Northern Pacific Power
Brainerd, MN

“It seems that we’re not worthy of heat,” he said, launching a cloud of mild sarcasm in my direction, “but at least we’re here.”

H

Map showing Power Plant and Roundhouse, Sanborn Fire Insurance Co (1929)
Map showing Power Plant and Roundhouse, Sanborn Fire Insurance Co (1929)

ere was a new abandonment—well, new to us—and we were pleased to have found a rotting railroad relic in a part of the state that seemed eerily void of the industrial elements that welded these communities to the map. The happiness, perhaps, wasn’t visible as my shivering hands swapped spare batteries between my pockets, warm from what little body heat I could retain.

“This is you know, an entirely ironic exercise, considering the one claim-to-fame this building has,” I mumbled to my fellow photographer, who had secured our trip.

“Yeah?” He didn’t seem as amused.

“And what would that be?”

“Well, when Brainerd’s municipal power plant burned in 1905, this place powered the city while still heating all these old car shops.”

The powerplant was roughly in the middle of the rail works.
The powerplant was roughly in the middle of the rail works.

The shops were quiet, only reflecting the sounds that came at them from passing cars. There weren’t many left either, but still they were a symbol of the city’s historical foundations. Brainerd was actually named after wife of the first president of the railroad that built the shops, this power plant, and practically the city around: Northern Pacific.

Considering the side of Boiler #3's firebox, where it meets the boiler (between the cylinders). The top piece is where the exhaust is sucked into the chimney, one chimney for each pair of boilers.
Considering the side of Boiler #3’s firebox, where it meets the boiler (between the cylinders). The top piece is where the exhaust is sucked into the chimney, one chimney for each pair of boilers.

The naming conventions aren’t that off, though, as another company town featured on this site, Jeanette, Penn., was named after the company owner’s better half. “I guess technically it wasn’t this specific plant,” I conceded to myself, mentally paging through the books I had marked and open on my office desk.

“This plant was built in 1924, and the Northern Pacific plant stopped powering the city in 1908—but I would bet a lot of the equipment was just moved into this bigger building.”

“Anything cool about this building?”

“Just the fact that, once, a couple of sticks of dynamite were accidently mixed into its coal.” Late in the plant’s operational history–1942–a shipment of coal was ground and fed into the boilers that are still extant today. Reading the inquisitive look on his face I added, “Yes, they exploded. And no, I can’t even tell from crawling inside that they took the hit.”

While the stokers are gone, the pipes bringing pulverized coal down were left.
While the stokers are gone, the pipes bringing pulverized coal down were left.

Workers searched the next load and found another half of a stick of dynamite and a blasting cap.

If you drive through Brainerd, Minnesota, you can’t miss the dual smokestacks of this defunct power station and the ancient rebar it’s jutting at the sky. You can drive right up to it, if you want, and venture a peek through one of the many tiny peepholes.