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Crow Wing County Fairground locomotive on track for preservation

A locomotive engine of historic significance is on display at the Crow Wing County Fairground. Discussions have taken place to preserve that part of Brainerd’s railroad history by erecting a roof over the engine to shelter it from the elements, such as snow and rain.

Locomotive engine on the Crow Wing County Fairground
A locomotive engine is on display Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at the Crow Wing County Fairground during the county fair.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — In all the excitement of the recently-concluded Crow Wing County Fair, it would be understandable if fairgoers overlooked an important of Brainerd history on the fairgrounds.

A locomotive engine sits outside by the fair’s antique tractor display near the blacksmith shop located off of the Southeast 13th Street entrance to the fairground.

“It’s right there between the schoolhouse and the historical building we call the ‘general store,’” said Gary Doucette, the fair’s general manager and board member.

The tangible piece of Brainerd’s ties to the railroad industry was on display during the five-day fair, especially to those who paid to park their vehicles on the strip of land adjacent to the street.

“To be honest with you, I couldn't tell you how long exactly, but it's been there quite a while,” Doucette said of how long the locomotive engine has been at the fairground.

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A view from the side of the locomotive engine that sits on the Crow Wing County Fairground.
A sign attached to the locomotive engine states it was used to transport railroad ties to and from the Brainerd tie plant, according to the Crow Wing County Historical Society.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

By January of 1871, about 1,600 men were working on constructing the Northern Pacific Railroad and three carloads of bridge iron arrived from Milwaukee for the Northern Pacific bridge across the Mississippi at Brainerd.

“There was a guy from Michigan that came by one day a couple of years ago,” Doucette said of the locomotive’s significance. “He wanted to give me $2,500 if I promised to put a roof over the locomotive.”

A sign attached to the locomotive engine states it was used to transport railroad ties to and from the Brainerd tie plant, according to the Crow Wing County Historical Society.

Crow Wing County Fairground locomotive engine 3
The locomotive engine sits outside by the Crow Wing County Fair’s antique tractor display near the blacksmith shop located off of the Southeast 13th Street entrance to the fairground.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Doucette said of the Michigan man’s offer, “He said because my dad worked for Burlington Northern. He said if you leave that out in the weather like that — he says that's a disgrace — it's gonna get ruined and it won't be repairable … and so he gave me $2,500.”

Attached to the rear of the locomotive engine is a millstone that was recovered from the Mississippi River and believed to be used in making wood pulp at the paper plant, according to the Crow Wing County Historical Society.

“It's got a trailer behind it for hauling logs and stuff,” Doucette said of the locomotive engine at the fairground. “I, for one, can really appreciate it.”

The creation of the Northern Pacific Railroad began with the groundbreaking near Carlton, Minnesota. It was the country’s second planned transcontinental railroad and the first to be built solely by a single business entity.

Attached to the rear of the locomotive engine at the Crow Wing County Fairground is a millstone.
Attached to the rear of the locomotive engine is a millstone that was recovered from the Mississippi River and believed to be used in making wood pulp at the paper plant, according to the Crow Wing County Historical Society.
Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Doucette said about the Michigan man’s preservation wishes, “I promised him I'd have the roof up this year yet. I just couldn't get it up in time for the fair, but I'll have it done as soon as the fair is over with.”

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One of the major projects on the fairground last year was erecting and dedicating the Bataan Memorial of World War II in memory of the 194th Tank Battalion.

“It is an exact replica of the mile marker on the POW march and is thought to be the only such memorial in the USA,” according to fair organizers.

The Bataan Memorial is located at the south end of the fairground near the Mills Free Stage. The locomotive engine is north of the stage at the opposite end of the fairground.

“The locomotive is in fair condition,” Doucette said. “It needs to be sandblasted, painted and some boards in the platform and stuff redone … where people can actually get up into the cab and be able to experience what it's like to be inside of a locomotive.”

MORE ABOUT BRAINERD HISTORY BY FRANK LEE:
The Northern Pacific Railway was the driving force behind Brainerd’s first bridge across the Mississippi River, and the bridge was constructed in 1870. But five years later, it came crashing down and five passengers were killed.

Doucette said another man passing through the Brainerd lakes area stopped by the fairground after hearing there was a locomotive engine on the property.

“He said, ‘If you ever want to sell that, let me know,’” Doucette said. “And I said, ‘Well, what's it worth?’ And he said, ‘Oh, in the condition it's in right now, probably about $8,000 to $10,000.’”

Construction work on the Northern Pacific Railroad began in the summer of 1870. Jay Cooke, the nation’s leading banker, and railroad President J. Gregory Smith had formally agreed on New Year’s Day that year to build the transcontinental railroad.

Doucette said of the fairground’s locomotive engine, “Just to look at it — and if you really put your thought process to it — it almost takes you back in time.”

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FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

Related Topics: BRAINERD HISTORYRAILROADSCROW WING COUNTY FAIRBRAINERDTRANSPORTATION
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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