Monday, August 11, 2014

North Country Redux: Trains, trains and more trains

July 22 2014

OK, if you're not into trains you might want to think about skipping this rather long post (All 38 photos worth!) because that's all it is.

If you are into trains, this is a sampling, and only a sampling, of what is available at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.

Photography was a bit difficult because much of the museum is housed under a sky-lighted passenger platform and it was a bright, sunny day. This created bright spots of light dropping down into the less bright interior (Didn't really want to call it a dark interior, but in relative terms it was!) of the platform area as well as some extreme back-lighting situations. The rest of the museum is outside on the approach tracks but also shaded heavily by 5th Avenue and a parking garage which have both now claimed the sky-rights over the tracks.

This is the depot from the Michigan Street side. The tracks are two more levels below Michigan Street and from the back side the depot is 4 stories tall.

Duluth is a steep city. In the vicinity of the depot the city is 9 short blocks wide. The first block is down near lake level and the 9th block is nearly 600' above that for an average rise of 65' per block! I wonder how that compares to San Francisco??

Since I35 now runs by between the depot and the harbor, with the main lanes in a ditch and the 5th Avenue ramps up in the air, you can't really get a shot of the backside of the depot anymore without a helicopter, and dang it, I forgot to bring mine!

As passenger traffic dwindled to nothing in the '50's this beautiful building was nearly lost to the wrecking ball!

Here, in addition to an express car, which we'll get back to later, you can get a glimpse of the arched, sky-lighted roof over the passenger platforms that complicates photography. This is a stub-end terminal where the trains can only approach from one end because all the tracks dead-end at the other. The advantage of this type of terminal is that passengers can get from one platform to the next by going around the ends of the tracks without having to use catwalks over the trains or tunnels below them. (Crossing the tracks themselves is highly discouraged because cleaning people-gunk off the windshield and out of the running gear is a really messy job!) The disadvantage is that it requires more switching of trains than is necessary at through-terminals.

As a witness to the extreme weather here in Duluth, the far end of the platform area is walled off with really tall doors that can be opened to let the trains in then closed to keep the winter out.

Of course, that kind of weather requires some serious snow-removal equipment.

And all track, regardless of the climate, needs maintenance. Note the funky little adjustable 'paddles' on the corners of this gas-powered doodlebug. (Used by maintenance crews to get around.) I guess they're there to sweep pennies off the track before they can derail the thing!

This 1957 station wagon was bought brand new and converted to a high-railer. (A vehicle that can run on both road and rail.) It was in use as an inspection car until the late '70's.

But there were still wrecks to be dealt with.

While the actual work of moving trains down the track could be hard and dirty

For a while there being a passenger was a pretty cushy deal. There is one entire car dedicated to displays of the various versions of the proprietary patterned china and flatware used in passenger service during those days by the various railroads. And the cars themselves were works of art and craftsmanship.

But not everyone's ride was quite so elegant!

Such as those that toiled on their feet for the whole trip (Except when they were sitting on the pot that is!), sorting mail in the express car as the train tore down the tracks,

often not bothering to stop at some of the smaller stations. In that case outgoing mail would be snagged on the fly by raising these arms and hooking a bag the station agent had hung track-side on a rack. Incoming mail was unceremoniously tossed out the door as they went by.

But the primary purpose of railroads in northern Minnesota was the movement of ore

and timber.

The massive timber of the old-growth forest is gone now, but ore is still moved from the mines to the ports in long trains where it is loaded into freighters that take it on down the lakes to plants where it will be processed and maybe end up as the fender on your car.

Over the years the equipment used for this has evolved from small and simple

to large and complicated

and everything in between; and the work on the steel rails continues on today.

Just out past the end of the museum tracks, there between the caboose and the switcher,

an engine, arriving from the engine-house where it has been serviced and cleaned,

is switched through the yard-throat

on it's way to head up today's North Shore Scenic train. Passengers are already eagerly gathering at the terminal waiting to board for the three or four hour trip up to Two Harbors and back.

This little depot, plopped down inside the big depot, houses a model railroad that is particularly well done considering it's a public display model.

It was all behind glass to keep our grubby little hands off the merchandise which made photography a challenge, there being no way to eliminate reflections with a simple point-and-shoot camera and a straw hat, but the detail in some of the scenes is incredible. Note the exposed boiler tubes in the half-dismantled steamer at this scrapyard.

And can't you just see yourself walking down these streets, maybe catching the bus after a little shopping!

Or maybe you work down here in the machine shop and live in town perched there above the rail yards.

Or perhaps your day as lighthouse keeper is punctuated by passing freight trains as you contemplate having to get up there and paint the tower where the iron window frames have stained the otherwise  crisp white spire.

I have seen mixed reviews for The Depot museums, some saying it's not worth the $12 entrance fee. Me? Well I was disappointed that the restored sleeper car was locked up so all you could do was look in from the platform end, and some displays didn't have information plaques to go with them whereas I stumbled on a few plaques tucked into corners and half buried under debris that didn't seem to have a corresponding display, but all in all I come down on the side of those that recommend the museum complex as well worth a visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment