Gettysburg reflections

This postage stamp from 1963 honors the 100th anniversary of the battle. 50 years later we are again commemorating a milestone anniversary of the epic clash. Image courtesy Wikimedia.


A headline on the front page of today’s Star Tribune caught my eye earlier today. I sensed it had something to do with the Civil War.

It was on a copy of the paper that a club member had with him. I asked if I could see it a moment. He obliged. “Sgt. Buckman’s diary: The 150-year-old story of Gettysburg and the First Minnesota” the headline proclaimed.

“I knew it,” I said, and told him about the 150th anniversary of the battle. “They’re making a big deal about it,” he replied in a tone that seemed to say: The battle of Gettysburg turns 150 this week? So what.

I replied that Gettysburg was a big deal.

There is no way anyone can dismiss the impact this battle had. Not only was it the biggest battle of the Civil War, it was also the biggest battle ever fought on the North American continent. It also was a clash that killed or wounded around 50,000 Americans; that is a number greater than all the deaths suffered by U.S. forces in Vietnam.

The most important reason why Gettysburg still matters, however, is the impact it had on hundreds of Americans both North and South.

It was a traumatic event in the life of legendary Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who led his beloved Army of Northern Virginia to bitter defeat at Gettysburg. “It is my fault,” he proclaimed to his men as they fell back from Pickett’s Charge. Lee’s admission of responsibility for the defeat was a remarkable example of both candor and the guts of a commander to admit responsibility.  Contrast Lee’s admission to the hemming and hawing of General Walter C. Short after Pearl Harbor! This admission –in my estimation– is what makes Lee one of the great generals.

The battle of Gettysburg also witnessed moments of personal triumph among the combatants. The saga of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain –he who led the 20th Maine Volunteers to glory on the slopes of Little Round Top– speaks eloquently to this.  Here was a man who had dreamed of going to West Point but had given up that dream to pursue an academic career instead. Chamberlain nevertheless volunteered for service a year after the war began.  After enduring the grim defeat at Fredericksburg in December of 1862, participating in the inglorious “Mud March” of January 1863, and barely participating in the battle of Chancellorsville four months later, Chamberlain was put to the ultimate test when his regiment was hard pressed while defending the extreme left flank of the Union army at Little Round Top. Chamberlain never claimed more than his fair share of the credit –and glory– for the Union victory at Gettysburg. He always shared credit where credit was due amongst both his own regiment and his superiors.  In the moment he ordered the 20th to fix bayonets and charge when low on ammunition instead of retreating, however, Chamberlain crossed the threshold into the halls of true heroes.  He could have lost his nerve and cried out for his men to retreat.   Instead, he led them to glory.

But glory did not keep the memory of all the heroes of Gettysburg alive after the war.  The story of David Ireland –commanding officer of the 137th New York Volunteers—is now forgotten except by historians like Ed Bearss.  Ireland faced higher odds on Culp’s Hill on July 2, 1862, than even Chamberlain did.  The 20th grappled with two Confederate regiments and part of a third.  The 137th battled against six as they held the extreme right flank of the Union army. Ireland too crossed the threshold into the hall of true heroes as he skillfully maneuvered his regiment against his numerically superior attackers.  He even resorted to repeated bayonet charges to keep the Confederate off balance.   Sadly, Ireland did not live to write his memoirs because Ireland died of disease in 1864 when the 137 was occupying Atlanta, Ga.  This has lead to some jealousy on the parts of historians such as Edwin C. Bearss, who laments how well-known Chamberlain is as opposed to the almost forgotten Ireland. I believe this should not reflect poorly on Chamberlain, however. Let the record show that he suffered six wounds during the war starting with being shot in the foot at Gettysburg. The wound Chamberlain suffered at Petersburg in 1864 almost killed him. He could easily have slipped into the mists of history the same as Ireland did but for his good fortune of surviving that wound. Had Ireland lived, we doubtless would have more of his story on record as well.

What is more, Chamberlain did not ask to be so well-remembered. He may have written prolifically on the war, but Chamberlain and his story had nevertheless slipped into the mists of time all the same until first John J. Pullen wrote his book The Twentieth Maine and Michael Shaara became so captivated by Chamberlain he made him a character in his epic novel The Killer Angels. Had things gone differently, David Ireland could very well have been in his place.

Glory both remembered and forgotten did not follow all who fought at Gettysburg, however. For some participants Gettysburg became a black mark on their records. Whether or not Dan Sickles, Richard Ewell, and James Longstreet deserved the censure they received after the battle occupies volumes both pro and con. The fact that Gettysburg forever haunted them is indisputable, however.  Sickles helped preserve much of the battlefield postwar however, so future generations are in his debt for his generosity to history.

What about the enlisted man at Gettysburg? The poignant story of brothers Isaac and Henry Taylor –footsloggers in the 1st Minnesota Volunteers– is worthy of mention.

