All posts by michelso

The Risks of Radicalism

The following letter, discovered in MS-080, Copper Range Company Records, shows the close connection between the copper mining companies and local government.

Unfortunately, the I. W. W. book was not included with the letter. The context for this letter (given below), derived from various sources in the Michigan Tech Archives, demonstrates the value of having an array of different sources at the same research facility.

  • D. L. Robinson: Member of the prominent law firm Rees, Robinson, and Petermann.
  • I. W. W.: The Industrial Workers of the World were a radical left labor union that was, at the time of this letter, growing in strength across the United States.
  • Mr. Slagg: Milo J. Slagg was the principal of the agricultural school from 1915 to 1919.
  • Agricultural School: The Otter Lake Agricultural School in Tapiola (renamed the John A. Doelle Agricultural School in 1922).
  • Alex Pohja: Probably the same person as the Alex Ponja listed by the 1916-1917 Polk directory as a resident of Trimountain and laborer in the Trimountain Mine.
  • John A. Doelle: Longtime superintendent of the Houghton and Portage Lake public schools.
  • Bill: William H. Schacht, the new general manager of the Copper Range Company and Alex Pohja’s boss.

We don’t know if Schacht took any action on this matter, but it is easy to see the potential risks of expressing radical opinions if your job could be threatened by the actions of your child.

This project is supported with a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.


And Now for Something (not) Completely Different

For the first NHPRC project blog posting after the October fire, I felt it would be appropriate to take a look at a much more unfortunate case.

In 1917, the resident agent of the St. Mary’s Canal Mineral Land Company, F. W. Nichols, was trying to find some early land records.  He wrote to Richard S. Harvey, who was the son of Charles T. Harvey, the land agent for the company’s predecessor.

The following image is the second page of a response from Harvey.  Take a look at the second paragraph.

And his fourth office burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp.

Look for more about the (surviving) records of the St. Mary’s Canal Mineral Land Company (part of the Copper Range Company Records) in a future blog post.

This project is supported with a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.


What are footprints doing on this Copper Range Company document?

A note from Florence E. Gregorich documents that certain records from the Copper Range Company’s old Boston headquarters were sent to Houghton for the use of Dr. J. Robert Van Pelt (former president of Michigan Tech and the library’s namesake) in writing a history of the Copper Range Company.

In September 1976, vandals broke into the warehouse and scattered many of the records.  Due to a lack of time and manpower, there was no attempt to reassemble the records before they were moved into storage at White Pine Mine, from where the material was later donated to the Michigan Tech Archives.

Most likely the vandals were frustrated to have gone to the trouble of breaking into a warehouse only to discover boxes of records, rather than electronics.  However, I like to think that they did this specifically to make trouble for future archivists.  I imagine them shouting “archive this!” as they fling the papers across the room.

This project is supported with a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

A Copper Range Railroad Poet

As part of a grant-funded project to process manuscript collections, I have been working closely with the records of the Copper Range Company and its subsidiary holdings.

In 1913, the Copper Range Railroad Company (CRRR) constructed the Painesdale Cut Off, which altered the course of the main line built in 1899.  As in all of the CRRR’s construction projects, most of the work was done by contractors.  To keep track of labor costs, CRRR maintained force accounts, which documented the amount of hours worked by each pay grade of workers.

Although the title page doesn’t indicate it, there is something unusual about this particular force account.  Specifically, the second page:

You may boast about your railroad with its roadbed superfine;

With rolling stock, ect., [sic] hard to beat;

With a startling good record of its long trains ‘there’ On Time,

Or about its sumptuous meals you gladly eat;

Or the grandeur of the scenery that you see when on your way,

Or the stations and the comforts found therein;

Or the cars’ illumination that makes things bright as day;

Or the manners of the train crews that sure win,

If you’d always keep a talking you could not my ‘pinion change,

Or make me think in any different way!

For I’ll always ‘stick up’ proudly for the good old

Copper Range

“The Speedy, On Time, Copper Country Way.”

—Norman T. Bolles, August 1913

Admittedly, it isn’t Shakespeare (if still better than anything I could do).  The rest of the book contains the expected details of the construction.  The track and steam shovel gangs (later joined by a cable gang) worked Monday through Saturday, while a watchman was employed on Sundays.

So who was this poetic railroad man?  Unfortunately, the employee records processed to this point do not include him.  However, there was another Bolles working for the CRRR at the time.  Fred Robert Bolles, better known as F. R. Bolles, was promoted to General Manager in 1912; a position he held until 1920.

At this time it was quite common for whole families to work for a single company in various capacities.  Although the idea of F. R. Bolles hiring his close relatives would be considered nepotism today, it was a widely accepted practice at the time.  On the other hand, Norman Bolles may have already been an employee before F. R. was made general manager.

As the processing of the CRRR records continues, it may be possible to find out more about Norman T. Bolles.  Yet whoever he was, we can thank him for reminding us of the serendipity involved in archival research.

This project is supported with a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.