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Steam Locomotives of Copper Flat

Completion of the Nevada Northern Railway from Ely, through Robinson Canyon, and on to Ruth in July 1907 signaled the start of mining at Copper Flat. By the following month, Bucyrus-Erie railroad steam shovels were steadily stripping overburden into dump cars at the Eureka Pit. Nevada Northern Railway steam locomotives powered these early waste trains due to a shortage of Nevada Consolidated Copper motive power. Nevada Con’s sole locomotive was No. 301, a 32-ton American Locomotive Co. (Alco) 0-4-0T built at the Dickson Works in April 1907. No. 301, a standard Alco design, was one of seven identical units ordered by the Guggenheim’s American Smelters Securities holding company. Katella, Alaska was the final destination for the remaining six engines where they saw service constructing the Copper River and Northwestern Railway, another Guggenheim property, from Katella to Kennecott, Alaska.

Seven larger locomotives soon made their appearance in Nevada. Alco erected 42½-ton 0-4-0Ts Nos. 330, 331, 332, 335, and 336 according to standard contractor designs at their Schenectady Works in August 1907 followed by completion of Nos. 333 and 334 at the same plant in November. These seven engines together with No. 301 served the stripping and ore loading operations in the Eureka Pit relieving the Nevada Northern engines for duty at East Ely.

Surface mining at Copper Flat, suspended during the winter of 1907, resumed in March and Nevada Con shipped its first ore from the Eureka Pit in April 1908. Tests of the concentrator conducted May 15, 1908 proved successful. Initially designed for a capacity less than 6,000 tons per day (tpd), capacity increased to 8,000 tpd by 1910. By that time, combined tonnages of ore and waste exceeded 16,000 tpd. The Eureka Pit was an oval 160 feet deep, 2,000 feet long, and 1,000 feet wide. By 1909, Nevada Con opened a second pit on the Liberty claim some 1,500 feet west of the original Eureka Pit. To keep up with the expanding mine at Copper Flat, Nevada Con took delivery of locomotive No. 337, a new Baldwin, 58-ton 0-6-0T in November 1909. No. 337, likely a built for stock locomotive, was joined in October 1910 by four identical Baldwin units: Nos. 338-341.

Over the ensuing years, the most visible changes to the Baldwin 0-6-0T pit locomotives included changing placement of the front sand dome and water hatches and, by 1920, adding a dynamo and both electric headlights and backup lights. In addition, removing the rear overhang of the cab roof allowed raising the sides of the coalbunker thereby increasing fuel capacity. Locomotive coal capacity was an issue at Copper Flat as coal storage along with the locomotive and car shops was uptown in Ruth at the Ruth Mine Star Pointer headframe-over a mile from the Liberty Pit. Increased fuel capacity obviated the need to take coal during a shift. Similar bunkers were added to 0-4-0T engines 301 and 330-336 and subsequently coalbunkers of a like-design were added to the six 80-class 0-6-0T engines (Nos. 81, 83, 84, 86, 87, and 88) purchased from Utah Copper in 1929. Eventually, workers constructed a large wooden coal dock on the Monitor claim adjacent to the entrance of the Liberty Pit.

Painted black with white lettering, most of the locomotives at Ruth sported their engine number in brass, six-inch numerals on the front sand dome (or on the steam dome in the case of Nos. 330-336) and stenciled on the engine cab in a twelve-inch, railroad roman font. NEVADA CONSOLIDATED COPPER COMPANY adorned the saddle tank in stenciled, eight-inch block letters. This was later shortened to NEV. CONSOLIDATED COPPER CO. and some photographs show the pit dinkies lettered NEVADA CON. COPPER CO. In 1929, the Utah Copper 80-class engines arrived with twelve-inch railroad roman numerals on the side tank and company name on the cab. Nevada Con. chose to leave the engine number in place and put the company initials N.C.C.Co. on the cab in an eight-inch, railroad roman font. About 1933, the company replaced this lettering scheme with large, three-foot block numbers on the engine tanks and N.C.C.Co. in eight-inch block letters on the cab. Nevada Con’s Chino Mines at Santa Rita, New Mexico pioneered the use of these large engine numbers.