Isaac and Henry had joined up together after Fort Sumter was attacked in 1861 and had survived both battle and Confederate captivity. They were parted forever on the evening of July 2, 1863, when an Confederate shell burst over Isaac’s head and killed him instantly. He had just fired his rifle musket at the Confederate brigade the 1st had held off at great cost so Union general Winfield Scott Hancock to plug a gap in the Union line on Cemetery Ridge. Isaac joined many a boy in the 1st who fell along the stream known as Plum Run that evening. “Well, Isaac, all I can give you is a soldier’s grave.” Henry lamented when he and a search party of 1st Minnesota survivors found him afterward. Their story sums up the heroism and sacrifice of many a soldier both North and South.

Henry Taylor would have looked askance at the man I met today who thought the Gettysburg 150th was just a “big deal.”  He buried his own brother at Gettysburg.  Henry and his family were not alone in losing a loved there; remember, over fifty-thousand soldiers fell here.  There was many a “vacant chair” to be found in hundreds of homes after the battle. It may no longer seem important 150 years and several wars later, but soldiers like Henry and Isaac deserve our respect.

God bless them all 150 years on.


Behind the story: “The Fate of Thomas Andrews”

Andrews and RMS Titanic
Composite image created by Tony Held from public domain photos.



The human side of the Titanic disaster has become all but lost over 100 years after the tragedy. Today the only “people” readily remembered in popular memory are the one-dimensional stock characters from James Cameron’s 1997 chick/disaster flick loosely based on the story.

I believe the best way to combat popular amnesia is via a well-researched dramatic retelling of a forgotten –or otherwise misunderstood– historical event. The Titanic disaster is a poster child in the latter regard. Too many people either think it was all about a teen love story or just a Hollywood blockbuster with no basis in fact.

I chose Thomas Andrews as the subject of my recently published short story because his story called out to me from day one of my Titanic studies. I felt he deserved a far better dramatic treatment than James Cameron’s treatment of Mr. Andrews; wooden, one-dimensional cardboard cutout that not only wasted Victor Garber’s talents but also could have been just any other “good adult” in a teen drama. All you had to do was take away Andrew’s name, give Garber’s character a fictional one, and drop him into, say, a high school counselor’s office.

My goal for my own dramatic portrayal was twofold: To let the real Thomas Andrews take center stage for once, and to show Andrews the human being as well as the shipbuilder.

I took care to research Andrews as thoroughly as possible before writing my story. Shan Bullock’s biography –the only one ever written to-date– was a gold mine of information. You can really meet the man in the pages of Bullock’s A Titanic Hero. It is true it is eulogistic in tone, given it came out shortly after Andrews’ death. It offers no clue on whatever character flaws he may have had. I had no interest in those, however. The only “flaw” I wanted in my story was that here was a good, decent person destined to die too soon.

What is fact; and what is fiction?


Pinning down the details of his last hours was a challenge. While some saw him in the hours leading up to the sinking’s horrific finale, he flits through those individual testimonies like a ghost. I am indebted to Shan Bullock for collecting a small amount of first-hand accounts from the likes of stewardess Mary Sloan. These give us a better look at the man during his last hours, though some eyewitnesses are not named. (Bullock, 64-74, 77) Bullock’s book is also my source for Andrews throwing deck chairs overboard. (74)

Andrews is also mentioned in testimony given by stewards Samuel Etches and James Johnson as well as stewardess Annie Robinson, lamp trimmer Samuel Hemming, and White Star Line chairman Bruce Ismay at both the American and British inquiries into the disaster. (“Titanic Inquiry Project.”)   I also consulted Titanic historian’s George Behe and Jim Carlisle as well; their input proved invaluable. (Thanks George! Thanks Jim!)

For a quick refresh of my memory as to the basic design of the Titanic’s First Class Smoking room, I consulted a discussion thread at Encyclopedia-Titanica.  However, as this discussion thread revealed a host of unanswered questions as to the little details of the room –color of the floor tiles and furniture to name a couple– I kept my description of it sparse. (“Encyclopedia-Titanica forums”.)

I kept the details of his reconstructed conversation with Captain Smith even sparser; primary documentation about their meeting is apparently nonexistent.   We do not even know where they conferred, hence why I depict no specific room or place.  However, as Smith was seen making his own inspection below decks in the early part of the sinking, it stands to reason he and Andrews might have conferred then.  To the best of my knowledge, there also is no first-hand account that names who was sent to fetch Andrews to make his inspection or when precisely the captain realized Andrews was needed, so the details of that part of this story are speculation on my part as well.

Finally, my depiction of Andrews thinking of the Guarantee Group and himself down in the engine spaces comes from my reading of Bullock’s biography, which claims Andrews was seen in the engine spaces (73-74), and my discussions with Jim Carlisle, who told me there is a story the Group was seen in that same place that night; this sparked in my mind the possibility that it was in there both Andrews and the eight-man group of workers along to assist him were last together.

