WAITE PARK - June 1st, 1891 – Waite Park Car Shops opened

St. Cloud was a railway hub in the late 1800s. The city proved one of most important railway centers in the state with tracks spanning from Canada to the Pacific. The Minnesotan lines coincidentally converged in St. Cloud thus offering a direct connection to every mile of the 3,334 in the Great Northern system. It’s convenient placement fixed the city as the new location for the Great Northern railroad shops.

Much was promised of the shops which were to keep the rolling stock for 3,000 miles of railway in repair. Over 300 acres were purchased for the use of railroad shops just west of the city. Starting immediately west of the city limits, the purchased land ran for a mile along the main line of the road and ended at the Sauk River, which is now Waite Park.

The Great Northern car shops, which were the subject of much newspaper reference in St. Cloud for the few years previous, came into active operation on June 1, 1891.

The car shops consisted of five large buildings for painting, repairing, wood-working, blacksmith and machine needs, and finally the warehouse to store the cars waiting to be restored. The buildings had a combined ground room of about 114,000 square feet.

The shop employed nearly 100 men at its inception and the numbers continued to grow. Previous to its closing in 1987, the shops employed up to 600 individuals numbering at 550 on the pay roll in 1955.

On February 2, 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court approved a merger of all Northern Lines Railroads.  The consolidation was completed on March 2, 1970, and the Great Northern Car Shops officially became the Burlington Northern Car Shops.  Waite Park citizens and car shop employees were worried about what would happen, but the shops stayed open and operational.  But, they didn't stay this way for long.  Decisions were made to move the car shops to Havlock, Nebraska.  Many workers uprooted their families to move with it.  The Waite Park Car Shops officially closed in 1986.

The Waite Park car shops closed in 1987 due in part to the nationwide railroad strikes which placed considerable stress on the company. Despite its closing, the shops opened 120 years ago today contributed to the diverse development of St. Cloud from a rural center to an industrial hub.

Thanks to Brittany Bokovoy, Stearns History Museum Intern, for her help with our series, “This Date in Central Minnesota History” on WJON.