Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Champion Mine in Painesdale

Shafthouse No. 4 still stands. All that remains of Shafthouse No. 3 are stone and concrete footings.

Painesdale is named after William A. Paine, a Boston financier and senior partner of the brokerage firm Paine, Webber & Co. Paine was instrumental in the founding and capitalization of both the Copper Range Company and the Champion Copper Company in 1899. In that year Copper Range built a railroad from Houghton to Mass City, which opened the mineral range for exploration and development. Paine also hired Dr. Lucius Hubbard, a former Michigan State Geologist to to find the southern extension of the Baltic Lode on the Champion properties. Hubbard found it in the summer of 1899, nearby to where Shaft No. 3 was later sunk.

Today, bashing capitalists as greedy, immoral money-grubbers has become a national sport. But without capitalists like William Paine, there would be no Copper Country. For that matter, there would be very little of anything.

It seems that you have to get old yourself before you start to appreciate old things. None of this stuff meant much to me as a kid. Just old ruins and junk - part of the landscape. I'm beginning to see it differently now.

The foundation of Shafthouse No. 2, directly behind the Jeffers High School. The local kids have built benches and made a place for bonfires on top of the concrete cap that covers the actual shaft. I was pleased to see that they haven't left much trash.

Climbing a poor rock mountain.

I don't recall seeing this type of moss before, but it grows right next to a rock pile.

Once the roof is gone, walls rapidly deteriorate. The great leveller, water, gets in the cracks, freezes and expands. Never underestimate the power of water.

This place reminded me of the Alamo. Slightly larger, but not nearly as well-maintained. But there is still something heroic in these ruins.

Shafthouse No. 1 stood here. Note how they alternated columns of Jacobsville sandstone and mine rock. Sandstone is typically used in the corners of most of the buildings - it is flat and stacks well. I also think that the stonemasons who laid these enjoyed making them attractive as well as functional. I salute you, whoever you were.

And I also salute you, whoever laid this wall.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Baltic Mine

The Baltic Amygdaloid Lode was the last major native copper ore body to be discovered in the Copper Country. A local mining captain named John Ryan found a promising copper ore outcropping near this bluff in 1882 and began exploratory mining.

One can only imagine what went through Ryan's mind when he saw the copper vein in the rock at his feet.

Eventually four shafts were sunk in the vicinity, and mountains of rock removed.

These rock piles have special significance to me. My grandfather, Heikki Kilpela, whom I have never met, worked in these mines.

I once spent a day piling mine rock by hand along an embankment (for erosion control) and gained a great appreciation for the work both of my grandfathers did underground. After blasting, the fractured rock had to be loaded by hand into tramcars. These men handled many tons of rock every day, and the larger chucks can easily weigh well over a hundred pounds. Heikki Kilpela was laid off from the Baltic Mine when he was 60 but said that he was in the best shape of his life. He died of a stroke at 75, while my father was serving in the US army in Europe. But I look forward to meeting Heikki for the first time in eternity.

These rock piles were actually much bigger. Much has been hauled off as crushed rock for road construction. In a few more decades perhpas all the piles will be gone.

The old powder house still stands.

What impresses me about the stone mine buildings and structures that still stand is that they were built to last, and that the mining companies cared to make them beautiful.

I spent the longest day of summer exploring old ruins. The sun was warm, the birds were singing, and flowers were in bloom everywhere.

Many of the buildings were constructed of Jacobsville sandstone, quarried near Portage entry and shipped to a railhead in Houghton. This building was later used as a cheese factory. Today it is a favorite site for the local kids to conduct paintball wars.

The foundation of the boiler house near Shaft No. 2. The forest is reclaiming the mine.

Remains of the No. 2 Shafthouse.

A concrete cap covers the actual No. 2 shaft. It took me awhile to realize what I was seeing. These rails, which protrude out of the concrete less than a foot, extend 3000 feet down. The ore body here was steep, 70 degrees, which is why the rails are almost vertical. Because it was so steep, the miners had to cover the horizontal drifts with timbers and planks and pile "poor rock" on top of it continually for a floor to stand on as they mined up into the ore body. The ore was hand-sorted and the copper-bearing rock was dropped to the drift below through round chutes that stonemasons - many from Italy- built with the poor rock.

Concrete walls of what may have been a tunnel for steam pipes. This extends several hundred feet. A damp, shadowy place.

A mystery. There were two of these in line and I don't know what they are.
There is sadness in ruins. You find yourself imagining what the site looked like when it was being developed. Investors risked enormous capital sums to build great industrial works to mine the ore. Thousands of workmen built the buildings, the railroads, the shafthouses and rockhouses, and thousands more worked underground. You needed to believe in the future to do these things. In the ruins you also see that many who took pride in their workmanship, and you feel a sense of sadness that it all has passed away.
But amid ruins, flowers bloom. Here, as in a cemetary, flowers give me a sense of peace and hope. They speak of resurrection. Our works, despite our greatest efforts, will fall in disrepair and decay, but that will change after the resurrection. Death will be swallowed up in Life.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

When the Moon is Full...

You can watch it rise. You can only see this twelve, or if you're lucky, thirteen times in a year. Almost full moons don't count. But unless you live in a desert, clouds will cover some of the moonrises, so I try to take advantage and see the clear ones.

...sometimes the man in the moon comes out during the day.

...people get strange emptying a piggy bank that only has one slot.

...people each smelt...

...while dogs eat chicken. When the moon is full, all sorts of unusual things can happen.

A Heron Nest

Great Blue Herons typically nest in colonies, which is why I was surprised to find but a single nest in this beaver pond. Some years ago there were about a half dozen nests here, but the following year there were only two or three and after that, none for several years. Perhaps now that there are no logging operations in the area and the site has become quieter, more herons will return.

Herons, unlike sandhill cranes, do not build their nests on the ground, but up in tall trees, often above water, and typically in secluded places. A group of nests would be termed a rookery, but I don't imagine you could apply that term to a lone nest.

The heron lands...

...and walks down the branch to the nest and after moving the eggs with its feet, settles down to brood. I of course, could not see the eggs, but I surmised that they had not hatched yet by the way the bird shuffled its feet. Eggs need to be turned regularly to ensure that the embryos are evenly heated and do not adhere to the egg shells.
Unlike cranes, herons hold their necks in an S- shaped curve much of the time, and always when flying. The curve also serves the same purpose as a rattlesnake's; herons can snap out their heads at blinding speed to spear frogs and fish. You wouldn't want to tangle with the business end of this bird.

A blackberry bower near the beaver pond. It looks to be a good year for blackberries.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Burning Stump

When we burned this old pine stump I was amazed at the slow rolling flames it produced. The stump was evidently full of pitch, because once it started burning it burned for over a day until there was nothing left but ashes.