Author Topic: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine  (Read 66434 times)

wshawkins

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The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« on: April 20, 2012, 08:30:50 AM »
This is a re-post of a story on the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine.  I’m only scratching the surface on the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine.  The book, “Mine in the Sky” by Joseph M. Kurtak will give you the full story if you like to read more. 


The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine


Pine Creek Tungsten Mine



Prospectors located mining claims along Pine Creek high up in the rugged Sierra Nevada west of Bishop in 1895, but the gold and silver content of the assayed rock proved too disappointing. The ground lay dormant until 1916, when Billie Vaughn and Arch Beauregard discovered outcrops with molybdenum and the tungsten-bearing mineral scheelite while prospecting near the headwaters of Pine Creek. Vaughn and Beauregard filed on claims situated at an elevation of 11,300 feet above sea level, and with two other partners extended the 7-mile-long trail from Round Valley for another three miles. Pack mules transported equipment and supplies up the steep 3,000-foot slope, including a concentrating table that had to be cut up into sections.


Wagon road was built to replace the rugged pack trail to the mine. 1918



The claims were worked during and shortly after World War I to produce scheelite concentrates, which were packed down the trail on mule back. Tungsten extracted from the scheelite was used to make durable steel alloys, and thus was in high demand during wartime. Because of this demand, tungsten increased in value fivefold from that of the pre-war years. The partners soon realized that they did not have the financial means to develop the deposit on a large enough scale to make mining profitable, and by January 1918 had struck a deal with a new partner who obtained the needed capital. New trails and roads were built, power lines and pipelines were constructed, and mine timbers were cut using an electric-powered sawmill that was packed in on mules. Upon completion of the Rock Creek wagon road, which used part of the old Sherwin toll road, machinery for the mines and a mill was transported from the railroad station at Laws, a distance of 50 miles by the new wagon road. The mill went into operation in December 1918 but was forced to close two months later due to plummeting tungsten prices.


Mule team hauling machinery to the tungsten mine on Pine Creek 1918



The Natural Soda Products Company purchased the Pine Creek mine in 1922 and then reorganized as the Tungsten Products Company. Tungsten prices had risen somewhat since the 1919 crash, and the company moved ahead with improvements. In 1924, an adit was driven that shortened the distance from the mine to the mill, improving winter operations. Ore was hauled to the surface by mules pulling six-car trains and then transported to the mill via rail tram. The Rock Creek road was abandoned due to the difficulty of keeping it open during winter, so most supplies were hauled to the mine by pack mules via the Pine Creek trail. The concentrates carried down the trail on mule back were transported by road to the railroad station at Laws. Although problems due to weather conditions persisted, optimism ran high; unfortunately, by 1928 the mine workings and mill were idle once again due to events related to the 1927 Watterson Bank failure.


Hauling a 30-foot-long power pole using the two-mule swivel packsaddle system during reconstruction of the mine's power line in 1937. Swivel packsaddles allowed the animals to turn under the load while negotiating tight switchbacks on the trail



The Pine Creek mine lay dormant until 1936, at which time the US Vanadium Corporation acquired the property and began developing it into a world-class producer of tungsten. Transportation remained a challenge due the remote location and harsh winter conditions. Horses and mules continued to be used to pack materials and supplies into the early 1940s. George Brown, a Paiute Indian from Round Valley, was foremost among the packers of this era, carrying everything from drill rods and power poles to timbers, cable, and bull wheels for construction of a 2.5-mile-long tramway to the Tungsten Mine, situated at an elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level on the east face of Mt. Tom. According to some accounts, construction of the tramway was the last big commercial/industrial packing job in the Eastern Sierra. Completed in December 1941, this tram was probably the last all-wood construction project of its kind in the United States. The towers were built high enough for tram buckets to clear the large amounts of snow that accumulated in the winter. In addition to carrying ore, the tram was used to bring in supplies for snowbound employees and transport injured workers out of the mine.


Workers at the lower tram house of the Tungsten Mill. Workers sometimes rode in the ore buckets to avoid the 4,500-foot climb to the mine. This dangerous practice proved fatal in one case. 1941



After completion of the road over 11,000-foot Morgan Pass in 1939 and the tramway in 1941, the need for pack mules diminished. Heavy duty Lynn half-trucks began making regular trips over the arduous Morgan Creek Road. When the road was choked with snow, bulldozers were used to pull sleds laden with supplies. During big snowstorms, the mine was cut off from the outside world for weeks at a time. At such times, Tex Cushion and his dog team made numerous trips to deliver mail and supplies and to respond to medical emergencies, sometimes during raging blizzards.


Tex Couchane (aka Cushion) and his dog team delivered supplies when no other means of transportation could reach the camp. 1937



Clearing the snow-choked road over Morgan Pass in spring of 1938 to keep the Rock Creek Road open



RD7 Caterpillar dozers pulling supply sleds over Morgan Pass in 1938



In the years leading up to and during World War II, tungsten once again gained strategic importance. By 1942, the mine had become the largest producer of tungsten in the country. The Pine Creek tungsten mine was a major contributor to the economy of the Eastern Sierra for nearly 54 years before being mothballed in 2001 due to the availability of low-cost imports from China.

