Part five of the MER documentary series, A Sense of Place. Program is titled “Mining, Music and Much Ado about Sports”, exploring the relationship between a miner and the giant corporation he works for.
Includes questions of Iron Range work in the region, interviews with local residents, excerpts from early works of Margaret Culkin Banning, a reading by Jim Klobuchar, and examples of ethnic music.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
Sense of place a documentary series, which looks at regions and regionalism in the state of Minnesota produced by Minnesota educational radio under a grant from the Minnesota Humanities commission. This program is called mining music and Much Ado About Sports. a tourist traveler big city sophisticut taking a Long View from a car window at 60 miles an hour and listening to Frankie Yankovic on one of the local radio stations might determine that the Minnesota Iron Range was a place of mining music and what to do about sports and so far as his observations when he would be right but while he would be odd or appalled by the great ragged holes in the landscape, you would likely fail to wonder at the magnificence of the orbit Earth, you would respond with curiosity and or Amusement to the distinctive Iron Range accent that even radio announcers never quite overcome, but never consider the Potpourri of European cultures that went into making the sounds of Iron Range voices unique and the sentiments the express about the place they live so intense I don't think there's anything anywhere else on Earth. My wife doesn't believe me at first, but then she was born. I'm an Outdoorsman. I love the winter season. I love the woods the hunting the fishing in fact. When I get out of high school, I have no. Definite idea what I wanted to do, you know in college. I'm going to do the service. I began thinking someday. I'm going to have to go back and what am I going to do for a living in the first thing? I knew definite was it I want to go right back to Virginia, Minnesota. And I'm not I got to thinking about it. Well, what is the best job to have around there when was mining cuz this is a mining area right to college took my engineering and got a job right here in time exactly what I wanted to do and I'm still here. my business my engineering is an outdoor job at where is job? A lot of challenges. This is one of the biggest mining areas in the world, part of it. I loved every minute of uniformity in closer cooperation from the individuals. And we just think that this is probably the best place in the world. We at least know our next door neighbors and the people down the block. and that is really something nice, but I was in other areas where you don't even find out who lives next door to you and the person dies and reading the paper. One of the things that I feel is good for the kids to be in a small community in to be near their families or extended families or whatever. It's a secure feeling. you know when you know everyone in a community and you know, some people might think it's it's terrible to have everyone know your business, but I kind of feel like all kind of a you know, like we're always with the kids if they don't wander off or if someone's in trouble somewhere everyone knows who they are assuming. I'll bring him home someone off. You know reports me if they're doing something wrong. the snow up here I love winter my favorite season. I drive a 650 Polaris Starfire in a little while close to a hundred miles an hour a 97 or so when you live in a city and I lived in Minneapolis, and I want to school. And I was confined it seemed to Centennial Hall and I go for an hour driving. I still be in town no matter where you are. Not in the slums are in a high-class District. If I want to rate downtown metropolitan area in the loop, you're still in town. There's only so many things you can do this nightlife sure, but that gets dull after awhile. You can go to museums with wants to go to museum for excitement up here. You can go in the woods and you can go back to Nature. There is clean. I got Peace of Mind in the woods Ron and I we go out there where we can walk for three hours and not say a word to each other. I guess you might say we pride ourselves our work hard. I think I'm very flexible like and I enjoy them very nice things in life. Whatever they are, you know the Finer Things in my say the fancy thing. We're not typical Rangers. We aren't we Ron and I both weave. You take the lowest personal on the Iron Range and we probably know them and you take the up really socialite. We know the businessmen. We know the The Working Man we can go to the farm for example and reaching our kooples. Barrel. Sarika can make our own sauerkraut take it out with her hands. Throw it on a plate eat that with fried eggs. And you're at the same time. We can go down to any hotel or restaurant or bar and the range and act as refined as anyone that has been brought up in the city because we don't put on airs a good example would be a few weeks ago. We went to Chicago. One Saturday night. We were having it was 5 in the morning. We're having breakfast at the Playboy club and I think the following Sunday. We were cleaning the Outhouse at the farm. So we like I said, we pride ourselves in being flexible. fun in life today a lot about life on the Iron Range is fun. But yesterday well, that's another story young