Looking Back on the History of the Midland Continental Railroad

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Almost a century before the Keystone XL Pipeline was proposed to carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, another cross continent transportation system was derailed, but not because of environmental concerns.

The Midland Continental Railroad was designed to ship grain, coal, gasoline, and other freight from Winnipeg to Galveston, Texas, but a major international event prevented the 18-hundred mile line from being completed.

This depot doubles as a museum. Its all that remains of a grand plan to intersect three major east/west transcontinental railroads and link shipping with those lines from the northern to the southern border of the United States.

Construction of the Midland Continental Rail Line began in 1909 near Edgeley, North Dakota. By 1913 tracks had been laid to Jamestown and Wimbledon, providing links with the North Pacific, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Soo Line Railroads.

Warren Ernie remembers farmers shipped lots of fresh dairy products on the short line. "I rode with the cream cans, and eggs and everything to Jamestown," said Warren Ernie of Wimbledon.

Expanding beyond North Dakota's borders and all the way to Texas required nearly two million dollars in financing. The little railroad with big dreams found an investor with one of the largest Oceanic shipping companies in the world.

J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of England's White Star Line, agreed to buy all the bonds needed to complete the route.

"World War I really is the reason the Midland Continental was not able to fulfill it's dream," said Mary Beth Orn, Midland Continental Museum. "It was going to be financed from the owner of the ill fated Titanic and after the war broke out that loan fell through."

Ismay was scheduled to become a multi-million dollar investor in the Midland Continental on August 3rd, 1914. When war was declared between Germany and Russia three days prior to signing the loan, he withdrew the offer fearing England would be drawn into the conflict.
Despite the loss of international financial support, the railroad continued to operate on its 77-mile line, shipping tons of freight for farmers and energy companies.

"Grain and coal and later gasoline, but they also carried passengers, picked up milk, cream cans and eggs and all of those things along the way," said Mary Beth Orn, Midland Continental Museum.

In 1966 the Northern Pacific and Soo Lines bought the Midland Continental and in 1969 service along the line was abandoned. Today this depot stands as a monument to a north/south transcontinental shipping system whose time has still not come.

The second floor of the Midland Continental Depot Transportation Museum features an extensive collection of memorabilia from a depot agent who later became one of the greatest female Jazz singers in history.