MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Vintage trains

For the love of trains

Their heyday is past, but avid fans stay on track with rides, festivals, museums and even overnights.

Their glory days are long gone, but trains will never die.

Thanks to the almost evangelical zeal of their devotees, the locomotives, coaches and cabooses of the 20th century still are serving passengers today — on excursions and as overnight lodging, if not for transportation.

Noisy, smelly and outmoded, these trains still are marvelously evocative of a more romantic era, and those who love them are legion.

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Duluth's other waterfront

The quiet St. Louis River is a hub for hikers, bikers, paddlers and train buffs.

Once, a wind-whipped sand spit was not the most desirable address in Duluth.

Today, people lust after a beach cottage on Park Point, just beyond the Aerial Lift Bridge. But the Ojibwe preferred the calmer estuary of the St. Louis River, which flows into Lake Superior at what today is Duluth-Superior Harbor.

The French explorer Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, for whom the city was named, didn’t waste much time on the lakefront when he arrived in 1679.

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Riding the rails

On vintage-train excursions, the scenery is only part of the fun.

Thanks to volunteers who love locomotives, excursion trains live on.

These days, trains also are rolling entertainment venues, offering murder mysteries and beer tasting in addition to barbecue, pizza, brunch, happy hour and holiday trains.

In autumn, there are pumpkin trains and fall-color excursions, including one on the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive, which often make a run from Minneapolis to Duluth.

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The Lighthouse Express

Between Duluth and Two Harbors, vintage trains take passengers back to the past.

Once, passenger trains crisscrossed the state, and lighthouses guided sailors on the Great Lakes.

Trains and lighthouses are beloved relics now, symbols of a simpler past. In the digital age, they seem antique, like Grandpa's buggy or Grandma's butter churn.

But don't relegate them to history's dustbin just yet.

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