people new people feel secure with the stable year-round economy of taconite production. But lifetime Rangers have long memories in her 1969 novel about the development of the Iron Range region, Minnesota author Margaret coken Banning alludes to tensions the began to surface with the first shovels of or some of the stories might be apocryphal but the fortunes that began to be made we're not the tireless dog and merits Doug and tested at at last Came Upon the Great Basin of or they probably named Mountain iron, and there was no fable about that discovery which touched off a far greater boom on the Mesabi than the one on the Vermilion range had the big men in the East but the merits have the glory but inexorably they moved in to take possession. Pillow July is the state representative from the Iron Range. He is a finish to send when workers first began to band together to gain better conditions in the mines. His people were in the Forefront of the movement and the first to feel the brunt of the mining companies power. Where organizers perhaps it's track activity of a tempered organization of the miners themselves. And I certainly a 1916 they were very much in the front ranks of the strike. Is it that develop spontaneously, I think it was in June of 1916. play Iww moved into the range of 1916 not to organize a strike, but in response to request a striking miners for assistance in that planning and organizing and developing the strike. I think they've been turned down by the Western Federation of miners so they went to the iww for help. But I think the story of that 1916 strike will show that develop spontaneously in the same James mine and Aurora and that news of the strike was carried by a young fan who ran from Aurora the length of the range shot and design into spontaneous walkouts to place along the length of the Ranger. I think eventually 16,000 in the mining companies I responded by blacklisting many of the people involved in the strike workers involved in Union organization. And this is why you found it or you find it so many fins left Mining and went out to farm at 40 or 80 a track out in the countryside because they were refused work by the mining companies and you also find that many things around the payrolls of local municipality school districts as custodians and janitors because they were unable to find work with the mining companies and in eastern cities prevailed Bruno scipione is the son of an Italian minor and is himself employed in the industry as a mining company engineer in u.s. Steel minntac planned in Mountain Iron He suggests that many of the antagonisms were carryovers from Life in the old country. Here we were peasants up here minor struggling everybody thought they were abused, you know by the mining companies. That was a lot of personal abuse. Salsa, and human dignity, but it wasn't just you need to the money, It was that was a common attitude towards labor throughout the country, but these people were feeling sorry for themselves around here and I figured anybody in the news was he Rich Timber man, or a rich mining, man. Where is European background that we all have you know, when you're up if you come from a village 5 miles away from the other from another Village are complete strangers and bitter enemies. That's a vast distance. So they just liked one another they just trust one another and providing shopping Financial medical and educational facilities as well as television stations bringing in News of the World the nation and coverage of activities of the entire Northeastern Minnesota region Duluth. Sportscaster. Bob junkyard his done play-by-play on hundreds of Iron Range sporting events, and he has some thoughts on why sports are such a big thing in the area. Yeah, I called him to the 405 miles of heart rate. For example, the eveleth-gilbert Virginia area. Yes, we high schools all within about a Four Mile area of each other with tremendous rivalry among the various elements of came from the old country different nationalities that settle for all very proud. I think that's all. To the high school athletics as they participating. It's an intense right as an outsider you talked about the rain now, you're fighting the entire rain. Enjoy one word against the rain here fighting at all the way from the East End of the West end but they among themselves. What battle is with bitter bitter rivalry in athletics or whatever. I suppose city government but Athletics is where they keep school. So why they go out and I have never heard. Cheering screaming yelling like you do on the iron. I sometimes feel sorry for the opposition the best of the we're headed to drop side opposition Rangers among the Rangers are both are there used to hockey players on the Iron Range Play Darling by and grab that he wanted Federal ranks are there for the rivers of living by a plane hockey and is that time went on way back and bicep tear Post St. Cloud a backpack. I wear colorful today Louisville balloons boy or anyway for that matter, but a lot of rain player cuz that's where they did play hockey ahead of everyone else in the Upper Midwest High School 11 to even then in the mid-30s early 30s scholarships available for hockey players. Not think yes. There is a correlation between parents wanting their son to be an athlete all hockey player for a specific Date with an open mind that you would get a college education