Hard times on the Iron Range bring memories of Staples

I look at what is going on up on the Iron Range, with unemployment and it breaks my heart. 

It’s always been the American dream to settle down someplace, have a family and not only make a mark for yourself but also to have the satisfaction that through your own hard efforts, you succeeded. All you needed was for someone to give you a chance. Just someone, to give you a job. 

Everyone needs a purpose in life and a job, besides giving you an income, gives you that purpose.

Growing up in Staples, a small town, I remember coming home from school one day as a ten or twelve year old, to find my father, who was always working, sitting at the kitchen table in the early afternoon, talking with mom. 

He looked especially worried and concerned and that was just not dad, so I asked,” What’s wrong?” he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’ve been laid off from the railroad.” Then he added, seeing my concern, “But it’s going to be alright.” 

I look at what is going on, on the Iron Range and my heart goes out to those people. Thousands of them with no jobs. Thousands of them who want nothing more than to provide for their families and have that purpose in life. Getting up each morning and not knowing if you should be angry or sad, but feeling so helpless. 

Some say, “Move away from there and go where there are jobs.” Let me set the stage. 

You’re forty-one years old and have lived on the Range all of your life. Your dad was a miner and so was grandpa, your wife’s dad and three of your uncles. You have worked your way up the ladder at the plant to a supervisor and you’re proud of the place and all the people you work with. It’s been rewarding, a steady income. 

You have a modest home and three kids in school. That same school both of you graduated from. It’s a small town where everybody knows your name. 

So move away and do what? Start over in the middle of your life? You have a house you couldn’t sell if you wanted to. You’re a miner - you have no other skills. All your friends and family live here.

Industries fail for many reasons but the number one reason is nobody wants your product anymore. It’s either too expensive or obsolete. In the case of the Range, its product is not obsolete, but it is too expensive. Replaced by cheap steel from other countries. 

The answer would be simple if we weren’t in a tit for tat deal with those countries. We buy their products and they buy ours. Yes, that’s what has changed. We are now in a world economy. 

As much as I hate government intervention into private industry, it’s time to diversify the Range workers. Get some of those eggs that are now all in one basket into something new. And with the proper incentives this could happen. 

This is where government can help, without creating a welfare state. More benefits are a band-aid approach but that’s all right, if you have something better to replace them with in the near future that might be a solution.

My dad got his job back eventually but eventually too, the railroad left that town. But the people didn’t give up when it left and they brought in new industry and the town still thrives. It’s the same size today that it was when I left it fifty some years ago. That all happened a long time ago but it still works.


Mike Holst graduated from Staples High School. He lives and writes in North Central Minnesota, where he has long been active as a columnist and freelance writer. His website is www.mikeholstbooks.com.


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