Monday, October 31, 2016

The Story of Rocky

I've managed to collect about a dozen goofy things that have ended up on the side of the road this year.  I'm saving those for a Road-side Oddity post in December.  Here's one that bears special recognition as it is interwoven with my family history. 

This goofy little guy is made up of two round spheres and wears a hard hat.  It is a miner made in the likeness of two spheres of taconite.  Taconite gets this shape as a result of the rolling mill processing.  A virtual home run in that it is easy to load into rail cars, ships and steel mills... 
This little statue is the symbol of taconite.  What's that you may ask... Well before taconite came to be the world's source of the raw material for steel came from very rich deposits of Fe (iron ore) that almost always existed in deep shaft mining.  Rarely were "open  pit," mines viable with low grade ore. 

So faced with the dilemma of escalating mining costs as shafts got deeper and the realization that abundant sources of low grade (12 - 15% iron) reserves were plentiful materials scientists and geologists were in a race to avert the end of iron mining in the US by applying a solution to this seemingly intractable problem.  Imagine how differently our economy would have been if some very bright people from around the world hadn't put their minds to this challenge.  

This little miner 'Rocky' sits proudly alongside the Silver Bay welcome sign in Minnesota.   There is a down side to the magic of taconite though.  Liberated minerals found with the Fe can also travel through the processing and cause health problems and environmental concerns once placed back into the environment. 

Rocky Taconite...

The mining industry has provided a decent living for thousands over the past 120 years or so in this area.  I worked summers in these mines and learned how hard, dirty and demanding this work was.  After operating a jack-hammer for a summer putting up barrier fence and swatting biting insects around old mine shaft cave-ins in the remotest places, it was for me, a darned good motivator to go to college! 

The legacy of this success was unforeseen by anybody in the 1950's.  This is an example of a roaring success in mineral processing with no idea of what this would look like when it was over.  There are ideas on reclamation and land use that may bring positive end states to these extractive industries. I think it's really up to all of us to bring that about.  So let that be an interesting data point.  The next big thing carried off successfully could have serious unintended consequences for any of us or all of us. 


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