When Andrews thinks of the Harland and Wolff workers and what he said once about them to his wife are true events as well, along with how Andrews ordered a man off a scaffold in a gale one day at the shipyard, and how Andrews would order a married man away from a dangerous task and tell them married men’s lives were precious. (Bullock, 22, 43-44, 46.)     The song he remembers Dr. O’Loughin singing comes from Bullock’s book as well, but the exact circumstance of Andrews first hearing O’Loughin sing it is an educated guess on my part, though –according to Bullock- O’Loughin did indeed come up with it while serving on the Oceanic. (Bullock, 46.)

Who was the man that asked Andrews if he was going to try for it?  Bullock’s biography claims it was a steward –though no name is given– (73)  so he is lost to the mists of time; though a Wikipedia names a steward named Stewart as the man. (“Wikipedia: Thomas Andrews.”)

As for the rest, I relied on my general knowledge of the sinking to fill in the details of where Andrews might have gone and what he may have seen and done before his death.

Final comments

James Cameron made water seem glamorous in his 1997 chick/disaster flick loosely based on the disaster. One sycophantic reviewer in People Magazine even referred to the water in the Cameron movie as a “star.”  I sought to de-glamorize water in this short story by making it look like something either ugly or something that could kill you.  By ending the story with Andrews becoming totally immersed in the North Atlantic, I also touch on one of the most nightmarish of fates: Being pulled into a deep, vast void from which there is no escape.

However, I deliberately decided not to show Thomas Andrews actual moment of death.  As the film Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid demonstrates, it is far more powerful for a sympathetic character –or characters– destined to die be last seen alive and simply imply the details of their end, as opposed to showing them, especially in this day and age when “shock violence” is all the rage in popular culture.  So when we last see Andrews, he is still alive and fighting for life.

I hope people come away from this story appreciating two things:

-That Thomas Andrews was a person of flesh and blood, not just a face in an old photo or a name on a monument.

-That the sinking of the Titanic was no loopy chick flick/disaster flick but a genuine horror the claimed the lives of many a person who died too soon like Thomas Andrews.  A man I believe not only deserves but demands our respect a hundred years after he was lost.



“A Titanic Hero”: Thomas Andrews, Shipbuilder, by Shan F. Bullock; 7C’s Press reprint, 1995.

“Encyclopedia-Titanica forums”

“Titanic Inquiry Project”

“Wikipedia: Thomas Andrews”

Note: While there really was such a man on board – see for example – I could locate no account by him to substantiate the Wikipedia page’s claim.

The Streetcar Boats: A Historical Summary

Steamboat Minneahaha at Wayzata depot dock September 9th 2006
The Minnehaha waits for passengers before her next cruise around Wayzata bay from the dock at the Wayzata train depot during James J. Hill days 2006 on September 9th, 2006. Photo by Tony Held.

Tom Lowry expands his empire


If you were living in the Twin Cities in the year 1905, chances are you commuted to and from work via streetcar on Thomas Lowry’s fabulous Twin Cities Rapid Transit System (TCRT), whose lines radiated out of town from all four compass points: east to the city of Stillwater on the banks of the St. Croix river, west to the Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins, and to the northern and southern city limits of both municipalities.

Horses, horses, and more horses was the order of the day for other means of travel around town, pulling wagons or buggies mostly, but some people still went to and fro on horseback.
No doubt if you ever saw an automobile while out and about- a sight quite rare in those pre-Model T days-you might quip to the driver “Get a horse!” as it passed. Such were their reputation as cantankerous contraptions at the time, capable of any mechanical mischief to bedevil their owners.

A “local” passenger train on the many railway lines operating in the Twin Cities also provided you with a means of transportation.

The streetcar, though, was by far the most popular means of city and suburban transportation.

Despite being top dog in the Twin Cities transit scene, Thomas Lowry was not content to merely rest on the TCRT’s laurels. Indeed, he had a grand expansion in mind by 1905.

He desired to send lines westward to Lake Minnetonka, a large body of water that had been attracted tourists since the late 1870s (and still does to this day) and which by 1900 was also drawing local people who flocked to its shores for a day at the lake during the summer; the number of year-‘round lake residents was on the rise, too.

Lowry also desired to get a foothold in the hotel trade on the lake, which had been a highly profitable venture in the last decades of the 19th century and still seemed to hold at least some promise despite a decline in out-of-state clientele starting in the first decade of the 20th.
He also had his eye on a site located in the eastern (or “Lower”), part of the lake: Big Island. Lowry had a vision of a large, sumptuous amusement park there.

In 1905, he took steps to make his dream come true.

That year, the first line to Lake Minnetonka was built to the town of Excelsior. One could now ride the big canary-yellow, red-and-green streetcars of the TCRT to the lake from the cities. TCRT also bought 65 acres of land on Big Island, and commenced building the amusement park. To be known as “Big Island Park”.

