Posts by Jeff Lemke

Imperial Mill & the Railroads

The spectacular growth of the Duluth-Superior harbor between 1880 and 1898 was very much a product of the amount of grain arriving from the Red River Valley. In 1886, James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railroad built the first truly immense grain elevator on the Wisconsin side of the harbor, boasting a whopping capacity of 2.3…

Read More

Twin Ports Hardwood Industry

Dozens of hardboard plants operate across North America. They turn pulpwood logs into essential products used by millions of Americans every day. In the Twin Ports, two such plants competed with each other for their share of the once-booming hardboard business: Duluth’s Superwood Corporation and Superior Fiber Products in Superior. While Superwood excelled at creating…

Read More

The Incan Superior

One of the most unique lake vessels to sail through the Twin Ports was the M/V Incan Superior. While it operated from 1974 to 1992, this vessel and its operations are often overlooked in the history of shipping on Lake Superior. She was a railroad car ferry—a flat decked rail car carrying ship—that operated on…

Read More

The Locomotive Minnetonka

Along with the William Crooks, the first steam locomotive of the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway’s steam locomotive Minnetonka now rests fully restored inside Duluth’s Lake Superior Railroad Museum within the historic 1892 Union Depot. While the Crooks certainly play a more glamorous role for the GN, the NP’s Minnetonka has its own unique…

Read More

The Northern Pacific Railway in Duluth

Building railroads was never easy. Early railroad construction was always enabled through the work of a diverse group of strong-willed individuals who had access to capital, land and regulatory influence at both the state and federal levels. The first rail link between the Twin Cities and the Head of the Lakes—what would eventually become the…

Read More

James J. Hill v. the Northern Pacific

The Central Avenue area in South Superior, Wisconsin, was vital in the development of rail transportation throughout the Twin Ports. Largely ignored in history books, it could be argued that this was the most important railway junction in all of Duluth-Superior. While the king-pins of the big railroads contemplated the quickest route to transportation supremacy…

Read More

Rules Ruled the Railroad

For many years every railroad had its own rule book with its own interpretation of operating and safety concerns. These were eventually consolidated into a single set of rules and issued to every trainman across the country. These vest-pocket-sized booklets served as each man’s operating catechism. Railroaders couldn’t go to work without them. Use of…

Read More

Railroad Tower Man

The men who kept track of all of the trains moving across a division on a railroad were the dispatchers. Each of them worked an eight-hour shift, or “trick.” These so-called trick dispatchers then reported to the chief dispatcher who was known to all as the “chief.” The chief depended on his team of dispatchers…

Read More

Team Tracks of the Twin Ports

The sheer number of businesses and industrial properties located—or once located—in the Twin Ports is extraordinary, particularly when you consider the logistics of shipping and receiving raw materials and finished goods. Many of these facilities were served by railroad tracks installed either alongside or inside of buildings for loading and unloading. The largest businesses in…

Read More

The Locomotive William Crooks

The Minnesota & Pacific Railroad, founded in 1857 as the state’s first railroad and the original predecessor of the Great Northern Railway, began as a simple line connecting Stillwater, Minnesota, to St. Paul with aspirations to eventually run between St. Paul and the Red River Valley on up to the Canadian Provinces. On September 9,…

Read More