Back in the late 1880s, timber was cut like there was no tomorrow, rich iron ore was scraped out of the ground, and grain was carted elsewhere in the world via trains and ships during the heyday of resource use in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.
A testament to this era lies down a snowy gravel road on the edge of Superior, Wis. It’s called the Old Globe Elevator and includes a grain elevator and two massive storage bins that sit like relics along the shore of the Duluth-Superior Harbor.
The buildings are made from wood (and a lot of it) that’s hard to find any more – mostly old growth white pine and white oak from the first cutting in these northern forests. When the main elevator was built in 1887, it was the largest of its kind in the world. But the buildings are no longer used.
Instead of helping an investor buy the property and tear down the structures in favor a marina and RV park, entrepreneurs Judy Peres and Dave Hozza started purchasing the site themselves in 2006 to salvage the wood. They just couldn’t stomach all that lovely timber being burned or tossed into a landfill. At the equivalent of 20,000 trees-worth (which Peres says is about the amount of an entire forest), the duo has their hands full, in more ways than one.
I adore old wood and agree with what Peres and Hozza are doing, so I decided to learn more. When I visited last week, their tiny office in a yellow metal shed was abuzz with frenetic activity. The project was recently featured on cable TV’s History Channel’s Ax Men program, prompting calls from people far and wide who want reclaimed lumber for various projects. Plus a public television crew was coming the next day to film.
Peres, who seems to handle most of the administrative work, says she’s good at multi-tasking but admits the amount of activity is overwhelming. And 68-year-old Hozza, crouched on the floor getting wood ready for shipment comments with a mix of levity and seriousness, “I’m too old for this!”
They need an administrative assistant, but can’t afford to hire one because the project is facing bankruptcy. While I was there, it seemed the orders were for small bits and pieces of wood. Although they appreciate every order, what they need are HUGE orders, say for flooring or paneling large buildings. Examples of how Old Globe wood has been used can be found on the company’s web site and in Duluth’s new Amsoil Arena, the Minnesota Wine Exchange downtown, and the Legendary Waters Resort and Casino in Red Cliff.
So, the activity is a good thing, but also a challenge. Hozza and Peres could just sit back and fill out the bankruptcy paperwork, but they have chosen to fight. Why put themselves through it? Part of it, I’m sure is to win. They want to complete what they started despite the odds and the vagaries of the economy.
But another part of it is for love. It has to do with a man and a woman, and a love for old wood.
More on that coming in Part 2.