Sep 18 - Yooper Dooper Autumn
As you'd expect, Fall color is really starting to "pop"... noticeably more during the past week. The forest on the hillside across the lake from our camp (the view from our picture-window/windshield) is providing the scenic images we've been longing for... and the main reason we're up here as late as we are this year.
Locals are busily getting ready for Winter. Wood sheds are fully stocked... piers and docks are pulled ashore... most boats are out of the water and readied for a 7 month sleep in drydock. It's the semi-annual change-over that true Yoopers seem to live for.
The original economic engine of the UP, and the reason so many people flocked to this area between the civil war and the 1930's boils down to three things: logging, mining, and fishing. For various reasons all three peaked years ago but the decline leveled off at a lower level of activity that still goes on today, and still provides employment for many Yoopers.
We've been thoroughly enjoying our visit to the UP this year. A few days ago we got out and explored the area around Iron Mountain Michigan, one of the larger mining areas of the region. We visited the Cornish Pump and Mining Museum and the WWII Glider and Military Museum and got a healthy infusion of information about both. The Glider story is particularly interesting.
In the early 1920's, Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company started acquiring large tracts of land in the UP. The consummate "vertical integrator", Henry wanted control of as many inputs to the process of building cars as he could get his hands on. In those days, the bodies of Model T cars were made up mostly of wood. His idea was to buy large tracts of forest land, establish saw mills, and build a large plant where the sawn wood would be converted to auto body parts. And that's exactly what he did... at one point employing over 7,000 people in the UP.
The plant was located near Iron Mountain, in Kingsford Michigan. It operated from the mid-1920s until after WWII, but the real "hey-day" was during the late 1920s... until the depression started to bite in the early 1930s. When WWII came along, Ford landed a contract with the government to build CG4A combat gliders for the Army. The wings and tail section of these big gliders was constructed of wood... something this plant knew something about and could certainly handle. So between 1942 and 1945, they built over 4,000 of 'em, and earned awards from the Army for the excellence of their efforts.
Besides being a vertical integrator, Ford's nature was to squeeze every possible bit of profit out of every aspect of the businesses he owned. Innovations were made to greatly minimize waste wood in the production of parts, and the waste wood material that remained was used to fuel furnaces and as input to a charcoal plant and a wood alcohol plant, also Ford owned and located right next to the parts plant. Driven by greed, he was recycling long before it became fashionable to be "green". The charcoal operation was sold in the early 1950s and, although they moved the operation to Kentucky, Kingsford Charcoal still is a recognized product and brand today.
Ford owned much more land around the plant than what was utilized for the plants he built. It's likely that Ford thought he'd be able to do the same thing with steel that he was doing with wood... own the entire process from top to bottom. While there had been large deposits of iron ore in the Iron Mountain area, it was mostly mined out by the time Ford started his UP operations. So when that plan didn't work out... and when the use of wood in car bodies came to an end in the 1950s (remember the last gasp of wood bodies... the "Woody"?), Ford closed it's UP operations and sold the plants. Eventually, they were bulldozed and today, virtually nothing remains.