Reps. Pete Stauber and Jack Bergman will be nearly to Sault Ste. Marie by the time this story publishes. The congressmen from Minnesota and Michigan left from the Canadian National Railway ore docks in Duluth on Wednesday aboard the Roger Blough in an effort to highlight the importance of their destination at the Soo Locks.
Before Stauber, R-Hermantown, walked the gangway to the ore boat, CN foreman Daniel Ansello pulled his congressman aside and advised him to be certain to check out the engine room.
"'Check the motor; the engines are huge,'" Ansello recalled of the interaction. "That’s one of the things that has always intrigued me about it. This one has a walk deck and it's wide open. You can see both engines. This is the best one to go on to look at engines. They're two stories tall. On the 1,000-footers, the engines are compartmentalized on both sides. This one, it's wide open."
The cavernous engine room is contained by 858 feet of steel hull painted like taconite rust to match the rest of CN's Great Lakes Fleet. As much as any of the fleet's ore boats, Blough shows off a thick trunk where its engines reside. Animated, it would be the stubby brawler who sticks up for its friends. Maybe it's because, at 105 feet, Blough is beamed as wide as any of the vaunted thousand footers.
"If you go in there, you got storm tunnels that go from back to the front on the inside of the boat," Ansello said, "and you've got tunnels with two belts on the bottom running front to back."
Blough's engines weren't yet going when Stauber and Bergman drummed up speeches in support of the shipping industry. The generators that run the electrical could be heard humming along. But a deeper rumble was to come. When black puffs of smoke emerged from Blough's stacks, it was a sign things were getting closer to motion.
"They've got to heat up the oil so it will burn in the main engines," Ansello said. "It takes about a half-an-hour. It's like sludge. You got to get it to 200 degrees before it will start flowing. It's crude oil and it's really thick. It's not like runny diesel oil. The main engines got to heat it up and filter it to get it to burn through the engines."
Ansello rode a fleet mate, the Edwin H. Gott, from 1994-99, humping back and forth to steel mills, most of the time to Gary, Ind.
"I switched over to the railroad in 1999," he said. "Being on the ships is a different way of life."
Those like him who worked below deck were involved in off-loading the boat. So when they'd dock, they weren't afforded the six- to 12-hour reprieve that was available to others aboard the vessel. Round trip to Gary from the Twin Ports was six days.
Ansello was born in Duluth and is from the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood. He's bridges and building foreman at the CN docks, 212 S. 37th Ave. W. Around lake freighters all his career, he couldn't hide his enthusiasm around the congressmen.
"See that white hopper that’s hanging off the side of the dock," Ansello said, pointing it out. "When he brings limestone here, he’ll back in and that boom will go out into the bottom side of that hopper and he’ll offload limestone into that — we got a special hopper just for the Blough."