Iron Ore 




Come gather ’round friends
And I’ll tell you a tale
Of when the red iron pits ran plenty
But the cardboard filled windows
And old men on the benches
Tell you now that the whole town is empty

In the north end of town
My own children are grown
But I was raised on the other
In the wee hours of youth
My mother took sick
And I was brought up by my brother

The iron ore poured
As the years passed the door
The drag lines an’ the shovels they was a-humming
’Til one day my brother
Failed to come home
The same as my father before him

Well a long winter’s wait
From the window I watched
My friends they couldn’t have been kinder
And my schooling was cut
As I quit in the spring
To marry John Thomas, a miner

Oh the years passed again
And the givin’ was good

With the lunch bucket filled every season
What with three babies born
The work was cut down
To a half a day’s shift with no reason

Then the shaft was soon shut
And more work was cut
And the fire in the air, it felt frozen
’Til a man come to speak
And he said in one week
That number eleven was closin’

They complained in the East
They are paying too high
They say that your ore ain’t worth digging
That it’s much cheaper down
In the South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothing

So the mining gates locked
And the red iron rotted
And the room smelled heavy from drinking
Where the sad, silent song
Made the hour twice as long
As I waited for the sun to go sinking

I lived by the window
As he talked to himself
This silence of tongues it was building
Then one morning’s wake
The bed it was bare
And I’s left alone with three children

The summer is gone
The ground’s turning cold
The stores one by one they’re a-foldin’
My children will go
As soon as they grow
Well, there ain’t nothing here now to hold them

Organized Labor and the Iron Ore Miners







Buffalo Mine 

Hibbing Minnesota 


The Hull Rust Mahoning Mine

The Hull Rust Mahoning Mine in Hibbing (1953) over a century after iron ore was first discovered there. An impressive geological formation. During Bob Zimmerman’s childhood the mines in Hibbing produced 25% of the United States' iron ore. Within the history of late 19th-early 20th century European emigration was driven by the voracity of the mines’ need for labour. People poured in from Finland, Ukraine, Italy, their different skills put to work in the mines themselves and in the town. Assimilation was fairly rapid, rough, and compulsory. Difference was accommodated, tolerance was a necessity, yet the flexibility of the diverse community was also bounded and isolated, rather than continually challenged and renewed.

My mother's from the Iron Range Country up north
The Iron Range is a long line a mining towns 
that begin at Grand Rapids and end at Eveleth
We moved up there to live with my mother's folks 
in Hibbing when I was young -
Hibbing's got the biggest open pit ore mine in the world
Hibbing's got schools, churches, grocery stores an' a jail
It's got high school football games an' a movie house
Hibbing's got souped-up cars runnin' full blast
on a Friday night
Hibbing's got corner bars with polka bands
You can stand at one end of Hibbing's main drag 
an' see clear past the city limits on the other end
Hibbing's a good ol' town
I ran away from it when I was 10, 12, 13, 15, 151/2, 17 an' 18
I been caught an' brought back all but once
I wrote my first song to my mother an' titled it "To Mother"
I wrote that in 5th grade an' the teacher gave me a B+
I started smoking at 11 years old an' only stopped once 
to catch my breath
I don't remember my parents singing too much
At least I don't remember swapping any songs with them


The Hull Rust Mahoning Mine

First ore shipments from the big pit were made in 1895. It became a spectacular man-made Grand Canyon of nearly 1,600 acres. At its maximum, the area covered is over three miles long, a mile wide and 535 feet deep.

The pit is located where the original town of Hibbing once stood. Frank Hibbing obtained the first lease to mine ore in the area in December 1891. Beginning as an underground mine of small proportions, the land eventually became one vast open pit as other mines began to develop and emerge.

Since ore shipments began from the Hull Rust in 1895, over 519 million tons of waste material and nearly 690 million tons of iron ore have been removed from the pit. Someone has figured that all the material removed - approximately 1.2 billion gross tons - is equivalent to digging a small tunnel from Minnesota through the core of the earth and out the other side.


Hull Rust Mahoning Mine looking to the northwest from the east end of the mine.


Hibbing map of the original town

Now a very large hole in the ground. 



 North Hibbing 

Before the whole town was moved south to allow open pit mining under the old town. 




 Negotiations between the Oliver Mining Company and the town finally brought about a plan whereby the entire place would relocate to a site two miles south near Alice. The company, for its part, agreed to develop the downtown buildings with low interest loans that could be paid off over the years by the retailers. New civic structures such as Hibbing High School, the Androy Hotel, the Village Hall and the Rood Hospital were also constructed with mining company money. In all, about 200 structures were moved down the First Avenue Highway, as it was called, to the new city. These included a store and even a couple of large hotels. Only one structure didn't make it. The Sellers Hotel tumbled off the rollers and crashed to the ground leaving, as one witness said, "an enormous pile of kindling". The move started in 1919, and the first phase was completed in 1921. Known today as "North Hibbing", this area remained as a business and residential center through the 1940s when the mining companies bought the remaining structures. The last house was moved in 1968. 


Ore train heading east through Hibbing.

"... till I heard the sound
A the iron ore cars rollin' down ...
I'd shyly wave t' the throttle man
An' count the cars as they rolled past"

-- Bob Dylan, 1963




Hull Rust Mahoning open pit iron mine, Hibbing 

John Palumbo at the Hull Rust Mahoning open pit iron mine, Hibbing 

"where i live now, the only thing that keeps the area going is tradition – it doesnt count for very much – everything around me rots… if it keeps up, soon i will be an old man – & i am only 15 – the only job around here is mining – but jesus, who wants to be a miner … i refuse to be part of such a shallow death…" -- Tarantula, 1966

Men were paid at the end of the month, with $7 deducted for explosives, $1 for fuses, $1 the box for caps. In coal mines elsewhere, miners used to get an itemized list of these deductions, but at the iron mines this was not the case, and as a result, men would frequently complain that their pay was less than they had expected, for what they had estimated as a net of some $4 per day could have shrunk to $3 or even much less, and with the company giving out no explanations there was cause for bitterness. 

The miner in the photograph is John Palumbo, Jr. (1921-2008). Source: Palumbo's family, 2009. The name on the Star lunch box looks like "S. Dolz", but if that is a name the lunch box may be borrowed. Medium format safety negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. John Vachon was based in Washington D.C. but he was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota.



Iron ore is rock from which metallic iron can be economically extracted. The ores are usually rich in iron oxides. The iron itself is usually found in the form of magnetite (Fe3O4), hematite (Fe2O3), goethite (FeO(OH)), limonite (FeO(OH).n(H2O)) or siderite (FeCO3). Ores carrying very high quantities of hematite or magnetite (greater than ~60% iron) are known as "natural ore" or "direct shipping ore", meaning they can be fed directly into iron-making blast furnaces. Iron ore is the raw material used to make pig iron, which is one of the main raw materials to make steel. 98% of the mined iron ore is used to make steel. It has been argued that iron ore is "more integral to the global economy than any other commodity, except perhaps oil".


Oliver Mining Company Hull Rust & Sellers Mines Viewing Platform 

Hull-Rust-Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine.

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