Views of the Thunderbird Mine
Throughout time artists have revisited a subject or theme in large part to explore problems of picture making among them composition, color and light. Time due to its historic as well as transient nature is a picture making problem especially well suited to photography.
The Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai began his series, Thirty Six Views (of Mt. Fuji) in 1830 at the age of 70. Beginning in March of 2014 I have photographed the Thunderbird Mine from varying locations and in all seasons.
This series of photographs of the Thunderbird Mine is my Mt. Fuji.
The Thunderbird Mine so named when it was owned by Ford Motor Company is 50 years old. It is in the heart of Eveleth, Minnesota. In tandem with the Fairlane taconite plant ten miles away in Forbes, Minnesota, it produces taconite pellets for the steel industry. The operation then known as Eveleth Taconite or EVTAC filed for bankruptcy in 2003. It was purchased by Laiwu Steel of China which was subsequently purchased by Cliffs Natural Resources with Laiwu Steel as a primary customer. The mining operations are a major economic force in the community estimated at 273 million dollars annually.
In recent years the physical presence of the Thunderbird Mine in Eveleth has significantly changed. The mounds of overburden are much higher and visible from most locations in the town. The presence of the mine is also more visible in portions of the adjacent towns of Virginia and Mountain Iron. Just as the Hull-Rust Mine in Hibbing, Minnesota, is described as a man made Grand Canyon, the Thunderbird Mine can be viewed as a man made mountain.
A portion of Minnesota Highway 53 crosses mine property. The mining operation owns the mineral rights to that property. A 1960 agreement allowed the mine ownership to terminate easement rights for the highway after a three year notification period. Subsequently that period was extended to seven years. The state of Minnesota was notified in 2010.
In the fall of 2014 the Minnesota Department of Transportation after reviewing a number of alternatives and soliciting responses from the communities selected a new route for highway 53 that swings east and north of the mine and reconnects with the existing highway in Virginia. This route will include construction of a suspension bridge over the old Rocheleau pit.