Trains, Planes and Tanks

A social studies lesson for grades 6-9

Learning Objectives:

  1. To understand Minnesota’s Iron Range mining industry’s significance during World War II.
  2. To become aware of the opportunities created for women during the mass call up of troops during WWII.

Time Frame: 2 class periods

Materials Needed:

Handouts: Questions to get you thinking, WDSE Documentary questions and Ore/Planes production data
Links: Links to clips
Overhead page of statistics: Mining Directory of Minnesota, 1946; The Bulletin of the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology; S.C. Lind, Dean; Mines Experiment Station, E.W. Davis, Dir.; author- Henry H. Wade

The lesson assumes some minimal prior knowledge of WWII.


Warm up (Anticipatory set):

Create student curiosity; begin by showing the Youtube clip on a WWII “Dogfight” ( ). After the clip discuss the importance of steel production (for weapons) during WWII. Answers will vary, but are fairly obvious.

  1. Distribute Handout 1 and discuss with students (or just discuss if appropriate).
  2. Have students view the documentary made by WDSE. Students will remain on task/engaged with relevant questions. It is 27 minutes.
  3. Distribute Handout 3 and have students compare increases in ore production during war years (1941-45) to the actual number of warplanes produced in those years.


Student responses in class and their written responses to Handout 2 and Handout 3.

Handout 1

Anticipatory Set - Questions to Get You Thinking!
(Teacher can simply discuss these, have students complete or simply ignore at higher levels/grades)

1. Is steel found or made?


2. If found, where? If made, with what?


3. Name some things made from iron.


4. Where in the world can iron be found?


5. What do you think these questions have to do with our study of World War II?


Handout 2

After some discussion students should view the documentary made by WDSE Television to learn more about the connection of Iron Range mining /railyards and WWII. Students will answer questions that accompany the clip.

Video link:

Student question sheet

Student Name:

Answer all questions according to the PBS clip, “Last Call for The Mitchell Yards.”

1. The Mitchell Yards Engine House operated through this war



2. Dan ________________ is a photographer that calls the structure “…harsh and utilitarian.”



3. Redore is a ghost town that is now “ ________________ from this Earth.”



4. The boiler room ran 365 days/year, 24 hours/day. It was powered by this fuel______________________.



5. Andrew ___________________, president of US Steel over 100 years, ago played a role in the development of Mitchell Yards.



6. __________% of the iron ore used in WWII came from the Hull Rust Mine, just a few miles from the Mitchell Yards station.



7. According to Dave Aho, there was a time were a train was leaving the yard every _____________ minutes.



8. List 3 images that Sheila Packa uses in her poetry to describe Minnesota mining life 70 years ago.


(answers will vary)

9. Packa highlights immigration pointing out there were __________ languages spoken in the 1,100 underground mines that existed on The Iron Range at that time.



10. An all female crew worked in the pit during this war.



11. M__________________________ is a lung disease that affected miners in addition to the many other perils listed in the clip.



12. Aho thinks of himself as the ____________________ of this historic site.



13. Paul Seeba’s song shows that the ________________ ______________ played a significant role to help the Allies win WWII.


(Mitchell Yards)

14. One of the song lyrics states, “… Everybody gone off to fight in D Day.”

What was D Day and connect Packa’s poem about women working in mines during WWII?


(answers will vary, but should acknowledge the war created an economic opportunity for women).

15. It is our ________________________ from 100 years ago.



Critical thinking activity

According to the BBC, the Nazi’s felt the Allies won WWII for three principal reasons:

A. The unexpected resistance of “The Red Army” in Russia.
B. The air power of the Allies.
C. The vast amount of armaments from the United States

It has been said that The Iron Range mines played a critical role helping the Allies win WWII. After doing independent research how valid is this claim? Support your conclusion with data and evidence. The final product will be a thoughtful paragraph (6-8 sentences in length) that either agrees or critiques this claim:


If time: have students turn their desks and defend their research to a neighbor.

