Lake Superior South Shore, 2016. Part 19 Duluth, MN Railroad Museum

Rudy and I went to the Railroad Museum at the far end of Canal Park.


It is Duluth’s old railroad depot. There is a rich railroad history up here with the iron ore mines to the north and east. Millions of tons of iron ore was hauled from the mines to loading docks at Duluth and Two Harbors for decades. Today the iron ore is processed into a concentrated form called taconite which is about 95% pure iron and then hauled to the loading docks. A common bulk carrier today hauls 60,000 tons of taconite which is many, many trains full. A ship can be fully loaded in the automated loading docks in as little as five hours. The storage yards of taconite ready to ship hold as much as 5 millions of tons of taconite ready to load.


The Wm Crooks was the first steam locomotive in Minnesota.  It originally burned wood and was later converted to coal.  The William Crooks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Perhaps the best thing in the museum is the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Number 227, a 2-8-8-4 “Yellowstone” locomotive which was among the largest steam engines to ever operate.  the 2-8-8-4 configuration had two sets of eight drive wheels led by a two wheels and followed by four. These engines were so long that the entire front drive wheel assembly was articulated.  While it was going around curves this set of drive wheels would actually turn towards one side while sliding under the boiler.  The four 32″ x 26″ powered the sixteen 63″ drive wheels to put 6,250 HP to work providing 141,000 pounds of drawbar force.


These are extraordinarily huge. The railroads transporting iron ore to the loading docks during World War II  operated several of these.  There is another on display in Two Harbors MN and another in Proctor, MN.  Eighteen of the Yellowstone Class locomotive were built for the DM&IR.  During the winter months when production in the mines was slower some of these were leased to other railroads notably the Denver and Rio Grande Western to help get trains over the Tennessee Pass in Colorado. The D&RGW destroyed one of the these locomotives after an air-brake failure caused number 224 to wreck on the Fireclay Loop.

img_6056The coal and water tender rode on seven axles and carried 28 tons of coal and 25,000 gallons of water. There was an automated feed system to supply coal to the huge firebox under the boiler.  These locomotives consume 10 to 12 tons of coal an hour and evaporate water into steam at the astounding rate of 12,000 gallons per hour. The “amount of coal used in one hour would be enough to heat a home for two winters.”  a local report stated. And Minnesota winters at that, one supposes.

Yes, the cab was open and Rudy scampered up like a four-year old.


Pretty much looks like he belongs there. You can see the open doors into the boiler grating where the coal was burned.  No computers on these big boys just an experienced operator and a close eye.


“Quick, turn down the valve with the red handle”. “Not that one, the one with nine spokes!”  Yikes!   You should have seen the batteries in these things.


After Rudy was done Choo Choo-ing we wandered on. This really is an amazing indoor railroad museum.  And out doors too.

An exact replica of Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Car is here as well.From the Display … Lincoln’s legacy; that “all men are created equal”, was carried with him to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois where the 16th President of the United States was laid to rest following his assassination 151 years ago. The pallbearer for this solemn procession was a railroad coach called the ‘United States’ that has become known as ‘The Lincoln Funeral Car’. Built as the first ‘Air Force One’, but never used by the President while he was alive, the car ended its own life in a funeral pyre of sorts on a hot afternoon in July of 1911 in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, a Twin Cities Suburb. An out of control wildfire burned the car to the metal and half of Columbia Heights to the ground.

Using photographs, written descriptions, pieces of charred metal, and a single wood frame window removed from the car before the blaze, an exact, full-sized replica of ‘The Lincoln Funeral Car’ was constructed. This colossal effort took over five years and was completed in time for the 2015 Sesquicentennial of the original train ride from Washington to Springfield.


We managed to get through many other cars as well from Post Office Railway cars where mail was sorted to fancy dining cars to a wide variety of working cars for logging, rail maintenance and giant crane cars for returning cars to the rails after a mishap.

The Post Office Railway car reminded me of an old friend, Paul Schoberg (Chief Many Moons), who spent much of his working life riding back and forth between Minneapolis and Fargo sorting mail. I knew Paul from my Boy Scout days. By then he was retired and was a dedicated teacher of all things outdoors to hundreds of young folks along the way. He was an accomplished classical guitar player and did his best to teach me. That abruptly ended when I cut off the tip of my finger with an axe.  When I think of Paul, I remember a quiet, patient and gentle man, someone who gave much to many.  You won’t find him on Google or Facebook but in the hearts of his many followers.

Next we go to see an even bigger machine, the Wm A Irvin, the 1938 Flagship of the US Steel Great Lakes Fleet.  Right here in Duluth.

More later,

Roger and Susan

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