Allouez Bay
Iron Ore Docks
Superior, WI

Loading in the Fog

Loading in the Fog

My favorite nights to be on the docks were when the lake fog was thickest. One such night we were taking long exposures of Duluth’s city lights reflecting in the bay when the telltale HOOOOOOONK… HONK… HONK reverberated through the night. “What? There’s nothing on schedule for tonight, I thought!” I said to my escort, a dock worker. “Mus’be da Burns. ‘S early,” he replied in his Iron-Ranger accent.

The Burns Harbor, named for the US Steel plant it served near Gary, Indiana. This was a big one, “ah thousan’ footer” as they say.

First was the spotlight, which looked solid as the beam lit the fog from the inside, only changing when the clouds dancing on the lake broke to reveal an iron-red reflection in the water. I heard it around be before I could trace the sound of the engines coming from the mist, a low hum like the kind grandfathers make when they eat their favorite autumn dinner. Mmmm.

Without fuss it passed by our perch at the end of the abandoned dock, working its patient way to its newborn brother, already so loved. The last view we took away was of the rear lights, where the workers ate, slept, steered and tended to the engines. With nothing but the night and the mist, it felt like I was staring at all the light in the world drawn into one place.

It looked like a bright white orb floating in an ethereal river of clouds, with no real purpose but to wander.

A big sign marks where the elevated walkway is severed where Dock 2 used to meet Dock 3, now gone.
A big sign marks where the elevated walkway is severed where Dock 2 used to meet Dock 3, now gone.

References »

  • (1906). The Railway age, 42. Retrieved from
  • $2,000,000 area ore dock jobs planned. (1951, December 9). Duluth News Tribune
  • Addison, D.D. (2002). Ore docks of lake superior photo archive . Hudson, WI: Iconografix.
  • King, F.A. (1972). The missabe road: the duluth, missabe and iron range railway. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Mining and engineering world, . (1907). Mining and engineering world, 27. Retrieved from
  • Porter, R., & Addison, D.D. (2009). Kelly lake to allouez: transporting iron ore on the great northern railroad . Expert Publishing Inc.
  • SS Edmund Fitzgerald. (2010). Wikipedia. Retrieved July 10, 2010, from
  • War Department, (1893). Annual reports of the war department, Washington, DC: GPO. Retrieved from