It's about 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, June 30, 2004, and we've just arrived on a bus from Minneapolis at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, Minnesota, from where we will be riding an NRHS excursion train on the North Shore Scenic Railroad line along Lake Superior. The buses were delayed arriving at the hotel in Minneapolis, and we did not leave until about 8:30 a.m. As a result, we also arrived in Duluth about half an hour late.
Our excursion was not scheduled to leave until 12:00 noon, so that gave us some time to explore the museum. The museum is housed in what was formerly the track area of Union Station in Duluth, and it is connected to the former station building - a magnificent structure built in 1892 with an 88-foot-high ceiling. The museum houses an impressive collection of railroad equipment, all formerly owned by railroads serving the area, and it also contains some informative exhibits showing the history of these railroads. I was actually very impressed with this museum, and felt that it did a better job of presenting the background of railroading than other, much larger railroad museums that I have visited.
About 11:45 a.m., an announcement was made that, despite our delayed arrival, our train would still depart on time at 12:00 noon. There was a very long line waiting to board the train, and I saw no reason to stand on it, choosing instead to spend some more time at the museum. Finally, about 12:10 p.m., I went out to board the train. I had purchased a first-class ticket for this train, and was assigned to the car Northland - a business car of the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railroad, recently acquired by the museum.
This car has a very interesting history. It was built in 1916 by the Pullman Company to serve as a business car for the president of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad. It was the first all-steel car constructed by the Pullman Company and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The car has a lounge section at one end, a private room and a small kitchen at the other end, and a dining table with chairs and a plush sofa in the middle. Interestingly, the car remained in service until last year as the business car of the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railroad. Prior to the recent sale of the railroad to Canadian National, the museum acquired the car for $100,000. It required very little work, as it had been maintained in good condition all these years! I felt quite fortunate to have been assigned to this car, and I sat in the center section of the car - mostly at the table - with Gary Kazin and Dennis McDonald, a fellow railfan and All-Aboard participant from England. (I was subsequently informed that the museum rarely runs the Northland in excursion service, and normally keeps it on display inside the museum, so I felt particularly privileged to be able to ride in this special car.)
The North Shore Scenic Railroad itself has an interesting history. The segment of the route from Duluth to Two Harbors was part of the route of the original Duluth and Iron Range Railroad, but in recent years, it was little used, as ore from the northeast is shipped to Two Harbors, while that from the northwest goes to Duluth. Thus, the connecting line between the two points had little value for ore hauling, and was even proposed for abandonment. It was finally preserved as a scenic railroad, operating in conjunction with the railroad museum.
Besides the Northland, the train included two other first class cars and four standard cars, with some lettered for the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range, while others are of Great Northern heritage. We departed at 12:32 p.m. and proceeded east along the line, which follows the shore of Lake Superior for a short distance, but mostly runs inland through an evergreen forest. We stopped at Knife River, the location of a former station (an asbestos-shingle-sided building in deteriorated condition), at 1:25 p.m for a photo run-by. The run-by proceeded well, and we departed at 1:49 p.m., heading towards Two Harbors, our final destination.
As we approached Two Harbors, the ore docks and small rail cars filled with taconite pellets were visible to the right. To reach the Two Harbors station, we had to back down a short branch line. Two Harbors features a classic brick station, built by the railroad in 1907, which has now been converted to a gift shop and museum. Here, the engines ran around the train, so that our observation car would be at the rear of the train returning to Duluth.
We spent about an hour at Twin Harbors, arriving there at 2:20 p.m. and leaving at 3:17 p.m. I walked up to the main street of this sleepy community and took some pictures of our train.
As we started our back-up move to regain the main line of the railroad, it began to rain, and it continued raining for the first part of the return trip. Now, the open-ended observation platform of the Northland car was on the rear of the train, and one could look out the back. However, it wasn't all that much fun standing there when it was raining out.
Soon, though, the rain slowed down and then stopped at 3:53 p.m. - just before a scheduled photo run-by at another siding. Since the rain had stopped, it was decided to hold the photo run-by as scheduled. Along with many others, I stepped off the train, but it started raining lightly again, so I got back on - being more concerned about my camera getting wet than about my getting wet! The rain soon stopped, though, and those who persevered ended up getting good pictures and/or videos. We continued on our way at 4:20 p.m.
For the rest of the trip, the sun was shining, and I spent much of the time at the rear of the train, looking out at the scenery. The last portion of the ride was particularly interesting, as we ran between a bikeway along the river and a stone wall that formerly supported a rail yard inland. After a back-up move, we returned to the museum at 5:07 p.m.
Our returning bus did not depart the museum until after 6:00 p.m. That gave me some more time to explore the various exhibits, and I got a look at the interior of a Northern Pacific observation lounge car painted in the railroad's two-tone green scheme. This car is one of the six that was used on the Northern Pacific's flagship train, the North Coast Limited, and it is possible that it was on that train when I took it from Livingston, Montana to Chicago in the summer of 1966 (I didn't record car numbers then, so I have no way of knowing whether this car was in fact on that train). I also watched as a small switcher engine pushed this Northern Pacific car, along with the Northland car that we had just traveled in, back into the trainshed of the museum.
Our bus trip back to Minneapolis was uneventful, and we arrived back at the Hilton Hotel at about 9:00 p.m.
Today's trip on the North Shore Scenic Railroad was very enjoyable, as was our visit to the museum. I'm particularly glad that I had purchased a first-class ticket and thus had the opportunity to ride in the beautiful, historic Northland business car.