Duluth South Shore & Atlantic #996

Gondola, unknown builder, 1888

red wood gondola car inside display building lettered DSS&A number 996

DSS&A #996 was moved into the newly opened Coach Shed #2 on September 9, 2019 and is on public display. MCRM photo.

#996 at North Freedom, 1988. Bill Buhrmaster photo

#996 at North Freedom, 1988. Bill Buhrmaster photo

#996 under restoration, 1988. Bill Buhrmaster photo

#996 under restoration, 1988. Bill Buhrmaster photo

#996 under restoration, 1988.

#996 under restoration, 1988.

Slag gon DSS&A 996, arriving at North Freedom, March 1965. MCRM collection.

Slag gon DSS&A #996, arriving at North Freedom, March 1965. MCRM collection.

The #996 gondola was built as a 34’-0” long flat car as part of a 425-car order that the Duluth South Shore & Atlantic Railway split between the Michigan Car Company (225 cars) and the LaFayette Car Works (200 cars) in 1888. This makes the car tied with D&IR #5537 for title of oldest standard gauge freight car in Mid-Continent’s collection. The car builder and the original car number is not known but the flat cars were originally included in the number series of #1001 to #1449. In 1899 the DSS&A Ry. shops in Marquette, MI, rebuilt this car along with at least 19 other flat cars from the 1888 order into gondolas. The rebuilding in 1899 was so extensive that the car was considered “new” with only the trucks and other metal parts potentially being the only original parts used in the rebuilding process. The car emerged from the Shop with the length changed to 36′-0″ and the car was renumbered to #1854. Because it retained its original trucks, it is one of only a few standard gauge cars remaining in the country with Thielsen rigid frame arch bar trucks.

In December, 1934 gondola #1854 was renumbered to #996 and was assigned to work train service as a scrap and rubbish car. The DSS&A Ry. retained one other rebuilt gondola for work train service and retired the balance of nine gondolas from the #1829-1880 series in 1934. In the 1961 merger of the DSS&A and the Soo Line the railroad apparently did not consider the #996 enough of an asset to renumber the car into the new work equipment number series.

The #996 was observed by Mid-Continent personnel while it was being used for caboose coal storage at the Houghton, Michigan yards of the Soo Line RR. in 1961. Acquisition followed in 1964 (purchase price $145) and the car was moved to the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society’s North Freedom, Wisconsin facilities. The car was restored by museum forces in time for the 1988 Soo Line Historical & Technical Society’s convention held at North Freedom that year. The car is presently displayed inside Coach Shed #2 in its work train configuration as the #996.

The Duluth South Shore & Atlantic Railway was formed in 1886 through the merger of several smaller railroads. The mainline of the railroad extended from Duluth to Sault Ste. Marie with a branch line extending into the Keweenaw Peninsula. Control of the railroad soon passed into the hands of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and much of the traffic was directed to the CP at the Sault Ste. Marie gateway. On January 1, 1961, the DSS&A ceased to exist when it was officially merged into the newly organized Soo Line Railroad. Portions of the original DSS&A route not already abandoned were sold off by the Soo Line in 1987 to the upstart regional railroad, Wisconsin Central Ltd. – not to be confused with the older Wisconsin Central Railway which had merged into the Soo Line at the same time as the DSS&A. Wisconsin Central Ltd. was purchased by the Canadian National Railway in 2001 and continues to operate portions of the DSS&A route as of 2020.