Increasing demand for copper resulted in a number of new porphyry copper mines entering production in the American West by 1911. As production increased to meet demand, Nevada Con’s ore shipments stabilized at about 2½ million tons per year until the beginning of World War I in 1914. The war created an unprecedented demand for copper for munitions, particularly in the manufacture of brass cartridges, and Nevada Consolidated Copper was in a position to increase their production. Changes in mining operations began in 1914 when Nevada Con shutdown the underground Veteran mine due to the poor grade of ore. In 1915, the company readied its Ruth Mine to start hoisting ore through the Star Pointer shaft. In 1916, the Eureka and Liberty pits merged to form a single pit-the Liberty Pit (often called the Ruth Pit). Concentrator capacity was raised to 14,000 tpd in 1917.

Requirements for increased production coupled with the enlarged size and depth of the steam shovel pit demonstrated the need for additional and larger locomotives. Baldwin received a Nevada Con order for two, 83-ton 0-6-2Ts for 1917 delivery. Nos. 500 and 501 were modern, superheated engines with cross-compound air pumps and a trailing truck to support the increased size of the coalbunker without increasing the length of the rigid wheelbase. Nevada Con also purchased a secondhand locomotive through the Southern Iron and Equipment Co. in October 1916. Different from the usual dinkey tank engines employed at Copper Flat, N.C.C.Co. No. 600 was a 1902 Schenectady 0-6-0 with a separate tender originally built as U. S. Steel’s Indiana subsidiary Elwood, Anderson and Lapel Railroad No. 3.

As the pit size enlarged, the line haul from the lower pit levels employed the larger locomotives while the smaller 0-4-0Ts loaded at the shovels and saw service on muck (waste) trains. No. 600 normally functioned as the switcher at both the Ruth and Copper Flat yards.

Production reached new highs during World War I; Nevada Con mined and shipped 4 million tons of ore to the mill in 1917. However, following the armistice of 1918 worldwide munitions production fell dramatically. The glut of copper on the market forced Nevada Con to shutdown on March 31, 1921 and the facilities remained closed for a full year until April 25, 1922. On July 9, 1922, only weeks after the resumption of ore shipments, a fire destroyed the concentrator at the McGill reduction works. Rebuilding commenced immediately and on September 16, 1922, milling resumed on a limited basis. By April 1923, the concentrator was handling 6,000 tpd. With a capacity projected to reach 13,000 tpd by 1925, Nevada Con ordered two additional 0-6-2Ts (Nos. 502 and 503) from American Locomotive in 1924 with similar specifications to the Baldwin built Nos. 500 and 501. Weighing 90 tons, Nos. 502 and 503 had a 4-ton coal capacity compared with the 3-ton capacity of Nos. 500 and 501. By 1930, both Nos. 500 and 501 had their coalbunkers rebuilt to a 4½-ton capacity.

Copper production remained at capacity during 1928 and through the first half of 1929. Motive power shortages plagued Nevada Con at the steam shovel pit as well as at McGill and within the ore haulage department. Electrification of Utah Copper’s Bingham Pit trackage in 1928 and 1929 brought about the sale to Nevada Con of six of Utah Copper’s newest Baldwin 0-6-0Ts (Nos. 81, 83, 84, 86, 87, and 88) on January 11, 1929 for $12,000.00 each. These engines, built in 1923 and 1924, weighing 80 tons, and superheated with cross-compound air pumps proved a significant improvement over the 1907, 42½-ton 0-4-0Ts Nos. 330- 336. The smelter also received a new switch engine: Utah Copper No. 302, a big Baldwin 0-6-0 weighing 87 tons, became N.C.C.Co. No. 300 in 1929. It joined No. 301, itself transferred to McGill switching duties sometime prior as judged too small for continued use in the Liberty Pit.

With the copper market softening early in 1929, Nevada Con cut production in June, marking the first of what would prove a steady stream of reductions throughout the Great Depression. Nevertheless, 1929 proved the most productive year since inception witnessing 5,293,924 tons of ore shipped to the concentrator. This record stood unsurpassed until 1958 when Kennecott Copper purchased the Consolidated Coppermines properties at Kimberly.

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Hours of Operation

Monday - Saturday | 8AM - 5PM
Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

Our Location

1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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