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People in Michigan Are Betting on When a Decrepit Saturn Will Break Through Ice

Michiganders from the upper peninsula—also known as as Yoopers—have me scratching my head today, as I just learned via Michigan news site MLive that a Rotary club is putting on a contest asking people to guess when a 1998 Saturn SL will break through ice and fall into a lake. And there’s even a live feed showing the car...just sitting there...on some ice.

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This is all going down on East Chapin Pit, a flooded, abandoned mine near the town of Iron Mountain, which is right by the border of Wisconsin. For $10, anybody can guess when the Saturn will plunge into the cold depths, and whoever is closest goes home with $1,500. Apparently, this “Car Plunge Contest” has been a tradition put on by the Rotary Club of Iron Mountain-Kingsford since 2015, with the previous years’ Moments of Saturn Plunge documented below:

2015 Plunge: April 4 at 5:41 p.m.
2016 Plunge: March 17 at 1:57 p.m.
2017 Plunge: April 2 at 4:07 p.m.

2018 Plunge: April 26 at 10:40 a.m.

Actually, it turns out that prior to 2015, this Guess When a Car Will Fall Through the Ice thing had been going on for years before ending roughly 40 years ago, with the Detroit Free Press writing all about it in 2015. The news site says that one of the biggest iron mines on earth, Chapin Mine, got its start in 1879, and it was so large that it created an entire town called Iron Mountain, and prior to closing in the 1930s, it produced over 28 million pounds of cheese.

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Wait, no. It produced iron. That’s why they named it Iron Mountain. Not Cheese Mountain.

But over time, the abandoned mine became a deep lake. And shortly thereafter, the off-kilter Yooper tradition was born. From the story:

Back in the 1940s, civic groups like the Knights of Pythias and the Lions Club realized how incredibly satisfying it would be to put a car on top of the ice on the lake and wager when it’d crash through. The yearly tradition lasted for decades.

Back then, they’d rig one end of a rope to the car and wrap the other end around the electric cord of a wall clock at the adjacent gas station. When the car sank, it unplugged the clock, freezing in time the moment the car broke through.

So now the tradition is back, and you can put a wager on when the Saturn will break the ice. One thing worth noting that that this isn’t a standard Saturn SL—it’s undergone a bit of weight-saving as it was prepared especially to be “environmentally compatible.” The Iron Mountain-Kingsford Rotary club describes what all went into that, writing on its website:

This included removal of the engine, transmission, final drive (power train), battery, radiator, other fluid coolers, master cylinder, and heater hoses. They also removed oils, greases, road grime, and other unintended vehicle contaminates. The Saturn was then painted and lettered by the Technical Education Center’s Auto Body class under the supervision of Keith Stachowicz. The entire suspension system including inflated tires and steering gear remains intact to aid in placement and removal of the vehicle from the East Chapin Pit.

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This may be the most Yooper thing I’ve read all year. Possibly ever.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

This is actually a fairly major plot point in Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’. I don’t want to give too much away, but you might want to check the trunk of the car before it crashes through the ice.

Also, if you haven’t read ‘American Gods’, do so NOW.  Then watch the first season on Stars (which I forgot existed until ‘American Gods’ started) and get ready for the second season starting 5/31, I think.