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The Ore Line — Part I

The importance of the preservation of the Nevada Northern Railway relies on its completeness. There are railway museums scattered around the world. The vast majority of them are a collection of railroad equipment that really has nothing to do with the area where the equipment now is located. Sometimes the equipment is not even relevant to its neighboring piece of equipment. The only common thread being that it has steel wheels that rolled on steel rails.

Today there are only three examples of a complete facility with its original equipment still intact in the United States and the Nevada Northern is the only standard gauge example left; we are one of a kind. Based on this proposition of our uniqueness, it behooves us to explore just what makes us unique. The following article does just that. It is a review of the mining and the railroading that make the Nevada Northern Railway unique.

The article is from the Nevada Northern & Railroads of White Pine County Web site developed by Keith Albrandt. The web address is This is the premier web site on the Nevada Northern Railway. Keith has given his permission to reprint the story of the ore line that was told to him by Steve Swanson.

The Ore Line — History and Operations
By Steve Swanson as told to Keith Albrandt
The ore line was built to transport the low grade porphyry copper ore from deposits located some 11 miles west of the railroad terminal at East Ely to the mill concentrator and smelter situated some 12 miles northeast at McGill. McGill was chosen as the processing site because of the both the availability of an abundant water supply and the rights to its usage. The route chosen between the two points was largely based on railroad engineering principles of minimizing grades and the energy that must be expended to counter gravity.
The ore line was completed in 1908. Almost 23 miles in length, the 11 miles through Robinson Canyon to Copper Flat, Ruth and Veteran cost more to build than the 140 mile mainline from Cobre to East Ely, given the building of the 140 mile main was very inexpensive. Elmo Thurston, long time Kennecott locomotive engineer at Ruth, stated that the Nevada Northern was in Ripley’s Believe It or Not: “The Nevada Northern was the least expensive 140 mile railway built through the mountains.”Ore shipments from Copper Flat, Ruth, and Veteran commenced in 1908 using the 90 Class 2-8-0’s No.’s 90-93 to power the ore trains. The first ore was milled in May of that year.The Nevada properties were originally underground developments; however, the Eureka and Liberty shafts of Nevada Consolidated’s (Nevada Con) Copper Flat properties warranted the open-cut method of mining. Steam shovel operations began at the Eureka mine and at the Liberty shaft in August 1907 and 1909, respectively. The two pits were connected in 1916 to form a single, large pit known as the Liberty Pit, also called the Ruth or Copper Flat pit. By 1912, eight steam shovels worked the day shift and three shovels were employed at night, handling 9000 tons of ore per day. Production between 1908 and 1914 came almost entirely from steam-shovel operations in the Copper Flat orebody. By the end of that time, the Ruth underground mine had been prepared for the branch-raise caving system.In 1914, the Veteran underground mine was closed followed by the closing of the Star Pointer underground mine during World War I. Mining costs dictated that efforts be concentrated on the open pit at Copper Flat using steam shovels and rail haulage. As many as 16 locomotives and 33 alternating crews were employed in the Liberty pit at the height of its activity.During the early years, stripping operations in the Liberty and Eureka Pits were on a one to one ratio, one waste shovel to one ore loading shovel. Later, and up until World War II, as the Liberty Pit became larger and deeper, the stripping ratio increased to more than two to one. During WW II, there wasn’t much stripping done, just ore production, which left the open pits in very poor working condition after the war. This started a rise in production costs from which the Nevada Mines Division never recovered.During World War I, Consolidated Coppermines shipped their ore over the Nevada Northern to the McGill concentrator where the ore was processed on a toll basis. Many of Coppermines’ deposits were thickly capped and were more amenable to underground mining. Examples include the Morris, Brooks, Old Glory, Richard, Bunker Hill, Emma Nevada, Alpha, and Taylor mines. Nevada Con’s