Thursday, 8:00 AM. 37 degrees F, wind WSW, light. The sky is mostly overcast with a variety of high, mostly gray clouds. The barometer predicts rain, which we got abou t 1/4 inch of last night. I think the day is a tossup. Leaves are beginning to fall in earnest now, but there is still a lot of very good color, particularly right near the lake, and the tamaracks in our yard are still summer-green.
As many readers of the Almanac will remember, the past year and more has been one of bitter conflict between proponents and opponents of iron mining in northern Wisconsin. It has been a huge political, economic and social issue. I am a proponent of environmentally responsible mining, but many are opposed to it on any and all grounds.
With this in mind I was interested in the little catalog I get on a pretty regular basis from The Duluth Trading Company, a work clothing concern that has top quality, work oriented clothes that I really like and highly recommend. On the front of the lattest publication is a photo of a massive steam locomotive and their motto, “The Rugged Spirit Of The Iron Range.” Inside is a short broadside that I will quote:
“Inspired by the Iron that built America. The feat is colossal by any measure. Over 3 billion tons of ore have been exhumed from Minnesota’s mighty Iron Ranges since 1884. the Messabi alone produced 1/4 of the country’s iron needs during WWII…the bounty of the range is so rich, US Steel built an entire railroad and the world’s most powerful steam locomotives to haul the loads from the mines to Duluth. A fleet of 112 ships moved the ore from Duluth to mills in the east, daring the treacherous gales of November to make passage. Building this empire took gumption [the Finnish settlers’ word is sissu…guts…}… It’s in this rugged spirit that we proudly introduce Iron Range Outerware…” (and on).
Minnesota’s mines are still producing, bringing prosperity and recognition to the state and Duluth, its second largest city…and the ore boats continue to sail the lakes and brave the gales of November with their valuable cargo.
The open pit mines are awe-inspiring, but many people do not like them, considering them an affront to the earth and nature itself. I could go on and on, presenting pros and cons to iron mining, arguments which by their very nature can be extended to coal mining, oil and gas drilling, large scale agriculture, and the manufacturing processes itself. I am a conservationist (aka environmentalist) but I also respect and appreciate the works of engineering, manufacturing and human toil that have created and maintained our civilization and our country. Many of my friends and contemporaries, and perhaps most younger people, do not, and it mystifies me.
Perhaps it was easier to understand and appreciate where things came from and how they were made years ago, when one lived more closely to the productive forces of society. I did not have the money to go away to college and commuted to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee by driving across the city daily, through its industrial valley. Every day I went through the smoky haze of the valley, inhaled its variety of pungent smells, heard its hard sounds, felt its strength. I also knew first hand where milk and corn and meat came from (the farms of friends and relatives).
My first professional job after graduating from college with a Bachelor of Science degree was with Cities Service Oil Company, and I loved visiting the refinery in Gary, where I could climb a ten story catalytic cracker and look out over the fire and brimstone landscape that was Gary Indiana in 1960. I sure as hell knew then where the gasoline for my automobile came from, and the hard work it took to refine it.
So here’s to the sensible folks at Duluth Trading Company and the Minnesota miners who still rip riches from the bowls of the earth. I think Wisconsin would benefit greatly from a great gash in the landscape into which our people could gaze, and understand that ultimately all wealth is snatched by men from the depths of the earth and its waters, from the tilling of its fields and the felling of its forests.
As it is written, “by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” People should know this, and not be ashamed, but proud.