore season and abusive timber season, in addition to limited passenger service.

Exterior [DM&IR, November 1930. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, (HAER MN-99-A-23).]
Exterior [DM&IR, November 1930. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, (HAER MN-99-A-23).]
Out of the 30 buildings that comprised the historic shops, 8 still exist today, although the roofs of many are failing catastrophically. Historic roundhouses and locomotive shops all over the Midwest have been destroyed, but these are still preservable, in spite of the damage. With a little social-historical consciousness and the desire to save those reminders of bygone days that mark the American timeline.

Gallery

Update: roundhouse demolished in 2014

Demolition I - (C)SUBSTREET

Demolition II - (C)SUBSTREET