Stories of Men

the story left untold

Our explorations across the Keweenaw uncover a great deal of mining history. From abandoned rail lines, towering smokestacks, to crumbling hoist building foundations – we have seen evidence of this area’s rich history. While the stories that these ruins tell are an essential part of our shared history, there is often an important story left untold. This is the story of the men who worked within these ruins, the human aspect of this lost empire. Without this human touch, these ruins are simply piles of concrete and stone. With them, these ruins become something greater.

the poor rock pile to the iroquois mine

The Iroquois Mine sits alone on the edge of the wilderness frontier north of Mohawk. After the Second World War, dying companies desperately sought the “mother load” somewhere on the Keweenaw that they hoped would revitalize the industry. In this pursuit companies re-opened old mines like Seneca and Centennial and sank new shafts lodes to the north (such as the new Allouez and Iroquois). The Iroquois mine, like most of these endeavors, proved fruitless and quickly closed.

Very little is left at the mine today. Various foundations to buildings, and the large poor rock piles offering a sweeping view of the cliff range, are all that can be found. Seemingly insignificant except for one ruin that we almost missed. Tucked back from the road and half hidden in the trees was a large concrete floor. As we approached it, the building’s identity became clear. Scattered across its surface was dozens of locker doors. Similar to modern day gym lockers, these rusted-red slotted doors were piled over top of each other. In some places, the actually lockers themselves were still attached, lying on their sides or smashed flat against the ground. It was here the miners changed into the clothes they would were down in the mine. This was the Dry.

locker doors from the iroquois dry

It was soon after this revelation that we found them. Sprinkled throughout the locker doors and concrete were metal “cups”. Not used for drinking, they were “U” shaped metal containers with a rubberized coating. We soon discovered that these were the remains of steel inserts used in steel-toed boots. They were probably the same boots that miners would have worn down into the mines, stored here in these lockers during their off time. Some of the steel toes were still attached to the rubber. Over the years the leather of the boots had rotted away, but the rubber soles and steel cups remained. Also scattered throughout the remains of the Dry, were pairs upon pairs of gloves. Hardened by the sun over the decades, these gloves were very brittle and felt not like gloves at all. These must have been work gloves provided by the company to use underground, also stored here while the workers were off.

remains of steel toed boots in the dry

a scattering of brittle gloves on the dry floor

Now we had the complete story. These gloves and boots were worn by men; men who toiled thousands of feet below us in a dark and dangerous underground world. These were men who went home each day to the families they loved, working during the day in terrible conditions to make sure they had a house, food, and a future. Men who walked upon the same floor we were not standing on, and used the same lockers now at our feet. Men who walked across the road next to us and entered the shaft building ahead of us to start their long and tiring day. Men with stories to tell that cannot be told by these ruins alone. These are stories that need to be told.

32 comments

  1. Hey Tony,
    Are you still around? You should join the discussions at the forum section over at
    http://www.coppercountryforum.com/
    That goes for any and all ex CC hard rock miners.

    • hi joe and all you guys–im still around and doing ok yet–we go dancing a lot at white house on sundays in summer–were called the senior prom–I only used my kids webv so coulndnt get in the site latter–my classmate and good friend bill Jackson–cable America– was kind and generous and sent me a laptop–hes known for his generousity to copper country colleges tech–finnlandia and northern mich calumet high–hes 1954 graduate—my grandson showed me a little on using it–so im back in business for now–my memories ok yet–still remember young friends -even names of dogs they had on pine st–blue jacket–lol—–got some of my old papers from strike time–one telling me I won my case about are unemployment checks time–jerry jackovac–pete ornsby represented me–I was working at mather b mine in Negaunee then–because I won all 1200 employies got I think 6 or 8 more weeks of checks—tony

  2. Sounds like good advice Charles. I don’t like going in them now, much less to earn a living down there. it took a hearty soul, that’s for sure.

