The Soudan Mine

Photo-heavy post! Be warned!

Yesterday my family and I drove up to Virginia, MN. J’s maternal family is from there, and we wanted to take a look at some of the places she remembers from her childhood. We also drove the half-mile north of Virginia to Soudan, to see the Soudan Mine.

The Soudan Underground Mine State Park is located in Minnesota’s oldest underground mine. We learned a vast amount about the history of mining and mining technology in Minnesota, much of which I will impart to you, here.

We stopped on the way into Virginia at the Mineview Overlook, also called Top of the Rock. The overlook was constructed from mine tailings. It’s an artificial hill about … 150 feet or 50 meters high, on the south edge of Virginia.

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That’s the view north from the overlook. The lake is, of course, a flooded pit mine.

You see, after Linz-Donawitz basic oxygen steelmaking was developed, the oxygen-rich ore from deep in the Soudan Mine was no longer required for bessemer conversion. The oxygen-poor iron littered all over the surface of the Minnesota Arrowhead was easier and cheaper to get. The Soudan Mine was closed, in 1962, and the entire region converted to open-pit taconite mining.

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In the distance, past the shrubbery, is one of the operating taconite mines west of Virginia.

Up at the top of the overlook are a couple of the taconite mining trucks.

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Also, the kids stood in a giant scoop.

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We got lunch at a cafe in Virginia, J spotted the insurance business started by her grandfather, we looked at the old downtown area a bit. Then we drove up to Soudan. I urge you to do a map search for Soudan, MN, to get a sense of how absolutely out in the middle of nowhere this place is.

The tour of the underground mine is 2340 feet below the surface, and 680-something feet below sea level. One gets to level 27 on the original lift used in 1962 for the miners. The lift moves at ten miles per hour, not only vertically but about 500 feet laterally, on a steep diagonal. It is small and loud and vibrates intensely. For those of us who like thrill rides, it was great. For those of us who were concerned about safety, it was worrisome. The ride lasts about three minutes.

I don’t have any pictures of the actual underground tour. For one thing, it was sort of dark. For another … I was entranced. I was listening to the guide, and looking around, and just marveling at it all. But I do have some pictures of the above-ground structures.

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A model of where the tour goes underground. The blue lit line is the path of the tour, the dark blobby structures are the open spaces in the mine.

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The winch that hauls the lift up and down. There are two cars, linked. One goes up and the other goes down.

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A copy of the Notice to Workers regarding explosives. Note the different languages. Our guide made sure to mention that teams underground were deliberately comprised of men who did not speak each others’ languages, prior to the 1930s — to prevent union talk.

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The Drill House, where the drill bits were maintained and sharpened and forged.

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There were signs for ALL the historical drills and drill bits, but only a couple of the photos came out.

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My kids are mighty blacksmiths!

The Drill House left ALL SORTS OF THINGS just, just OUT for you to TOUCH and LIFT. Big rusty metal bars twelve feet long. Working presses. Big metal door-things that go smoosh. And we got to play with them ALL.

We also climbed down the tailings hill to the disused rail line, where a rusting-out hopper car was parked. There were no signs saying don’t climb on it, so the four of us scaled the thing. It was AWESOME.

I highly, highly recommend the park and the tour. It’s lovely. It’s educational. It’s FUN.

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