Day Trip to Duluth

By Michael J. Legeros


Famous Dave's in Forest Lake, MN.  A family-friendly rib joint a-
bout, oh, 25 minutes north of the Twin Cities.  Also, the conclud-
ing stop on an after-Christmas day trip to Duluth.  'Twas eleven
hours earlier when Yours Cabin Fevered was schlepping in the oppo-
site direction, having departed the Calhoun area of Minneapolis at
approximately 7:40 a.m., in a rented Toyota Camry with only 400
miles on the odometer and a backseat full of survival supplies.
(Wiper fluid, CB radio, candles, towels, and a bright green "GET
HELP" sign, all courtesy of my concerned father.)  Despite a fairly
fresh snowfall and last night's teen temps, the roads aren't bad at
all.  Overcast skies leaden my mood, sure, but at least the pave-
ment's dry.  Well, that is, *Minnesota* dry...  Bypassing the rush-
ed-hour I-394 on Highway 100, I continue north to I-694, the Twin
Cities' northern loop, where I connect with "35W," which later be-
comes plain ol' "35."  The subsequent 140-mile stretch of Land o'
Lakes interstate consists of little more than billboards, farm
houses, and patches of trees.  I pass an outlet mall here, a Wal-
Mart there, and, outside the town of Hinckley, a sign for a fire
museum.  (To which I exit and, downtown, discover a converted train
depot, painted off-green and closed for the season.  Oh well.)

The port city of Duluth appears by 10:30 and I exit onto a scenic
overpass, to snap a series of panoramic shots that actually *do*
turn out when developed a week later.  Then I descend, down the
several-thousand foot hill (mountain?) that the city sits at the
bottom off.  Below and before me is an ice-locked river, its accom-
panying ports, a not-so-distant skyline, and several rather tall
bridges.  Following "35" into (or, at least, *over*) the city, I
exit onto Superior Avenue and happen upon a visitors center almost
immediately.  The building that contains said center is named the
Depot and is the former Union Depot that once bustled with railroad
passengers from the late 1800's until after World War II.  At pre-
sent, it houses an arts center, a children's museum, the requisite
gift shop, and, one of the attractions that I drove two-and-a-half
hours to see, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.  Which I plan to
visit later.  The air temperature is high 20's to low 30's.

My immediate destination is the tiny town of Two Harbors, which
sits on the north shore of Lake Superior about 20 miles to the
north.  With verbal directions from the museum attendant, I pull
away from my metered parking spot and immediately spot a fire truck
crossing on a side street.  I circle the next block and look be-
tween buildings until I find its obvious destination:  Duluth Fire
Station Number One.  And, moments after I arrive, so does a TV news
team!  So, while I'm snapping pictures in the voluminous apparatus
bay (and inside the hose tower), a camera crew is setting up their
equipment.  (The roster at Station #1, from left to right bay as
facing the station:  pumper, crew-cab pick-up, rescue, haz-mat,
chief's buggy, ladder tower, "chemical assessment" truck and trail-
er, boat trailer, telesquirt, and reserve pumper.)  On the way out,
I ask what the hubbub is, bub.  Turns out a couple of local securi-
ty firms are donating money to help the DFD purchase thermal imag-
ing devices, which are infrared cameras that allow firefighters to
see through smoke and steam to locate victims and/or hot spots.
Good cause.

Another roll bites the flash and I resume my trek, turning off Su-
perior Avenue onto London Road, to Highway 61 north, which hugs the
coastline.  (Needless to say, I opt for the slower scenic route in-
stead of the expressway...)  Alas, the seas are calm that day.  No
crashing waves and hardly any ice.  Except on the rocks.  Two Har-
bors is an exceptionally pleasant half-hour's drive and, there, I
find the waterfront.  'Tis a quaint series of storefronts that sits
opposite a park and that overlooks an enormous ore-loading facility
on the other side of the bay.  (Resembling a gigantic rust-colored
pier, the facility is used to load ships.  Railroad cars carrying
iron ore are parked along the top; side-mounted chutes are lowered
and positioned above the vessels.)  I snap some pics, poke around a
couple dirt roads, snap some more pics, and drive over to the near-
by lighthouse park.  Said structure sits on a hill and high above a
concrete breakwater that extends about a thousand feet into the
bay.  Now, as the breakwater-- which has a six foot-wide walking
area about five-feet above the water-- is neither closed nor closed
off, I decided to take a chance.  Off I shuffle, all the way out to
the livin' end, and only *occasionally* requiring the use of the
cable-wire railing, as much of the concrete surface is coated with
ice.  (Oddly, only on the way *back* do my exposed face and hands
begin to burn.  What *was* the early-afternoon wind chill on Decem-
ber 28, anyway?  Minus twenty?  Minus thirty?)

