Video by Joe Fairbanks
Visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum
By Andrea Busche
Whether you are a native Duluthian or just here for a visit, consider adding the Lake Superior Railroad Museum (LSRM) to your itinerary. Featuring the finest collection of railroad equipment, vintage locomotive artifacts, and educational exhibits, LSRM has something for everyone.
“The mission of LSRM is to preserve, interpret, and present to the public the history of railroading, especially as it relates to our area,” said Ken Buehler – Executive Director of LSRM and General Manager of the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the railroad industry in Duluth and the surrounding area, you’re in luck; all stories and exhibits displayed at LSRM are tied directly to the region at large.
“The founders focused on this area. The artifacts here – the snowplows, rotaries, steam locomotives, diesels, and the cars – are all very important to this area because they ran in this area,” Buehler said. “This is where they stayed because this is where they worked.”
Duluth’s Depot was originally constructed in 1892 by the Northern Pacific Railway. Today, it is home to LSRM and its partner, the North Shore Scenic Railroad. And, if the proposed Northern Lights Express, a high-speed passenger rail service, becomes a reality, then the Duluth Depot would serve yet another important purpose: as a fully-operational transportation hub.
Buehler shared a few highlights LSRM has to offer. “The things that tourists like when they come here is the diversity of the artifacts. But yet, the rail enthusiasts will notice something very special about visiting LSRM, and that is the collection itself. For instance, there is the William Crooks, the first steam locomotive ever in Minnesota. It was brought up the Mississippi River on a barge.”
“And then, there is the largest and most powerful steam locomotive ever built, Number 227 Mallet from the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway. During WWII, it lugged down tons and tons of iron ore, and fed the machinery that saved the world.”
But even more compelling than the artifacts themselves are the personal stories that shine through the exhibits. “The stories of the men and women who built the railroads – that have built our great nation – are told at the LSRM through the artifacts that are in the collection,” Buehler said. “At LSRM, we’re full of stories about Duluth, about the evolution of the Iron Range, and about the great contributions made here in the Twin Ports, where rail meets sail.”
North Shore Scenic Railroad
In addition to the fantastic artifacts on display, visitors can take an actual train ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad, which departs with regularity from the Duluth Depot. Here, the story and unique history of trains come alive, as people of all ages can take a fully narrated tour along the beautiful shore of Lake Superior.
In addition to the North Shore excursion, there is a pizza train, a beer tasting train, and even the family-friendly - and wildly popular - Thomas the Tank Engine weekends.
Large Economic Impact
LSRM and the North Shore Scenic Railroad comprise a large part of the Twin Ports’ tourism economy. “LSRM and North Shore Scenic Railroad are destination attractions,” Buehler said. “We support the Twin Ports tourism industry, which in turn supports 7,000 jobs and generates nearly $14 million per year in hotel/motel and tourism-related taxes. So, we have a huge economic impact on this area.”
“One example is our very popular Thomas the Tank Engine weekends,” he added. “The economic impact of having 18,000 people come and see Thomas and his best friend, Percy, here at LSRM has been documented to be $8.5 million.”
Funding and Support
LSRM is partially funded through the generous support of its nearly 1,000 members. It also receives a portion of the proceeds generated by the North Shore Scenic Railroad, and is otherwise funded through grants and other donations.
Buehler shared that LSRM’s success is due, in large part, to its large, and deeply dedicated, volunteer base. “We are an all-volunteer operation,” he shared. Our volunteers keep the museum vibrant; they keep the railroad running; and over the years, they’ve donated hundreds of thousands of hours.”
LSRM maintains an interesting and educational YouTube channel, which can be found at Duluthtrains.com/videotours. Here, you can view over 130 behind-the-scenes video tours, take an in-depth look at the collection, hear railroad stories, and more.
An official guide to the LSRM, which offers detailed descriptions of each and every piece in the collection, is also available for purchase in their gift shop. The guide makes a perfect gift for train enthusiasts. But your experience isn’t fully complete without a museum tour and a ride on one of those impressive trains.
“What makes LSRM a destination,” Buehler shared, “Is that we are a world-class train museum. We have even been recognized by USA Today as the best transportation museum in America.”