NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY
- FARGO, N D
DEPARTMENT OF GEOSCIENCES, NDSU
A RELUCTANT ACCEPTANCE OF EQUILIBRIUM
TOILS ON WEAK SOILS:
A PHOTO-ESSAY ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE STOCKWOOD FILL (1906 - 1909),
"We ought to . . . perhaps give up the absolute
completion of the grade until the question of settlement is over."
Letter from N.P. President H. Elliot to N.P. General Superintendent G.T. Slade, July 17, 1909.
In September, 1909, with the project two years behind schedule and $700,000 over budget, the N.P. gave in and began using the embankment as it stood. However, for years afterwards, the N.P. tried to restore the intended grade of the Stockwood Fill. Thousands of yards of fill were added, only to have the embankment settle and the adjacent compressional ridges rise. The N.P. finally abandoned all of its efforts, and the sag in the grade became permanent. Pusher engines were still required to assist eastbound trains, until the arrival in the 1930's of the more powerful W-3 class locomotives. In all, it is estimated that 5,155,000 cubic yards of fill had been emplaced, of which only 4,067,000 remained above the original surface. The rest, presumably, sank. At least seven workers had lost their lives in this gigantic, but largely futile, construction effort.
The rails on top of the Stockwood Fill today support one of the busiest freight routes in the United States, and modern diesel engines hardly acknowledge existing problems with the grade. The Burlington-Northern Railroad, which maintains this line, reports no problems either with further fill settlement or with grade stability.
Stockwood Fill, 1991. View is to the south from U.S. Highway 10, in region of Minnesota Highway 9 underpass.
M.E. Peihl photo, © Clay County Hist.Soc.
From the railroad overpass bridge at Minnesota Highway 9, however, one can still view physical evidence of the engineering dilemma once faced by McCoy and Birdsall. Over a distance >1 km, the railroad grade sags markedly downward. Facing westward toward the village of Glyndon, one can see the tracks rise, when they should drop. To the east, they rise prominently out of the sag, throwing up a sudden 0.7 % grade instead of the intended 0.2%. The remains of compressional ridges prominently flank both sides of the embankment in the sag area.
Compressional ridges flanking both sides of embankment, April, 1989. View is to the west from the overpass bridge over Minnesota Highway 9. Note elevation rise in tracks over distance; the tracks, however, should descend toward Glyndon.
D.P. Schwert photo, North Dakota State University
Despite all of these features, the trees on the ridges stand tall and straight: evidence of decades of balance between the embankment and its underlying soils.
We are indebted to the Minnesota Historical Society and to their staff for their assistance and for allowing us access to the North Pacific Railway Company records. We also thank David Douglas of the Burlington-Northern Railroad, Fargo, for helping to document foundation conditions for the grade.
The historic photographs are from the archives of the Clay County Historical Society, Moorhead, Minnesota, and from the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota.
© 1996-2009, Clay County Historical Society
The Stockwood Fill is easily accessed either by U.S. Hwy. 10 or Minnesota Hwy. 9 in Clay County, Minnesota. The eastward rise of the fill begins at the village of Glyndon. The railroad grade parallels Hwy. 10 eastward into the region of Buffalo River State Park. The railroad overpass bridge over Hwy. 9 is the former site of the concrete archway. Most of the historic photographs shown herein are from the overpass region, and it is here where one can still view the evidence of the compressional ridges and the sag.
This photo-essay was derived, in part, from the 1996 Midwest Friends of the Pleistocene Field Conference Guidebook (North Dakota Geological Survey Miscellaneous Series 82, pp. 116-126).
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