Ten Things NOT to miss on the Willam A. Irvin

As anyone who has planned a family vacation knows, making memories takes some effort. And you’ve likely got a lot of different constituents to keep happy — everyone from littles to grands.

Something that checks a lot of boxes for your group is the William A. Irvin. That’s the big, red freighter you see as you enter Canal Park. You know, the one you’ve always meant to check out.


Here are a couple of great reasons to include it on your Duluth To-Do list this year.

  1. The tour is station-to-station, so it’s all at your own pace
  2. Kids 10 and under are free with a paid adult.


Okay, Let’s get into it. Here are the 10 things you don’t want to miss on tour.

This classic ore boat was built in 1938 for U.S. Steel. As the flagship of their Great Lake fleet, the Irvin hosted company dignitaries and various VIPs.  So, it’s fair to say she is decked out and a great way to peek inside the shipping industry that built this region.


1. The Chad Burn

Photo by Dennis O’Hara

The Chad Burn is an engine room telegraph — and a beautiful one, too.

It was the most common way for the pilothouse to send orders down to the engine room.

To ensure the message was received, a bell would ring constantly until the pointers on both chad burns aligned.  When the bell stopped, the captain would know that the engineer got the message.

2. The Engine Room

Photo by Dennis O’Hara
Photo by Dennis O’Hara


The Irvin’s engine was rare among boats on the lakes in 1938. That’s because she was only the third boat to have a steam turbine. Prior to this, almost all other boats had reciprocating steam engines, which would fill up the whole engine area. So, you could say she was a bit ahead of her time.

3. Great Signs

Photo by Dennis O’Hara

If you know someone who gets excited about old-timey fonts, they’ll love the typography on the Irvin. Because the items are original to the boat, there are many wonderful examples of late 1930s styles.


4. The Anchors

Photo by Nicholas Barrett

The anchors off the bow of the Irvin weigh a whopping 8000 pounds! Equally as mindblowing is that each link of the anchor’s chain weighs 40lbs each!


5. Pilot House – PHOTO OP!

Photo by Dennis O’Hara

One of the best things about the Irvin’s pilot house is that kids (little and big) are encouraged to take their turn at the wheel and ring the bell. It’s really the ultimate Duluth photo op.

And please note all the shiny brass, which continues to be hand polished to a high gleam!


6. The crew’s quarters

Photo by Dennis O’Hara

There’s something about seeing where the crew slept that makes the word VOYAGE feel real. Like you could steam out under the lift bridge heading for another of the Great Lakes.


7. The Bonsun’s Chair

Photo by Nicholas Barrett

This simple chair (on the left of the photo above) is used to lower deckhands down to land when docking the boat or when the boat goes through the SOO Locks. That’s some 70 feet below!

How it works is that the deckhand gets into the chair, and the watchman uses the rope to lower the sailor down to the dock.

8. Officer’s Dining Room

Photo by Dennis O’Hara

Of the 32 crewmembers on board, nine were officers who would be invited to dine around this fine oak table.  The portholes above the table flood the room with natural light.

9. The Galley

Photo by Dennis O’Hara


Photo by Dennis O’Hara

If you’ve ever wondered how food gets prepared on rough water, here are some the Irvin’s secrets. Special built-ins keep plates and other items from sliding on high seas.

Everyone on the Irvin ate quite well. There were often six items to choose from at each meal. Most nights of the week, the cook has a different special. For instance, Saturdays were steak night with a choice of New York strip steak or a t-bone steak. In addition, there would be hamburgers, roast beef, and many other choices.  Soup was always available at lunch, and at least two different choices of dessert.

The galley was open 24 hours a day for leftovers and snacks.

10. The View

Photo by Dennis O’Hara


When you’re walking topside on the Irvin’s Spar Deck, you’ll have an excellent view of the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, the smaller Minnesota Slip Bridge, and Canal Park. It’s as Duluth-y as it gets!


Now it’s time to see these top 10 items for yourself. Plan your Duluth summer trip today,