Welcome to the Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Railway Home Page
The Houghton Division, 1910-1925
The Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic (DSS&A) was not a giant among American or Canadian railways. Its routes and mileage were modest, its profits marginal, and its history short. However, for a brief period it was the railway that served almost the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan, including the booming copper and iron mining regions. It stretched from Duluth, Minnesota, through Wisconsin, to Sault St. Marie, Michigan, with branches running to Calumet and to St. Ignace. The communities along its lines depended upon it for their commerce and existence. It was the lifeline of the north country. For many residents there was comfort in the sound of the DSS&A locomotive's whistle heard in the middle of a long winter's night. One felt connected to the outside world knowing that you could ride the DSS&A and connect to other railways that went to Chicago, Detroit, Montréal, and beyond.
New Book on the DSS&A
Review: The Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway: A History of the Lake Superior District’s Pioneer Iron Ore Hauler
John Gaertner, The Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway: A History of the Lake Superior District’s Pioneer Iron Ore Hauler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), ISBN 978-0-253-35192-0.
The Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway was not one of America’s fabled railroad companies that crossed great stretches of the country over mountains and plains connecting large industrial centers, it served only the small mining and forestry communities of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northern Wisconsin, and touched Duluth. Gaertner does a thorough job explaining the growth of the DSS&A from a complex merger of small lines into a railroad along the south shore of Lake Superior with the potential to handle traffic from points further west to the east coast through its connection at Sault Ste. Marie with the Canadian Pacific.
Gaertner explains how the Canadian Pacific’s ownership of both the Soo Line and the DSS&A was detrimental to the latter. The DSS&A never lived up to its potential due to the willful neglect of the Canadian Pacific and the tango of competition and cooperation with the Soo Line, its sister corporation. The DSS&A also faced competition for the ore hauling trade with the Milwaukee Road, the Chicago and North Western, and the regional Lake Superior and Ishpeming. Despite the best efforts to reach profitability, with a short exceptional period after reorganization in the 1950s, the DSS&A was never able to sustain this goal. It was eventually merged with the Soo Line and what is left of its tracks is now owned by Wisconsin Central which in turn is owned by Canadian National.
This history contains the details that railroad fans appreciate including details of freight and passenger train schedules and shifts in these schedules as well as equipment purchases and uses. The ferries and their operation at St. Ignace is well covered. The DSS&A also owed the Mineral Range Railroad and the Hancock and Calumet Railroad, both of which started out as narrow gauge lines, and Gaertner also reviews the history of these lines. The book is well illustrated and has maps displaying the entire line and the important segments of the line. The appendixes include a roster of the locomotives owned by the DSS&A, the Mineral Range, and the Hancock and Calumet and a detailed list of all the stations in the DSS&A system. Lastly, the book contains a detailed index.
Although Gaertner does mention the work life of the DSS&A employees in passing, he does not describe the workforce in any detail, its ethnic composition, its working conditions, its pay in comparison to other occupations, etc. Unions are mentioned abruptly with no explanation of their struggle, if any, to be recognized by the DSS&A management. More coverage of the common DSS&A worker would have been welcomed. A table of the maps would have been a helpful addition.
Overall, this is an excellent corporate history of a struggling railroad that once played a crucial role in the life of the remote communities of the Great Lakes north country. Gaertner leaves you well informed and craving to learn more about this railroad, the region, and its competitors. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about the history of the region and the importance of railroads for its development.
NOTE: As of 5 April 2009, Indiana University Press has a sale of this book at http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=84640. The normal price is $49.95, but you can get it for $35.00. Act quickly, I do not know how long this sale will go on.
DSS&A Book, List of Maps
To make it easier to find the many maps in Gaertner's history of the DSS&A I have prepared a List of Maps in an Adobe Acrobat file.
Color Photograph of Passenger Car 213
Today, in the mail, I received a post card with a beautiful color photograph of DSS&A passenger car no. 213. Would the kind person who sent me this post card please contact me. I would like to thank you for it. This is the restored passenger car now at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, North Freedom, WI. Was this post card sent out to all the members of the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society? I would love permission to scan it in and present it on the passenger car web page of this site.
Soo Line Standards
At last year's convention I learned of a new publication, Soo Line Standards, edited by Larry E. Easton, the society's archivist (Soo Line Historical and Technical Society, Inc., September 1998). There are three volumes noiw. It is a large format book with drawings and photographs of a variety of Soo Line standard railroad structures, bridges, cars, etc., from the society's archives. Although it mostly involves the Soo Line, there are two DSS&A images showing the standards for the company's logos. Since the Soo Line was similar in many respects to the DSS&A, and both were owned by the Canadian Pacific. I hope that the next two volumes have more DSS&A materials.
The volumes costs $28.00 plus $3.00 for postage and handling for one to two books and $4.00 for three books. Make the checks payable to SLHTS Archives. You can order it from:
DSS&A and MRRR Employment Records
The most frequent email questions I get now regarding this web site concerns employment records for the DSS&A and the Mineral Range Railroad (MRRR). I regret to tell you that, to my knowledge, these employment records have not survived. There are some scattered seniority lists in the Perron Collection and I suspect other miscellaneous employment like records in the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society Archives. However, the official employment records were apparently not preserved.
If you want to trace a DSS&A or MRRR employee, then you are going to have to use indirect sources that mention a person's railroad career. For an example, I suggest you look at the railroad career information I was able to construct for my grandfather, John F. Stanton. I used letters, censuses, city directories, military records, vital records, railroad commission reports, obituaries, and other newspaper articles to reconstruct his career.
