In 1908, W. L. Luce and his son, E. D. Luce, incorporated the Electric Short Line Railroad Company in Arizona.
Their plan was to build a railroad from Minneapolis to Brookings, South Dakota, linking many farm communities as yet unserved by a railroad . . . Not long after, a short track was put into operation within Minneapolis.
Westward construction finally began in 1913, when approximately eight miles of track was completed and put into operation between the western
city limits of Minneapolis (Glenwood) and Parkers Lake.
The following year saw trackage constructed along the northern shore of Lake Minnetonka, past Stubbs Bay, and west to Winsted. By the end of 1915, the fledgling railroad had reached Hutchinson.
After halting at Hutchinson for several years, construction resumed. The tracks reached Cosmos in 1922 and Lake Lillian in 1923. The railroad’s alignment partially followed a trail used by the Dakota people nearly two centuries earlier.
The alignment selected affects trail use to this day. Other Minnesota railways were built in the previous century, and the fledgling towns therefore grew up around the central location of the depot.
Because of the comparatively late start of the Luce Line, it was built on the perimeter of many of the towns it served. Since most of the land it traveled across had already been settled for some time, the route was not always the most desirable land for construction and included much land unsuitable for farming, such as wetlands.
In 1915, six gasoline and gas-electric motorcars provided passenger service. Trains ran roundtrip between Minneapolis and Stubbs Bay, Minneapolis and Hutchinson, and eventually between Minneapolis and Lake Lillian.
The line was a boon to early tourists and vacationers, transporting them quickly to the popular resort areas on Medicine Lake, Parkers Lake, and Lake Minnetonka. Unfortunately, fire destroyed two of these motorcars in 1916 and 1918.
Secondhand steam powered engines for freight trains were purchased from the Soo Line and Northern Pacific. By the early 1920s, one freight train per day, in each direction, was scheduled between Minneapolis and Lake Lillian.
On May 1, 1924, the Line was sold and reorganized as the Minnesota Western Railroad Company, with the Luces still in control. Their plans called for an extension to Montevideo and then on to Brookings, South Dakota.
Through the sale of bonds, the enterprising father and son obtained about $600,000 for continued construction. In 1927, the line reached Gluek, about 12 miles to the east of Montevideo.
All funds had been expended, and the Luces’ financial situation was grave. Harry Pence, President of the Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern, bought the line in December 1927.
Gluek was to be the final western terminus of the line, far short of its original destination. However, the 115 miles of the railroad connected many communities to the markets of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
From the late 1920s hauling grain, lumber, and other commodities was the railroad’s major role.
The line changed hands twice during the 1950s. Its final owner was the Chicago & North Western Railway Company, purchasing the line along with its previous owner (Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway) on November 1, 1960.
The increasing competition from other modes of transportation created an unprofitable situation for the line during the 1960s. The Chicago & North Western formally abandoned the Luce Line in 1970.
The Electric Short Line Railroad connected six counties from the urban environs of the state’s largest city to the prairies and farmland of western Minnesota. During its peak years of operation, nearly 20 communities gained railroad access to the expanding metropolitan area of the Twin Cities.
Today, 16 of these communities are still served by the railroad’s recreational descendant, the Luce Line State Trail.