DM&IR No. 227, a 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone built by Baldwin in 1941.

(GavinTheGazelle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway herald.


The Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway (DM&IR) (reporting mark DMIR), informally known as the Missabe Road, was a railroad operating in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin that used to haul iron ore and later taconite to the Great Lakes ports of Duluth and Two Harbors, Minnesota. Control of the railway was acquired on May 10, 2004, by the Canadian National Railway (CN) when it purchased the assets of Great Lakes Transportation.


DMIR ore docks loading ships, circa 1900–1915.

(Detroit Publishing Co., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



The DM&IR was formed by the merger in 1937 of the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway (DM&N) and the Spirit Lake Transfer Railway. The following year, the Duluth and Iron Range Rail Road (D&IR) and Interstate Transfer Railway were added. All of these had been leased by the DM&N since 1930.

The D&IR was formed in 1874 by Charlemagne Tower to haul iron ore from the Minnesota Iron Co. in Tower, Minnesota, to the new Lake Superior port of Two Harbors, Minnesota. On July 31, 1884, the D&IR carried its first ore shipment from the Soudan Mine. In 1887, the D&IR was acquired by Illinois Steel Company, which itself became part of the new United States Steel Corporation (USS) in 1901.

After high-grade Mesabi iron ore was discovered near Mountain Iron, Minnesota by the Seven Iron Men, the D&IR was asked to build a branch line to serve this area, but declined. So in 1891, the Merritts incorporated the DM&N, which shipped its first load of iron ore to Superior, Wisconsin, in October 1892. The following year, the Merritts expanded the DM&N by laying track to Duluth, Minnesota, where they built an ore dock. But this expansion left the Merritts on shaky financial ground, and in 1894, John D. Rockefeller gained control of the railway. In 1901, Rockefeller sold the DM&N to USS.

From 1901 to 1938, the two railways were owned by USS and operated separately. Total ore hauled by the two railroads peaked in 1929 at 30,900,000 tons (27,600,000 long tons; 28,000,000 tonnes) and dropped to 1,700,000 tons (1,500,000 long tons; 1,500,000 t) in 1932.


One of the DM&IR's 2-8-8-4 locomotives preserved in Two Harbors, Minnesota. (Jet Lowe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Caboose C-74, built in 1924, operating in train service at Mid-Continent Railway Museum. (James St. John, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



By July 1938, the two railways merged to form the DM&IR. The two operating divisions, the Missabe and the Iron Range, were based upon the predecessor roads. As the United States entered the Second World War, the iron ore tonnage moving over the Missabe Road accelerated from a little over 8,000,000 long tons (8,100,000 t; 9,000,000 tons) in 1938, past 18,000,000 long tons (18,000,000 t; 20,000,000 tons) in 1939, then to almost 28,000,000 long tons (28,000,000 t; 31,000,000 tons) in 1940 and past 37,000,000 long tons (38,000,000 t; 41,000,000 tons) in 1941.

The first eight of DM&IR's class M 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone locomotives were delivered by Baldwin Locomotive Works in spring 1941. As well as the Yellowstones, the DM&IR had heavy 2-8-8-2 articulated locomotives (also Class M), 2-8-2 Mikados, 2-10-10-2 Steam Locomotive Santa Fe's and eventually 2-10-4 Texas types from B&LE. Ore movement was nearly 45,000,000 long tons (46,000,000 t; 50,000,000 tons) in 1942 and the War Production Board allowed the Missabe to order ten more Yellowstones, delivered in 1943. The 2-8-8-4's were slowly retired in the latter half of the '50s and the last remaining served until around 1960.


A map of the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway.

Solid lines are tracks still in use; dotted lines are abandoned. The section from Two Harbors to Duluth is effectively operated by the

North Shore Scenic Railroad although the DMIR (now CN) retain the exclusive right (unexercised) to operate freight traffic.

(Elkman at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Revenue freight traffic, in millions of net ton-miles (DM&N plus D&IR):

Year           Traffic
1925           2,115
1933           806
1944           3,733
1960           2,696
1970           2,202

Source: ICC annual reports


DMIR 193, an EMD SD18, in Palmers, MN.

(Keon McGarvey, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Dieselization and post-war growth

After World War II, the DM&IR hauled increasing tonnage to the ore docks along Lake Superior, reaching a record of over 49 million tons in 1953. That year the first diesel locomotives, EMD SW9s, arrived on the railway. In 1954, a set of Baldwin DR-4-4-15 "Sharknose" diesels arrived from the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern (a fellow U.S. Steel railroad), though they were returned to Baldwin Locomotive Works when the EJ&E contract expired in 1955. Dieselization continued with the purchase of several EMD SD9 road switchers the following year, while the last revenue steam run occurred in 1961.

Passenger service on the Missabe division ended in 1957 and completely ceased system-wide in 1961.

As the supply of high-quality iron ore dwindled, mines and pits were closing across Minnesota's iron ranges. The DM&IR's ore docks in Two Harbors closed in 1963 and did not reopen until 1966. The Missabe Road was saved by the passage on November 3, 1963, of the Taconite Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution (the amendment restricted the state's ability to tax a taconite industry for 25 years). The passage of the amendment accelerated the creation of the taconite mining industry in Northern Minnesota. The Eveleth Taconite Company was formed in 1964 and on April 8, 1966, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald took on the first load of Eveleth taconite pellets, about 23,000,000 long tons (23,000,000 t; 26,000,000 short tons). The taconite era on the Missabe had begun.


DM&IR 227 was built by Baldwin in 1941. Photo by Basgen Photo.

(Blamey's Studio, Duluth, MN, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)


Ownership and CN merger

In 1988, U.S. Steel, now USX, spun off the DM&IR and their other ore railroads and shipping companies into the subsidiary Transtar, then sold majority control to the Blackstone Group and USX. In 2001, the DM&IR and other holdings were spun off from Transtar into the company Great Lakes Transportation (GLT), which was fully owned by the Blackstone Group. For the first time in more than 100 years DM&IR was no longer associated with U.S. Steel. In late 2003, the Blackstone Group agreed to sell GLT to Canadian National Railway and the purchase was completed on May 10, 2004.


A Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Gallery


DM&IR 2-8-8-4 No. 234. Photo by Bob Lorenz. (Audio-Visual Designs, Earlton, NY, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)


The tugboat Edna G at the iron ore docks at Two Harbors, MN. (W.A. Fisher, Virginia, MN, Public domain, W. Lenheim Collection)

DM&IR 2-10-2 No. 502 was built by Baldwin in 1916. Shown here at Fraser Yard near Buhl, MN. Photo courtesy Walter R. Evans. (© Mary Jayne's Railroad Specialties, Inc., Fair use, Title 17, Section 107, via W. Lenheim Collection)


4800 hp F-M Train Masters haul ore on the DM&IR to the docks at Two Harbors, MN. Photo by Lewis A. Harlow. (Audio-Visual Designs, Earlton, NY, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

DM&IR EMD SD9 No. 160 at Proctor, MN, 1975. (©, Alameda, CA, Fair use, Title 17, Section 107, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Merger with Wisconsin Central

In December 2011, the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway was merged into Wisconsin Central Ltd., which is also controlled by Canadian National Railway. This merger was intended to increase efficiency.



Headquarters: Proctor, Minnesota
Reporting mark: DMIR
Locale: Saint Louis County / Lake County, Minnesota, and Douglas County, Wisconsin
Dates of operation: 1874–2011
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge


See Also:

Railroads A-Z