Inside the mines and megamachines of the Iron Range – by Eric Roper (Star Tribune – May 12, 2023)

A family’s question about large machines resulted in a Curious Minnesota field trip to the mighty Mesabi, a place that has fueled America’s success story.

KEEWATIN — The deep pits of the Iron Range feel quite otherworldly in a state known for its flat topography. Here, trucks the size of houses traverse vast canyons that have been carved away over decades by explosives and excavators. It is a constantly evolving landscape.

The Munson family of St. Louis Park asked Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s reader-fueled reporting project, to find the state’s largest machine — inspired by 9-year-old Julien’s new Transformers toy. Our hunt for answers in January revealed many candidates in the iron mines of northern Minnesota.

Little did we know that we would soon be seeing those mammoth machines up close at the invitation of Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel, which organized a tour of their Keetac mine. Our tour was an epic field trip for adults and children alike (and will soon be an episode of the Curious Minnesota podcast).

I was eager to wake up at the crack of dawn and make the long drive north because I’ve realized that the Iron Range is a bigger deal than I once thought. The rocks buried beneath northern Minnesota essentially fueled America’s success story as the country’s largest source of iron ore.

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