Flatcar, LaFayette Car Works, 1888

D&IR #5537 flatcar in Mid-Continent Railway Museum display yard. Sept. 15, 2015. Jeffrey Lentz photo.

Duluth & Iron Range flat car #5537 (original number unknown) was purchased by the Duluth & Iron Range in 1888 as part of an order for (200) flat cars (original numbers 2411-2809, odd numbers only) from the LaFayette Car Works. As-built the cars were 34 feet long, had a 50,000 lb. capacity and featured link and pin couplers. In 1896 the car was rebuilt, lengthened to 36 feet long, had automatic couplers applied and re-numbered to #5537. The flat car would have typically been used to haul logs, pulpwood and cut timber but it could also be used to haul bulky items that would not otherwise fit in a boxcar, hopper, or other closed car.

#5537’s value was apparent for the railroad rebuilt the car in 1916 with a steel center sill to strengthen its frame. In 1938, the car was transferred to the Duluth Missabe & Iron Range through merger, but retained its number which it still wears today. In the late 1940s the air brake system on the car was upgraded from K brakes to the more modern AB air brake system.  The flat car remained on the DM&IR until 1965, when the car was purchased by Mid-Continent and moved to North Freedom. The flat car was restored in the 1980s, retaining its 1916 paint and lettering scheme. The car is used periodically in the museum’s freight train during special events.

The Duluth & Iron Range was chartered in 1874 to tap newly discovered iron ore deposits at Babbitt in northeastern Minnesota. Ten years later, the first train was operated to the new ore docks on the shore of Lake Superior at Agate Bay (later called Two Harbors). Additional branches were later built to Duluth and another mine at Ely. The railroad soon came under the ownership of a parade of steel companies that used the iron ore from the Mesabi Range. In 1901, U.S. Steel acquired the D&IR and its neighbor Duluth Missabe & Northern. The two roads continued to operate separately, but consolidation was inevitable. On January 1, 1930, DM&N leased the D&IR and the two roads were quickly merged to increase efficiency. Duplicate facilities were eliminated and equipment was jointly used. In 1938, the merger was completed when D&MN’s successor Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range acquired the D&IR outright. From that point on, both railroads were known as the latter. DM&IR continues to haul iron ore to the port of Duluth to this day. However, the road is now known as the Canadian National (CN) as a result of the road’s sale in 2004.

mixed freight train
D&IR #5537 is part of a mixed freight train returning to North Freedom on August 24, 2013.
#5537 at North Freedom, April 2000.
#5537 at North Freedom, April 2000.