  3. In the mid 50′s my dad was a shift boss at the mine. One Saturday when the shaft crew was working and the man car was attached my dad took me to the bottom of the shaft, 22 levels. Looking back he was teaching me that working in a mine is not much fun , in his own way saying ‘do something else’. He lost 2 men in that mine, one fell to an air blast after he had lite a burn cut. Another struck his head while riding the skip. Never entered a mine again, went to college.

  4. I worked Iroqouis from abt March 57 to Sept 57 when it closed..Wasn’t there long enough to get my feet wet. Oiva Bjorn was my boss and I carpooled with John Yowell…..I remember most of the people that Tony mentioned.

  5. My great-grandfather Waino used to work at Iroquois Mine (a.k.a. B Shaft). He used to walk the mile from Seneca to there and back every day. By the way, the shaft house was built out of wood and was burned down decades ago along with the Dry.

  6. Tony, thats really amazing, I, and I know many others would love to hear your stories, I really wish I could have seen this area at its prime,

  7. Thanks for all the pictures. Too soon everything will be flat and sterile. Poor rock piles are an endangered relic. Save the piles.

  8. Tony… I guess no one had anything to add since then. A lot of us didn’t have the pleasure of living down here when the mines were open, and even fewer of us actually worked them. I think your experiences are unique..

    but by all means keep sharing… its all great stuff.

  9. wondering why comments stopped after mine in april 2009—tony

  10. IROQUOIS MINE—The mine was built with mostley all old equipment from there shut downed scrap salvalge–rails– old air tuggers—even later in war they unwound stips off there big shaft ropes to use for the scrapper engines underdround–instead of new 1/2 inch cable–they had one shower in the dry–there was a long trough ran through middle of the dry lockers were on both sides with fausets and you had to grab a white porcelain washpan –went look there in around 1969 there were wash pans in the dump behind dry yet— yould fill it with water and used your own soap to wash up–top of body only—dry men had to shovel coal to heat the dry and hot water—the hoist was electric–think it came out of underground red jacket shafts sub shafts–think red jacket had 3 electric hoists underground–big steam for hoisting up the straight shaft

  11. Worked Iroquois feb 56-sept 57 when it closed—guys i remember then were– Hogart Pempmraze captain Hedgi LAmpala-donunts and kenny Abramson–patty shane–ed newman–drymen–bill newman—ducthie pichette–henry snabb–union president 4312–bob ojennis my tramming partner–jack ojennis–gus ojennis there dad–helmer toivolinen–henry oja–bob duquette boss—oiva bjorone boss—charlie garrow boss—appu neimie–gerald nordstrom–doug nordstrom–paul margima–fritz kipina—axle carlson–his son dave—max rauch–train car loader– glen beaton–george schimtt union stewert–jacko mc clenen–waino rajanieani–pipe man—bosses oct 1943 pemprase captain–gordon kingstrom—bill langdon–habramson–leader 6th level-c nohelecheck timber boss–elmer maatta–timbermen—hill– westala fred linna—trrackmen–john mehner—robert dolhey–albert kinonen–robert cloutier–bob harris–j warra—s winnen–hodges—g sundberg—linna –pipemen—w rajaniemi–a stimac—-winna–motor chargman—wilks–mechanics–art wuotinen—james spair—hugh lehtola–gorazznik—al
    harris al thairion—-shaft miners aug erickson— john jackman–john korri–ernest mukka–j ringler— m verbanac–r cloer–muckers—bill butkovich—eagle river—john paaskvan—thom kippina–a kinonen–clayton harris—g blau–a dejonghi–pufferman–a gregorich–platman axil carlson—shovel operators–bill edwards—a kauppila–r–cloer –c –kopotich–trammers–j magnino–giles blau—leval miners—chester bonetti—john yowell–j murphy–w johnson–g ringler—g de ridder–o bjorn–fred carlson–oli jurmu–mike verbonic–j sowden–h jeannotte–a kauppila–bill edwards—some of these guys were still working there when I started in feb 56—axle carlson was in ww1–national guards—these guys built the iroquios mine–mabe that shoe belonged to one of them—and that dry house cement floor–rock house man died washing up there ray mottonen–at our shifts end–and I got my job replacing benny dexstrom when he was killed there–mabe youll find a reatives name from this—tony

  12. George..

    I’m afraid its my policy not to give out specific instructions on how to reach specific rock piles and mine sites. However, most on-line map sites provide the option of arial images from which you can spot most rock piles rather easily.

