Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fathers Day at the Ore Dock

It was a pretty good Fathers Day weekend in the Northland.  Friday nights Trampled By Turtles show at the Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield was excellent, and Saturday brought the Rookie memorial tree planting in the morning, and then supper with Pod and the GurneyGranny on Saturday.  A growler of South Shore ESB helped Pod and I hatch a plan to paddle around the ore dock in Ashland and check out the progress of the demolition.  I had never seen it from the 'ore freighter' view and figured that time was wasting since the cranes and backhoes are sitting on top of the structure as I write this post.

Sunday was sunny with a 15 knot WNW wind which caused us to launch a couple miles east of the dock.  Slog out, cruise back is always a good paddle plan.  The Ashland shore is still remarkably wild, even in spots downtown.  The one exception is the giant car dealer that recently built right on the shore.  If I was a city planner with an eye toward Ashland waterfront development, a Toyota dealership would not be my first choice, but I'm sure the tax levy is significant for the property. Bay City creek flows into the bay just east of the ore dock with a number of secluded little beaches.  For those looking for a nice paddle when the wind and waves prevent more ambitious Apostles trips, this is not a bad fall back spot. It both reeks of history as well as harboring some interesting wildlife. One of the old ore docks we paddled past, east of the CN dock that's being demolished, has a nesting area for the relatively rare common tern on top of it. The tern colony took off, gave us a good look, but we were not close enough to the nesting area for a true Hitchcock-like dive bombing.  We were close enough to the end of the dock for a couple nice surf rides on the way back however.  Pod, a lifelong Ashland guy, filled me in on the Peregrine Falcons that live on the ore dock, a bird which coincidentally is considered to be a 'significant predator' of the common tern.  It strikes me as kind of ironic that we are concerned both with maintaining the threatened tern population as well as suffering more than a little angst about where the falcons, which love nothing more than a tasty tern chick or two, will go once the ore dock disappears.  Human environmental management at it's finest I guess.
 We arrived at the base of the ore dock and stayed on the lee side for some photo ops. Each one of the 300 chutes in the ore dock weigh 5 tons, some serious scrap potential for the demolition company.  Railroad cars would come up the trestle on to the dock and dump their ore into the chutes or pockets.  The chute would then be lowered over the ships hold and the ore would slide into the ship.  This vintage video shows the process, which is still used.  The two guys on the top are ore punchers who get the rock moving down the chute.  There is also an ore trimmer that makes sure the ship is loaded with the weight distributed for safe and efficient sailing to the mills in Cleveland and the eastern lakes.  You can sample or even purchase a great tune sung by my unindicted co-conspirator, RawhidePhil, called Ore Dock Pockets.  Its a really good historical story that captures the late 19th century mining industry in the area.  In a recent article in the Daily Press the foreman of the demolition crew, contrary to statements that the dock was rickety, falling down, and absolutely had to be removed as a safety hazard, stated that the other than some concrete crumbling around the edges it "Otherwise is a pretty solid structure.  It could stand there another 100 years".  Yet another interesting example of the politics of misinformation, a situation where you can have an opinion and make up your own 'facts' to support it.  Paddling around the base and among the pilings from the dock next to it, apparently removed in the early '60's, we got the impression that this structure with its concrete base and beams was as solid as a rock.

Most people, me included, like to view nature and its relatively unspoiled landscapes and vistas when we paddle.  That type of experience is certainly not in short supply in the Apostles and surrounding area.  But we homo sapiens can make some pretty impressive structures as well and Sundays history tour of the old Ashland waterfront, with its rows of pilings, old coal docks, and the majestic 1916 ore dock, still standing for at least a couple more years, almost transports a person back to the bustle of the early 20th century. The great white pinery was being logged to make the homes and buildings of Chicago, Minneapolis, and St Louis, brownstone was being quarried for many public buildings all over the midwest, Dupont was kicking out dynamite in its Barksdale plant, and the ore was coming off the Gogebic range to Ashland where it was shipped to the blast furnaces of Ohio and Pennsylvania to build the country.  Immigrants from every country in Europe had come to the area and I would have to imagine the energy and a sense of the promise of the future that hung over that waterfront area.  Its a paddle that should definitely be made before the ore dock becomes just another piece of lost history.

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