Allouez Bay
Iron Ore Docks
Superior, WI

Intro

Allouez is a place that plays on the ears.

There are nose places, like hospitals where the rotting latex stink mixes with the surprisingly minty aroma of damp ceiling tiles. Eye places like shuttered car factories go on forever in an infinite blur of extreme-but-vague detail; the eye refuses to see the textures of everything in such places, until the viewer gets close—too close—to its surfaces. Touch places are usually predictable, like wooden grain elevators where the sides of the grain bins are worn smooth from use.

Boring.

But ear places. They sing.

The ice reflects the blue sky on the rust. The sunset blasts through the concrete pillars holding it all up.
The ice reflects the blue sky on the rust. The sunset blasts through the concrete pillars holding it all up.

Sounds of the Docks

As musical instruments shape sound so do these docks. In the daytime it’s the echo of chirping overlapping more chirping, while the nearby train yard sends out a constant low rumble to remind the listener of their place. This is industrial.

Where the approach meets the dock.
Where the approach meets the dock.

Overtaken by nature to an extent, yes, but a thing made of timber frame, concrete footing, and steel rail.

I really fell in love with the sounds of Allouez in the winter, when ice packs driven by northern winds from Lake Superior through the port would wedge themselves hundreds of feet deep in between the docks. The force has in recent years torn out most of the wooden walkways beneath the railed dock decks. When things freeze it brings cold silence — except for the occasional sounds of drunken ice fishermen drifting across from Park Point.

Wind took the spring melt on the trees growing in taconite pellets and made it airborne. Loading chutes in the background.
Wind took the spring melt on the trees growing in taconite pellets and made it airborne. Loading chutes in the background.

The inevitable thaws sound like explosions bouncing off the concrete pillars that used to hold up the trains. I expected the docks to shake from the force, but they never did.

While the air vibrates with the changing of the seasons, the docks stubbornly squat, atemporal.

Before all the ice is gone, the ships return to load taconite on the other side of the complex, a packed cluster of silos and spotlights. It lacks the simplicity of the old docks.

I like to see how things work, and there is no mystery to the old Allouez.

The top of the docks are so rotten in places that you can see the lake through the boards. In the foreground you can see the controls for the chutes, which work on a clutch.
The top of the docks are so rotten in places that you can see the lake through the boards. In the foreground you can see the controls for the chutes, which work on a clutch.