Successfully avoiding death, I crank the car's heater, check to see
that I still have a nose (I do), and commence a search for susten-
ance.  My first choice is a homey, family-style 'rant on the main
drag, but they don't accept credit cards.  So they send me across
the street to Blackwell's Grill, which does.  Roasted chicken with
fries, veggies (skipped), a house salad (picked at), and garlic
breadsticks.  Ten minutes later and reeking, I pay the tab, ask for
directions, and drive to the Two Harbors firehouse.  More pics and
a glance to the watch.  Time to drive back to Duluth.  For the re-
turn trip, I opt for the expressway; once in the city, I decide to
do a little driving.  I stop at the (famous) aerial-lift bridge,
get out, snap pics, drive across, stop at a firehouse, snap pics,
drive back across, stop for ice cream, then stop throw *out* said
ice cream, because it tastes strange.  (DQ crunch cone, with a cup
of extra "crunchies.")  I drive onto the bigger bridge that con-
nects Minnesota and Wisconsin and set foot in scummy Superior and
snap a picture of *their* fire station before re-crossing.  I also
tool around the port area, driving over train tracks and through a
couple unpaved areas.  (Better be careful, Dad didn't pack any Fix-
a-Flat!)  No ship activity is taking place this time of year, but
the loading facilities are impressive.  Memo to self:  visit during
summer when stuff is going on.  Finally, I return to the train mu-
seum.

The Lake Superior Railroad Museum is located on the lowest (track)
level of the Depot.  It's a dark, cavernous area containing steam,
diesel, and electric locomotives of varying vintages.  Plus passen-
ger cars, mail cars, cabooses, a crane, and, most-appropriate for
this clime, both a snowplough and a snow-blower.  (Both are circa
early 1900's, I believe.)  There's also a covered outdoor area,
though most of the machinery is far worse for the wear.  Inside is
the place to be, because (a.) it's heated and (b.) many of the cars
can be toured.  As can the cab of a giant steam locomotive, with a
multitude of levers, buttons, and switches ready for the playing.
(I pose for a couple of action shots, courtesy of a kind stranger.)
The exhibit area also has numerous Plexiglas-encased artifacts, as
well as a few automobiles and other road vehicles, an elaborate toy
railroad, and several recreated period storefronts.  (There's even
a scenic train ride that leaves from here!)  Alas, an hour's time
is enough, both to touch everything in sight and think back both to
my engineer grandfather, John Pennington, who once christened me
the "knob nut" at age two, as well as his granddad Edmund, whose,
ahem, railroad ties resulted in the naming of Pennington County,
MN.  (It's in the northwestern part of the state.)

With daylight fading fast and the afternoon regrettably growing
late, I wander up Superior Avenue a couple blocks, first to a corn-
er casino (!) and then to a record store with a most-unique name.
'Tis only Tuesday, but the neon-lit gambling house is bristling
with business.  And while my parka functions as a mobile smoke ab-
sorber, I spend $15 on a video slot machine that I barely under-
stand.  Bet, spin, rinse and repeat.  I cash out a couple times,
but invariably drop another dollar coin into the slot.  I must be
doing *something* right, however, as I leave fifteen minutes later
with $19 in hand.  Hey, big spender...  The last Duluth detour is a
rag-tag record store that also sells stuff like scented candles and
tie-dye tee-shirts.  It's a big, messy, cheery place, as cluttered
as only college-town record stores can be.  It's name?  The Elect-
ric Fetus...  And then two hours later I'm at Famous Dave's, elbows
propped on a checkered tablecloth and a face well-smeared with bar-
becue sauce.  The food is great, but the decor is (almost) better.
A pair of priceless signs over the kitchen read:  "Each Pitmaster
is a graduate of our own school of Higher Culinary Arts we call Hog
Heaven University."  And "at this school we instruct our cooks on
the finer art of knife sharpening, how to talk to ribs while they
are slow cooking, and how to walk over coals without burning their
LITTLE PIGGIES!"  Bravo.

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros

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