The TCRT leased and electrified railway lines running to the towns of Deephaven and Tonka Bay to complete their streetcar extensions to the lake. The Tonka Bay Hotel was included in the latter lease, becoming, like Big Island Park, a TCRT operated business, and was renamed the Lake Park.
Lowry quickly saw that Lake Minnetonka’s rugged, meandering shoreline posed too many problems to any further extension of tracks, for Minnetonka is a sprawling labyrinth of land and water with many bays and inlets (or “arms” as they are called), and Lowry knew the primarily seasonal trade around the lake would not offset the enormous costs of building and maintaining tracks, depots, overhead wiring, and power stations all along the lakeshore.

Thus he turned a potential lemon into lemonade for the TCRT, deciding to use steamboats to serve the rest of Lake Minnetonka’s resorts and communities from spring to fall.

A design for these boats was created by the owner of a boat works located the town of Wayzata, nestled beside the Lake Minnetonka bay of the same name. Royal Moore was his name, and he was already a distinguished veteran boat builder. His design would be used for a fleet that would become ingrained in Lake Minnetonka’s history!

A fleet is born

If you were a TCRT employee at the 31st Street shops in Minneapolis in the winter of 1905-6, you might have helped to build a steamboat.

Six of them were built here during this time, and was a unique feat in its own right, a shop for things that roll on steel wheels upon steel rails being the last place one expected would be used as a boatyard!

In May, 1906, after the lake had shed its shield of ice, the fleet was loaded at the shops, partially completed, building cradle and all, onto streetcar trucks and towed to Excelsior via the streetcar lines.

No doubt those living on the line between the 31st Street shops and Excelsior marveled at the sight of a large boat passing by on its way west if they saw it, for it was not something you’d ordinarily see while watching a round-the-clock parade of trolley’s go by your home.

At Excelsior, a facility complete with a large shop building had been built to accommodate the fleet when winter called. There the boats were completed, launched into the lake, and then entered service after test runs all before May of 1906 was out.
A few other steamboats were purchased for lake excursion service, and TCRT built three double-ended ferries for Big Island amusement park service. But the Express Boat fleet was the bread-and-butter of the TCRT water operations.

Streetcar boat particulars

The boats had sharp bows, sleek torpedo sterns and were 70 feet in length with a beam of 14 feet, 10inches and had a displacement of 62,000 pounds. [1] They had one engine, one boiler, and sported asingle stack which was tilted at a slight angle. They had a single propeller and rudder and their top speed was 12 miles per hour. [2] They required a crew of three: a captain, a purser, and an engineer.

Their names were Minnehaha, Como, White Bear, Harriet, Stillwater, and Hopkins. A seventh boat, Excelsior, was built at the Excelsior boat building in 1915. [3] Their namesakes were locales served by the Twin Cities Rapid Transit System.

Officially called Express Boats by the TCRT, they became known as “streetcar boats” because of their streetcar-like appearance and fast, efficient service.
What made them physically resemble the streetcars? Features from the cars were subtly blended into their design. For starters, the split-reed cane-cloth covered seats and benches below decks were the same, as was the distinctive drop-pocket passenger window whose upper pane was fixed, and lower sash was opened by flicking up a cover on the sill and lowering it out of the way, with closing a reverse of the process. Finally, both Express Boat and streetcar shared them same canary-yellow, red-and-green paint scheme.

The total number of passengers that could be seated in the cabin was sixty-five, with sixty-five more able to be seated on benches located on their upper decks, bringing the boat’s total capacity to 130.
The vessels had large gangway entrances amidships which featured rolling steel doors which were rolled up into the overhead to open the gangway, easy as pie for the pursers to open and shut.
Wondering which boat you needed to take to a certain place? Each boat always had a sign mounted on the rail up forward which proclaimed which route they were serving that day.

A finishing touch to each boat were a pair of flags. The first a large red burgee that bore the vessel’s name flying from an upright flagpole on the bow and the Stars and Stripes, which flew from a flagpole tilted at a jaunty 60 degree angle from the stern. A final finishing touch were canopies on the boat’s upper deck, which were all added to the fleet by 1911. They helped keep the sun and coal cinders from the smokestack off of passengers riding up there.

With their sharp bows, sleek torpedo sterns, their flags, and their clean, uncluttered looks and vibrant paint, they were a colorful and memorable fleet. A sight to behold as they swiftly glided across Minnetonka’s waters going to and fro as they provided regularly scheduled, all-weather service, something that had not been seen on the lake before.
There were four main routes the streetcar boats sailed and at their peak served a total of 27 stops along the lake; with streetcar connections at Excelsior, Tonka Bay, and Deephaven. In 1907 the two upper lake boat routes were changed to connect with the streetcars via a new spur track at Wildhurst.

