Rails & Trails Pages

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NARCOA Duluth 2016

I was asked by the North Shore Scenic Railroad staff to pilot the NARCOA (North America Railcar Operators of America) ride on July 5, 2016.  Railcars are commonly called speeders or putt-putts and there are hundreds of people around the country that own their own cars and travel long distances for the opportunity to 'ride the rails.'

There were 19 cars for this year's ride, including one hy-rail owned by Fred Lonnes of Illinois that would trail the cars.  Fred is a very experienced operator and frequently operates with excursion coordinator Michael Ford of Indianapolis.  Although most operators were from the Midwest, there was a family of four from Texas, a family from New Mexico, and two cars from Arizona!

Michael Ford is coordinating a rides on 8 different railroads.  Two days previous, many of these cars rode the St. Croix Valley Railroad from Rush City, MN to Hinckley in back.  In two days from now, many of these people will ride in North Dakota.  And then, many of the cars will go to Canada for rides on six different railroads!!!

Operators set their cars on at Marbles, just outside of Two Harbors for the trip to Duluth and back.
Come along and view some of the sights on our way to Duluth!

Remember, these pictures are taken from a moving vehicle (steel on steel!) traveling 20-25 MPH and some are taken through the windshield!  And they have been down-sized.

First shot, crossing the Knife River.
Approaching Palmers.
Crossing the Sucker River.
There are several sections of tangent track (long straight sections)
Crossing the French River.
Crossing the Talmadge River.
Now we start getting into East Duluth, or Lakeside, where there is a lot of traffic (and a lot of crazy drivers!)
Heading down Lemon Drop Hill, our steepest grade.
Passing by Leif Erickson Park.
And approaching Fitger's Brewery.
We are going on a boat cruise but we had time before the boat leaves, so all speeders were turned around on a bike/pedestrian path for the trip back north later in the day.  This couple was from Michigan and had just returned from a speeder trip at Tuscaloosa, Alabama!
And here is CJ Pappas, an engineer on the Union Pacific Railroad, with his Milwaukee Road car.
And the speeders are all turned and going back to Harbor Drive for the boat ride.  The first young couple are from Iowa and his folks had a speeder also, right behind them. 

One of the highlights of these speeder rides is the Harbor Cruise.  People get to see Duluth from a different angle and the narration gives history of Duluth, explains many of the industries that are passed, and gives lots of shipwreck history.  Here is our boat today.
Anchored right behind our boat was this Ice Breaker.  (Too bad we couldn't use it for the cruise!)
 The iconic symbol of Duluth is the Lift Bridge and we go under it to pass from the Harbor into Lake Superior.
Here are 3 views of Duluth from the Lake.  The narration points out many highlights.
Back in the Harbor, we pass many industries.  This large facility exports mostly wheat.
And these wind turbines were brought in by ship and are going to Iowa.
Tugboats aren't used much any more now that modern ships have their bow thrusters to help them maneuver.
Of real interest to me is this old Interstate Bridge.  Before the large Blatnick Bridge (and the Bong Bridge further south) in the background were built, this small bridge was the only road connection between Superior and Duluth--AND it carried trains also.  The portion of the bridge that is left is a fishing pier for local residents.
I find this "Seagull Island" amazing with its thousands of seagulls.  Where do they find enough food for all of them??  And, can you imagine the mess they leave behind??
The only ship in port was the Paul Tregurtha, loading coal at Midwest Energy.
And we get right down by the former DM&IR iron ore docks, now owned by Canadian National (CN).  The dock on the left is no longer used.

We then went to the Museum for a box lunch and viewing the Museum pieces.  I again went through the Abraham Lincoln replica funeral car.  This car was commissioned by President Lincoln but was delivered shortly after he was assassinated so he never saw it.  After Lincoln's burial, no President ever used it.

VERY INTERESTINGLY--one of the speeder riders was a man who helped make this car.  AND--while I was going through the car again, a man on board was vacationing from Kenosha and he was one of the chief wood workers on this car.  I spent a lot of time with him learning about the car!
It was time to head back north to Marbles and load the speeders onto trailers.  A couple of shots on the way.
Crossing the French River.
Crossing the Sucker River.
Crossing Knife River.
Loading the speeders.  Some speeders have a turntable underneath which is lowered and the car easily turned.  Other cars are picked up by handles and turned around.
Here is the family from New Mexico, loading their car and ready to head to Fordville, North Dakota for another speeder adventure!  Note that their car as a "Rio Grande Railroad" logo.
Thanks to Operations Manager Max Medlin and the North Shore Scenic Railroad for allowing me another rail adventure!