Humans vs. ore: a modern retelling

It’s been interesting to watch the patterns of mining and economics on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range lately. In addition to bullish numbers from the big taconite producers, small scram operations like Magnetation are expanding wildly. This most recent story from WDIO shows how a joint venture between two companies, Magnetation and Steel Dynamics, parent company of Mesabi Nugget, seeks to extract concentrate from several big tailings basins near Chisholm.

Officials describe using warmer than average weather to chase the available ore, feeding hungry mills and contracts. Something about the temporary, hunter-like attitudes of these smaller operations reminds me of the descriptions of the old red ore mining days at the dawn of the Mesabi Range. Lots of small mines, younger adults working out on location. They don’t need to live in little location villages anymore. Most of them have F-150s or at least a beat-up Dodge.

Range mining of the late 20th century was a story of big producers hiring lots of people. These new operations now seem more like a contest of humankind against the ore itself, never mind the parent companies, to be concluded when the ore is gone. After that, Range miners will again hope to be employed by the big taconite plants.

There’s no way this can last forever, but the economy on the Range has to be a lot better than it is elsewhere.

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