Ties That Bind

“Blessed be the tie that binds.” So begins an old hymn I learned as a child. It came to mind as I paddled over bits of sunken railroad ties that bind me to the history of Huron Bay.

Across the bay from Camp Many Moons, the remains of the Iron Range and Huron Bay Railroad (IR&HB) offer a resting place for seagulls, a challenge for boaters and paddlers, and a reminder of mining’s glory days in the Upper Peninsula (UP).

Except that this particular sunken ruin never saw glory.

Railroads play a big role in American history. They helped build our industrial might and our commerce. This one was built in the 1890s, at a cost of more than $2 million, to haul iron ore. But it was never used.

Why not? Financial and engineering problems, say historians.

Iron and copper mining are a big part of UP history. (My grandfather was a copper miner here.) But this piece of history fell off the rails of glory.

Hmm. This reminds me of the too-frequent cost overruns for new ships and jets, which I heard about routinely during my career. Yes, government waste does happen. (And, it is uncovered by designated watchdogs. Those watchdogs include the press, but also Inspectors General, whose job is to keep an eye out for government wrongdoing of all sorts.) My most suspicious friends routinely suspect corruption — i.e., the intentional defrauding of taxpayers by some person or group in order to enrich themselves. Yes, that happens too. (And, the guilty are usually exposed and punished.)

After 30 years of government service at high levels, I can say that corruption and waste is not as rampant as my suspicious friends assume – or wasn’t when I served, anyway. The explanation for “failed projects” is usually more complex than that. Sometimes the plan just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s bad timing. For example, the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) canal, near my East Coast home, was largely replaced by railroads before it neared completion. Not corruption — just poor timing.

To fully understand the story of the IR&HB, I’ll need to read this book by a local historian. Meanwhile, I enjoy the wildlife. I imagine the ore dock that once stood here. I think about the men who built it. I wonder about its quick demise. And I’m selfishly grateful that it didn’t succeed … because if it did, this would be a busy port and my rustic camp would not exist.

The ties that bind us to our history are not usually as literal as submerged railroad ties. But history is evident all around us, if we just take time to look. Its lessons are available (for free!) if we just take time to reflect. – June 30, 2021

One thought on “Ties That Bind

  1. Amen, and Interesting as our RR history is over 120 years old. There are a number of us searching for the factual history of the IR&HB RR as there are so many discrepancies in what has been published so far. Even some of the info at Michigan Tech. I love reading all the old newspaper accounts during that period of about 1890-1905. If we can be of any help, please let us know. Thank you.
    Gary Brogan


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