The year 1971 was the last year of passenger train service through Fergus Falls. This coincided with the opening of the interstate highway system that made it easier for people driving vehicles between Fargo and the Twin Cities.
Previously, the Red River train traveled from Grand Forks to the Twin Cities and the Western Star ran from Chicago to Seattle. Both trains made stops in Fergus Falls.
It was a busy time just before 9 a.m. each morning at the Great Northern railway station in Fergus Falls during the 1950s and 1960s. That’s when passengers waited to board the Red River train heading eastward to the Twin Cities, and points in between.
The official boarding time just north of downtown Fergus Falls was 9:12 a.m. each morning.
The train began its journey at 6:30 a.m. in Grand Forks. After stopping in Hillsboro, North Dakota, the train reached Fargo at 8:01 a.m. After a stop in Barnesville, the next train stop was in Fergus Falls.
Heading eastward, passengers in the train passed along the north side of Pebble Lake as it began its journey to Alexandria, where the arrival time was 10:01 a.m. There were two more stops, at Sauk Centre and St. Cloud, before the train arrived in Minneapolis at 12:35 p.m.
For those departing the train in Minneapolis, it was only a walk of about three blocks to downtown.
After a half day of business or shopping, people could board the Red River train for the return trip to Fergus Falls, starting at 4:55 p.m. To many, it was perfect timing, with the opportunity to purchase an evening meal in the dining car.
Heading west, the train reached St. Cloud at 6:08 p.m. After departing Alexandria at 7:24 p.m., the train arrived at Pelican Lake near Ashby a short while later. It was a panoramic view, often breathtaking, of the lake from the tracks that were several feet higher than the lake level.
Today, what once were railroad tracks near Pelican Lake near Ashby are now a part of the Central Lakes Trail for hikers, bikers and others.
Several minutes later, during the summer months, passengers could look to the left and see swimmers off in the distance at Pebble Lake as the train rolled along the tracks.
The Red River arrived in Fergus Falls at 8:18 p.m.
The Western Star train, which traveled between Seattle and Chicago, also passed through Fergus Falls.
Heading east, toward Minneapolis, people boarded the train in Fergus Falls at 6:18 p.m. The train arrived in Minneapolis at 9:54 p.m. and arrived in Chicago at 8:15 a.m. the following day.
Heading west, people could board the Western Star in Fergus Falls at 12:24 p.m. If this was a Tuesday, the train didn’t arrive in Seattle until early Thursday morning.
Great Northern advertised its passenger train service as, “More dome seats, more scenic miles.”
The Galloping Goose
At the Northern Pacific station on the south side of town, near what’s today NP Park and the remodeled public library, people could board the Galloping Goose which went east and west.
The train traveled from Oakes, North Dakota, to Wahpeton-Breckenridge, through Fergus Falls and to Wadena, with other stops along the way.
A person could board the train in Underwood, travel to Henning to spend the night with a relative, and return home by train the next day. An account of this short journey came under the heading “Personal and Social News” in The Fergus Falls Daily Journal.
I remember seeing the Galloping Goose travel along the tracks between Fergus Falls and Foxhome, in 1957, while riding ponies with grade school classmate Dan Jennen at the Jennen farm.
Longtime residents also remember traveling on the Galloping Goose along the Northern Pacific tracks that ran eastward from Fergus Falls to Underwood, Battle Lake, and points beyond, and westward to Breckenridge-Wahpeton and Oakes.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.