Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2011 Fall Trip - LS&I and the Empire Mine

Diesel-Electric Locomotive.
In the fall of 2011, a small group of REAC members made their way to the Lake Superior and Ishpeming (LS&I) Rail Yard near Ishpeming, Michigan as well as the Empire Mine located nearby.

The beginning of the trip began with a tour of the main facility at the LS&I rail yard. Darryl Babbitt, the Track, Signal and Structures Supervisor, gave us a tour of the facility explaining the various machines and components that go into maintaining a locomotive. Everything has to be up-to-date. The wheels, electronics, and diesel engines all require constant attention in order to keep these metal giants on the rails moving the ore to Lake Superior coast. 

LS&I Ore Cars.
The facility was broken into two main sections. One for the locomotives and another for the ore cars, the most valuable asset in transporting the iron ore from the mine to the dock in Marquette. Many of these ore cars date back to the 1930s, but their job still remains just as important as it did 80 years ago.

Leaving the rail yard, we finally come up to the Empire Mine. It's a sprawling complex that you never would have guessed existed unless you knew what you were looking for. The road between the rail yard and the mine curves up and around through some hills until one finally comes to a long straight away in the shadow of a massive pile of displaced dirt and rock.

The Empire Mine. Note the massive piles of rock in middle, Empire Mine, MI.

The long line of ore cars, looking south, Empire Mine, MI.
The road runs along the base of the processing plant exposing it's shear size. It's enormous. Building after building stacked on each other with small conveyor-chutes running between each part of the facility. Although we were not given a detailed tour of the facility, a quick drive around the plant made it easy to see that this was a major operation. For example, in the back corner of the plant, a new building was being erected to house the bigger and better ore hauling trucks (like these) because the previous garage for them was getting too small. So it is easy to see that the railroads play a huge role in the expansion and growth of industry. Without a rail line, Empire Mine would never get the ore to the docks in Marquette efficiently or economically.

Ore carts loading ore onto a freighter, Marquette, MI.
To finish off the tour we headed over to Marquette where we were able to catch a freighter alongside the dock loading up on iron ore, bound for the big cities to the south.