Sunday, November 29, 2015

31 July 2015 Half-Mile Down

Besides visiting as many Minnesota State Parks as possible on our journey, we had plans to take the Soudan Mine Tour. The iron ore mine was open from 1882 through 1962. For over 50 years, it has been operated by the state as a park offering daily tours of the mine. The video below shows the ride to the 27th level of the mine with a dozen people packed in a mine car. I think the operating mine carried eighteen minors at a time. It's not for those with claustrophobia.

Once you reach the 27th level, it's time for a ride 3/4 mile into the level to the last operating area of the mine.

I've worn a hard hat or two in my day.

The lighting is strong when you enter the tram cars.

The bright lights of the loading area quickly fade.

As you travel 3/4 mile into Level 27 where the last mining was done.

The tour before us heads back into darkness.

Our tour guide had been doing this for years. He was the right mix of entertaining knowledge. He clearly loved being in the mine.

Before the mine was electrified, a typical crew working in an area shared three candles for light.

It's impossible to imagine working in a world a half-mile below the surface, a few candles or generator power away from total darkness, and floor holes to fall in.

Like the sub-surface, the surface operations are in a 50-year time warp. The old mine-related support equipment still functions and serves to take visitors on mine tours and take scientists to a sub-surface lab. The equipment needs to function perfectly to keep the mine safe. The remaining extraction equipment remains as it was for an amazing historical look at past technology. The engineering geek and safety professional side of me was just as entertained by the look to the past at the surface level.

One of the many shaft towers supporting elevator traffic in the mine.

Drill bits dulled very quickly when making blasting holes in the bedrock. This ancient machine shop was the key to keeping the mine functioning.

The control room managing the shafts and elevators is the same as it was in 1962. Keeping this system functioning as components become obsolete must take an engineering feat. The fact it is still functioning today is a tribute to the team that designed the equipment over 50 years ago.

This is a simple way to tell the floor levels of the elevator cars for the east and west shafts.

We took a walk of the mine grounds to see some of the outside mine remnants while finding a couple geocaches. ;)

Track remnants from a narrow gage rail line that was used to carry ore.

The earliest mining at the site was open faced. The ore vein moved subsurface and descended at an angle. The lower levels developed once the surface ore was extracted.

1920's gravity-fed, glass-bowl gas pump

Tower supporting the second mine shaft operation

There's some great examples of the banded iron visible at surface level. The second image below shows core samples taken at some point in the past.

This was our second mine tour. I can't name a favorite between Soudan and Queen Mine in Bisbee. Soudan was interesting for a trip a half mile below the earth's surface, but the Bisbee mine tour was unique because it was led by a former miner who could speak first-hand to the mining conditions. The youngest a miner could be from the Soudan Mine would be 71. Since the mine had been losing employment to automation for years, it's likely there are few of the old miners still living.

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