March 14, 2008

WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION, MAGGOT!!!
YOU ARE A *%$@# POOR EXCUSE FOR A WIND-UP BUNNY!!!
DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!!! NOW!!! HUP!! HUP!! STOP UNWINDING WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU MAGGOT!!!

This is the former oredock of the Soo Line Railroad, the principle icon of my hometown: Ashland, Wisconsin. It was used to fill the holds of top-loading ore boats by backing long trains of gondola cars out over the rails on top, and controlling the chutes on the dock to pour the booty into the ships. It is the last standing offspring of a family of seven docks in town built during the booming iron ore, coal, and lumber days of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My father worked there for a time, as well as his father, and their family lived up the hill about a block away. My other grandfather worked there too, as well as on every other boat, tug and dock job he could get. The roads there are still stained red-orange from iron ore.
Now condemned and owned by Canadian interests, the oredock is too far gone to convert into the world's longest restaurant, to dangerous to allow mooring or even fishing (not that you would really want to eat them anyway, it lays adjacent to a toxic Superfund site, with no anchorage allowed and no bottom disturbance, lest you stir up something that can't be killed by science or the National Guard.) Unfortunately, the high school's team mascots are named after it: the "Ashland Oredockers," boy's football, basketball, and volleyball teams, and the "Dockerettes" being the girl's version. Better than the Mellen "Granite Diggers", I guess.
What to do though? The town's identity lives in a crumbling concrete pigeon roost owned by the Canadians and too expensive to clean up, misunderstood by most under thirty...
The oredock has these weird equalization chambers that begin about half way out towards the lakeside end, diamond-shaped and filled with lake water that enters thru ports near the bottom, nearly 150 feet down. Known as "The Diamonds," it is like having little ponds throughout the middle of the inside of the dock, every 50 yards or so, 150 ft. deep. Spooky-looking things, full of very deep, dark, cold Lake Superior water, which splashes out seemingly on it's own at times depending upon the winds and waves hitting the outside the dock.
My dad used to tell me yarns about the drunken sea-captain that fell in stumbling his way out to his boat one night, and Davy Jones' locker. Once I was goofing around with my fishing pole, trying to see if I let all the line on my reel out if I could reach the bottom of the Diamonds, when I got a bite. At least I thought it was a bite. But it wasn't fighting very hard, and as I was reeling and reeling, I started thinking about the old sea captain and hoping I wouldn't be staring into his blank water-logged face. Soon I started to see flashes of yellow then orange. As I reeled in the last few feet of line I pulled up a large perch that seemed to be getting larger. As I popped him out of the dark water and on to the orange concrete of the dock, I saw he actually was getting bigger. He was so far down he had gotten nitrogen narcosis, "the bends" on the way up, from ascending too fast from such a depth. His belly and chin were stained with the ubiquitous red-orange of the iron ore, like everything else anywhere close to "the docks."


Boat houses from the land that time forgot.

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