Glass, the multi-talented urban explorer/historian, had contacted myself and Magnus with an opportunity. Moored in a storage yard sits the J.B. Ford, a 700 foot ore vessel built in 1901. He knows how to get inside.
During a particularly nasty cold spell during the winter of 2011-12, Magnus and I packed up the car, and drove to Duluth, well prepared to photograph an abandoned freight ship. We weren’t told much about what to expect, but that a lot of the interior was left in good shape, and that it was worth the drive.
I was wearing every available scrap of winter clothing I owned. I had a small butane heater in my coat chest pocket burning away, hand warmers shoved underneath both pairs of gloves, and my camera bag slung over my shoulders as we parked, and walked the property line between the storage yard and Peavy Mill, which was busy and well lit.
We crouched in the tall, dead grass as trucks moved around on grounds, and as soon as we had a free window, we ran towards the boat, keeping against the buildings and acknowledging the location of a nearby security booth. The wind became brutal near the lake, and immediately broke my will as I tried to set up a photo of the outside of the ship.
We ran on board via a staircase pushed up against the side, and warmed up in the navigation room. Just below navigation, the captain’s quarters were decorated with oil paintings, diagrams, ship records, and casual living arrangements. Below the captain’s room was the crew quarters, and even further down were the guts of the ship itself. Glass flicked a switch, and flooded one of the rooms with florescent light.
A loud crashing sound came from above, ice was hitting the side of the boat. It was then I realized we were technically underwater. A long corridor spanned the whole length of the boat, and lead into the cramped engine room (a gigantic three cylinder), and a backup generator that was formerly a train engine.
We decided it was time to leave, and began following the property line out, when Glass noticed a parked and occupied semi truck that had a line of sight on our exit. We needed a new strategy. The only other way was to sneak underneath the security booth, and run past the occupied tug boats, until we reached the road. We all began running as silently as possible, tired and loaded with gear. Everything went fine until we got close to the road. The truck we had seen earlier was suddenly driving straight towards us with its lights on. We jumped down onto the beach, and sprinted along side the frozen lake until we were sufficiently out of sight. I remember collapsing onto the sand, breathing heavily, but still able to exclaim how amazing and fun it was to run.
Magnus and I listened to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as we drove back into town, and stopped off at the local casino for some slots before retiring.
“The Hunt for J.B. Ford” - Adventure Series #8
Completed Mid 2012 - Photography Work - Shapes Industries