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The Ore Line — Part II

This is part two of the history of the Ore Line — the industrial railway that played such a big part in Ely’s mining and railroad history. This installment offers brief descriptions of the stations served by the line. It is taken from the Nevada Northern & Railroads of White Pine County Web site developed by Keith Albrandt, 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.

Part one in this series on the Ore Line was published 25 Jan 2003 and can be viewed here.

The Ore Line — Stations
By Steve Swanson as told to Keith Albrandt

The underground Veteran mine was operated from 1908 until 1914. The Nevada Northern Railway transported ore during this period, and Veteran ore was the first ore concentrated at the McGill concentrator. On July 1, 1909 a miner�s strike began at Veteran and the mine was idle until Nov. 1911, a period of more than 2 years. At the close of 1913, total Veteran production had been 900,000 tons or ore, equivalent to 33-million pounds of recovered copper.

Open pit stripping started in 1952 at the Veteran Pit (a joint pit of Kennecott and Coppemines claims), which was operated by Kennecott. Ore shipments were started in 1954. Ore cars were truck loaded and switched by gravity and with a large Hough Loader. In 1957, a 60 class GE 70-ton diesel started switching ore cars at Veteran. Ore cars were moved to the Copper Flat Yard by Kennecott’s Copper Flat switch engine.

Morris-Brooks (later the Tripp Pit), Alpha, Little Richard, and Emma-Nevada Shafts. Consolidated Copper-mines had two Cooke 0-4-0Ts for loading ore from their head frame ore bins and assembling the ore cars in the Kimberly yard. From there, NCCCo transported ore cars to the McGill Concentrator. Copper-mines’ mining was shutdown from 1932 until 1937. When mining resumed at Kimberly in 1937, the ore cars were switched at the Emma-Nevada and Morris-Brooks Shafts by Nevada Con switch engines from Copper Flat. The ore cars were assembled in the ore yard at Copper Flat where the Ore Haulage department moved the cars to McGill along with Nevada Con (later Kennecott) ore.

Copper Flat
Nevada Con’s Ore Yard and the Liberty Pit entrance were at Copper Flat. After the 1939 completion of the Copper Flat shops and engine house, all of Nevada Con’s rail operations originated at Copper Flat. These new facilities at Copper Flat replaced the Star Pointer shops uptown in Old Ruth.

The Copper Flat yard was the center of a large wye. The ore trains could come up the Ruth Branch, which was the Ruth leg of the Copper Flat wye. The Ruth Leg of the wye was 1.3 miles long, terminating at the Ruth Depot. A passing track of equal length was owned by Nevada Con. Empty ore trains came up the Ruth leg of the wye, backed into the Copper Flat yard passing track, and dropped the caboose, then backed in through the Copper Flat main into the east ore yard (also called the “New Five” ore yard) and dropped the empties. This usually called for 2 or 3 moves, as an east ore yard track wouldn’t hold a full train of 30 empty cars. The 90 Class 2-8-0 would hostle the 4-wheel caboose to the inclined caboose track just west of the Copper Flat Ore Yard. This caboose track was off the Kimberly leg of the Copper Flat wye. The Copper Flat Ore Yard was six 30-car tracks and a single engine ore train was 30 cars. The ore line engine would make up its train, complete the air test, turn up 100% retainers, and pull out of the Copper Flat Yard. The caboose would follow by gravity, coupling onto the moving downgrade ore train.

Normally the Liberty pit only worked two shifts, days and swing, and if production wasn’t at it’s maximum, the pit was down Sundays. During steam on the ore line, there was always a helper engine on 3rd shift, graveyard shift. Joe Lani said they would double head about 42 empties to Copper Flat, the helper would return to East Ely light and fuel and take water, and then help an ore train to McGill, probably about 40 cars.