as a result. A stranger's about sports and you get another perspective. I guess that's the only thing that that the Rivalry You know, we're all kind of interdependent on each other for a lot of things. We have to depend on Virginia for a lot of that's the only place we have to shopping. Do our business and we don't have a very large business community and montaner. but in sports is just people are Sprint's crazy around here. They absolutely insane over every I don't care what it is. Increase the money when we get our big State football championship and all kinds of be like if we can beat Virginia and anything that's just the greatest thing in the world. It's really pretty competitive any of the kids and all the time and is I remember in high school there really terrific and kind of get to know. A lot of the kids from the other schools. I mean I just new soulmate is so many people that you know, I still will see that I knew from all the different towns around that you get to know through all these, you know, enter School functions and everything and some of them to come here where you get to be very good friends. And so it's not to the point of being hostile once more so much of their own time for a nothing to kids into the youth program. Set this is why sports are so big kids families friends Schools jobs and how it was in the old days vital concerns on the Iron Range basic concerns that have insulated the region in an era of change somehow every conversation eventually gets back to these themes sturdy little kids. About the time we learn to walk while a few years later. We were climbing around these mining headframes is were all underground mines in those days like in 1920s. And our past time was crawling between your car is in climbing these mining head frames and and swimming in the potholes of the the little pawns that were made from the runoff backed up against it on mine. Child's Paradise up in the small villages, you know. We have nothing really when you think of it. There was a village up there with no running water. What facilities of any kind? No Police Protection Law grocery store is nothing. You are a dependent on your own ability to raise food in the garden and had a few calls and we had a grocery delivery. I think twice a week from a Cooperative store and Italian, you know and then all of the Italians had an Italian work people store, which was a cooperative. And this is just a manager and drive around the store will had a small Model T at the time I didn't make around. Our fathers worked in the mine when work was available on initials are existence. In order to help their families would have fresh butter made and different things that wait. They would give to this fellow when he came around with the things that they needed to staple. They would trade off their home churned butter and their cheese and baby eggs from chickens. We were very very popular but none of us has children ever knew that we were poor but cause of the Fantastic ability of our mothers to to make photo. He lived to the east of my parents in between the two of us was my grandmother for years and years. I don't know why his mothers are his father's family and his mother's family feuded and there was a fence dividing the 80 acres and neither Derek Ross. And this was like 40 years ago, maybe 40 years ago. His mother's father knew that she married a zunich which is on the other side of the fancy turn over in his grave. The only time that I remember my father telling me that my his father La my mother's father talked to him was when he had him driving the car when you're running moonshine. What time you going I guess the feds came after them or something and you put the shotgun behind my father's ear and said keep driving kid. I have the vitamin companies require successful initially in keeping these various nationalities groups apart and they don't attack in Mystic toward each other as well through this way that they really forestalled any attempted organization because if you had to spend fighting the Austrian the Austrian mad at the Italian, obviously, you're not going to get any successful workers movement developing. How many years has faded I? 1969 some of the magazine show just the attitude of the mining companies. I think one of these is a nation or survey graphic has an article by a woman who toured the range and company that mine superintendent. Then she had not a kind word to say about any nationality is the range of a radical New Politics these sylvanians were dirty habits in the Italians were poor workers, you know just came for the Mining Company. He can't keep people apart there forever and eventually. They workers over came back. Then. I was successful in organizing. Did mining companies did a great thing with these guys when they put them to work? They would not put Two Italians to work together or two fins or two small as they would mix them and force them to use English as a result of the men spoke much better using their native. You know, if your language in this particular area here you was when you got there are nibbles and written many people that can speak as many as being for different much of this was learned back in the history of underground mining near the goal know your partner might be an Italian or a might be some type of Slovenia must learn to talk each other's type. But on a More Time of Dying