The bustling corner of Superior Street at 5th Avenue West. Images: Minnesota Streetcar Museum/Aaron Isaacs.
BY AARON ISAACS Author and editor of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums magazine
Initially, I wasn’t intending to give Duluth-Superior the same treatment as the Twin Cities in Twin Cities by Trolley. That all changed in 2009 during a trip to Duluth to give a streetcar history talk to the National Railway Historical Society’s annual convention. Driving over the old streetcar routes and discovering the tracks still poking through the pavement (in some places) was enough to get me going.
Fortunately, though they disappeared in 1939, there’s a tremendous amount of archival material available on Duluth-Superior streetcars. Thanks to a couple of dedicated Duluth trolley fans and the North East Minnesota History Center, the entire corporate files were saved, along with hundreds of vintage photos, paperwork, and other artifacts. I also had the benefit of years of research by Russell Olson, the dean of Minnesota streetcar historians, and a fellow member of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. His 1976 Electric Railways of Minnesota is a go-to source.
Along with Russ, the late Wayne C. Olsen, one of the founders of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, put together a huge personal collection of photos. After his death, these were donated to NEMHC and the Douglas County Historical Society in Superior. NEMHC also has all the Duluth Street Railway Company files.
I’m the archivist for the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, and over the last 20 years, have greatly expanded the photo collection.
Two trainmen pose inside a streetcar.
Then came the windfall that filled in all the blanks. James Kreuzberger, who grew up on Park Point but established his career in Kansas City, was also a longtime member of the streetcar museum. He mentioned that he had been researching the Twin Ports streetcars and intended to write a book some day. I told him I was doing the same and he immediately mailed me a 3-ring binder of his working notes, including a partial draft manuscript. I was floored at how thoroughly he delved into every aspect of the company’s history.
That was in 2009. A year later, Jim died at age 95. His widow contacted the Lake Superior Railroad Museum to donate Jim’s collection. LSRM curator Tim Schandel felt that it would be a better fit for the Streetcar Museum, so he alerted me.
After some discussions with the family, fellow museum member Jim Vaitkunas and I headed for Kansas City to rent a trailer and load it up. Outside Columbia, Missouri, five deer bounded across the freeway and one of them smashed into us. Jim’s SUV sustained $5,000 of damage and that nixed the pickup.
We regrouped and tried again a few months later. Kreuzberger’s collection was amazing in its scope. He had more than 500 photos, many of which I hadn’t seen before. The previously mentioned 3-ring binder turned out to have been only a small part of his notes and manuscript. There were several boxes more that covered chapters missing from the binder.
These portable prefabricated switches were used to detour the streetcars.
After a few months spent cataloguing all of it, I was finally ready to proceed. In this case the challenge was to reduce the huge amount of historic material into something that was accurate, complete, yet not a numbing parade of obscure facts. Most streetcar histories—and there are hundreds of them—are written by trolley fans for trolley fans. They tend to concentrate on the technical end of things, with long chapters on carbarns, equipment rosters, power generation and operations. Twin Cities by Trolley was written for the lay person with a general interest in local history. It had plenty of material to please the trolley fans, but it was full of photos of local landmarks and the human side of things. That crossover appeal worked, so Twin Ports by Trolley follows the same plan. Thanks to the rich trove of company memos and newspaper stories that was available, there is plenty of human interest material to accompany the technical data.
The Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth will host a launch event for the book at 11 a.m. on Oct. 18th. Isaacs will also be giving a reading at Douglas County Historical Society in Superior, Wisconsin, at 3 p.m. on Oct. 18th.
“A wonderful narrative . . . I love reading about Duluth’s history, and this book is a real treat.” —Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth