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Disasters, wars killed off railroad dream

Photo courtesy / Dave Robertson The old Midland Continental Depot is shown in Wimbledon, N.D., which Norma Delores Egstrom called home while her father worked as a depot agent for the railroad.1 / 2
John M. Steiner / The Sun Old tickets are part of the exhibit at the Midland Continental Wimbledon Depot Featuring Peggy Lee.2 / 2

The story of the Midland Continental Railroad is the tale of a 1,800-mile dream that only put down less than 100 miles of track.

The intent was to be the only north-south trans-continental railroad and provide quicker and cheaper transportation in those directions, according to an article by Jerome Tweton, historian for North Dakota State University, that was published by the North Dakota Humanities Council. But bad timing and world events delayed the project, which ultimately resulted in only 78 miles of track connecting Edgeley to Jamestown and Wimbledon.

The driving force behind the project was Frank K. Bull, president of the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. He and other investors organized the company in 1906 and did survey work in 1907 and 1908. Construction started in 1909 in Edgeley with track being laid to Jamestown. That work was completed on Nov. 1, 1912.

The track connected the Milwaukee Railroad at Edgeley to the Northern Pacific at Jamestown.

In 1913 construction started at Jamestown north to Wimbledon with completion in 1914. This connected the line to the Soo Line.

While the short-line railroad was profitable, it wasn't what investors wanted. To become transcontinental the line would need more money.

The search for investors was scheduled to go to England in 1912. Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear Tire Company and a major investor in Midland Continental, had booked passage on the scheduled return of the Titanic from New York to England.

But the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, during its maiden journey from England to New York, and Seiberling's trip was cancelled.

In 1914 Bull and other railroad officers made it to England. They received a committal for the entire bond issue necessary to complete construction to Pembina from J. Bruce Ismay, president of the White Star Line, which had owned the Titanic. He had been on the ship and was often criticized for taking a spot on the lifeboats as it sank.

Ismay withdrew his offer to purchase the bonds two days later when England was drawn into World War I.

The Midland Continental was never able to extend its line. Plans to continue from Wimbledon to Grand Forks in 1917 failed to materialize when the United States entered World War I.

For the next 50 years the Midland Continental served as a short-line railroad connecting the Milwaukee Railroad at Edgeley to the Northern Pacific at Jamestown and the Soo Line at Wimbledon.

In 1966 the Soo Line and Northern Pacific purchased the Midland Continental. In 1969 extensive flooding damaged the tracks, causing the line to discontinue operation.

"It never was in the red," said Mary Young, Jamestown historian. "It was a good idea. There never was good north and south transportation. They had all the trade they could use."

(Information for this story came from "The Second Boom Explained" by Jerome Tweton, historian for North Dakota State University, published by the North Dakota Humanities Council.)

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at knorman@jamestownsun.com

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