Wedge, Monitor, Deep Ruth, and Star Pointer/Minnesota Hi mines also fell into this category.On 01 September 1920, a significant change affected the ore line operation. The eight 90 class engines (No.’s 90-97), the ore car fleet, and six small, four-wheel cabooses (No’s 9-15) were sold to Nevada Consolidated Copper (Nevada Con). The ore line trackage remained the property of the Nevada Northern Railway, and a trackage agreement allowed Nevada Con to operate ore trains. Nevada Con train crews operated the ore trains while the management was provided by the Nevada Northern Railway.During the early and mid-twenties, most of the ore moved over the oreline was from the steam shovel pits at Copper Flat, supplemented by a small production from Consolidated Coppermines at Kimberly. Study of the Copper Flat orebody in 1924 concluded that ultimately a substantial portion could be mined more cheaply by underground methods because of excessive stripping required. Consequently, two five-compartment shafts were sunk 700 to 800 ft deep and 1000 ft apart. But improved methods in ore-dressing and metallurgy made it possible to treat as ore what had previously been considered waste — so underground mining of ore beneath the pit bottom was postponed.In 1926, Coppermines reached an agreement with Nevada Con to process its ore and the Kimberly tonnage dramatically increased until Coppermines shut down in early 1932 because of the Great Depression. Nevada Con resumed underground mining at the Star Pointer during the late 1920’s.Significant technological advances were made in operations throughout this period. During the mill reconstruction in 1922, the 9 Bucyrus steam shovels with 3½ cubic yard dippers were provided with caterpillar tractors to eliminate the need for laying shovel tracks, and consequently eliminate the need for many unskilled track gang workers. Two new 85-ton American Locomotives and two Peterson track shifters were also added to the pit operations.Within a decade, further advances in pit operations were implemented with the electrification of Nevada Con pit shovel equipment, accomplished between September, 1931 and November, 1932. Bucyrus 120-B, fully revolving electric shovels (4½ cubic yard capacity) replaced the steam shovels. They significantly decreased costs by reducing the size of the crew necessary to operate the shovels. During World War II, the dippers had increased to a capacity of 8-tons and by the 1950’s, 165-ton electric shovels with 10-ton dippers were in use in the Liberty Pit. By contemporary standards of diesel-electric shovels with 40 cubic yard dippers, these earlier models appear quite small. Similarly, modern diesel ore trucks with a 240-ton payload dwarf the 60-80 ton capacity Ingoldsby ore cars of the earlier era.Tonnage over the ore line remained from these same sources until the Ruth mine ceased production on 06 August 1948. For example, towards the end of World War II 18,000 tons of ore were mined per day, 36% of which was from underground sources. In the late 1940’s, most underground mining ceased at Ruth and Kimberly.The outbreak of the Korean War and the resulting increase in both the price and demand for copper was responsible for establishing several new projects in the district.Coppermines started open-pit mining in the Morris-Brooks claims, called the Tripp Pit, in 1950. The initial stripping of the Morris-Brooks was done with haulage trucks contracted from Isbell Construction of Reno, NV.Kennecott, now running short of developed ore (mostly because stripping of overburden had not been done since 1940), started two new haulage truck pits: they developed Kimbley near Lane City and resumed mining at Veteran with the haulage truck operated Veteran Pit. To ship the newly opened Veteran Mine ore to McGill, a railroad spur 2¼ miles long was constructed c1954 to connect with the Nevada Northern Railway main line near Kimberly. The Deep Ruth shaft was begun in July, 1951, and subsequently underground mining of the Minnesota Hi was undertaken through the Star Pointer Shaft. The ore in the Deep Ruth was almost directly underneath the Ruth town site, and consequently the town of Ruth was moved about two miles north to “New Ruth” beginning the second quarter of 1952 and completed by the end of 1953.Truck tipples to load ore cars were built at the Veteran, Tripp, and Kimbley pits, and in the bottom of the Liberty Pit. By 1957, most ore was loaded into ore cars by haulage trucks. This loading severely damaged the old ore car fleet, and in the mid-sixties new ore cars built at KCC Magna, Utah and KCC East Ely, Nevada