Shoemaker, the son of railroad executive Perry Shoemaker, rose through the ranks of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1965, he moved to Minneapolis and became assistant vice president of operations at the Soo Line Railroad. He then became president of the former Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad, then became a railroad consultant.

In 1987, Shoemaker began operation of Red River Valley & Western in North Dakota on about 650 miles of track. In 1991, he and others started the Twin Cities & Western, headquartered in Glencoe, Minn. (TC&W was named Railway Age's 2008 Short Line Railroad of the Year.)

"He could see around corners, and he could see where the future of railroading was going," said Doug Head of Minneapolis, a board member of both railroads and a former Minnesota legislator and attorney general. "He was a great communicator, and a soft-spoken and effective leader. Everyone who knew him respected him."