James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway at Wayzata also provided a connection.

In their heyday, the streetcar boat’s fast, efficient service to lake visitors, lakeshore residents, and Twin Cities commuters made them very popular and profitable.

Mr. Lowry had made a very good choice indeed when faced with that problem back in 1905.


Death of a fleet

Sad to say, times would change quickly, and the streetcar boats would be caught -literally- in the path of the wheels of change.

Big Island Amusement Park and the Lake Park Hotel proved to be big money losers for the TCRT and closed for good in 1911.
The fleet sailed on, only now no longer serving Big Island. Still carrying healthy ridership.
Yet doom would not be long in falling upon them too.
Roads began to link the lakeshore towns and communities by the 1920s, and autos began to draw people away from the streetcar boats. Mr. Ford’s Model T was here, lots of them, as well as other autos.
You seldom would joke “Get a horse!” now, for they were reliable vehicles, and the roads were now good quality.
Hordes of people would drive to all points on the lake in the summer months, and the inevitable result of this was that the only people aboard a streetcar boat would more and more become just the crew.

Steamboat service underwent a radical change in 1924 when several stops were eliminated and the routes cut to only two.
The death knell sounded six weeks after the 1926 season started, with all service being cut due to a complete lack of ridership.

Now without a purpose, Como, White Bear, and Minnehaha were scuttled north of Big Island in 1926 along with a TCRT tugboat, Hercules.
Stillwater and Harriet met an even more ignominious end, being totally dismantled from smokestack to propeller blade in 1928 and scattered to the four winds.
Excelsior was rebuilt into a tugboat, and Hopkins was sold.

Hopkins lived a long life in charter service for its new owner, the Blue Line Café. Renamed Minnetonka by the Blue Line, she had her lovely paint replaced by a plain white scheme, sported large awnings to cover the lower deck windows fore and aft of her gangway, and was diesel powered instead of steam powered in her last years. In 1949 she too was scuttled; ironically, but fittingly, also north of Big Island. [4]

Done to death by roads and automobiles, the streetcar boats faded away into the pages of history…until a man named Jerry Provost began his search for them.

Raise the Minnehaha

Provost, a professional diver by trade, had become interested in the boats in 1974, and began searching for them the next year. After researching their history, Provost knew the best chance of finding one was somewhere north of Big Island.

Provost diligently searched the lake, often alone. He came across many things lying on the lake floor, for Minnetonka’s bottom is quite a junkyard due to it’s popularity. Provost came upon everything from old boat motors to sunken ice-fishing huts and much more.
Everything but the hull of a streetcar boat fell under the beam of his searching light.
Provost did see a large object lying on the lake bottom north of Big Island during an air search, but investigation underwater still turned up nothing.
Finally, however, he struck pay dirt…and by the sheerest of chances too.
On July 19th, 1979, he and two other divers were out on the lake testing equipment in preparation for an upcoming project in North Dakota. Since they needed deep water for their testing they headed to north of Big Island.
After the first diver to go down was ready, he descended into the water, ready to stretch the system’s capability to the limit with vigorous underwater movements.
Suddenly, instead of hitting mud, he descended onto something else…
“What did you do? Set up a gym for me down here?” he called to the surface in amazement..
You can guess what he’d come upon.

Breathless with excitement that his search might suddenly have succeeded, Provost himself dove down to take a look. He saw that it was most likely a streetcar boat, buried to her gunwales in the mud yet still intact after years in the dark depths of Lake Minnetonka. Later, to make sure, an air scoop and the wheel were recovered by Provost and his mates.
Ater careful study, these items yielded up the fact that the wreck was indeed an express boat.

Ironically, Provost had been talking with his fellow divers before the test began about the searching he’d done for the boats, and quipped to the first before he dove: “They have to be in this area, and I’m going to put you right on top of one.”

Glory be, he wound up doing just that…and we are all the richer for his discovery.

The next year, Provost and his divers teamed up with the owner of a dredging company named Bill Niccum and his people and resources in an all-out effort to raise the sunken streetcar boat.

After lots of hard work and several unsuccessful attempts, and amid the cheers of many people who stood by aboard small craft to watch it be raised, the boat finally came to the surface on August 29th, 1980.

Taken to Niccum’s boat yard, she was hauled out of the lake and put up on dry land.

Some in the local media speculated that the boat was Hopkins, but when the name emerged after the hull dried out-faded, to be sure, but still quite legible- it proclaimed to one and all that she was the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Express Boat Minnehaha.
Now she was something of the present age once more.


Rebirth of the Minnehaha


At first the state of Minnesota swooped in as soon as the Minnehaha was on dry land claiming the boat’s rightful owner needed to be found. When the state declared the MTC bus company (the heir to TCRT), MTC did not want anything to do with it, so the state let the Minnehaha be.


The first idea for the old boat was, believe it or not, that she become a bar!

