A Day at the Mine
By Ed Sandene
Day shift meant getting up at 5:30 and having that first cup of coffee. After waking up with the
caffeine, it was time for breakfast. Then, get dressed, and wait for my ride, or if it was my turn to
drive, I’d get started. There were three of us who shared the driving duties and we would pick up
each other. We also picked up a fellow miner at the intersection of the old road and the Golf
Course road and another at the top of the hill near Rigoni’s Inn. They would pay us a couple
dollars a week; remember this was in the late 1950’s into the early 1960’s.
We drove into the Penokee Mine property which is where the Globe Concrete operation is now.
This is where the East Norrie shaft was located. This was the main shaft for the Penokee Mine
and that is where we went underground. This is where the ore was hoisted to surface from the
We parked on the west side of the last building which was the dry. This is where we changed into
our mining clothes. A door on the southwest corner let us into the locker room where we
undressed. From there we went into the room where our mining clothes were hanging near the
ceiling where the heat was. This was so they would dry overnight and be ready for the next day.
We were all assigned a numbered spot which had a chain with 3 hooks. Our clothes hung on the
hooks and were pulled up near the ceiling as mentioned. Our boots and helmets went on a shelf
and no one dared to infringe on this space. I saw this happen once and the next morning those
boots were on the floor.
Once we dressed and looked like miners we picked up our lamps which were lined up on the
counter at the front of the dry. I picked up mine, which was number 56.
These had been charging since we came off shift the day before, so they were ready to go back
underground. Another item we all needed was something to keep our safety glasses clean. This
was provided for us in the form of rolls of toilet paper. We would roll up a supply and head for the
shaft if the weather was suitable.
Then up came the cage with the midnight shift. The top deck unloaded first, then the bottom deck.
The cage pictured is one with the 2 decks. Then we started our shift by getting on the cage, most
of us were creatures of habit. Some went on the bottom deck, others on the top deck. The
loading of the men into the cage didn’t take long as this had become a routine and we each knew
We were packed in tight, 25 men to each deck. The cages at Penokee were larger than the one
pictured above which allowed for that number of men to be loaded. Our lunch buckets went on
our shoulder so they wouldn’t get pressed against us and obviously we didn’t move much. There
was an opening above the door about 30” or so where we could see the shaft as we went down.
It took about 2 ½ minutes to get down to the 29th level which is about 2900 feet down. The time
varied somewhat depending on which hoisting engineer was on duty.
When we had descended the 2900 feet to the 29th level we got off the cage and boarded the man
cars. Then we headed East to the Pabst H shaft which was near Jesseville. When we got to
number 4 crosscut which went to the H shaft we got off the man cars. Some of the miners walked
east and climbed down ladder raises to their work area. Others walked into 4 crosscut to the
shaft and took the cage to the 31st level. There they went to their various work sites, most of
which were above the 31st level. The skip tender stayed on the 29th level and he and I would
grease the wheel bearings on the skips. One skip was used to hoist the ore to the 29th level and
the other one was used as a counterbalance and was reached by taking the cage to the 13th
level. After this job was done we went back down, me to the 29th level station and the skip tender
to the 31st level. He then climbed down to his work area which was just below the main level.
There he greased the tugger bearings and the sheave bearings. The sheaves are the pulley like
wheels on which the tugger cables ran.
Meanwhile I walked from the shaft to 4 crosscut, about 25 feet and then to my loading sub which
was another 50 feet or so. I climbed up the 8 feet or so and did the same thing the skip tender
If there was “dirt”, which is what we called the iron ore, I soon heard the skip coming up. I should
mention that the skip tender was “Minnie”, so called because he had spent time in Minneapolis
before coming back to work in the mines. We worked together for the 6 ½ years that I
worked at Penokee, and I have fond memories of that working relationship. He’s the one that told
me on that first day on this job, “Ed, don’t ever come back with a half scraper full, make sure it’s
full”. That advice proved worthwhile as we surpassed previous daily records many times.
Meanwhile the miners were at their work sites, 2 in each drift. They would continue what their
“opposite partners” had been working on. Obviously opposite partners are the 2 men who had
just left after finishing their shift. They might have to continue drilling, or charging, or pulling dirt. All
of these operations were different depending on whether they were drifting or caving.
Miners charging the holes they drilled
The picture shows the miners putting the explosives in the holes drilled at the end of the drift.
What they are doing is making a tunnel or “drift” into an ore body. When the ore samples show
the ore content is getting too low they will stop as they will be reaching the foot wall or headwall
which is the rock in which the ore body is lying between. Another material which showed up from
time to time was called “dike”. It is a volcanic material which was sticky and difficult to scrape.
The scraper just wanted to ride over it so it took some effort to gather a full load.
When the drift reached the end of the ore body, the miners started the “caving” of the ore body
by drilling up above the timber in the drift. As I recall there was some “long hole” drilling at the
Penokee Mine. The holes were 100 feet long and these would be loaded up with the blasting
powder and then set off at the end of the shift. I could hear the holes going off even though they
were quite a distance away from the shaft. By the time the next shift arrived the smoke had
cleared and they could begin scraping the ore. The ore would be scraped into a raise and would
fall down into the loading chute. The scraper would ride over two pieces of rail which were on top
of the raise. They were there to allow the scraper to go over the hole and also to prevent large
chunks from being sent to surface. These had to be broken into small enough pieces so they
would fall through. Once the caving started they could keep pulling ore for a couple of days with
the long hole operation. These were the shifts that kept the trammers busy loading cars and
bringing them to the Norrie shaft.
In order to keep the ore at the 55% iron content level samples were taken at various times during
the mining process. Ore samples were taken at the areas where the mining was done and also
from the cars as they were loaded in these areas. The samples were put in small bags which
were marked so a good sample picture would result.
Then samples were taken again on the 29th level before they went to the main shaft. By this time
the ore had been mixed somewhat so the result would be different. The motorman had a piece of
board with a handle which he placed in the middle of the car. It was about 3 feet long and a
sample was taken at each end. The ore was put into a bag and then sent to surface on the cage.
All of the samples would be analyzed in the lab and adjustments were made if needed in the
It is obvious that there was a rather precise and deliberate method used to sample the iron
content. The production of ore had to be maintained at the contractually agreed upon iron content
as mentioned above. It was not just a hit or miss type of operation, but in fact was a well
controlled operation. It seems likely that penalties would result if the ore content dropped below
the contractual limit. Ore content of a lesser percentage would have resulted in a higher cost for a
couple of reasons. The shipping cost would include the cost of shipping material that was not iron
ore, and the steel mills would have less iron and more waste per ton.
At about 2:35 the miners came up from the 31st level and we walked out to the man cars which
were parked on the main line. We arrived at the Norrie shaft in time to board the cage and go to
surface. The timing was so we would get off the cage at 3:00 PM. The work day was from 7:00
AM to 3:00Pm, collar to collar, in other words, from the time we start loading the cage, to the
time we got off.
Then there was the long walk to the dry. It seemed especially long on those cold winter nights
after the afternoon shift or in the morning after midnight shift. By the time we got to the dry, our
lamp was unhooked and in our hand. Then it was placed in a sort of trough on the counter which
was right near the door. The dry man then put the lamps on the charger so they would be ready
for the next day’s shift.
Then we undressed, put our mining clothes on the hooks which were on a chain. They were pulled
up near the ceiling where it was warm so they would dry. Then into the shower, from there to our
lockers where the street clothes were, and we had another shift in.