Friday, July 10, 2009

The Quincy Mine

Location: Houghton-Hancock, MI

Three years before the 1849 gold rush in California, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was having its own mining fervor -- but here it was copper that caused all the fuss. As it turns out, a flat, relatively thin layer of copper lies under the Keweenaw Peninsula (and extends under Lake Superior), but because it sits at a slant, mining shafts also needed to be slanted to mirror the vein. If they weren't, the added expense and effort to remove the overlying rock would have been prohibitive. Think of a square with a diagonal line through it. Drilling next to the line makes it much easier to get to the line than removing the triangular half of the square above it.

The shaft house, the gray building on the right in this photo, was the mine's entry point. It contained three types of cars that were lowered and raised on one of two tracks that descended at a steep angle underground: cars for removing the copper ore, man cars (rows of wooden benches) for lowering and raising the workers, and water cars, for removing water in flooded parts of the mine. Since there were three types of cars and only two tracks, huge cranes were in place to remove the unwanted car from the track and replace it with the needed one. The mechanism for lowering and raising the cars was in the red stone building on the left, the hoist building. The hoist cables threaded through pulleys on eight black support towers that ran between the buildings, two of which are still standing.

Within the hoist building sits a huge steam apparatus that would have made a mad scientist drool with envy. Running the hoist safely was a complicated task requiring communication between the two buildings. When ore was being removed from the mine, the cars were pulled to the top of the shaft house where an ingenious wheel design caused them to automatically tip to the outside, emptying the ore. Of course, if the hoist was pulling up a load of miners after their shift, emptying the car at the top of the shaft house would be quite inappropriate. So a telephone system was used to communicate between the shaft house and the hoist building in a way similar to party lines -- each different ring was a message indicating what type of car was on the hoist and whether it was safe to move it. The huge wheels at the top of the spiral staircase in this photo told the hoist operator where the cars were physically located in the shaft. Ore cars had to be replaced with man cars at the beginning and ending of each shift -- if a miner needed to return to the surface before the shift ended, he had to ride up in an ore car -- and hope that the communication system worked flawlessly so he wasn't pitched out with the ore.

The tour of the mine took us through not only the shaft house and the hoist building, but also into the 7th level of the mine. This level is as far down as one can go today as the remaining 85 levels are flooded. This shaft was originally 9260 feet in length, and was the deepest shaft on the deposit. The Quincy Mine operated from 1846 to 1945, and was known as "Old Reliable."


Richard said...

Really interesting -- thanks for sharing.

sundog06 said...

This was Zoe's toughest blog ever. It was highly technical. It's so unlike her. She's become overcome with her blog. Froggie the Gremlin says "Hi, ya Kids. Hiya, hiya!!