Handout 3

Activity created by Dana Bigger, a teacher who participated in the 2008 Minnesota Humanities Center's Building America: Minnesota's Iron Range a Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for School Teachers.

World War II Aircraft Production by Country and Year

Use the above table and the table below to complete this assignment.

Short Answer Response: How does the number of planes produced during the war years compare to the amount of iron ore mined and shipped from the Iron Range in Minnesota? Use complete sentences to answer the question. Be specific. Include some data from the tables. 5- 7 sentences required.

Classification of Iron Ore Shipments from Minnesota

For further study or use as an enrichment assignment

Lyrics to “The Mitchell Yards” by Paul Seeba: (answer questions that follow)

Well, he’s nine years old and he’s never been told,
Never pull a fire alarm just for fun
Switchman would say, Hey Jimmy Bray
We need an engineer with a BB gun

Jimmy asks why, Switchman replies
Everyone’s gone off to fight in D Day
Switchman says, we’ll forget your mess
Just steer the locomotive in the right way

He says look all the fast trains pulling all the cars
Heading on down to the Mitchell Yards
Look at all the fast trains pulling all the ore
Heading on off to a world war

Now ride, ride that train
Gonna ride, ride that train
Gonna ride, ride that train
To the Mitchell Yards

Kind of a thriller, listening to Roger Miller
And a little kid driving a train so absurd
Didn’t need a flow chart, faster than a go kart
Driving that train past a buffalo herd

Jimmy Bray’s friends, well they all wanted in
A battalion of 4th grade engineers
Word had spread, even Nazi’s said
There’s a railroad squadron of little buccaneers

Switchman said, Jim you gotta get to bed
Tomorrow’s the day of the star light dance
But in the middle of the night, Jimmy flicks on a light
And they all head off to liberate France

Questions to research/answer as you read/listen to “Mitchell Yards.” Some questions are answered by examining the lyrics and other questions connect to the topic, but may require a little research (depending on prior knowledge).

1. What was D Day?


2. With many adults “off to war” during WWII, children were asked to “step up” and do jobs traditionally done by adults? What is the job the character "Jimmy Bray" is asked to do?


3. Who is Rosie the Riveter? How did WWII open the “industrial door” for women like her?


4. What was the significance of the Iron Range ore pits and rail yards like the Mitchell Yards during WWII? Explain.


5. Japan had very little iron ore and had to import most of it. Explain how it would be an advantage to have this resource in abundance during conflict.


6. According to the song the main character pretends that he and his friends need to free France. Why did France need to be liberated?


Other related links on WWII and the Iron Range

Minnesota State Standards (benchmarks) connected to this lesson:

Identify contributions of Minnesota and its people to World War II; describe the impact of the war on the home front and Minnesota society after the war. (The Great Depression and World War II: 1920-1945). For example: Fort Snelling, Japanese Language School, SPAM, Iron Range mining and steel.

Describe how land was used during different time periods in Minnesota history; explain how and why land use has changed over time. For example: Land use might include agriculture, settlement, suburbanization, recreation, industry.

Outline how the United States mobilized its economic and military resources during World War II; describe the impact of the war on domestic affairs. (The Great Depression and World War II: 1920-1945) For example: Industrial mobilization, rationing, “Rosie the Riveter” and the female labor force, Bracero Program, uses of propaganda.

Create tables, graphs, charts, diagrams and various kinds of maps including symbol, dot and chloropleth maps to depict the geographic implications of current world events or to solve geographic problems. For example: Maps showing changing political boundaries and tables showing the distribution of refugees from areas affected by natural disasters.

Evaluate the economic impact of the war, including its impact on the role of women and disenfranchised communities in the United States. (Great Depression and World War II: 1920—1945) For example: Treatment of Japanese-Americans, Rosie the Riveter, the Bracero Program.

Funding for this program is provided by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here for more information or visit the Minnesota Legacy website.

Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment