Cheers to Craigville, where everybody knew your name

This photograph was taken by Russell Lee for the U.S. Farm Security Administration. If it looks familiar it’s because it’s the picture they show on the opening sequence of “Cheers” as John Ratzenberger’s name appears on the screen. Ratzenberger played the annoying but lovable mailman Cliff Clavin. But what I didn’t know is that Lee… Read More →

Road deconstruction season in northern Minnesota

People seem testy this summer. Is it the news? The local economy? Or is it because our drive to work has become infested with dump trucks and the oily smell of steaming asphalt. It’s road construction season. Nothing unusual there. In Northern Minnesota, summer stands as the only time for street, road and highway work…. Read More →

Things You Will See at Your First Iron Range 4th of July

Most every little hamlet in Minnesota claims some special Fourth of July tradition. After all, Minnesota was born in the patriotic fervor preceding the Civil War, swaddled in the stars and stripes and raised to feed, build and Bob Dylan-ize America. A territory founded on the cornerstone of community (and large, powerful railroads), the Fourth… Read More →

A dog’s love and loss, all in a lifetime

“It’s inevitable when you buy the pet. You’re supposed to know it in the pet store. You are purchasing a small tragedy.” ~George Carlin Every pet owner tells the story of picking out their dog. They go to the animal shelter. Walk the rows of kennels. Maybe stop at a house with puppies. “I want… Read More →

The good ship Taconite, flagship of empire built on Mesabi Range profits

For just shy of $1.3 million you could be the owner of yacht currently docked near Vancouver, British Colombia. Made of virgin teak, this century-old wooden pleasure ship has been on the market a couple years. Apparently, today’s oligarch-on-the-go simply doesn’t have the time to maintain such an antique. I can distinctly recall my father’s frustration trying to restore… Read More →

The Chinese engineer who mined an American life on Minnesota’s Iron Range

Wen Ping Pan was arguably the fastest man in China in 1912. Also among the nation’s best tennis players, he had his pick between competing in the Olympics against Jim Thorpe or playing in the esteemed Davis Cup tennis tournament. Ultimately, he did neither. Geopolitical change would radically alter this young man’s life, most of… Read More →

From horse and buggy to hybrids, the woman who lived history


My great-grandmother Ruby Peck died Feb. 26, 2017 at the age of 103. For most of my life she lived alone in a small house set amid the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania. My great-grandmother was a rock-ribbed Republican who voted that way because the GOP was the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S…. Read More →

The cold comfort of adulthood

Everything is easy until you open the door. That’s true of life, but especially winter in Northern Minnesota. After Christmas, winter becomes an extended stay in a Residence Inn. We already know what keeps in the hotel fridge, how long to microwave the popcorn, the cost of every item in the vending machine. Our only enemy… Read More →

Rawr: ‘Cougar’ catfight stirs controversy

Last week, a young hunter perched in his deer stand near Nashwauk got the story of a lifetime without even firing a shot. Here’s the description from an article by Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: I wasn’t there, but I know this: Jordan Bowen saw a big wildcat try to attack a deer. The… Read More →

Grandpa has something to tell Grandma

Gray skies hang low over the idled Keewatin Taconite plant. I meet my grandpa, Marv Johnson, at the very busy Sinclair gas station. We’re on a secret mission. “Too crowded,” he says. I peek around the corner at the gas station’s only table and chairs. Several townsfolk stare back like whitetail deer. Grandpa’s already back… Read More →