live for you the other day. I think we got to talk to him once in awhile the practice with the left, but then they want to talk English of a kind. these are my friends came over here and let me tame this this foreign way of living in the manner of speech under Outlook on life, even if they pass it on to their children that he did but your son's can't do it. Speak English you think English or American? It has been said that a visit to the Iron Range is like a trip to another country. Here is how Margaret coken Banning describes it in her book Mesabi ugly infancy. And now we're pretty Villages at least in Summer and Autumn the town's looked in many ways like average American provincial communities, which had no hopes or Ambitions to become great cities that were content to be county seats were pharaohs could be held and Farmers dispose of their cattle in produce, but the man-made hills around them and that you're getting pissed at the Town limits made them forever different than half-a-century the waste material had built up to mountainous Heights, which we're squared off the tops with the strange and neatness. The landscape was not agricultural. It was what it had been for probably 2 billion years and iron formation. The village is different from other municipalities to because they could not control their own destiny a mayor who was ambitious for change or an active Chamber of Commerce did not have the same opportunities that were available elsewhere the local people could go just so far something feudal clung to the feeling of the region. Although the term was Obsolete and the old disregard for human rights had disappeared but it was still true that what was going to happen to the range towns was decided in Office Buildings in eastern cities at some point in the not-too-distant past a group of men meeting and in eastern city decided the taconite was a viable all be an expensive solution to the depletion of the Region's raw or reserves a manufacturing process. How can I production demanded workers with specialized technical skills there by closing out many of the older Miners and forcing the young ones to take additional training or to find other jobs probably outside of the area still. How can I plants operate year-round providing range communities with a sense of security unknown in all the years before? I can't imagine that? That you don't us steel would put up this fantastic plant and it really is fantastic and spend them on of money they did. And possibly more in the future. I mean is can grow and you know in the end they have plans for just so many years ahead of time that I can't imagine right now that we're in that situation. But at one time in the mines, you know, they would mine a mine and then they would reach a point mall. There was no longer feasible to mine this man. It was another place in the minds of clothes in the winter and all this. That was a time. I guess when people probably it was tough to live here and know that they controlled everything even your economics, but I I just don't feel that we have that feeling anymore. The range is changing as more people moving in from other areas with taconite c when the construction of the plants started companies from all over the United States came here and they brought their own men with them what they want the construction sees the lot of them stayed here and I got employment at the steel plans for the things have changed and stuff that I would say 1965 but up until then, you know everyone, you know, everyone's problems if there was something going on, you know derogatory you knew about that. Apply for these people to previous distance was a seasonal one you working somewhere. And you did not in the winter. No talking like that's changed and I am absolutely amazed that they had a meeting out of Pittsburgh and Ross about a month ago. Where are the steel industry on the union leader sat down together? And they they agreed that in order to meet this foreign competition. They have to get together and do something about the productivity of The Working Man. Because we were being wiped off the map by the Japanese and the Germans and the austrians in the swedes. They could manufacture steel and sell it here cheaper than we could make it right in our own backyard. and the labor and The Chieftains agreed with the leaders of the industry that both management and labor that they are going to have to get together and do something about improving productivity and we are not having meetings here with Union people when they are green. That they're going to have to do something about improving their productivity and management is going to have to do something about making the job a little more comfortable now. This is a real breakthrough. I think to give Union people to admit. They have to probably work a little harder for their number here where I'm still living. I think I would like to just to have the mining companies acknowledge that they've made it hell of a lot of money out there that they owe some responsibility to maintaining Municipal Services a substantial share the cast of educating the kids. Just as some McDonalds meat have that responsibility on their part and a willingness to deal with us after all. I am the elected representative district 6-a. I've been elected to public Office county commissioner and have them come to us as elected representative. The