  13. Hello,

    I am wondering if members can share the names and locations of poor rock piles that can be accessed without permission or with permission that is easy to obtain. Perhaps a big task but only a few examples and easy to find would be fine.

    George

  14. Herb from Wisconsin

    Then maybe to get a good end-view it would have to be from around the Allouez area. I know from the road it comes abruptly into view as a striking looking mound in the distance dead-ahead for a moment, maybe longer….

  15. Ojibway is a sideview — it’s located just about on a line perpendicular from the middle of the cliffs, towards the southeast. The rockpile is very tall but a bit dodgy to climb, since it’s very steep.

  16. Herb from Wisconsin

    I have good Cliff Range photos close up, side profile, and from the NE end. What I still need to shoot is a SW end view, where it looks like an abrupt mound: i.e. Albion Rock.

    Last year we were driving thru Allouez and it briefly comes into view like that from the highway. Should have gotten a photo then, but didn’t. I have to look at the map and see how the Ojibway piles line up with the Greenstone alignment.

    From Ojibway would it be an end view or a sideview?

    PS: I also once camped at Ojibway Mine. Found ZERO copper. Pretty nice campsite tho.

  17. Well Herb, can’t tell you to much about the Iroquois concerning WWII since the News and Views started while the mine was in its opening stages. So any agreement was done before the News and Views started.
    But, the reopening of the Centenniel mine did have a set price the government would pay for the copper, C&H had to foot the bill though for the work to reopen it, pumping water out etc. My mind is blank, I know there was at least one other, I don’t think it was the Alloeuz though, but I could be wrong. Over the weekend I can look again.
    I have to mention, both the Allouez #3 and the Iroquois copper deposits were found using the diamond drill. They knew the basic size of the deposit and general pounds of copper per ton of rock before they started.
    I can only imagine how many diamond drill holes are out in those woods

  18. For my money, the best views of the cliffs is from the Ojibway rock pile, which sits just north of Mohawk. Though I’ve taken it off the site, you can still see the image here:

    The Cliffs Panoramic

  19. Herb,

    The Iroquois and Ojibway rockpiles are both good places to see the cliffs from, although they’re not right up close and personal. Otherwise, I just like the view from Cliff Drive itself — you get some very dramatic views looking up at the cliffs.

  20. Herb from Wisconsin

    Another interesting topic. Nicely written with that sad feeling of the lost Copper Empire we enjoy so much.

    Is there any mention of govt. funding to open and operate this mine? Wartime needs and the Copper Country desperate to keep the industry alive. Here in NW Wis during WWII the govt de-watered, cleaned, and sampled our small copper mines (Weyerhaeuser & Chippewa explorations). Was the Iroquois another govt. assisted endeavor? I’m guessing it was.

    Mention was made of a good view of Cliff Range from the Iroqois piles. That brings up a good question. What is the best place to photograph Cliff Range from the SW end? A vantage point that captures the best most dramatic view of the abrupt rise of the Greenstone Ridge? That end being the location of the fabled Albion Rock and a photo I need for my files.

  21. I think anything opened/reopened during and after WWII was a wish they would find another big one, but looking at these News and Views, they knew these were low content copper deposits andit was something to keep the company rolling. The only hope was keeping the cost down and be able to make something from it.
    Late 40′s they formed another corporation to work on finding uses for the tailings. The conglomerate sand was the sand of choice being it was so hard. Truck loads, including some rail car loads were sent to different places to test it, obviously it didn’t work out. Abrasive cleaners, grinding wheels etc.

    It gets really sad, when you realize C&H was just a shell of itself at the end.

