Friday, August 13, 2010

The Mining Machines of the Greater Alma Mining District, Colorado

While staring into the campfire on a quiet summer night, I was thinking about the old mines I had explored during the day.  All of them were in rugged areas: canyons, gulches, or at the end of a two-track road that climbed above timberline. Underground mining used excavation, drilling, blasting, extracting, support, hoisting, ventilation, and drainage technologies to mine ore. Once the ore was mined, it was processed in mills for valuable metal deposits. A variety of machines were designed to use in these mining processes.
This tubular boiler was built by the Erie City Iron
Works in Erie Pennsylvania. Robert Kane photo.

The few surviving machines in the old mining camps are important artifacts that provide a way to understand mining and miners of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Tubular Boilers
Large, rusted boilers are among the physical remains of mining in the Greater Alma Mining District. There is a boiler in Buckskin Gulch and another one at the North London Mine, both have an interesting pattern of holes at the front—identifying each as a tubular boiler.

Side view of tubular boiler. Robert Kane photo.
Tubular boilers were popular in mining districts. Their name came from the long tubes running the horizontal length inside a cylindrical-shaped boiler. Inside the boiler the tubes were surrounded by water. Below the boiler a fire was kept burning. The heat and smoke from the fire was drawn through the long tubes—heating the water—and continued on, rising up through the smokestack. This process created steam very efficiently and powered mining and milling machines.

These boilers were built by the Erie City Iron Works in Erie Pennsylvania. The company started in 1851. After several mergers and acquisitions, the company is known today as Indeck Keystone Energy.
Air Compressors
The air compressors left behind in the Greater Alma District show that miners used machine drills rather than tempered hand drills. Machine drills were used as early as the last quarter of the 19th century. At first steam was used to power drills but there were problems. Steam drills were replaced by compressed air that powered pneumatic drills. Mines that used air compressors and other machinery were sufficiently capitalized to purchase expensive equipment and ship it to the remote goldfields of Colorado.
On its side is embossed “Ingersoll Rand Co., New York, Imperial Type 10.” Ingersall Rand was founded in 1871. The Ingersall Rand name came into existence in 1905 when Ingersoll-Sergeant Drill Company and Rand Drill Company merged. Robert Kane photo.
Snowstorm Dredge
The Snowstorm Dredge operated in the goldfields between Fairplay and Alma from 1941-1960s. It is the largest and last dragline dredge in Colorado and in the nation. The dredge processed about 600 tons of gravel an hour.
Side view of the Snowstorm dredge. Photo by Robert Kane.

Snowstorm dredge. Photo by Robert Kane.


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