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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail: director@nnry.com

 


Uniqueness of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum
25 October 2003

 

I fear I must get on my high horse again and crow about just how unique and precious our museum is. It is definitely a national treasure. I mentioned a few weeks ago how I found the original 1908 plans for the ash pit. Now I found a copy of Mark Requa’s 1906 speech that he gave on Railroad Day in 1906 in Ely.

The manuscript is typewritten and is a carbon copy of the speech. The second page slipped a bit so the text on the last line is partially cut off but it is decipherable. In the upper right hand corner 1906 is handwritten. From a museum standpoint it just doesn’t get much better then this. This manuscript is a direct link from today to literally Mark Requa’s hand. What follows is the speech as typewritten almost 100 years ago. The points the Mr. Requa made back then still apply to Ely today. Enjoy.

 

 

Mark L. Requa - September 29th 1906 - Railroad Day – Ely Nevada.

How and Why the Nevada Northern Railway Was Built

 

     The building of the Nevada Northern Railway coupled with the experience of the past twenty years in the copper mining camps of the west, has solved a problem that has been confronting the Robinson Mining District ever since the first prospector drove his pick into its copper laden rocks.


     A railway into this district would have been a failure in the days when Eureka was pouring its stream of lead into the markets of the world, and Virginia City its far mightier stream of gold and silver into the channels of trade.


     Ores that today present no difficulties from a metallurgical standpoint, twenty years ago were absolutely valueless. The conditions of today have been brought about by the experience that bas been gained from the operations in the great copper camps of the West during the decade, from Butte to Bisbee and from Utah to California. Had the problem that was presented to me on my first visit to this district been presented ten, aye even five years previous it’s solution would have been considered hopeless - in fact I may say that the problems surrounding the working of these very low grade ores have only been worked out satisfactorily within the last two years; and it is due to the Bingham District of Utah more than to any other that we have today absolute data based upon actual work rather than estimates.


     The metallurgy of the high grade gold and silver ores was successfully worked out upon the Comstock, and the smelting of lead ores at Eureka, but for the metallurgy of copper, we must first of all turn to Montana, where the high grade ores of Butte permitted expensive experimenting, the results of which have revolutionized the copper industry of the world. From Montana to Arizona, through the camps of B1sbee, Clifton, Morenci and Globe; also at Granby in British Columbia and at Bingham, all with their varying problems, both of local environment and different mineralogical conditions the metallurgy of copper has been worked out from the high grade smelting ore, both oxide and sulphide, to the lean concentrating ores that are characteristic of the Ely District and that are found in identical occurrences in Bingham and the Clifton-Morenci District of Arizona.


     Fortunate indeed has it been for the West that the great deposits of high grade ore existed which permitted not only a profit with what appears to have been the crudest of metallurg1ical appliances, but also permitted of extensive experiments, which in their sequence have made possible the profitab1e exploitation of these low grade bodies, which bid fair in ultimate production to exceed the production of the high grade districts.


     Few people realize the evolution that has been taking place in the copper industry of the west during the past two or three years. The low grade porphyry deposits which are being exploited in the Bingham District and in the Ely District, have come to be looked upon as the future source of the great copper out-put of the west, and owing to their enormous tonnage, it is possible to forecast their production as continuing far beyond the life of the present generation.


     It would be the height of folly to say that the methods of handling these ores has been perfected. We are today confronted at the first step of our process with a loss of from 15 per cent to 20 percent of our total value, which is carried away in the tailings from our concentrates.


     I know of no field so promising for the winning of a large fortune in the mining line, as the perfecting of some method whereby the loss in concentration maybe be eliminated, or at least largely reduced. The smelting processes are much nearer perfection, but with all that, it is safe to say that the plant that we are going, to erect for the treatment of these ores, will within ten years be obsolete. In fact, I believe that we will within five years see changes that will materially alter our process in some of its most vital points. We are, however, building here at this time the very best plant that the combined knowledge of modern copper metallurgy is capable of producing and I can say without fear of contradiction that when finished and in operation it will be the most modern and economical copper reduction plan in the world.


