"IT'S DARK AS A DUNGEON WAY DOWN IN THE MINE"
LUMBERING was the industry that first
attracted laborers and settlers to the Keewatin area, but it was the
development of the mining industry
A chronology of Keewatin's earliest mines include the Forrest Pit which began shipping in 1904. The first year, 85,280 tons were shipped. The St. Paul mine was opened in 1905 and began shipping in 1906. The St. Paul began as an underground mine, and after one year converted to an open pit. Around the St. Paul Mine grew the great St. Paul location which at this time was larger, more active, and more important than the village itself. In 1955, Pacific Isle took over the St. Paul from the Republic Steel Company. The Bray Mine operated from 1909-1924 as an underground mine. The Mississippi was mined from 1910 to 1930, the Mace Mine from 1910-1921, and the Prindle from 192325. In 1924, the Prindle which was next to the St. Paul pit, was surpassed in total tonnage shipped only by the great Mahoning mine of Hibbing.
THE BENNETT MINE
The Bennett mine, presently operated by Pickands Mather & Co., has for many years played an important role in the development, growth, and prosperity of Keewatin. In its 44 years of existence, it has operated both underground and open pit methods.
In November of 1912, a crew of miners began sinking the first shaft. William Klockars, present Carpenter Foreman, was a member of that crew and helped put in the sets. The first underground ore was shipped in 1913 with Dick Hocking as superintendent and Oscar Skoglund as mine captain. Drilling in those early days was performed by hand augers and pop bars, and the mining was done by hand shoveling and tram cars.
The development of the Bennett mine as an open pit was commenced in 1913 with Butler Brothers and Company, early pioneers on the Mesabi range, engaged in stripping operations. The first pit foreman at the Bennett open pit was Jack Relihan who continued in that capacity until 1938. He was followed by Neil Shea, who was pit foreman until his death in 1940. Frank Dumbrosky assumed those duties until he retired in 1951. C. A. Johnson is the present pit foreman. Stripping operations were started at the South Russell pit the following year.
In 1922, the Bennett purchased their own mining equipment, and in 1924, the first electric shovel, a 350 ton model, was employed at the mine. This was the first introduction of electric power for ore removal, but it was not until 1942 that all loading equipment was powered by electricity.
In 1941, stripping operations were started at the South Russell pit, and the following year heavy duty haulage trucks were introduced to transport the ore. The last use of locomotives at the Bennett mine was in March 1952.
A washing plant was constructed in 1942. As time went on, new methods of treatment of low grade ores came into existence and a new modern beneficiating plant was constructed to utilize the ores that were once believed useless. The new plant which employs such processes as washing, cyclone and heavy media produced its first product in July 1955.
THE MESABI CHIEF
The Mesabi Chief operated by the M. A. Hanna began operations in 1928 with a 225-B electric shovel. Ed Verril was the first superintendent followed by S. A. Mahon. Bob Gross is the present superintendent.
The Mesabi Chief was the first all electric locomotive operated mine in this vicinity. The first engineers were Chas. Nordstrom, Sverre Omtvedt, and Ensin Mattson. The washing plant was built in the fall of 1928 with Al Turpinen as its first foreman. Some of the other key men connected with the beginning and growth of the Hanna operations include Jack Kleimola, Benny Denny, Fred Becker, Paul Trossel, Eino Kaminen, Bill Verity, and Larry Kleimola.
In 1930, the Hanna extended operations to the old Mississippi and in 1938, it took over the old Bray which was stripped into an open pit mine. In 1942, Hanna opened the Carlz mine near the site of Wellcome Lake, an old Keewatin landmark. John Bemis is the superintendent at the 50th year mark date. Other Hanna mines include the Argonne Mine, at the old O'Brien Brook area, operated from 1941 to 1954, and Section 18 operated from 1948 to 1954.
The prosperity of Keewatin is closely entwined with the Hanna mine operations.
THE SARGENT MINE
The Sargent Mine, after exploratory drilling and shaft sinking, was started in the summer of 1918 by the Wisconsin Steel Company, a division of the International Harvester Company.
Winston Dear Company of Hibbing stripped a small milling pit to the west of the shaft adjoining the Bray Mine.
First shipments were made in 1919 and to 1955-5,980,713 tons of ore have been shipped.
The mine was operated by International Harvester Company until March of 1947 when The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company took over the property.
A small washing plant was built in
1950 to concentrate the lower grade ores. The underground shaft was
abandoned in 1953 and a small open pit was developed to the north by
a truck operation where a small amount of ore has been mined. The
mine continues to operate from the milling pit on the leaner ores
and that ore left by the underground.
Many former and present residents of Keewatin have played a big part in the development and operation of the Sargent Mine since its opening in 1918. Paul Swanson is present Superintendent. George Quick, Mining Captain, later Superintendent of the Bruce Mine in Chisholm and Agnew.
Old timers tell of the labor shortages in those early mining days. Contact men would go to the cities and, come back with a railroad car full of immigrants to find jobs here. In 1915, 199 cars of immigrants were shipped into Minnesota.
Wages in the early days ranged from
$2 per day for miners to $1.75 for motorman working 10 hour shifts
in the underground. The three-ton cars were loaded by hand and
pulled by electricity although mules were first used to pull the
earliest underground mining cars. Often times men worked up to their
knees in water. The first wash basins were made of wood and
resembled a hog feeding trough. Today, the miner is taken care of in
a modern "Dry" with sanitary conveniences and showers, clothes
lockers and arrangements for eating. Safety is emphasized with a
premium placed on a good safety record. The underground mine has
gone out of existence and the open pit has under-one a
transformation of great significance. The locomotive and steam
shovel has been replaced by the diesel truck and the conveyer belt.
The occupational "Know-how" of the miner has advanced from the
lowest of unskilled labor to a highly specialized ability.
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