Since 1975, we have built bridges to the past to share knowledge of industrial history in Duluth-Superior. Initially, our focus was helping historical societies, railway equipment builders, hobby manufacturers, and model railroad builders. Our work has expanded. We now collaborate ad-hoc with area municipalities including the Port Authority, the special collections departments of the University of Minnesota at Duluth and the University of Wisconsin at Superior, and the Duluth and Superior Public Libraries. Environmental concerns have been especially interested in our old maps as they work to improve the land along the St. Louis River. As each of these organizations works to uncover lost secrets about the past, we provide guidance, photographs, maps and information to help them unravel modern-day issues and to fulfill requests for information. When it comes to railroads and the global economy, we provide images and information that compares and contrasts how things look and work today vs. so many days gone by.
Twin Ports Rail History by Jeff Lemke exists to find, fund, restore, save and share photographs and information about Duluth-Superior's collective industrial past so that others have the opportunity to learn from these resources. This self-funded effort relies on material and monetary donations from those who ask to use the resource. In exchange for that donation we strive to collaborate and share what we have and know in short cycles. We know how important it is to find a resource that can provide what you're looking for quickly, at a reasonable rate, to help keep your own projects on task, on schedule, and on budget. Collaboration is the driving force here. Expect directness, without bureaucratic delay. If we have it, we'll tell you. If we don't, we'll connect you to a partner resource.
What We've Achieved
- My story started long ago when I was hired to be the Research Specialist for Overland Models. To me, making scale models was always about helping others to be more aware of the history behind each of those fine brass models. My good fortune with Overland allowed me consult with a dozen other companies during the 1980s and 1990s. Altogether, more than 400 model railroad hobby products came from these collaborations—many of them based on real trains in Duluth-Superior.
- During the highest-times in the brass train market, someone had to go into the factories to teach workers how to paint and letter their bare-metal models. I accepted that challenge and added higher levels of quality control while working side by side with factory workers in Seoul, South Korea.
- The significance of these projects cannot be understated because they created new connections for me within the hobby industry. As it turned out, designing and painting models, and writing product sheets led me directly to historical preservation.
- That's when the Illinois Railway Museum contacted me about fully restoring their Burlington Route Electro-Motive SD24 into its original Chinese red and gray paint. The challenge when repainting full size locomotives is finding the full-size lettering and logo artwork and the huge stripe templates that were used when the locomotives were built new at the factory. But since neither the factory nor the railroad that bought the locomotives could supply the required plans, that created the first opportunity for me to assist on a truly large project.
- The Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway called next for help re-painting their first passenger diesel (Electro-Motive SD9 No. 129) into its as-delivered paint scheme of 1957.
- Several other projects came along and I enjoyed helping with those too (especially the Great Northern SD9 that is still under restoration). But the most famous of them has to be the "GN 441 Locomotive Lodge at Essex, MT." that resides along side of the BNSF Railway's mainline near Glacier National Park.
- When I collected old plans from the locomotive factories to help me paint model trains for the hobby industry, I couldn't have imagined that the same exact plans that I had saved and care taken for decades would eventually be used to restore and repaint real 150-ton diesel locomotives like Big Sky Blue Electro-Motive F45, GN 441.
- My professional career in training and competency development (see it here on LinkedIn) changed dramatically when I became a full-time railroad conductor. At the same time I realized that the families of retired (and sadly, passed) railroaders and collectors had an increasingly complex problem so solve. So I created free PDF resources to help people better understand the complicated nature of trying to market and sell a life-time collection of collectibles. I still help families today, as time permits, usually 2-3 projects annually. So if you have a railroad collection to sell please visit my Buying and Selling pages for much more information on this topic.
- By 2010 my attentions turned to making the most of my own photo archive, collected over four decades. My first digital image disc, "Twin Ports Time Machine Vol. 1" included 100 fully restored black & white photographs from the 1960s. The second release—"The Northern Pacific Railway's Lake Superior Division"— features 150+ images (a few do remain available). My third and most recent release, "Zenith City and Beyond", is available now for a small donation, and is essentially a hard copy digital disc of my 2016 Flickr images.
- When Tony Dierckins at Zenith City Online (ZenithCity.com) invited me to begin writing stories for his website, how could I refuse? 18 stories were published, with a book in the works too.
- 2017 was a watershed year for me. I left the railroad after 13 years in train service and started a new company, my company—Jeff Lemke Trains, Inc.—which is a model train professional services company. It's what I do now full time. Thanks for visiting me here today. Cheers!