A History of the Loop

The Northern Pacific Railroad built into what would become McHenry, ND, in 1899 and became the end of a branchline that started at Sanborn, ND, and continued up through Hannaford and Cooperstown. What would make McHenry unique is that a gigantic loop was built to turn around entire trains. Most branchline ends utilize a wye or turntable that turns just the engine, not an entire train. This idea was developed by NP engineer E.H. McHenry, for whom the town would later be named for. The loop and sidings were finished on October 6, 1899. Click here to see a schematic of the loop.

A standard Northern Pacific two-story depot was also erected in 1899. This allowed the station agent and family to reside in the second story. G.H. Kelly became the first station agent and Cabril Hanson was the section boss for the McHenry district. The original depot was replaced in 1959 by a standard NP pre-fab metal station. As passenger service declined, passenger service would be provided by a gas-electric combination passenger/mail/baggage outfit nicknamed the "Galloping Goose" which ran from Valley City to Sanborn, up to McHenry and back. This was common on many North Dakota branchlines in the declining years of passenger service. This service was discontinued on June 22, 1961, and the line became freight only.

In March of 1970 the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, Chicago Burlington and Quincy, and Spokane Portland and Seattle railroads merged to become the Burlington Northern Railroad. BN continued to operate this branch until 1981, at which point the BN filed to abandon the line between Binford and McHenry. The last train ran on May 5, 1981, hauling out the 1959 depot with three GP9s and a former CB&Q caboose. See the Photo Gallery for pictures.

The town realized that the loop could be lost. In 1981 Avis Lowe spoke before a ND Public Service Commission meeting (along with 65 McHenry residents to cheer her on) to try and save the loop. Burlington Northern offered to sell the loop for $82,205, however with a population of only 82, this was nearly impossible. The president offered to have lunch with Avis and offered a new deal to lease the trackage from Highway 20 to the west (including the loop) to the city of McHenry for $1 a year, thus saving the historic loop. On February 12, 1982, the McHenry Railroad Loop Association was organized. A few years later McHenry would have enough equipment and volunteers to begin running trains on the loop.

See equipment for a complete list of buildings and equipment on the property and current operations for the current schedule of trains in McHenry.

Copyright 2004, McHenry Railroad Loop Assn.