Undoubtedly the most formidable presence in Proctor is the Railroad. In turn, it is only fitting that the most formidable pair of buildings in the community is Proctor’s rail yard back shops.

In the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway’s earliest years, no buildings existed to accommodate indoor repair of rail engines, leaving maintenance workers to fix engines in the open air. Given the region’s variable weather and brutal winters, this lack of facilities caused several problems – both for the workers and the Railroad equipment they were trying to maintain.

Proctor History Walk
Image Detail, DM&IR Back Shops Circa 1920 // Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

The need for maintenance buildings was first expressed in Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway’s annual report in 1900. In the publication, William J. Olcott lamented, “…It certainly is a poor practice, and almost inexcusable, to have 20 expensive engines, costing over $200,000, standing out of doors, exposed to the rain and snow.” As a follow-up, Olcott recommended that a building be erected in Proctor’s backyards to house engines undergoing maintenance.

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Inside the Proctor Back Shops // Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

When Olcott became president of the DM&N in 1901, construction of such maintenance shops was one of the first large-scale projects tackled, and the buildings were completed for use in 1905. Constructed in stately brick-face, the shops served their traditional use as a venue for heavy repair of steam locomotives following their completion.

The buildings stood empty for a number of years following vacancy of their traditional use in the 1970s. But since 2007, the back shops have been utilized by a number of different tenants, industrial and otherwise – including Dynamic Structural Steel, PDM Bridge, Chicago Tube & Iron, and numerous smaller firms.

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Proctor Back Shops from the Catwalk // Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth

Still standing as the most prominent structures in the City, Proctor’s back shops serve as a ready symbol of Proctor’s original purpose for being:  the Railroad. Inextricably tied to this history in the past and present, Proctor’s railroad heritage is a story not soon to be forgotten – due in part to the impressive railway features still present in the heart of Proctor.