I had to make a sample of Mine Songs for an upcoming press feature. I have no idea of any of this will make it into the 'final' version (which is a long ways off!), but it was a good exercise.

In this you can hear sounds from Duluth. The container at the old Duluth Works site (where US Steel was located), a distant train running from the CN docks to the Iron Range, the sound of cars on the aerial lift bridge (that allows laker ships to access the ore docks), and the engine of a BNSF train (which hauls to Superior, WI). Duluth was/is obviously very important to the iron ore/steel industry, even with the dissolution of the steel plant here.


Elcor used to be a town - or, actually it was a mining location. That means the mines owned the land, but you could own your home. You were encouraged to live there, close to the mine - convenience and amenities. But when the time came to dig under your house for money-making resources, you were out. There are still mining locations today. They won’t disappear in my lifetime, but eventually they will and someone may write a post like this. Sparta (home of my great-grandparents): ‘Most of the people that are moving out grew up here, and these are 60- and 70-year-old people.’ And often, the mine will buy you out of your property, even if you own the land. Parkville: ‘We wouldn’t be here, nothing would be here without the mines. So we have to live with it.’ On the Iron Range, the mines giveth and mines taketh away. For more reading on Iron Range ghost towns, visit


I do love exploring and it was a phenomenally beautiful evening on December 15. How magnificent is all this metal? But how much high-grade iron ore did it take in 1912 to build these structures to further the mining of high-grade iron ore? And the 1000 foot ships (lakers)? It's like the pit lakes were flipped upward onto the surface of the earth, rising ever higher, moving ever faster, and more more more.

In 1910, the world production of pig iron was 66.5 million tons. In 2012 1.1 billion. (Source: It requires 2 tons of ore to make a ton of steel. And a half ton of limestone. More info here.

For more about the Allouez docks, check out Substreet.


The Duluth Works was an industrial steel and cement manufacturing complex that operated from 1915 to 1987. Owned by U.S. Steel, it was “built as part of a ‘gentleman's agreement’ between U.S. Steel and the State of Minnesota to not impose hefty iron ore taxes on U.S. Steel in exchange for a fully integrated steel plant within Minnesota, whose mines furnished 80% of the ore to U.S. Steel. The combined works of the steel and cement plant were the largest employers in Duluth and the fourth largest industrial complex in Minnesota.” More on Wikipedia.

Now the land is nearly empty. It sits next to Morgan Park, the neighborhood built by U.S. Steel for its employees. A kept-up locked shipping container sounds empty, but learning of human trafficking on Lake Superior made me a bit uneasy. “The Duluth harbor is notorious among Native people as a site for the trafficking of Native women from northern reservations.” Read a Star Tribune article here.

We can’t escape our past. It takes generations and generations to heal and we have to do the heavy lifting, the difficult truth-telling, the yielding and the reckoning.


Duluth and the Iron Range have been economically connected since the beginning of the iron ore industry. Railways bring ore from the Mesabi range to Duluth, and limestone from Duluth ships to the iron ore plants. Limestone is used (as well as clay) as a binding agent to make taconite pellets. Have a look and listen to my early explorations of the railway and loading docks in Duluth.


Maps are beautiful and artistic, practical and imaginative. They are also instructional, showing historical changes. I have encountered lots of maps recently, as I try to understand the changing landscape of the Iron Range. It is impossible, that task. On a smaller scale, I am only trying to identify a few of my favorite pit lakes - the ‘exhausted’ or abandoned cavities that have filled with water after anything deemed valuable was removed.

Some of my favorite map words:


(These are USGA topographic maps, and maps from ‘Mesabi Range Maps’ prepared by Great Northern Iron Ore Properties. If you’d like more info, visit the resources page.)


“Recorded in an old sample processing laboratory that Lerch Brothers built around 1917.

It served many the local natural ore mines like the Leonidas, Fault, Hull- Nelson, Alice, Spruce, Adams, Dorr, and Cloquet Annex. Lerch Brothers had these facilities all along the Iron Range, and in Superior, Wis. so they were close to the products they were handling, just like the resident locations were built close to the mines since transportation was always a problem.  This facility operated until around 1961-62. By then the natural ore was running out and several of the lab buildings along the range were abandoned and the operations moved to the Hibbing facility as that was the Northern Headquarters for the company. Rhude and Fryberger evidently purchased the property around 1966 for the same use. They have a long history of cleaning up the natural ore deposits of old mines, with rather good profitability, some of their more productive operations have carried on for over 25 years at individual locations.”

Emailed to me by my Uncle Bill in September 2018.