replaced this ore car fleet.Underground mining of the Minnesota Hi continued at the Star Pointer until late 1957 or early 1958 when the orebody was lost due to poor engineering decisions. In the early 1960’s, the Ruth Pit was developed at the head of Ingersoll Canyon (right where the Star Pointer had been) to again mine the Minnesota Hi orebody. The ore was transported down Ingersoll Canyon to Lane by haulage trucks where it was loaded into rail cars. Excessive capping over the ore caused the shutdown of mining at the Liberty pit in January 1969. In less than a decade, a world-wide depression in the copper market and environmental issues relating to the aging smelter combined to spell the end of Kennecott’s copper mining operations in the Robinson district. In September, 1978 KCC NMD mines were closed and the ore trains ceased operation. On 20 June 1983, the McGill smelter closed and the Nevada Northern Railway ceased operations.
 Consolidated Coppermines
Literally hundreds of mining claims were filed on properties in the Robinson district in the opening years of the twentieth century. The 1907 promotional booklet Ely and Her Mines extolled “Copper as King” and “Ely as the Copperopolis of America”, listing no less that 55 active copper mining concerns. The largest three were Nevada Con, Cumberland Ely Copper Company, and Giroux Consolidated Mines Company. Nevada Con and Cumberland Ely were both under Guggenheim control, and would eventually be combined in 1910. The Giroux properties were not added until some 48 years later.There were perhaps as many rumors of mergers between the Nevada Con and Giroux (later Consolidated Coppermines) properties over the years as there were copper companies in those early days. In February, 1907, Giroux offered Guggenex 510,000 shares of stock at $10.00, but the offer was declined. In September of that year, Nevada Con offered between $750,000 and $1.2 million for the Morris, Brooks and Bunker Hill properties of Giroux, but that deal was also declined. In 1913, Giroux combined with four other companies to form Consolidated Coppermines. D.C. Jackling of Nevada Con considered it a good idea to acquire the Coppermines properties at that time if the price were right; evidently, it wasn’t.Nevada Con knew that Giroux/Coppermines had good ore bodies, but also thought that they had insufficient water. The belief was they would either have to sell out or have Nevada Con treat their ore. The latter is exactly what happened beginning with a contract to smelt Coppermines ores in 1912 and later extended under several contracts over many years for both the milling and smelting of their ores. One can make a good case that Coppermines had sufficient water pumped from their mines and/or from their water rights to Steptoe and Cave Creeks to supply both a reduction works and the town of Kimberly. However, they found it more profitable to have their ores treated under contract at McGill.The two companies eventually engaged in a bitter court battle to settle the complex situation resulting from ore bodies near the Liberty Pit extending into each other’s claims. Nevada Con instituted proceedings in October, 1929 that were followed shortly with counter-claims filed by Consolidated Coppermines.A settlement wasn’t reached until July, 1937. Consolidated Copper-mines received a cash award of one-half million dollars and realized $300,000 in the award of 5.4-million pounds of copper. Nevada Con received permission to extend the Liberty Pit by excavating in Coppermines Emma Nevada and Ora claims, thus gaining about 50-million tons of ore. The two companies also agreed to a new contract whereby Nevada Con would treat Coppermines ore. The position of the companies relative to each other was more clearly defined as a result of these lawsuits, and they were both more amenable to compromise on future disagreements in order to prevent the waste of time and money from additional litigation.
In the 1990’s, Broken Hill Proprietary Company, Limited (BHP) acquired the Robinson district mining rights and built a new mill and concentrator on the former site of Riepetown. They operated between 1996 and 1999, shipping their copper concentrate via their own BHP Nevada Railroad over the old Nevada Northern ROW to the UP interchange at Shafter, NV, and from there to their San Manuel, AZ smelter. The operation lasted slightly more than three years, when falling copper prices forced BHP to close the Robinson project on 25 June 1999 and put the facilities on “care and maintenance” status.

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