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.
The St. Louis County Depot is one of the most iconic buildings in downtown Duluth. It’s been a part of the city since 1892 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, you’ll find the Duluth Art Institute, the Minnesota Ballet, the St. Louis County Historical Society, and no surprise in a Depot, lots of trains! The Depot is home to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, and is the departure point for the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
These two entities, and the Duluth men charged with keeping the organizations on track, are the focus of this month’s Faces of Duluth. Ken Buehler and Josh Miller together took some time during their busy summer season to talk trains with us.
What are your Duluth stories?
Ken Buehler: I moved to Duluth after attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior to work in radio and TV. I was a TV and radio journalist, announcer (DJ), weathercaster and eventually owned a chain of 13 radio stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. As the industry changed, my partner and I sold the stations and started an advertising agency. One of our first clients was the North Shore Scenic Railroad, which was broke. So was its parent company the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. I didn’t really enjoy the agency business, so I went to work for the Railroad. I did my first six months there for free.
Josh Miller: I moved to Duluth in 2005 to work as a director at KBJR/NBC. Ken and I met there when he was doing the morning weather segments.
So what are your roles now with the North Shore Scenic Railroad and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum?
JM: I started volunteering at the railroad as a conductor in 2006, and became the Station Manager of the North Shore Scenic Railroad in 2012. I manage the business operations of the excursion trains, with over 600 trips operating each year and nearly 100,000 riders.
KB: I am Executive Director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and General Manager of the North Shore Scenic Railroad. I’ve been with the Railroad and Museum for 22 years, and what I’m most proud of is the people who volunteer on the trains and in the Museum. Train crews, shop crews, docents are here because they love trains and the people they volunteer with. And our staff, like the volunteers, come back year after year because they enjoy their work and are respected and appreciated for it.
What got you both into trains and the railroad?
JM: Trains are just in your blood. You’re either a “train person” or not. Always have been.
KB: I am more of a history person than just a train guy. You can’t know American history without the railroads. They transformed an agrarian country into the nation we have today. Technology does that. If you think about it, trains were the laptop computer, cell phone and internet of their day. Today railroads still transport most of the goods and products we need as society.
What is your favorite part about working at the railroad/museum?
JM: Coordinating lots of fun experiences for people from around the world. All of our excursions are super great, but the Beer Tasting Train is probably the most fun!
KB: I love hearing other people’s train stories. The Museum tells the stories of the men and women who built the railroads that built our great nation and keep it growing today. Everyone has a train story, and if they don’t, that’s what the North Shore Scenic Railroad provides: a first train ride, a nostalgic train ride, a memorable experience. We create train stories.
What are some of your favorite things to do with guests from out of town?
KB: Take them on a train ride! Show off the Museum. Tell them a train story.
JM: Ride trains! Enjoy all the great attractions we have to offer.
What do you love about Duluth?
KB: My mother was right. She said when I moved from Superior to Duluth I would never leave because if I went anywhere else, “I would always miss the Lake.” (NOTE: Up here we capitalize Lake for good reason)
JM: It’s a beautiful area. Just big enough, just small enough!
When you’re not at work, what are you up to? What do you enjoy doing in Duluth?
JM: Duluth is great for exploring, hiking, running, and being lazy on the amazing beach.
KB: For me the most wonderful thing about living in a tourist community is all the things here that a city of 100,000 people would never get to enjoy. A city this size by itself would never be able to have all the great restaurants, brew pubs, cider houses, all the attractions and the DECC. None – Zero – Zippo Lighter – none of that to the extent we get to enjoy these excellent amenities.
What are some recommendations for visitors to help them get a full, authentic Duluth experience?
KB: Drive over Thompson Hill coming into Duluth on I-35 at night. Your first view of Duluth will look like a million diamonds strewn over a black cloth.