The owner of a local Excelsior restaurant, the Mai Tai (now the Bayview Event Center), Fred Pierce, had an interest in the streetcar boats himself and had supported Jerry Provost’s search efforts. Pierce did not believe that the boat be re-sunk in shallower water, which was also proposed, due to the boat’s long immersion making her vulnerable to damage from excessive dryness.
Meanwhile, the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society was standing fast by the old boat, selling souvenirs and collecting donations right next to Minnehaha. Their efforts enabled the boat to be kept constantly soaked with water and that a scaffold be built for visitors to view the craft.

Fred Pierce, however, could not secure extra parking permits from the Excelsior City Council for the expansion that would include the resurrected express boat, and by the end of 1980, the valiant effort by the ELMHS was brought up short when money and interest ran out.
Minnehaha was now doomed to a ten-year ordeal outside and unprotected, exposed to buckets of rain and shovelfuls of snow, getting soaked and then drying out again time after time, beginning to get swaybacked and warped. Soon she was on her way to becoming a caricature of her former self.

Darel Leipold, a noted local historian and member of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, aware that MTM was preoccupied with other projects at the time and was unable to take the old boat under its wing, formed a group called the Inland Marine Interpretive Center (IMIC) which took title to the vessel and planned to restore the Minnehaha as a land exhibit. Yet lack of time and money prevented this from coming to fruition.

It seemed like this treasure was destined to be lost forever to the sands of time, lost before she could be reborn for all to cherish and explore.

Then, in 1988, the Minnehaha found a rescuer in a local resident named Leo Meloche, who was bothered by seeing the historic craft lie neglected and saw the loss of a piece of history if she were not saved. He formed another group to take charge of the boat and began exploring options.

Meloche was curious if the MTM had any historic boat projects on tap, and contacted the museum president with his inquiry, and mentioned his group and their plans for Minnehaha.
Aaron Isaacs, a veteran museum member who was also the museum president at that time, invited
Meloche’s group to become part of the museum. An offer Meloche readily agreed to.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Meloche’s group became the foundation of the Steamboat Division and work on Minnehaha rapidly commenced.

In 1990 the forlorn, tired hull of Minnehaha was moved out of Niccum’s boat yard and into a large pole barn located near the boat yard which had been donated by its owners to become the boat’s home and restoration shop. Here a dedicated group of volunteers worked for six years on the Minnehaha, gathering two times a week to slowly restore this gem of Lake Minnetonka’s history.
Leo Meloche’s goal was to restore Minnehaha not to be a land exhibit but to be an operating vessel, so that she could sail the lake again, giving people the experience of what it was like to ride on a Lake Minnetonka streetcar boat.

Needless to say, Meloche and the volunteers succeed in achieving this goal with flying colors!
The restoration project went so well that it was ahead of its own schedule and Minnehaha was ready for testing by August, 1995, and was fully completed by spring 1996.

May 25th of that year was quite a red letter day for the Minnehaha.

In the morning, she was re-christened by the granddaughter of Thomas Lowry, Louise Lowry, and, after appropriate remarks by museum officials and local dignitaries, the first group of passengers -which included Congressman Jim Ramstad and George and Sally Pillsbury, among others- boarded for the maiden voyage to Wayzata.

A flotilla of other lake craft, among them the diesel-powered sternwheeler Lady Of The Lake, provided an escort for Minnehaha as she glided to Wayzata for the first time in decades under the sure handling of her new crew.

At Wayzata awaited some other MTM members who had charge of two other museum treasures that had been brought to town for the occasion: Twin City Rapid Transit bus 1399 and Northern Pacific 4-6-0 328 with a consist consisting of a baggage/railway post office/coach combine and two “straight” coaches tacked on behind her which had chugged over from the Jackson Street Roundhouse via the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway.

The Minnehaha exchanged whistle salutes with the old NP ten-wheeler as she approached the brand-new municipal dock at the historic Wayzata depot that had been built with Minnehaha and other large boats in mind.

After the passengers debarked, speeches were made by Ramstad and the mayor of Wayzata. But Minnehaha’s crew had one more destination for her on their docket for the day: the Lafayette Club, located in the nearby town of Minnetonka Beach, west of Wayzata, where the annual fund-raising gala for the boat and related projects was in full swing.

It was quite a party! The club, located on the former Hutchinson branch of the Great Northern Railway then operated by now-defunct short line Dakota Rail, stands on the site once occupied by James J. Hill’s fabulous Lafayette Hotel, located near a channel which connects two Lake Minnetonka bays. A road bridge and an old GN trestle bearing the line now known as the Dakota Rail trail cross it; the site is known as “Arcola.”

The highlight of Minnehaha’s visit was an “over-and-under” photo shoot where 328 and her train posed on the bridge above while the boat sailed underneath thanks to Minnehaha now sporting a telescoping smokestack, a necessary modification due to bridges aplenty now being found around the lake thanks to all those roads for the cars which drove the TCRT express fleet out of business decades before.