I should add that you can check to see if there is a record for the person at the Railroad Retirement Board. The address is:
This organization has a web page that goes into the details of ordering these records for genealogical research at http://www.rrb.gov/geneal.html. These records only date from about the mid-1930s. I have seen the records my wife found for her grandfather, William Luther Curtis, who worked for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad, the Katy Line, from 1911 to 1971. The Railroad Retirement Board records documented his rise from a humble engine house laborer to an engineer. I wish that these records existed before 1930.
Lastly, I suggest you look at Warren's (1998) lecture notes and Elliott's (1987) article for more information about tracing railroad workers. The full citations can be found on my references page.
Good luck in your research. Let me know if you stumble on anything regarding John F. Stanton. Thank you.
Mystery Fire Photograph
The following photograph is a scanned image of a photocopy, hence the poor quality. I would like to know when this fire occurred so that I can look up details about it in the local newspapers and other resources. Does anyone know when the DSS&A roundhouse in Houghton burnt to the ground? What engines were damaged or destroyed? It looks like the engine in the front of the photograph is a 4-4-0, possibly a 2-6-0, with a number ending in 15. Can anyone help me identify these engines? A review of Durocher's (1964; 1984-1985) locomotive rosters indicates that numbers 15, 215, 415, 515, and 615 were vacant. No. 715 was a 2-8-0 and would be larger than the engine shown in this photograph. That leaves no. 115, a 4-4-0, that was renumbered as 101 in 1888 and dismantled in April 1928. Or, no.315, which was originally no. 79, a 2-6-0. It was sold on 29 June 1892 to the Soo Line, rebuilt before 1914, and apparently was again on the DSS&A roster by 30 January 1915. This engine was dismantled on 22 April 1929. I suspect that the first engine in this photograph would be no. 115 and that the fire occurred before 1888. By the way, I asked Rev. Page about this photograph and he does not recall the date of the fire.
Larry Easton, the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society Archivist, in an email dated 6 April 1999, has come up with some good leads for this mystery fire photograph. He searched through the DSS&A Annual Reports. There he found in the report dated 30 June 1909 an expense of $4,719.10 for a new roundhouse in Houghton. He suggest that the roundhouse probably burnt down in the Winter of 1908-1909, given the snow in the photograph. Although it is possible that the roundhouse was destroyed before that winter, Larry suggests that it is unlikely that the DSS&A officials would have allowed a whole winter to go by given the weather conditions. I want to thank Larry for this very good clue. I will be checking it out in the newspapers on microfilm on my next visit to the Copper Country Archives.
Thanks to John Gaertner's new book on the DSS&A we now have the answer to the question regarding this fire (2009, 165):
You may have noticed that this web site has not changed too much over the last few years. My apologies, but I am a victim of my own success. I am involved in some elaborate genealogical research projects that occupy most of my free time. Furthermore, I have an exciting (no joke intended, it really is fun) day job doing computer and Internet training and support for Sladen Library, Henry Ford Hospital. Consequently, I have had little time to dedicate to updating this site. Several people have sent me some interesting facts that I will try to add to the site as time permits. In particular, Erik Nordberg, the head of the Copper Country Archives, has sent me an updated list of the new materials added to the Herman Page Collection. I hope to add this soon to the site. Also, I have been working on some detailed digital maps of the DSS&A and MRRR lines that I hope to add soon. Your patience is appreciated.
Purpose of DSS&A Project
The immediate purpose of these pages, and this entire project, is to record what I learn about the DSS&A. These pages are in essence my notebook left opened for others who are interested in the DSS&A.
There is another purpose, to honor the memory of my maternal grandfather, John F. Stanton. He was a DSS&A employee who died in a tragic railroad accident 31 years, 8 months, and 18 days before I was born. However, my mother, Catherine O. Stanton, kept his memory alive for me as a child with her stories about his life and railroad experiences.
In many ways this whole project is a personal effort to reclaim a sense of the past that slipped away from me as I became an adult. I invite you to share my interest in the DSS&A and my attempt to reconstruct the past.
Scope and Focus of DSS&A Project
Although the scope of my interest in the DSS&A includes its entire history and operations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, I am most interested in its Houghton Division in the 1910-1925 period. The Houghton Division ran from Marquette to Nestoria on the main line, it then branched northward towards Houghton, and on to Calumet and Lake Linden on the subsidiary lines of the Mineral Range Railroad (MRRR) and the Hancock and Calumet Railroad (H&CRR). This area is commonly referred to as the Copper Country because of the mining of that mineral in the region. The Copper Country consists of Houghton, Keweenaw, Ontonagon, and Baraga Counties of Michigan. In addition, the Houghton Division also ran through Marquette County in the Iron Country. The focus is on this area and time because this is where and when my grandfather flourished as a DSS&A employee. In particular, I am interested in building a mental image of what the Houghton Division was like in the Autumn of 1922, just a few months before the death of my grandfather.
Documenting the DSS&A Project
Over time I plan to complete web pages on the following topics:
On these pages I will try to document the sources of my information as much as possible. I will be using the author and year method for citing sources. For example, if you see (Schaddelee 1982b, 44), then this means that on the reference web page you will find the source of the information in the second book or article that Schaddelee wrote in 1982 on page 44.
The DSS&A are only a part of my interests in Houghton County. I am also a genealogist and have done research in Houghton County to trace my French and Irish ancestors. If you share a similar interest, especially if you are Acadian or French Canadian, then you might want to visit my genealogy page. Also, you might want to read my web page on French-Canadian Genealogical Research in Houghton County, Michigan.
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1996 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI. All Rights Reserved. Created 15 May 1996. Last modified 25 July 2010. This web site is best viewed with your display set to 800 by 600 pixels, at least 256 colors, and using Netscape 4.x or better. The coordinated graphics for this site come courtesy of Jelane Johnson. The track edge background is modified with permission from a graphic found at the Atlas Model Railroad Co. web site.