A casual observer may make that mistake, after all, it's got a peaked roof, wood siding and double pane glass windows. It's sitting on rubber tires. It looks like some crazy mobile home.
It doesn't look like much with it's boarded up windows and curling shingles, but looks can be deceiving.
Take a closer look at the porch roof. The arched roofline and milled radius edges should tell you this is a little more extraordinary than it appears.
Still not convinced? Look at the other end, do you see the passenger car roof peeking out from under the peaked roof?
If it's not a dilapitated old mobile home, what is it, how did it get here, why is it here?
Minnesota owes much of it's modern history to the railroads. One of the early railroads in the state was the St Paul & Pacific Railway. The StP&P started hardly any different than others of the era, a small company with big ambition and little money to realize those ambitions.
By the 1860s, it was a modest regional railroad far from reaching the Pacific ocean. It would take James J Hill and his associates acqusition of StP&P in 1878 to realize that ambtion.
By the 1880s, Hill had turned the tiny StP&P from a small regional railroad into the first link in a growing rail system with a transcontinental potential. Now reorganized as the St Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway, Hill was pushing west into North Dakota and Montana.
By the late 1890s, Hill had combined the StPM&M with a number of other roads along his newly completed transcontinental route from Minneapolis/St Paul to Seattle/Tacoma to form the Great Northern Railway.
Today, you may know the Great Northern Railway as a component of the BNSF Railway.
It's not a mobile home - remember? James J Hill had yet to acquire his nickname as the "Empire Builder", but like his contemporaries, felt the need for private office cars. The office car filled several roles. It entertained shippers, served as a mobile hunting lodge, provided convienient transportation in days when there were few paved roads and no cars or private planes. They also put an impressive face on the railroad to the small communities it served.
The newly formed StPM&M needed an appropriate office car so it went to Pullman to order one. By the 1880s, Pullman already had an international reputation for building some of the finest passenger equipment available.
In May of 1880, Pullman delivered the Manitoba to StPM&M. Riding on 6-wheel composite wood and steel trucks, and featuring gas lights, a brass railing around the back platform, cherry and mohagany interior panelling and gold leaf lettering proclaiming it to be St Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway "Manitoba", it must have been impressive.
At about 59' in length, Manitoba was short for it's era considering it was the begining of the Palace Car era and Pullman was already building 70' and 80' cars, but Hill was always a conservative businessman and didn't spend money needlessly.
The dining room doubled as space for the porter. There was a small kitchen next to a single stateroom. Next was a lavatory. The observation room featured four open sections with upper an lower berths for guests. A small observation section brought up the rear.
The woodwork is ornate for today, but at the time was sedate compared to other cars of the era, probably keeping with Hill's conservative side. The car was funcional and durable, tasteful, but not opulent.
(James J Hil at age 35)
(Walter James - Photo from the Chinese Heritage Foundation - Leonard James Collection)
Walter James was a local Twin Cities business man known for his Nankin restaurants.
Manitoba's history continues in 1935 when it was retired by the Great Nothern Railway. By 1935, Manitoba had lost its name and now carried the number A16. It still served as a GN office car, but no longer hosted the railroad's top brass.
Walter James owned and operated a farm in Howard Lake, MN. Around 1935, James purchased Manitoba's carbody minus its trucks and underframe for use as a guest house on the edge of his Howard Lake farm.
(James Family home in Howard Lake, MN ca 1960s. Note Manitoba in the background attached to the house. Photo from the Chinese Heritage Foundation - Leonard James Collection)
It was used in this capacity and remained relatively unchanged over the years with the exception of a gas range and newer kitchen sink being added sometime in the 1950s.
By the 1970s, James' family had sold parts of the family farm and a home was built on the site where Manitoba sat, incorporating the car into the home.
Throughout the years, Manitoba acquired a peaked roof over the existing roof and house siding covered the old carsiding. While it obscures its original appearance, these changes helped preserve Manitoba.
In 1998, while GSRM volunteers staffed a display at Annandale's Pioneer Park during its Railroad Days event, a gentlemen stopped to talk.
The gentleman had a handful of Polaroid photos of an old passenger car and asked if the volunteers knew of anyone interested in carpentry that would like to buy the car to dismantle it and possibly rebuild parts of the interior in their basement.
GSRM volunteers were interested in what they saw in the photos and arranged to look at the car. Time was critical, the home was slated for demolition by the State of Minnesota Highway Department as part of a US 12 relocation project.
After looking the car over, GSRM volunteers realized there was historic value to saving it, but didn't know it was the old StPM&M Manitoba. GSRM purchased the car for $8000 and moved it to New Prague, just before the wreckers came to raze the home it was connected to.
Volunteers found the numbers A2 and A16 chalked underneath some seats. Great Northern used A-series numbers for its business cars, could it be an old GN Business Car?
Volunteers made a visit to the Minnesota History Center. An 1894 GN document detailing GN business cars contained a page detailing car A2, formerly "Manitoba". There were no drawings, but the detailed description matched GSRM's office car exactly.
The document stated Manitoba was built in May 1880 by the Pullman Company for the St Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway as an office car.
Armed with this information, volunteers conatcted the Great Northern Historical Society. Its volunteers compared a floorplan created by a GSRM volunteer, to official GN diagram book pages. It matched exactly to the floorplan of GN A2, renumberd as GNA16 before it was retired in 1935.
GNRHS volunteers were quite certain the car GSRM saved was the Manitoba.
What a find! By being in the right place at the right time, GSRM had managed to save a significant piece of Minnesota railroad heritage.
Today, Manitoba sits on a flatbed trailer and is open for tours. In the not to distant future, a fundraising campaign will be centered on Manitoba, its restoration and a roundhouse in which to carry out its restoration.
If you'd like to find out how you can help, see our "How Can I Help" page.