At the end of the gala, Minnehaha’s tired but very happy crew pointed her bow southward and left Minnetonka Beach for Excelsior, where they tied up after a long, eventful, fun day.

Today the Minnehaha is again owned by a separate organization, the Museum of Lake Minnetonka, the result of the old MTM steamboat division going independent in an organizational restructuring of the museum in 2004.

The Minnehaha thus sails on into the 21st century. A lovely, cherished reminder of days gone by that is now very much a part of our present.




1. Interestingly enough, Mr. Moore’s original design called for the boats to be eighty feet long. For some reason it was later changed to seventy feet.

2. Lest one be puzzled (miles per hour? Not knots?), miles per hour is the correct way to determine a boat’s speed on inland waterways like Lake Minnetonka.

3. The Excelsior, while basically the same as the original six boats, was a little different from them, such as a different seating arrangement on the upper deck, a different canopy frame design, and was longer than her sisters. Her length, 73 feet, made her as long as, by comparison, the first type of motor torpedo boat used by the United States Navy in World War II.

4. The wheel of the Hopkins survived, having been removed as a keepsake before she was scuttled. The folks that owned it generously donated it when the restoration of the Minnehaha got rolling and the wheel became the helm for the Minnehaha.

External links:

Museum of Lake Minnetonka


This article originally appeared on the website of the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM) from 1999 to 2005 under my old byline “Richard Krebes” When the section of the website it was on was taken down when the steamboat Minnehaha was spun off to The Museum of Lake Minnetonka (MLM.) It has since been extensively re-written and now appears here under my new byline.  -T.H.



Canadian Pacific/Progressive Rail: Volume three

PGR 36 and freight house sign Bloomington 8 21 2012
Here is PGR’s ex-MN&S SW1500 36 (now back in MN&S-style paint and an MN&S-style PGR logo) sitting at the Bloomington freight house on a late summer evening. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-21-2012.
Load of lumber on spur near PGR freighthouse Bloomington 8 21 2012
And here is HE center-beam flat -26114- sitting on the spur tracks off of the line into the PGR Bloomington freight house. This HE car is loaded with lumber. Are these spurs some kind of team track now? Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-21-2012.
PGR 38 at Rosemount 9 16 2012
Now we are down in Rosemount, Minnesota, where Progressive Rail operates the former Milwaukee Road line from Rosemount to Eagan, MN. Here PGR SW1500 38 sits beneath a balmy early fall sky at the PGR/UP interchange. Photo taken by Tony Held on 9-16-2012.
Rosemount PGR depot 9 16 2012
Progressive Rail actually went and built and honest to goodness depot in Rosemount after they took over ops on the old Milwaukee Road from Canadian Pacific … and it looks like a younger sibling to the Princess Depot up in Minnehaha Park! Photo taken by Tony Held on 9-16-2012.
End of cut of cars parked on hi line east of Penn Avenue south 10 14 2012
Late on a mid-fall Sunday morning I came across this cut of freight cars just sitting on the Hi-Line east of Penn Avenue in Bloomington. Was this a cut of interchange awaiting being pushed down to Nesbitt Siding? Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-14-2012.
W102nd street grade crossing Bloomington 10 14 2012
Here we are looking towards the W102nd Street grade crossing along the Hi-Line in Bloomington, MN. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-14-2012.
PGR sticker on signal for W102nd street grade crossing Bloomington 10 14 2012
Progressive Rail has taken over operations along the Hi-Line to the point they put up their emergency contact stickers on all grade crossings, like this one adorning the one at W102nd Street. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-14-2012.
Queen Ave grade crossing Bloomington 10 14 2012
And here we are just down from W102nd Street at the Queen Avenue grade crossing along the Hi-Line looking west. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-14-2012.
CP 4609 and PGR 36 at CAT plant Bloomington 1 19 2013
Here is a Canadian Pacific visitor to Progressive Rail’s Hi-Line idling away down by Zeigler Cat on a cold late Saturday morning in January. It is none other than an ex-Milwaukee Road unit, GP40 4609! Note PGR 36 in the background on the spur track into Zeigler. Photo taken by Tony Held on 1-19-2013.
CP GP40 4609 on PGR High Line by CAT plant Bloomington 1 19 2013
A roster shot of CP ex-MILW GP40 4609 down by the Zeigler plant off of the PGR Hi-Line in Bloomington. Unit was either here for work at Zeigler or was being leased by PGR for extra motive power. Photo taken by Tony Held on 1-19-2013.