Keystone consisted of three tracks. The center track was a main, the west track a passing track that had two or three large wooden loading tipples, and the east-passing track. Loaded ore trains stopped here, turned down the retainers, inspected the train and hooked up air to the caboose. A 1921 timetable indicated a wye at Keystone, but additional documentation is lacking.

Ore trains generally met at Lane. Before the Kimbley Pit, Lane was 4 tracks: the main, a long passing track, a loading track to the south with 3 or 4 large wooden tipples, and a short passing track on the north side of the main.

After ore loading from the Kimbley Pit, commenced (circa 1953) Kennecott expanded the Lane City Yard to accommodate empties and loads. During the last years of Kennecott’s operation in the 1970’s, all the ore loading was done at Lane.

East Ely Ore Yard
Ore trains generally terminated at East Ely. This yard was very large and could accommodate a number of ore trains. Trains were inspected by car whackers, brakes changed, air hoses fixed or replaced and bad order cars set out. This could be done while locomotive and train crews changed or while engines took coal and water in the East Ely Yard. The caboose was generally left on the train while in the East Ely Ore Yard.

In 1962, operating rules were changed so the ore trains were inspected while moving slowly through the East Ely Ore Yard.

Joe Lani, veteran ore line engineer who began with Kennecott’s Ore Haulage Department in 1942, described the helper operation. A helper engine was added on the graveyard shift and empty trains were increased from 30 to 40-44 cars. The helper would return light from Copper Flat, take coal and water, and help a loaded 42-car train to McGill. The helper would return light from McGill to East Ely and start over.

The 1917 ICC Valuation refers to “Hiline Junction” while timetables as early as 1920 refer to the station as simply “Hiline.”

The ore line departed the main line that headed north to Shafter and Cobre at Hiline, and from Hiline to the concentrator (Mill) was the Mill Branch. The ore line made a gentle climb on the Hiline past the Lavon siding and the wye at Adverse to the mill and smelter complex on the east side of McGill. The Hiline was designed to gain elevation on a gradual grade to the gravity feed concentrator at McGill so the heavy ore trains could climb this grade without having to add additional power.

Ore trains sometimes met the local or a passenger train at Hiline. When ore trains met on the Mill Branch, it would likely have been at Cannon.

McGill Concentrator and Smelter
Pope Yeatman was in charge during construction of the concentrator and smelter, acting variously as consulting engineer, general manager, and managing director. Thomas W. Cox had immediate direction of the design and erection of the plants at the outset, but from May 1907 � May 1908 S.S. Sörensen replaced him.

Constant increases in the capacity of the Mill were made even before its construction began. When planned at the Georgetown Ranch site, the original 1500-ton per day (tons per day) capacity was successively enlarged to 2500, 4000, and 5000 tons per day. When the site at McGill had finally been settled upon, the capacity increased from 4000 -5000 to 8000-10,000 tons per day during its construction. It was later raised to 12,000 and eventually to 14,000 in 1917.

At about 6:00 p.m. on 09 July 1922 the nine-acre concentrator was destroyed by fire within a period of 1½ hours, with the exception of the crushing department that had shortly before been constructed as a detached unit.

Reconstruction began immediately, and the rebuilt mill began with the same capacity as before the disaster. It was increased to 15,000 tons per day in 1926 and to 18,000 tons per day in 1930. The new plant was highly efficient; between 1924 and 1930 it had an average recovery >90% of the copper contained in the ore, whereas in the preceding six years that value was 77%. Other improvements included installation of a Wellman Engineering forty-foot rotary car dumper that began operation on 09 July 1932 and handled thirty ore cars per hour. In the 1930’s, electric catenary was installed to serve a portion of the tracks at the mill. A new GE 75-ton electric locomotive (No. 80) was put into service at the smelter on 27 September 1937.

Further mill expansions occurred over the years and by 1957 the capacity was 26,000 tons per day. With some 30,000 tons put through regularly at this time (shipment for a 24-hour period was over 400 cars in 1957), there was considerable complaining about the copper going out with the tailings.

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