    Mention was even made in the late 50′s of a rebuild for the Ahmeek stamp mill to eliminate the steam stamps, this was also a cost saving thing.

  22. When writing this I was under the impression that most of C&H’s post-war mines were desperate endeavors, and that when compared to the great Calumet and Hecla mines most were found wanting. I suppose fruitless is somewhat debatable as you say, since by your records it managed to stay in operation for a few decades. But whether it made a difference in the end I’m not sure. As for the quickly part, well, I stand corrected on that one.

  23. Dec 1943 shaft was down to 1700 ft. Mention was made of the poor rock pile, they installed a spur track to the poor rock chute so poor rock could be hauled for use as fill on the railroad, 20,000 tons was hauled. In September 1947 a ventilation/emergency escape shaft was started, located about 700 ft north of the shaft. It was connected with the different levels via raises. It was still listed in the 1956 Red Metal News but I am pretty sure it was closed in the mid 1960′s before C&H’s shut down though.
    Now whether the Iroquois Mine proved to be fruitless and closed quickly would be debateable, it had all the modern equipment, both on the surface and underground.

  24. Now that I have the complete collection of News and Views, from what I gather, Iroquois was called the “B” shaft when it was started in Oct 1942. They were pushing the shaft down to the 2000ft level right off the bat as diamond core drilling showed good rock down deep. The first rock was hauled by truck to a loading ramp at New Allouez where it was loaded in rock cars, since the rail line was not complete, looks like winter stopped that part. Looking at the one poor photo that shows construction, the shafthouse was wood, the hoist house looks to be stone, the collar house was not built yet, although it had a steel skelton. A later issue with the collar house looks to be the metal clad of later years. It did have a electric hoist, along with New Alloeuz. First rock shipment shows in the Feb 1943 issue of News and Views with 5 cars loaded at the ramp built in New Allouez. Interestly, during WWII a live radio show was broadcast from the bottom of the Iroquois, broadcast was on WBBM of Chicago over the CBS radio system. Part of the show was a salute to the miner and the other part was broadcast with the work going on. Wonder if this thing exists still???

  25. Talk about a mine that has very little available, searched everything I have, plus did the old Internet check. Iroquois Mine is hardly listed. Other than opening during WWII and closing at or near the end of C&H and maybe a mention of copper hauled out, there isn’t much. The mines to new.
    C&H News and Views has blurbs about them setting drifting records at the mine, but thats it.

  26. Aha, that makes sense — a WW2 mine would definitely be constrained by available materials. I was impressed at the size of the poor rock pile there though, compared to other last-chance mines.

  27. Reading through C&H’s News and Views/Red Metal News, Iroquois was a WWII mine, something opened/reopened during the war. So what was built had to be built with what was on hand since it hard to get steel. I saw in the Feb 1943 issue the 1st five cars of rock had been loaded from the Iroquois, it was actually loaded at Allouez siding. A ramp had been built slightly higher than the top of the cars, trucks would back up and dump into the cars. This was right along US41 where the sand and gravel outfit is now. Eventually the spur track was completed to load at the shaft.

  28. dcclark..

    I felt the same way on my first trip. The collar house foundation was buried by a pile of debris, and there was no evidence of the rock house. (but as Gordy pointed out as it was made from wood there probably wouldn’t be much left). The concrete structure that sits in the position where the hoist house would of sat is rather odd, and not like any other hoist house I have found. But then again, it was probably just a small electric hoist and didn’t require the same large foundation as a steam equivalent.

  29. http://betag.pasty.com/displayimage.php?album=665&pos=9

    Doesn’t look to be to modern to me, looks like a wood shafthouse, probably why you couldn’t find anything

  30. I just visited the Iroquois mine site. The ruins there (such as they are) are a bit of a mystery to me. It was a relatively modern mine, but there is no big rock-house foundation, and the hoist house (I think that’s what it was) is hardly recognizable. Do you have any good sources for history of the Iroquois?

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