Canadian Pacific/Progressive Rail: Volume two

Looking north on PGR High line from American Blvd crossing 7 23 2012
This is Wilson Siding in Bloomington, MN, on Progressive Rail’s former Minneapolis, Northfield, and Southern “Hi-Line” as viewed from the north side of the American Blvd grade crossing. Photo taken on 7-23-2012 by Tony Held.
Zoom view south along PGR High Line from American Blvd W crossing 7 23 2012
Here is a zoom view looking south along the PGR Hi-Line from American Blvd. The industrial branch nature of this route is evidenced by the sight of the hopper car parked on the main track in the distance. Photo taken on 7-23-2012 by Tony Held.
CP MOW equipment parked on siding off of MNS spur Edina 7 23 2012
Now we have moved west to a siding off the Canadian Pacific MNS Spur (ex-MN&S main line) where a bunch of MOW vehicles are parked on this cloudy evening. This siding begins north of where the line ducks under West 78th street, Photo taken on 7-23-2012 by Tony Held.
Close up of MOW equipment parked off of MNS spur Edina 7 23 2012
A closer look at the MOW equipment parked on the siding north of West 78th street on the MNS Spur. Canadian Pacific sure has a lot of lightly used track at their disposal around the Twin Cities. Photo taken on 7-23-2012 by Tony Held.
End view of MNS 102 parked by Ziegler Cat Bloomington 7 30 2012
Progressive Rail has an former MN&S caboose stashed along the Hi-Line down at their open air shops located along the spur into the Ziegler Cat facility located east of 35W in Bloomington. A gap in the gate provided this clear view of one end of it on a sunny late July evening. Photo taken on 7-30-2012 by Tony Held.
RRVW 4014 at Ziegler CAT Bloomington 7 30 2012
Here is Red River Valley and Western GP15C 4104 at the Ziegler facility as viewed via a zoom shot from the perimeter fence. Note how the long hood is off the unit apparently for a new engine block or related machinery to be installed. Photo taken on 7-30-2012 by Tony Held.
PGR 36 and woodchip car at Bloomington freight house 7 30 2012
Here is another piece of the old Minneapolis, Northfield, and Southern back on home rails: SW1500 36. It is parked just outside the gate into PGR’s Bloomington freight house located at the end of a rabbit’s warren of spur tracks off the Hi-Line west of 35W. Note the woodchip car behind the MN&S veteran. Photo taken on 7-30-2012 by Tony Held.
Looking east across Hi Line 35W bridge Bloomington 8 13 2012
Here we are looking east across the Hi-Line bridge over 35W. The chain link fence is something of a tacit admission as to how the bridge can be an unofficial pedestrian crossing (and I admit it is nice to walk across an old train bridge that still has rails!) Just watch out for trains before you decide to stroll across. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
RRVW 4104 at Ziegler CAT Bloomington 8 13 2012
A week after I first bagged it, RRV&W 4104 was still having work done at Zeigler CAT. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
PGR 36 at Bloomington freight house 8 13 2012
That same day I caught the PGR 36 inside the PGR freight house grounds. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Centerbeam flat parked off spur near PGR freight house Bloomington 8 13 2012
Here is an empty center-beam flat -HE 26115- parked on a spur track that juts off the line into the PGR freight house. Apparently either a customer is served directly on this spur or it is used for car storage. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Waiting interchange cars at Auto Club yard Bloomington 8 13 2012
Here we have a cut of cars for interchange waiting on the long siding that starts at the north end of the long dormant Auto Club yard over on the MNS Spur in Bloomington. Lead car was Soo Line center-beam flat 600398 followed by Southern Pacific boxcars 247876, 252048, and 247708, and finally UTCX smooth-side covered hopper 51229. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Detail of Soo centerbeam flatcar Auto Club Yard Blmgtn 8 13 2012
A detail shot of Soo Line  center-bream flat 600398 as it waits at the head of a small cut of cars awaiting pickup tomorrow by Canadian Pacific down by Auto Club yard in Bloomington. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
PGR waybill in coupler of Soo centerbeam flatcar Auto Club yard 8 13 2012
A glimpse of the PGR waybill stuffed into the open coupler of  Soo center-beam flat 600398. Quite a place to store one! Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Looking south into dormant Auto Club Yard Bloomington 8 13 2012
Here we are looking south into the dormant Auto Club yard from where the Hi-Line meets the MNS Spur. Note how the switch in the foreground has been replaced by straight track. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Locked but useless switchstand Auto Club Yard Blmgtn 8 13 2012
The locked but now-useless switch stand for the Hi-Line/Auto Club yard junction. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Overgrown track at Auto Club yard 8 13 2012
A glimpse of the heavily overgrown track at Auto Club yard, Bloomington, along the MNS Spur. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.
Looking south along main track at Auto Club Yard 8 13 2012
And now we are looking south along the main line next to the long-dormant Auto Club yard. The yard was last used to scrap old freight cars. Main line has been used by Twin Cities & Western to reach the port of Savage in the past and probably will do so again in the future. Photo taken on 8-13-2012 by Tony Held.