back roads depot

When a train passes the passenger platform at the Amtrak depot in Staples, the ground vibrates and then there is thunder — and speech is no longer heard. As the engine passes the depot, the engineer gives a couple of hoots, we wave, and then car after car roars by only feet from the depot door.

“About sixty of them come by every day,” Tom Kajer says.

Kajer is the president of the Staples Historical Society and the Society has owned the depot for 12 years. The depot is one of five Amtrak stops in Minnesota and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2019 over 6,000 passengers used it. Even so, when the Society took ownership of the 110-year-old building, it was in serious disrepair.

“The first thing we did was have a new roof put on,” Kajer said.

In the last decade, the Society has completed nearly 30 restoration projects ranging from a new heating system, new bathrooms, restored lighting, new oak doors, and the refinishing and reinstallation of 25 grand oak-framed windows.

The large windows in the lobby of the three-story depot, along with the high ceiling and white terrazzo floor, make for a bright and uplifting space. As a special touch, Kajer has got a dozen or so thriving house plants in the lobby. Along the walls are historical railroad photos and a large dynamite proof safe.

“Did you know that Staples had a stock yard?” Kajer asked, pointing to a photo of cattle in pens. “The ranchers from Montana would ride the train with their cattle to Staples. The cattle and ranchers would stay overnight before heading to South Saint Paul or Chicago.”

The Society has a mini-museum next to the lobby. There visitors can see railroad artifacts such as dramatic photos of the 1969 blizzard which covered the tracks in towering drifts, the bell off the last Northern Pacific steam engine, an 1870s conductor’s lantern, a widow maker, and more.   

The depot lobby and restrooms are open all the time. During Railroad Days, which is a weekend in late August, the museum is open all day. Normally, Kajer comes in every morning to clean the immaculate depot and sanitize door handles and other frequently touched surfaces, however it would be best to call (218) 894-2906 for an appointment to visit the museum itself.

If you want to take Amtrak from Staples, the daily Seattle-bound train leaves at 1:26 a.m. The Chicago-bound Amtrak leaves at 4:14 a.m. Amtrak was operating as of late March. No tickets are sold in Staples.