people rather than try to make the deals in the back room of a hotel in Duluth with representatives of the Iron Range Municipal civic association with you. Anyway, I'd like to have more open as sweetie and discussion with these people have them come out openly and honestly and talk about their problems that aims and objectives. Maybe be of some assistance to understanding that the ranges red Earth was rich treasure to the sophisticated process that turns out taconite all in the space of less than 100 years Jim Klobuchar columnist for the Minneapolis Star grew up in Ely on the occasion of the closing of the Last underground mine in his hometown in April of 1967. He wrote the following. It seems to sum up a lot of what can be said about the past and the future of the entire Minnesota range. The writer is catacombs that have been brought a thousand feet under my hometown by generations of helmet did miners are silent today and soon will be sealed forever. I trust there was no formal observance of the closing the Last underground iron mine and nearly the Iron Range never did produce a Trumpeter who could play all Lang Syne and four languages be on this. The only function certain to draw crowds in the ranger Yugoslav picnics come as you are finished eating bass and the appearance of a random faith healer from the look of a half-dozen underground mine just spilled millions of dollars worth of or into the country's blast furnaces for more than a half-century. The Remnant Sandile now are empty tunnels dead Earth the town will survive partly because the underground successor the tack night industry is operating nearby and partly because the lake forest have outlasted the steam shovels and the tourists will be there when the iron Manor is gone. And so the red Smite skeleton of the abandoned mining shaft. It's not the town's headstone as it might have been years ago before the years of Social Security Mining Company pensions and Union Station. But while there may be a future mining in the river seemed heels near the town the Vermilion treasure that help mechanize the nation has vanished with it. I'm sure Must Go part of the communities personality until diluted by stubbornly advancing civilization decades ago. It was the miniaturization of the brawling frontier people by Lumberjacks Miners and when would later the grime of its tunnels in the Bible of its old world languages congealed into some tough fiber essence of the American Vision? The industrialist had their Millions from its walls and the immigrants had their dignity and the future of the children. It may be well to remember that in the. Of screaming protesters and whining beatniks. There are still people around to whom the language at the foot of the Statue of Liberty wasn't is more than a parody? and so on immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island 60 years ago with his name flapping from his lapel for the inspectors and frighten his eyes could live to see his son running a rich man salary as a scholarly researcher in Space Age Electronics The era of the underground Iron Mine ends in northern Minnesota with no Grievous and mighty between the companies in the workers. If I walk out shutdowns and politicking but no enduring hatred the mining companies explorers. Once in the Fashions of the times later had no stomach for it. And finally no opportunity for name of Toyotas did the big swinging minor and today they are spending billions or they are not required to provide for and resettle the man who raised the For the man the Mayans work culture in a condition of Life by themselves. They were there Banks their Town Halls the prison's because there was nothing else for them and for a few of them their graves. Nobody had any secrets in those moist cool or dress We're The Minister's Sunday sermon underwent a blunt and enthusiastic critique each week. They were very few pretensions you got along and whatever language was convenient. I know an Italian grocer who listen to 6 a.m. Mass in Slovenian ordered his beer and finish and for all I know romance in Swahili. You're stockpiles with a playground to the kids the ski slopes in the winter there Badlands for Cowboys and Crooks in the summer. People around town knew what the 15th level was producing at the Zenith mine and they knew what the emergency siren meant in the middle of the afternoon. The idea of a college education for the children was an obsession with many of them and the reason they resisted when the sun would plan to go underground to help raise money for it. Once you go down there, they would say you will never get out but many did of course and yet is a symbol of the youngsters arrival to manhood in this mining Community whatever he plan to do in the future and there was nothing with quite the emotional jar of the day. He strapped on a helmet and battery and descended into the cool red tunnels with his father. Some of the ghosts in the town are not sad ones. Music from The Polka Party album by Frankie Yankovic and from the heart to the heart album by the Graco recording Orchestra excerpts from the novel Mesabi by Margaret Culkin Banning published by Harper and row special things to Jim Klobuchar for reading his color. A sense of place written and produced by Claudia daily for Minnesota educational radio under a grant from the Minnesota Humanities commission engineering by Jerry Vanek.