By Ed Sandene
I will always remember that first trip underground. It was on a Saturday, and only a few men were on the cage going down. The only other workers were the shift boss, who was on fire patrol, and the repair crews. Later on I would get extra shifts to accompany the shift boss on these patrols.
I went to the Penokee mine because I heard that they might be hiring. I went through the interview process, was sent for a physical and started work the same week, on a Saturday in May of 1956.There was a thirty day probation period before you would become a union member and have a job. The first thing that they had us do was clean track. This was using a pick and shovel to dig away the buildup of ore along the tracks on which the ore was hauled to the main shaft. We were told that they expected a car a day so another new hire and I filled a car plus part of another. We both needed the job.
On Monday the normal work week began and I was assigned to the timber gang along with another new employee. We would take all of the wood products which were used underground to the miners. This included mining timber, poles and lagging. All of these were used to support the drifts that the miners made. Drifts were like tunnels that extended into the ore body and were used as access to get the ore out. They were roughly 8 feet by 8 feet in height and width and would eventually be caved back by drilling and blasting down the ore above them.
The picture shows the cars being dumped into the pockets at the Norrie shaft. This is where the Globe Ready Mix plant is now located. I still was a probationary employee and I had never run a tugger or loaded cars so I was more than a little nervous. I worked a day with the fellow that was leaving the job and the next day I was on my own. This first shift happened to be one of those where there was no end to the ore. It just kept coming and I kept loading and the motorman kept hauling. There was a smaller motor which was used to spot the cars under the chute for loading . This was also operated by a motorman. This would later change as discussed below.
Any way, at the end of the shift when we got to the shaft I saw the tally which turned out to be 104 cars. The previous high had been 100 cars in one shift , needless to say this news was good to hear. Thepicture on the above left shows the spotting motor and one of the ore cars. Milton Nelson is the motorman.
I guess the advice that “Mini”, the skip tender who sent me the ore from the 31st level, gave me was good advice. He said “Ed, don’t ever come back with a scraper that’s only half full.” This was good advice and something which I always remembered and used.
There were a lot of changes made during my years there, such as putting in a much bigger tugger and a wider scraper. That’s me on the left running the new tugger. If the ore consistency was right I could load a car with one scraper full or maybe just a little more than one. There were different types of ore, in that some was wet and runny, some was dry and sticky etc., depending on the area the ore came from. The picture to the right below shows the loading drift. The ore was dumped by the skip at the back end and then it was pulled to the front and dropped into the cars.
At the end the system was automated so that I controlled the spotting motor from up above where I worked. When the motorman on the main line left for the Norrie shaft with the loaded cars I would go the main drift and pick up the empties he had just brought back. I backed them in and spotted the first car under the loading chute. Then I set the brake on the spotting motor just enough so that it wouldn’t be free wheeling and started to load. I had to fill up the front end of the car and put just enough into the chute to fill up the back end when I moved the car ahead. There was a pushbutton switch which I used to activate the motor to move it and put the next car under the chute. There was also an air cylinder device which I could use to drop a barrier against the back of the car to
keep it from going too far, If the brake was set properly this device was not really needed and so it hardly ever made contact.
When I had about 20 days in I was put on this car loading job which was a kind of important job because about 3/4 of the ore produced
went through there. This loading sub was on the 29th level at the Pabst H shaft near Jesseville. The ore was hoisted from the 31st level to the 29th and then loaded into cars. The ore then went to the Norrie shaft ( about 1 mile away ) to be hoisted to surface.
This picture shows Jim Forslund leaving with the loaded cars There were 7 cars in each load.
The surprising result was that we were able to raise the number of cars in 1 shift to 144. Remember it was 104 with the motorman on the spotting motor. The idea behind the changes was to cut some jobs in order to become more competitive with the Taconite mines. The production at these mines far exceeded the “tons per man” which the underground mines could produce. In the end none of these efforts mattered because other factors came into play. The Magnetite ores from the taconite mines could be separated into a higher quality product at the mine site.