     The task of bringing this undertaking to successful fruition has not been an easy one. On my first visit, I saw only the signs of repeated failures; the efforts that had been made to wring profits from the rocks had been without success and my first days inspection convinced me that if there was to be success, it most be along lines radical1y different from those that had already been tried. After a weeks study, the problem had resolved itself to a very simple one, save for the unknown factor that must be supplied in order to make the problem susceptible of solution. I saw before me a mineralized zone wherein the question of tonnage had even at that time to my mind been entirely eliminated. The unknown co-efficient for which I was searching could on1y be determined by extensive development work; that co-efficient was the average copper content of the porphyry in large masses. I had seen upon the surface streaks of high grade ore, that in themselves were interesting, but which did not hold forth prospects of a tonnage sufficiently large to justify the expenditure that I knew must be made in order to put the copper into marketable form. I saw in those early days that the only hope for this district was in developing tonnage of magnitude and value as would justify the building of a railroad from the Southern Pacific. This meant the building of a line approximately one hundred and fifty miles long, to justify the bu11ding of which would require the development of millions of tons of copper bearing ore. I had crawled down the Ruth mine 300 degrees on the incline and seen forty feet of a cross-cut that average approximately 3 percent with apparently no end in either direction. I had seen this same porphyry upon the surface leached of its copper value, extending for hundreds of feet in width and I knew that underground development would reveal enormous masses of this material, but I did not know what the copper content of it would be. It was, therefore, necessary first to develop this ore and determine its value not only sufficiently to justify the building of a railway but sufficient in quantity to justify the building of an enormous reduction plant, because profits could not be hoped for unless the ore was handled by the thousands of tons per day. Over a period to two years this prospecting work was carried on until a large tonnage of ore was developed. Even then the railway was not justified, because there was no certainty as to what could be done with the ore in the concentration. To determine this factor, a small experimental mill was built at the Ruth mine, which was operated during a period of three months and most exhaustive tests and determinations made. The entire mine in fact was sampled by means of this mill, results compared, tabulated and carefully scrutinized. That these results were satisfactory is proven by the building of the Nevada Northern Railway, which was undertaken immediately after these mill tests were completed.


     In the meantime there had been affected the consolidation of the New York and Nevada and the White Pine properties under the name of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company. At Copper Flat we had not been idle and the tonnage developed at Ruth is more than equaled by the tremendous body of ore at the Flat, whose 1imits have not yet been defined. I think you will agree with me that we were justified in suspending development work when I say that there is developed at Copper Flat and Ruth ore sufficient to supply this reduction plant for at least ten years, with the largest part of our ground still unprospected, but giving every evidence of containing ore similar to that we have already developed. It was to meet this situat1on and afford means for working this ore that the Nevada Northern Railway was built.


     The railway was started in September of last year and built, as you know, through a country singularly adaptable to railway construct1on, over which our maximum grade is but seventh-tenths of one per cent. Of engineering difficulties we have had none, although the unprecedented severity of last winter rendered it necessary to suspend operations for a considerable period.


     We have today completed the line into Ely, and will soon have it completed to the smelter site and to the mines; and ere another year rolls around, we hope to see completed the reduction plant with a capacity of five thousand tons of ore per day.


     Our work has just began we have linked this remote territory to the outside wor1d by bands of steel and have made possible rapid and economical transportation of passengers, supplies and ore. Without this, the rest would be of no avail, but with it, I can see in the years to come a population or thousands with happy and contented homes, not nomadic like the inhabitants of so many mining camps, but more akin to the population of agricultural and manufacturing towns, content with the knowledge that their means of livelihood will continue beyond their day and generation, and if I can impress upon you that the life of this mining camp will not be ephemeral, I believe I shall have done you and the District a good turn.


 

 

 

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