Since I was a child, I have had a fascination with trains. When I was just a little girl my dad and I would go to the railroad shops near West 7th and Randolph in St. Paul to visit his relatives at work and watch the trains go by. My great-aunt Mary lived in Canada, and when she came to visit we’d all travel downtown to the St. Paul Union Depot to greet her. The depot’s long, elegant concourse was a wonderful place to be as we excitedly waited for her train to come in.
The 400 Story, a book by Jim Scribbins. Published by the University of Minnesota Press (2008 reissue). $29.95.
So, it was with much interest that I offered to write some notes about the book The 400 Story by Jim Scribbins. Scribbins grew up riding the trains and made his career with the Milwaukee Road. The book was originally published in 1982, and has just been reissued by the University of Minnesota Press.
The book’s title refers to the promise of traveling “400 miles in 400 minutes” between the Twin Cities and Chicago on the Chicago and North Western’s luxury steam-powered passenger trains that traveled up to 90 mph. The line’s inaugural trip was on January 2, 1935. Scribbins traces the series of the line that ultimately branched out to cities and towns in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. The service was discontinued in 1963 due to a declining number of passengers.
Scribbins spells out the history of the 400 series, including everything from the dining cars with their white table cloths to the bartender who could fix the perfect drink for each regular.
Scribbins lovingly describes the furnishings, lighting, seating, and interior decoration of the trademark yellow-and-green streamliners. He spells out the history of the 400 series, including everything from the dining cars with their white table cloths to the bartender who could fix the perfect drink for each regular. Passengers included students, salesman, farmers, tourists, and the soldiers who were transported to their bases during World War II. The book features wonderful photos, including a full-color sampler of the various trains.
The book is delightful—although I think it would be most interesting to those who have some knowledge of the railroad, since it contains quite a bit of railroad jargon. Scribbins’s fondness for trains shines through and is sure to fire up a feeling of nostalgia for anyone who rode the trains in those glory days of the 400.
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.