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Duluth Rail Museum       
DULUTH, Minnesota—This is Garrison Keillor country, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the railroad museums are above average.

Case in point: the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth. Steamtown may be grander, the Illinois Railway Museum bigger, the California State Railroad Museum sexier. But though its size may be relatively modest, the Duluth museum is beautifully designed and features several impressive exhibits under its roof, part of the remaining trainshed of what once was Duluth Union Station and is now The Depot, also host to several other museums and a tourist railroad.

So far as I am concerned, the piece de resistance is No. 227, a beautifully preserved 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone that once hauled long trains of ore cars on the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range. Its cab, open to the public, is enormous. You could set up a ping-pong table in it, and you can look through the firebox wings to the massive grates that once held burning coal.

2-8-8-4 cab
The enormous "cockpit" of the museum's retired DM&IR 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone, showing the huge firebox.

2-8-8-4 Yellowstone drivers
The Yellowstone's sixteen driving wheels are not tall, but they put out a massive amount of tractive effort to haul long strings of iron ore cars to the Duluth docks.

2-8-8-4 front
The beetling business end of the Yellowstone, cheek by jowl with a former electric boxcab that hauled Milwaukee Road trains over the Cascades.

Historic steam locomotives of the 19th century include an 1861 4-4-0 and an 0-4-0 teakettle switcher. As well as the Yellowstone, a Milwaukee Road electric boxcab, a Soo Line FP7 diesel and a Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic RS1 switcher represent the 20th century. All exhibits echo the many railroads that called at Duluth over the last 150 years.

4-4-0 & 0-4-0
Foreground: The William Crooks, built in 1861, the first steam locomotive in Minnesota. Background: The Minnetonka, 1870, the first locomotive on the Northern Pacific Railway.

A Soo Line FP7 passenger locomotive rests next to a steam-driven Northern Pacific rotary plow built in 1887.

There are lots of freight and passenger cars, including a lovingly restored Railway Post Office car and a diner with an exhibit of exquisite dining-car china.

RPO exterior
The museum's former Northern Pacific RPO-baggage car never looked this good in service, except maybe on its first day.

RPO interior
Above: The interior of the RPO car with its mail sacks and cubbyholes.
Below: Part of the extensive exhibit of railway dining car china.

china exhibit

And when you get tired of just looking, you can go riding on the museum's North Shore Scenic Railroad just outside on the working tracks. During the summer it fields several trains a day, including one that goes up to Two Harbors on a six-hour round trip.

On the day we visited, the museum's North Shore Scenic Railroad had assigned a Budd Rail Diesel Car, said to be the oldest operating RDC-1 in the country, to a chartered excursion trip to Two Harbors.

My wife and I visited the museum on the afternoon of June 19, 2012, just hours before Duluth was deluged by a disastrous nine-plus inches of rain over the next two days. We heard that the museum weathered the ensuing biblical flood well, although the tourist railroad's Two Harbors line was undermined by washouts. Word was that rebuilding the line would commence quickly, and by July 1 the railroad's web site was reporting that it was fielding a full schedule.

Did I say above average? rates the museum at 4 stars out of 5. That's about right.


For more information, visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum Web site.

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