Sunday we moved up the coast of Lake Superior to a little town, Schroeder. Most of the towns along Minnesota’s North Coast were founded by Finn’s Norwegians, and people from that region in Europe. They didn’t find the climate too intimidating, and the fishing was similar to the ocean fishing they were used to. There are towns like Tofte, and Lutsen just to the north. We went to a town called Two Harbors, a Taconite shipping port to see a close up view of a Taconite dock, and their world famous tourist spot, the founding office for 3M!
3M or Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. as it was founded was started by a group of men who believed that they had discovered a place along the coast of the lake where there was carborundum, the 2nd hardest mineral, and the abrasive in sandpaper. They came to Two Harbors, found an attorney, set up the company, and began selling stock. Unfortunately for them, the carborundum mine turned out to be a different mineral, and therefore worthless. This left them with a task that turned out to be providential. They had to think if a couple of new products. One to be the abrasive for their sandpaper, and two for the mineral in their mine. 3M as the company became known after many years has been inventing their way to success ever since. I use them as examples in my new products class almost every day I teach. The type of ingenuity they use is evidenced in the development of one of their primary products, adhesive tape. As I mentioned the company was making sandpaper. The largest market for his was the automotive business, particularly body shops. When making a call on one of his customers a company salesperson saw the difficulty the painter had with the new two tone paints that were popular. He went back to his company, and they used some of the adhesive technology that made the abrasive stick to the paper, to create masking tape. Our company sold to several of 3M’s divisions. They have a wide variety of creative programs designed to create new products, and extend a line when they have found something unique. Look at the incredible number of “Post-it” products that are on the market today. They are the result of the company’s culture of taking an original creation of masking tape, in the early 1900’s and combining it with the ingenuity of a 3M employee who in the 1980’s had his notes falling out of his hymnal in choir practice.
The Taconite loading facility in two harbors was very close to shore, and we observed it on a couple of occasions. The process is expected, with the short train cars being pushed out, then individually “drained” from the bottom into the long chutes. These chutes go into the holds. The train moves back and forth, and different cars are selected so that the boat is loaded evenly. We heard that if you just start filling in one end the boat will break in half.
The town restored the old steam tug that was used here prior to the advent of bow thrusters/ The Edna G was an interesting tour. They also had two restored locomotives, the largest, and latest from the WWII time frame. If you think, like us, that it was strange that they could get a huge locomotive built during the shortages of the war, you’ll begin to understand how important the iron ore from this area was to our winning the war.
We made a few other side trips while staying in Schroeder, to the Split Rock light house, a taconite processing facility, and many of the falls coming off the mountain behind the lake on the way t o the big lake. Split Rock was a light house requested by the ship owners after great November storm sunk many ore boats. The Edmund Fitzgerald was only the latest on long line of ships going down in a November Lake Superior storm. After the construction of Hwy 61, our path up form Duluth, the light became a favorite stop and the most photographed light in the US (at least according to the locals.)The overall facility was large with 3 keepers houses, a few barns etc. Seemed like overkill to me for a lighthouse operated from May-December. Very nice restoration, and great staff.
The Taconite factory had a tour, but no pictures were allowed, so this shot from up above will have to do. Their plant is about a mile long and takes the raw ore from the mines 40 miles north in the small ore cars we’ve seen. Then through a series of crushers, mixing into a slurry, and magnetic separators they extract iron. They then form a pellet about ½ the size of my little fingernail, including some other additives that make the steel better quality. These are what is loaded into the “lakers” and “salties” 68,000 tons a batch for shipment down lake. The tailings are then pumped, still in the slurry up to a spot on the way back to the mine. There they have an environmentalist approved dam, and fill area, and the liquid then is returned to the plant to begin the crushing process again. This last step is extremely costly, (and since what they have is essentially our trap rock) it appears to me they are ‘disposing of” tons of good road bed!!!
The falls are interspersed about every few miles up the highway. The one pictured here is Gooseberry Falls, about medium in intensity, and near the maximum in height. Because the water flow was relatively low, there is a lot of play going on here. There are 4 levels and there are people in the water in each of them. There is a state park at each falls, and most have camping. The north shore is a place that prior reservations are necessary to get some of the best spots…. But until we got here, we didn’t know what to reserve! We’ll probably come back to this area.