Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: The Decline of Railroads and Streetcars

The popularity of automobiles and trucks led to a decline in the building and use of railroads. One effect was the development of regional and short line railroads that served smaller communities. Several larger cities used local electric streetcars until the automobiles took over.

Take a ride on a Red River oxcart, cruise down the Missouri River on a steamboat, hop on board the Northern Pacific Railroad, or go for a thrill ride with a barnstorming pilot for a whirlwind tour of North Dakota’s transportation history. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air shows how the many methods of transportation in the state have changed and how North Dakota’s history has reflected those changes.

Download Video Right Click for Download Options


Becky Jones (Producer), Dave Geck (Editor/Videographer), Frank Vyzralek (Historian), Jean Waldera (Narrator), Bob Dambach (Executive Producer)


“River, Roads, Rails and Air” Prairie Public 1996

Related Media

  1. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Water Communication
    Video: Rivers already provided an avenue for the movement of goods and people in 1803 when Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River to look for a waterway to the West. Later, shallow-draft steamboats became crucial for passengers and freight.
  2. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Roads from WWII to the Present
    Video: World War II meant funding was diverted all but strategic roads and highways. After the war, the state had to play catch-up on road maintenance, helped by federal funding of the interstate system. In today's world, larger and heavier trucks are critical to transporting freight. In rural North Dakota, providing local transit for a growing senior citizen population is a big issue.
  3. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Road Improvement
    Video: By the 1910s, state government began making an effort to improve roads by financially aiding counties, and the federal government began assisting with funding. The economic hardships of the 1930s meant less funds, but the state authorized the state patrol and began issuing drivers' licenses.
  4. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Red River Oxcarts
    Video: Prior to the railroads, squeaky oxcarts were the primary means of transporting goods from the Red River Valley to St. Paul.
  5. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Peerless Transportation
    Video: In their time, railroads had no peer in their ability to move people and goods, although shipping costs were high. The railroad companies helped increase immigration to North Dakota by actively marketing the opportunities here to foreigners, especially Scandinavians and Germans from Russia.
  6. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Individual Freedom
    Video: The automobile age gave freedom of movement and choice for passengers and freight. With more people driving cars, the push came for better roads.
  7. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: In Mid-continent and “The Holy Dog”
    Video: North Dakota’s position in the center of North America has always made transportation a challenge with even the earliest peoples seeking ways to cover large distances of land. The arrival of horses to the Northern Plains had a radical effect on the Native American culture and way of life.
  8. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: Barnstorming
    Video: Early airplanes were a novelty and flying source of entertainment for bystanders, but they quickly became essential in the transportation of passengers and goods.
  9. Rivers, Roads, Rails and Air: “A Reluctant and Homesick Pig”
    Video: Although its course meandered like a lost and homesick pig, the Red River of the North was a major artery for steamboats, which coordinated with stagecoaches from St. Paul to Fort Abercrombie.