CHISHOLM —While growing up in the small Iron Range mining town of Chisholm, Tracy Campbell never thought she’d someday be working in the mining industry.
“Actually, when I graduated in 1981 (from Chisholm High School) everyone was done,” Campbell said as she described the economic recession being experienced by local mines at that time. “We were facing global challenges with foreign steel.”
From a young age, Campbell was familiar with mining. Her grandpa worked as a mechanic in the mines. He started out at one of the mines close to Chisholm, then when that mine shut down, he was hired at Reserve Mining Company in Babbitt.
“He would come home exhausted — I never wanted that life for myself,” Campbell said.
Upon graduating high school, Campbell enrolled in the automotive maintenance program at what was then Hibbing Vocational School.
Like many young Iron Rangers graduating high school in the 80s, Campbell decided to move away from the area, and headed west to Seattle, Wash.
As time went by, she became “homesick,” and decided to leave Seattle, and return to her hometown of Chisholm.
Employment opportunities were still slim on the Iron Range at the time of her move, but Campbell found employment at a Chopstick factory in Hibbing. The factory closed a few years later, leaving her to once again look for work.
Campbell’s job search led her to set her sights on landing a job at Hibbing Taconite. After about a year after her initial application, and persistence follow-ups on her part, Campbell was hired in 1990.
Her career at Hibbing Taconite began working as a laborer, a position she held for about a year and a half. From there, she transferred to a position in the warehouse, where she worked for about three years.
“I Worked with a bunch of guys that were good to me,” Campbell said.
The knowledge her co-workers shared about shovels and drills, along with a course she took through Villanova University in Pennsylvania, aided in furthering Campbell in her career.
She was part of a team responsible for flying to different states in search of a new dragline for the tailings basin at Hibbing Taconite. She also wrote the maintenance plan for the new dragline.
Campell worked as a shovel and drill maintenance scheduler and then a shovel and drill maintenance planner for a total of seven years. In that capacity, she wrote up plans for major rebuilds for drills, and wrote preventative maintenance programs for other new equipment.
Campbell said the most challenging part of her career was budgeting and forecasting the components of the shovels and drills, while projecting out five years for capital improvements.
For the next two years Campbell worked as a truck shop maintenance scheduler and a year as a truck shop coordinator.
Then In 2004, Campbell was laid off from Hibbing Taconite and accepted a job at Northshore Mining in Babbitt, where she worked for three years. She noted this was the first of four layoffs she would experience in her career along with one strike.
In 2007 Campbell was called back to Hibbing Taconite, where she did crusher maintenance planning.
“I knew nothing about crushers, but I had great mentors and a great training program through Metso Crushers Systems,” Campbell said.
In 2009 there was some restructuring at Hibbing Taconite, and that’s when Campbell transferred to the concentrator, where she worked as a maintenance scheduler up until her retirement this August.
Changes in the mining industry the past 30 years
In 1990 when Campbell was hired at Hibbing Taconite, she said there were fewer women at the mines than exist today.
“Mining was a male-dominated industry,” Campbell said.
Fortunately, for Campbell the guys she worked alongside were “great” to work with.
At the time she was hired, Campbell said women were mostly laborers and truck drivers. Now, there are more women in the trades, including welders, electricians and mechanics.
“It’s good to see more women in mining,” she added.
Campbell said some of the biggest changes she’s noticed in the mining industry since being hired at Hibbing Taconite are the more lengthy permitting processes of today, and just the overall way mining is being done now compared to today.
“We always mined environmentally,” Campbell said. “Permitting now takes longer, and the processes are always changing, too. They are always looking at being more efficient.”
Campbell said she enjoyed her career at Hibbing Taconite.
“I enjoyed the work itself and the people I worked with – it was challenging,” she said. “Hibbing Taconite was good to me, I have no complaints.”
Now that she’s officially retired, Campbell said she plans to enjoy a much simpler life and less stress, and plans to spend more time with her family.
During her working career Campbell was involved with the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota’s annual campaign along with various fundraisers for other nonprofits, including fundraisers. She plans to continue to be an active part of the community.
Campbell is serving her second and term on the Chisholm City Council and is the council president. She is not running for reelection.