Who’s a Ranger?

E. Dewey Albinson: Northern Minnesota Mine, 1934 (IMAGE: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Flickr CC)
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Hi, my name is Aaron. I’m an Iron Ranger. I say that with some confidence. I was born here in Hibbing, the largest city on the Mesabi Iron Range. My parents took me home from the hospital to Keewatin. That’s on the Iron Range. We moved to Nashwauk, same deal. Then we moved to a trailer house on a junkyard out in Zim. That’s a little iffy but we could see the Eveleth Taconite steam cloud from our house so it still counts as the Iron Range.

The Iron Range is a unique place with a unique culture that takes itself very seriously. We’ve got our own dialect. Hard to learn if you’re not from here.

Years later I’d go to journalism school. Journalists take a lot of grief these days but I was taught journalists explained things so people would understand them.

But there’s something else you learn in journalism. You learn the language of hooey. I say hooey because you are reading this in what is often called “a family newspaper.” There is a better word, a more explanatory word, that I shall refrain from using.

You had to speak hooey if you wanted to understand a city council or a planning commission or a slick-talking fella representing a new tire burning plant calling itself Ecotastic. If you wanted to know the difference between two candidates running for office you had to bore deep down beneath their protective layers of red and blue hooey. Only then would you capture the moment when their dead shark-like eyes blinked the truth.

Anyway, I speak Ranger and I speak hooey. There’s not too many of us out there.

That means I can turn the phrase, “Compliance with state laws preventing the transfer of invasive species falls short of state benchmarks,” into “Sposda drain your live well at the landing but aaaaadunnnooo.”

“Oh, I guess that’s how they do it down in the 612” becomes “New residents on the Iron Range struggle to find acceptance in local communities.”

“Chisholm man rescued from Longyear lake after snowmobile falls through thin ice,” translates back to “Hey you hear about Rocko’s new Polaris four-stroke. Ya, you can’t outrun stupid.”

Speaking these two languages means I get called a lot to explain the Iron Range to people who are not Iron Rangers. One of the most common questions is whether or not some town is officially part of the Iron Range.

Well, I say. It’s a lot like trying to pick out the good apples at the store. If you have to ask, probably not. But there are many ways to break this down further.

There is of course the legal definition of the Iron Range, the Taconite Tax Relief Area or TTRA that you find in state statute. This includes an overlay of cities and school districts on the Mesabi, Vermilion and Cuyuna iron ranges historically affected by the iron mining industry. It’s a rather broad definition and includes some sketchy places like Cook and Grand Marais. 

Then there’s the geological definition. Look at the iron deposits on a map. If there’s a town touching the iron formation chances are it’s on the Iron Range. The only problem is doing it this way includes Grand Rapids. And we can’t do that. So we have to go to the tried and true metric — the cultural Iron Range.

The easiest way to figure that is to just ask someone who lives in a town if they are an Iron Ranger. If they hem and haw they’re a stranger. If they say “oh ya” they’re a Ranger.

That’s how I translate Iron Ranger into hooey and back. It’s a booming trade, one that literally feeds my family.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Jan Merritt says

    ‘Enjoy your blogposts. Thank you for doing them!

  2. Love reading your articles. Being from Keewatin, I can usually relate to everything you write.
    Keep up the great work!

  3. michael jacobson says

    This was good….you make boring interesting

  4. Ericka Iverson says

    fabulous stuff 😛 😛
    i hate it when they do a news story from up here, and even farther north, and they call it the iron range. like, honey we left the iron range about 2 hours south of there (last time i heard it was to reference kabetogema, which is SO FAR from the range. 😛 )

  5. Hilarious

  6. David Kannas says

    I’ve been out of the Range since I turned 19, but I can still do a pretty good Ranger speak in my unguarded moments. But here in Seattle, it’s misidentified as Canadian speak. Sad. This was among your best yet.

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