Michigan Roadside Attractions: The Russell Snowplow, Calumet
Michigan Roadside Attractions is a periodic feature on Travel the Mitten that will explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to the unusual.
Calumet is home to the headquarters of the Keweenaw National Historic Park and a downtown full of beautiful buildings that date back to the copper mining boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s. There are many landmarks in Calumet that are Keweenaw National Historic Park heritage sites, such as the Calumet Theatre, the Upper Peninsula Firefighters Memorial Museum, the Keweenaw Heritage Center (Ste. Anne’s Church), and the Coppertown USA Mining Museum. In the yard next to Coppertown USA is one of the more interesting pieces of copper mining history – the Calumet and Hecla Russell Snowplow. This orange and black train car is hard to miss and immediately draws the curious passerby in for a closer look.
A National Park Service sign next to the plow details its history: “The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company couldn’t allow winter to derail its operation. In a remote region that can receive upwards of 300 inches of snow each year, snow removal was serious business. Clear rail lines were essential for moving people, equipment, and supplies that kept the mines operating smoothly. To open the lines after a storm, a steam locomotive pushed the Russell snowplow through the snowdrifts. Winter brought many challenges, but wouldn’t stand in the way of the people or the mine.”
The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company was the leading producer of copper in the world from 1868 to 1888. It paid out more than $72 million to shareholders over its life, and the Keweenaw Peninsula is full of reminders of just how big and profitable the mine was. The Quincy Dredge that we kayaked to in 2020 was part of Calumet and Hecla operations, and the Italian Hall disaster happened during a Christmas party for workers who were on strike from the mine.