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The Blueberry Special

Julie Marie Johnson
45.70275, -92.87136

The Blueberry Special, a branch of the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad Company, ran between Rush City, Minnesota, and Grantsburg, Wisconsin, beginning in 1884. It crossed the St. Croix River at the Old Railroad Bridge, five miles east of Rush City. It made two round trips each day: one in the morning and one at noon. The route was 17 miles each way. Once it reached Grantsburg, it changed direction by pivoting on a turnaround.

There were two types of passengers who used the train: immigrants from Scandinavia and other European countries taking the railroad north from St. Paul, transferring at Rush City, and boarding the branch line to Grantsburg where homesteads awaited them. Other travelers were local residents who went to Wisconsin to pick blueberries; thus the name, The Blueberry Special.

“The train made several unscheduled stops along the way to deliver pickers to the patches and told them when to expect the train’s return. The engineer blew the whistle in advance of arrival to warn the pickers of its return, giving them time to get back to the tracks to be picked up for the return trip.” (Pat Kytola, Early Railroading)

During the spring of 1945, severe flooding occurred along the St. Croix River. As the river ice melted, large icebergs created a dam just north of the Old Railroad Bridge. River water backed up, causing the river to rise over 30 feet. All that could be seen of the farm houses and cabins on the banks of the river were their rooftops.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers began breaking up the dam to release the river water so it would flow downstream. A dozen battleship coal cars lined up on the railroad bridge and the ice was dynamited. Fortunately, the Old Railroad Bridge held.

The Blueberry Special made its last run in 1951. The Old Railroad Bridge over the St. Croix was torn down shortly thereafter.

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