Pictured at the left are some of the water pumps that were needed to pump the water from the mine. These were on the 8th level which was a higher level pumping station. The water was pumped in stages from the lower levels which were about 3200 feet down from surface. This was an added cost to the mining of iron ore in the underground mines.
Another one of my duties was to grease the wheels on the skip. We climbed the ladder in the shaft to reach the skip that dumped the ore to the loading sub. The counterweight skip was higher in the shaft, we had to take the cage to the 13th level. Then we lowered the cage and got on the roof and signaled the hoisting engineer to raise us up to where the skip was. The signaling was done by rubbing a grounded metal rod against the signal wire to ring a bell in the engine house. 4 long rings meant hoist slowly, 2 long rings to go back down. I climbed across the shaft so I was under the skip where the wheels were.
The picture on the left was looking down the shaft from where I greased the skip. The picture on the right shows an ore skip but from a different mine. They were all constructed pretty much the same way.
Once when we were at the 13th level on top of the cage we heard a noise way up in the shaft. We quickly lowered the cage to get off the roof and waited at the 13th level station until the object went by. Later we got a phone call from surface informing us that the timber yard crew had dropped a crowbar down the shaft. Another time while taking care of the skip at the 29th level we again heard a noise. We didn’t waste any time going down the ladder to the 29th level.
This time it was rocks that had come loose in the shaft above. Pictured at the right are Jimmy Forslund and I in front of the shaft at the 29th level station. Right behind us is the cage road, the skip road was to our right as was the ladder we used. The loading sub was also not far from here so this was familiar territory to us. I should point out that this was the Pabst H shaft. This was the shaft used to rescue the miners who were in the Pabst G shaft cave-in that happened on September 26, 1926.
During the day shift the cage tenders were busy here unloading the timber and other material used by the miners. The motorman would deliver them to the miners as needed. The crews who went to the 31st level also boarded the cage here. Not far from here was the mechanic shop where the air tools that the miners used were repaired. The “powder monkey” also had his little room here. He would put blasting caps on the fuse cords and hand out the powder to the miners.
The fire patrols I mentioned earlier were done every weekend. I was fortunate to be able to get extra shifts once in a while to accompany the shift boss on these. We went down to the 29th level , then went east to the Pabst shaft area. We climbed down the ladder raises, through the miner’s work areas down to the 31st level. Then we took the Pabst shaft cage back to the 29th level. This took us back to number 4 crosscut where I worked. From there we walked back west to the number 2 crosscut. This was about halfway back to the Norrie shaft and we again walked through the miner’s work areas and checked out the conveyer belt which was used on this end. This belt brought the ore from a lower level to the 29th level where it was loaded into cars for the trip to the main shaft.
By this time we had checked out all of the mine work area to make sure there were no fires smoldering. There had been one fire during the time I worked there which caused a brief shutdown. I should note that smoking was not allowed underground so we all chewed snuff or some other tobacco delectible. The penalty for smoking was 1 week off the first time, 2 weeks the second time and termination if caught the third time.
Finally we took a motor back to the main shaft, rang the engineer for the cage and gave him the signal to take us to surface. This was a rapid 4 rings repeated three times and 2 1/2 minutes later we were back in daylight. Then on to the dry, hang our clothes on the chain assigned to us, in the shower, and back home we went.
Overall I have a lot of good memories about the mining experience. It is a rewarding feeling to have been a part of this era on the Gogebic Range. The underground miners can share this experience which others can only imagine. I personally find these memories are a major part of not only my life but also a part of the history of the Gogebic Range. Iron ore is why these towns are here and to have been part of that experience will never leave me. Only those who lived with mining can really understand that.
This resulted in lower shipping costs per ton of iron and lower costs at the steel mills for smelting the ore pellets. As I recall the ore shipped from the Penokee mine was maintained at 65% iron, while the taconite mines produced a much higher grade of ore.