Faces of Duluth: Aerial Lift Bridge Supervisor Shares His Unique View of Duluth

Dave standing and smiling

Faces of Duluth tells the stories of the people behind Duluth’s iconic attractions, hidden gems and everything in between. Traveling to Duluth? Learn the locals’ tips and tricks for seeing all the city has to offer. 

Meet Dave Campbell, Aerial Lift Bridge Supervisor. Dave is a master electrician who has worked at the Lift Bridge for nine years. He technically lives just outside of Duluth, but we’ll let that slide. After all, he’s the person overseeing the operations of the city’s beloved Aerial Lift Bridge. From his vantage point in the sky, Dave shares what makes the bridge the icon it is and his favorite activities in Duluth. 

What drew you to work at the Lift Bridge?

With my mechanical background, I wondered, “How does that work?” I wanted to know how the bridge moved, how you maintain it. I didn’t see it as a tourist attraction; rather, it’s a needed piece of equipment for the shipping traffic. But I know people come from far away to check out the bridge. 

Surprising Lift Bridge fact?

The Lift Bridge is actually a bridge inside a bridge. The frame of the original transporter bridge from 1905 is still technically here, but when planners put a thousand tons worth of roadway on there and two, 500-ton counterweights, there was no way the old bridge was going to support that kind of weight. So inside of that structure they built another bridge that would hold that weight. And they did that in 1929, when we didn’t have CAD drawings or super computers, just pencils and slide rules. And it’s still working great today. 

Favorite part of the job?

With my maintenance background, I enjoy the mechanical part of the job. I also love meeting people on the bridge – it’s amazing how far away people come from. Last year I met a family from Korea who wanted to see the bridge. As a person who sees the bridge every day, you sometimes take it for granted. 

The sunrises from the top of the bridge are spectacular. I also like looking out onto the lake and seeing it disappear over the horizon. There are no people, no cars, no buildings, just water. Except for when a ship comes in. Ships call us when they’re about an hour away, which is roughly 12 miles out – that’s when we can usually start to see the pilot house clearing the horizon. 

Any standout moments?

You realize how powerful the lake is, how powerful weather is. I’ve seen 15-foot waves coming through the canal. I was literally standing on the canal walkway and watched a wave that was higher than me go in front of me underneath the bridge. And the water just poured over the sides. I said to myself, “That’s not something you see every day.” 

Some people have tattoos of the Lift Bridge. Do you have one?

Nope, I have Tweety Bird on one side and a Minnesota Viking on the other. When they win the Super Bowl I’m going to get it colored in, although I’m fully prepared to die with it not colored in. So no, I don’t have any tattoos of the bridge, but maybe I’ll get one before I retire. 

What do you like to do in Duluth?

I like to go to games and events at the DECC. We also come down for Duluth’s Fourth Fest when I’m not working. When I am working – you can’t beat the views of the fireworks from the top of the bridge. 

I also like driving down Thompson Hill and seeing the view – the bay, the city and all of it laid out. You don’t get that view anywhere else in the state. There’s just something about that view and feeling, where you take a big breath and say to yourself, “I’m back.” 

Posted on February 24, 2022