Much progress has been made on Knife River’s historic depot, soon to be the site of the Knife River Heritage and Cultural Center. Since May, volunteers have been working five to six hours a day Mondays through Wednesdays to restore the old building, which was moved to Knife River in the early 1900s.
Volunteer general contractor Larry Ronning, a Knife River native, said they’re “in a good place’ and on track to completing many of the goals for the construction season.
“In two more days of work, we’ll have that roof completed. That’s a milestone,” Ronning said. “I think we’d all like to take a week off after that, but I don’t know that we can if we want to get a layer of primer on before snowfall.”
Exterior work made up the majority of the first phase of reconstruction work and included patching the roof, replacing historic windows, installing concrete footings to raise the building's foundation and working on the siding.
The first project to tackle was reinforcing the depot’s chimney, so that it could stay in place while the rest of the building was raised to pour a concrete foundation slab.
“Once we got the slab poured, about six weeks ago, we were able to start looking at the roof and we replaced a lot of boards on the roof,” Ronning said. “We stabilized and leveled the roof. It had sagged, so we added big timbers in the ceiling to jack it up to where it should be.”
The roof is almost entirely covered with standing seam steel siding.
Ronning said the building is now “almost perfectly level and plumb,” meaning it shouldn’t lean.
Some work still yet to be completed includes replacing the siding. During the assessment process, Ronning and his volunteer crew determined which sides of the building need completely new siding, and which to keep original. The north side of the building will keep the original siding, while the south, east and west sides will get new siding. Regardless, a layer of fresh insulation was placed around all sides of the building.
The crew also constructed a bump-out in the front of the building where there used to be an agent’s window, a large bay window used to observe the trains. The bump-out was included in the original plans, but was removed at some point.
Ronning said the project was a passion project for him, as he grew up in Knife River and remembers visiting the depot to take the train into Two Harbors. He’s worked on four other restoration projects in Knife River over the years as a way to give back to the community.
“It’s about both paying back and paying it forward,” Ronning said. “And it’s a depot, which means it was built to be somewhere safe and secure and pleasing architecturally. It has such historic significance for this community and that’s one of the main reasons to save it.”
The volunteers aim to have the depot in sufficient condition for it to be used to sell tickets to the “Troll Train” with the North Shore Scenic Railroad during the community’s Julebyen festival Dec. 6-8.