« Last Edit: October 01, 2013, 01:07:45 PM by wshawkins »
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saudust

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2012, 09:58:37 AM »
Great post!  Thanks.
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Sierra Bright Dot

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2012, 08:42:58 PM »
wshawkins, love your stories!

While visiting my parents recently I had dinner with a childhood friend.  I asked her to retell me this story so I could share it here.  At one  time she worked for the State Compensation Insurance Fund and she had to visit the Pine Creek Mine to interview some employees who were injured.  She was told that she would be the first woman ever to enter the mine!  Some of the miners were very upset about her entering the mine as they were superstitious about a women being in the mine.  She went in anyway!  She thought the year was about 1976.

Sierraslam

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2012, 11:16:16 PM »
There's gold over Pine Creek Pass! Seen a lot of that mine. Thanks so much for the pics. and info Hawk! Just incredible stuff. Your contributions are priceless.

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2012, 05:05:37 PM »
Although women miners are a common sight in mines today, in the past their presence was considered a curse. Women used to cause as much uneasiness around mines as ghosts did. Probably the most common superstition in the mines was that disaster would follow if a woman set foot in a mine.

Even famous women could bring bad luck. In March 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, visited Willow Grove Mine at St. Clairsville, Ohio. The miners were very nervous. The miners believed that because of her visit the Willow Grove Mine was "hexed." On March 16, several days after Mrs. Roosevelt's visit, the mine blew up, and 72 miners were killed.

As for tours of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine, they did do tours one summer that I know of.  It was soon after they closed down the last time in 2001.  Saw it advertised in Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Wave or Mammoth Times and signed up.  Was a good tour of a modern mine!  They took us to various buildings, such as the mill building site, locker rooms, power room and control room.  Best part was the tour was inside the main mine tunnel in an oar car that took us back ¼ mile to where the mine is plugged!  Second best was operating a Jack Leg Drill.  Tour was a lot of fun.  Recommend to take it if it comes up again.
"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

Claremont Dude

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2012, 09:25:56 AM »
Great story and fabulous pictures. Thanks for sharing it. Can't imagine what it was like to ride an ore bucket down the tram. Must have been a real "E" ticket ride.
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wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2012, 10:21:21 AM »
More pictures from the tour:


Electric Mules and Ore Cars in storage in the Snow Tunnel



Looking inside the Ore Crusher



Deep in the Mine is Morgan Creek
"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

DoubleDingo

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2012, 11:39:35 AM »
That board on the ground up against the wall in the left side of the picture of the plug is exactly what I talked about before in the old post.  A guy I worked with used to work in that Mine, and said for 30 years he and the different crews would walk past a board like that.  On or near the last day before going onto other employment, the curiosity got the better of him and the board was lifted, and revealed a vertical shaft that dropped over 1,500 feet straight down.  No safety rail protection, just a loose board lying on the ground covering a vertical drop that could easily kill a person, yet never did.
Better is a dry morsel with quietness, Than a house full of feasting with strife. Pro. 17:1

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2012, 05:33:27 PM »
DoubleDingo got you on this one FlyGirl!  Look at the Pine Creek Model again.  Now check the picture of the model of the Pine Creek Mine and were all the shafts and tunnels are displayed.  Now look at the middle of the picture and you will see a model of the Empire State Building.  The Empire State Building stands at total of 1,250 feet high without the antenna spire included.  I would say some of the shafts to be over 1,500 feet, and some could be a lot deeper.


Pine Creek Mine Model & Empire State Building Model

"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

DoubleDingo

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2012, 08:08:12 AM »
When I saw the scale model of the mine in the display case, the first thing I did was look to see what those vertical shafts did compared to the horizontal shafts.  I had to try and wrap my brain around that story I heard from him, and seeing the scale model surely allowed me to do so.  I didn't see the Empire State Building in there as a comparison, but that definitely helps to put things in perspective. 

Dig down into the imagination....notice how the layout of the mine kind of looks like the United States of America...only the Florida Pan Handle is huge, and the eastern shoreline (so to speak) isn't as defined as the western shoreline.
Better is a dry morsel with quietness, Than a house full of feasting with strife. Pro. 17:1

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2012, 09:52:56 AM »
Few more pictures to share:


Picture of the "Plug" 1/4 mile into the mountain



Large Quartz Vein in the mine.  Check out the size of the Quartz Rocks!



With the record snowfall - came an Avalanche and the damage it caused on some buildings
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High Sierra

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2012, 04:15:05 PM »
How big was the avalanche?  Nobody hurt I hope!

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2012, 05:55:39 PM »
Hard to describe but was 6 feet deep and about 120 foot wide but traveled about 1/2 mile!  Nobody hurt but really scared the caretaker who was at the mine site.  As you can see some damage to some of the buildings.  They had some pictures in the visitor's lobby to look at if you take the tour.
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stanbery

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2012, 03:01:21 AM »
That is a very good read.

