May 26

Entrance to history

This has been my most exciting photographic find of the year!  And even better, to find it during the “golden hour” when colors take a shift to the warmer yellow and when the skies are clear and the contrasts are high.  I love this photo.

This is the long-abandoned Wilton Coal Mine site.  In 1920,  this was the largest lignite coal mine in the world.  Some 400 miners worked underground here digging coal which was shipped east on a rail line that later became the Soo Line Railroad. 

As I’m prone to do in the evening, I jump in my pickup and head out on the back roads of  Central North Dakota.  Often I take section line roads — when the weather hasn’t been too wet — to see things from my truck that I don’t see from the main roads.  You know those section line roads, two-wheel tracks through grass, between fields, around mud holes.  In this case, I was on a section line road when I saw a tall yellow structure out on the prairie.  I swung back around the section to come in along the road that passes near this site.  I admit and apologize now to the landowner that I trespassed to get this shot and the closer shot of the entrance.

Now, instead of mining coal, I’ve mined tons of history from this defunct business.  The Wilton Coal Mine was responsible for settling much of this area. It’s the reason there is a railroad through here.  It’s the reason Wilton and for a large part, Washburn, Regan and Baldwin were established.  When  the Depression came,  coal prices couldn’t pay for shipping and mining.  The Company had to cut back on production and costs.  Some of the fringe benefits such as housing for workers were also affected.  Miners rebelled.  The United Mineworkers union shut down the mining operation.  The Company went as far away as St. Louis to hire non-union help.  The union boss John Lewis got involved.  An armed standoff divided Wilton’s Main Street. Governor Nestos called in the militia to stand down the center of Wilton’s Main Street to prevent the two sides from shooting each other.

In the end, the Union broke the back of the company and the mine was closed.

January 20

1920 and 2010 Wilton, ND

I’m not sure if it was 1920 when the historic photo was shot. It was not any earlier than that.  Local farmers would come to Wilton with their horses and wagons to haul coal back home.  In fact, there are still trails across much of the prairies where the wagons would cross the plains.  You can see that Wilton hasn’t changed a whole lot,  even though union bosses from back east killed the coal mine business, Wilton still keeps on living.