GUEST POST: Hard times, good times

Guest posts last week from Jeff Manual and Frank Haataja inspired Noah Hanson, another longtime member of this blog community, to opine about his time on the Iron Range. I’m enjoying these posts. It reminds those who live here that our homeland is not always as boring as we sometimes think, and that the things people notice aren’t always what you’d expect. With that, here is today’s guest post from Noah:

I think I will post a random Iron Range observation and then extrapolate upon it, with no concern for continuity, flow or order, as this in itself reminds me of my time on The Range.

Coffee, Rangers love their coffee. Coffee is drunk in the morning and then all throughout the day. If you are a customer at a local retail business it is totally normal to expect that you should be offered a free coffee, and if none is available it is then OK to be slightly aggravated with the business. Rangers are generally not coffee snobs though; most any brand is alright, although your score extra points for having Arco.

Bars, there are lots of them, in Hibbing all down First Avenue and Howard Street, Chisholm is also loaded with them, and Virginia is the king of all bar towns with so many I can’t even count with all my digits. One time myself and a couple of friends tried having one drink at each bar in Virginia. This didn’t go well as I remember waking up in a cab outside of Dr. Toivola’s house with the world spinning and one friend making slurred not so veiled threats at the cab driver. The variety of bars is staggering, quite literally. Each bar has its own unique clientele. In Hibbing you had, a predominately lesbian bar, a Republican bar (minority bar on the Range), an old timers’ bar, a bar for the younger crowd with bands (I miss the 412, skeezy or not…), and even a bar for the most hardcore alcoholics.

Fights, the Range loves its alcohol and I have never anywhere seen so many fights in bars or on the streets. Gambling on pool is also popular, and also a cause for many fights that used to end up in the alley behind the 412.

Toleration for drunkenness is also much higher than anywhere else I have ever seen. I have walked into one bar in Hibbing, at 10 p.m. on a Friday and seen no less than three men face down on the bar completely passed out. (Granted this was the bar where the most hardcore drinkers hung out.) It also seems that it is still possible to get served as long as you can somewhat slur the name of your drink while staggering up to the bar.

Smoking is very prevalent on the Range. Other regions have smokers, but not near the percentage the Range has. Being a smoker myself, I never had to worry if I needed to bum a smoke as nearly everyone had cigarettes.

Mullets are everywhere. Most Rangers do not have mullets, but there is definitely a much higher percentage of the male population than elsewhere still rocking the mullet. There is also a female equivalent which I do not know the name of, straight long hair on the sides and back with straight bangs down to the eyebrows on the front. I still notice this every time I go to Hibbing, especially in Walmart.

It’s damn cold in the wintertime. Living in central Minnesota it gets cold here too, but not with the severity. The first winter I spent in Hibbing I remember two weeks straight when it dropped down to at least -25F every night, with -39F being the coldest. To tell the truth though I don’t think it actually makes life that much worse, if it’s -10F in St. Cloud and -30F in Hibbing, either way it’s damned cold. The growing season is far shorter than down here in central Minnesota also, but Rangers still manage to pull some produce out of a garden.

The food on the Range is excellent. Pasties are ubiquitous at all grocery stores, with multiple brands abounding. You cannot easily find a pasty anywhere else I have ever been. Walnut Potica, Souvlaki, and many other ethnic foods exist, making for an excellent variety of taste.

Restaurants are remarkably good and diverse. Tuffy’s burgers were a mainstay of mine, as well as Rudy’s pizzas and Big Birds. Melissa Sundvall makes some of the best Italian cuisine anywhere at Amelia’s. The Bak Yen has some of the best homemade Vietnamese and Chinese food I have ever had anywhere. The Sportsmen has excellent burger and steak specials in the bar area. There are many more excellent restaurants I could name. I really miss how cheap it was to get quality food in Hibbing.

Poverty is very apparent. Many people were unemployed, underemployed, and most who were employed in blue collar jobs not in the mines were severely underpaid. I often wondered how most people survived on what little they made. I still cannot find a logical answer to that question. The lack of jobs is the one of the main reasons I left the Iron Range, it is very hard to make a living there.

Grand Rapids is definitely the milkman’s kid. It doesn’t fit the dynamic of all the other Range towns. It feels like somewhere else entirely. Its not full of bars, people aren’t able to pass toilet paper to each other between their bathroom windows, there are no active mines, property values are ridiculous etc. Do they even have a Bocce Court or Curling Rink? It’s hard for me to even think of it in the same genre.

Rangers are some tough people. They seem to live through the adversity they face. Everything they do is tough. Range women love to hunt and drive big pickups. Range men can drink Plinkovac’ until there likely is no tomorrow they will remember. Flannel is still very much worn proudly. Eunduro racing is popular. Cidiots are disdained by most. I could write a whole book defining what a Cidiot is, but that’s another story. Guns are everywhere, a strange dynamic in such a DFL stronghold.

I hope to someday return to the Range as both my parents still live there, and I do miss the woods and the culture. Living on the Range was definitely like experiencing a different culture, a small microcosm of the Rust Belt surrounded by the Great Northwoods. The Iron Range is definitely a great place to live, if you can find decent employment.

Noah Hanson is a native and current resident of Litchfield, Minnesota who lived in the Hibbing area from 2003–2006 with two of those years spent working at Range Home Center in downtown Hibbing, “which is now occupied by a quite good Chinese Buffet.” He spent one of those years living at his father’s home near Goodland.

I’m not planning to make MinnesotaBrown a group blog, but now that I’ve run three guest posts I’ll explain that my loose policy is to run occasional guest posts if they are interesting, enjoyable to read and especially if they accomplish something relevant to “modern life on the Iron Range” that I can’t do myself. Now that three gentlemen have had their say on Iron Range matters, I’d be curious if any female readers have an opinion — good or bad — about life north of Highway 2. Remember my policy: humor helps the truth go down smooth.


  1. Hibbing has a lesbian bar? Dang!

    Warning to Hibbing food lovers: rumor is that Tuffy’s will close down on October 15th, so get your greasy double-cheese burgers (with no beer, sorry) while you can.

  2. Nooooo! I haven’t had a Tuffy Burger in a few years, but they are a treat. We went there when my wife was very pregnant and ate at the bar. Picture a pregnant lady at the bar at Tuffy’s. Instant humor!

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