Thanks for posting it.

Jon

flyGirl

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2012, 08:04:46 AM »
Think they would mind if I brought a small hammer and pick to sample the rocks at the large quartz vein! :)

Sierra Girl

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #15 on: April 28, 2012, 07:30:56 AM »
Any photos of the mines nearby that were mined and ore transferred using the tram towers?  Thank you. :)

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #16 on: April 28, 2012, 09:07:22 AM »
There were dozens of mines over the years that were mined to the Pine Creek Tungsten Mill site.  I'll look for photos for the most important and successful mine sites.
"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #17 on: April 28, 2012, 10:11:36 AM »
First one up is Gable Lakes Mine.  The Gable Lakes Trailhead is the trail to the left of the Pine Creek Trailhead.  The trail is tough and in avalanche country.  Very few visit here anymore.  The lakes are pretty but fishless.  The mining done here was mostly manual labor. Large wooden Tram Towers with ore buckets were built to deliver the ore to the “Mine in the Sky” below.


Gable Lakes Trailhead




Trail to the Gable Mines & Lakes



Tram Towers next to trail




Machinery above #3 Gable Lake





We will look at the Brownstone Mines next.





« Last Edit: April 28, 2012, 11:13:34 AM by wshawkins »
"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

flyGirl

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #18 on: April 28, 2012, 12:14:40 PM »
Very interesting read wshawkins.  Keep it coming.  Thanks.

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #19 on: April 29, 2012, 08:19:07 AM »
Brownstone Mines can be found off the main Pine Creek Trail on a feeder trail on your left.  Brownstone mine was built in the 1920’s and ceased operation in the early 1950’s.  Packers packed out the ore with mules in the beginning, and in the late 30’s wooden Tram Towers were put in to deliver ore to the mill below.  Life of a miner and packer is, and always was, one fraught with danger and hard work. You have to be physically and mentally tough, enjoy living in the wild by yourself for long periods of time.  And for packers, manage sometimes stubborn livestock.


Pine Creek Pass Trailhead




Pine Creek next to trail




Looking back at the Pine Creek Mill




Mine Entry




Looking out from the mine

"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

Sierraslam

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #20 on: April 29, 2012, 08:59:23 AM »
Home sweet Home! That's the mine my dad would never let me go near. I always wanted to check it out as a kid. I have a love hate relationship with that trail. I hate hiking up or down that mining road, but when you reach Lower Pine Lake, you feel like you died and went to Heaven. Next stop Pine Creek Pass! Love those pictures!

Sierra Girl

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #21 on: April 29, 2012, 09:56:44 AM »
Really great thread wshawkins!  I love the Gable Lakes Trailhead picture on the log.  I hope you have more to share.  Thanks.   :)

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #22 on: April 30, 2012, 08:09:33 AM »
Next mine up is the Hanging Valley Mines, located near Lower Horton Lakes and near the top of M. Tom.  There many mines in this area but all fed into the “Pine Creek Tungsten Mill”.  Like most mines in the 20’s and 30’s, packers would haul out the ore using mules.  It was too steep to transfer the ore down the north side of Mt. Tom, so they had to go south by Horton Lakes, where they transferred the ore to trucks.  In the late 30’s, they built a wooden tram system with ore buckets so they can deliver the ore down the steep slopes directly to the mill.

To get to the Hanging Valley Mines, best to hike it from the south side of Mt. Tom at the Horton Lakes Trailhead.  To get there, take Hwy 168 out of Bishop to Buttermilk Rd.  Take Buttermilk west for 6 miles to the Lake Horton turnoff.  For 2 wheel drive cars, this is far as you’re going.  For 4-wheel high clearance vehicles, the trailhead is another mile.  It’s about 4 miles on the miners’ road to the Lower Horton Lakes and the first mining buildings.


Ore Bin.  Packers delivered the oar by mule and fill these bins up.  Trucks would pick-up the oar and deliver it to the mill as needed.



Miner Cabin #1



Miner Cabin #2 – Both cabins were in good shape


Lower Horton Lake – Brookies in this lake.



Climbing up 1,000 ft. to the other Hanging Valley mines on Mt. Tom – a lot of scree on the trail.



Near the summit of Mt. Tom and the trail is an old miner’s road.



First sight of the Upper Hanging Valley Mines



Closer look



Mine Shaft



Tungstar Mine Site – The mining road ends here as this is where they put in the Wooden Tram Towers to deliver the ore to the mill below.



Diesel Engines



Winch Cable – This controlled the tension on the cable for the oar buckets



Tram Towers – To deliver the ore to the mill



"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."

High Sierra

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #23 on: April 30, 2012, 08:26:57 AM »
Amazing wshawkins!  Great story and history of the mining process to get the ore to the mill.  Did you do this in a day hike or backpack trip?

wshawkins

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Re: The Story of the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
« Reply #24 on: April 30, 2012, 10:09:25 AM »
Day hike.  Started about 0730 and back to my truck about 7pm.  It was a full day and did some fishing in the lower Horton Lakes.
"It isn't the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe."