Historic Architectural Survey of Bowman County

Cable Cars--in North Dakota?

Obviously, not of the San Francisco variety, but the cable cars of West River North Dakota are just as distinctive and as characteristic of regional life as are the more famous ones of that windy western city. Cable cars of the North Dakota variety exist in various localities of the Great Plains and the mountain west. They occur where school districts, mail routes, or other local routes of travel are bisected by streams that may be forded for much of the year, but during high water are too deep and swift for fording. The answer is to string a steel cable bank to bank and hang some sort of car from it with pulleys. Generally the car was pulled from one side to the other hand over hand.

One of North Dakota's several cable cars--in fact, the best-preserved historic cable car--is located in Bowman County, where it spans Little Beaver Creek. On each high creek bank stands a wooden trestle through which the cable spanning the creek is threaded, thence back into an anchor in the ground. (The little square building at left of the photo is a water gauge shed and not part of the cable car.)
This cable car, built in about 1930, has two cars fashioned of strap-iron frames with plank seats facing one another. If they look a little tipsy, that's because they are.
Here's a boarding-passenger-eye view from the trestle (right). The stream below is sedate on this day, but it's about a twenty-foot drop down there, and you have to remember that this car was used when the creek was swollen too deep to ford.

Another view of the cable car is in the exhibit.

Center for Heritage Renewal