June 26, 2018

Photo Essay: Paying My Respects Along the Nevada Silver Trails

Most of my recent trips have been so quick and so planned out, I haven't been giving myself a real opportunity to explore.

But that all changed on my road trip to Northern and Central Nevada earlier this month, when I gave myself 10 hours to drive six hours from the Nevada Northern Railway Museum to McCarren Airport in Las Vegas. Then, I took the scenic route. (More dispatches from that journey forthcoming.)

And one of my most magnificent discoveries was the Pioche Aerial Tramway.

Without a cell phone signal and without a clear address of a destination, I knew I wanted to see something in Pioche, Nevada's so-called "liveliest ghost town" (and the Lincoln county seat since 1871), but I didn't really know where I was going.

Earlier that day, I'd read that the former boomtown had a cemetery—well, a "boot hill"—situated under an old silver mining tramway, but I didn't know whether the cables had carried passengers, supplies, or products.

And then I saw it with my own eyes—a glorious blast from the mining past, easing down from Pioche's Treasure Hill, guided by gravity.

The carts are absent of ore, but they're remarkably intact.

And they hauntingly creak with the howling wind... longer propelled by a 5 horsepower motor and no longer on their way to processing at the Godbe Mill (named after Salt Lake City businessman and Mormon covert William S. Godbe).

It is an incredibly breathtaking sight to see—and almost unimaginable that it still stands where it was originally installed in the 1920s, without a hint of damage or vandalism.

Then again, not many people probably pass through Pioche—and the ones most commonly found by the aerial tramway are buried six feet under.

Sure, there's the advertised "boot hill" cemetery for the Wild West outlaws who were buried so quickly that they still had their boots on, but there's also a more "proper" and "civilized" cemetery that resides under the death knell of the clanking iron edifice above.

But for once, I wasn't nearly as interested in the dead and buried as I was in the surrounding infrastructure.

The ore carts bear the insignia of A. Leschen & Sons Rope Company of St. Louis, Missouri—a company that had been making cables (a.k.a. wire rope) since 1857 and whose Denver branch served the "great mining interests of the West."

The company knew that "lives depended on the tensile strength of a single rope"...

...and the quality that it promised nearly a century ago is now clearly proven to any passersby.

The Leschen Company had built a similar automatic tramway for Silver King Mining Company in Park City, Utah—though those aerial tramways have since been converted into chairlifts for skiers and tourists.

These extant structures in the Pioche Mining District, however, mark the end of the Ely Mining District bonanza—one that began with its first silver mine in 1864 and ended in the 1930s when the "mother vein" was essentially depleted and the workings were abandoned.

I didn't know what I was looking for in Pioche, the most successful of the settlements along the Nevada Silver Trails—but honestly, I couldn't have found anything better.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Death Toll of Tombstone
Photo Essay: Route 66's Daggett, From Silver to Solar
Photo Essay: Bloodthirsty and Money-Hungry Shenanigans in the Colorado Mining District

1 comment:

  1. So exciting to see this. My paternal grandmother was a Leschen, so I know quite a bit about the company and their extensive history in western US mining in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Their patented "Hercules Red Strand" wire rope served the mining industry well during that period and beyond in bridges and construction projects since 1857. The family sold the company in the early 1950s as the slump after WWII proved to be a difficult time. Leschen Wire Rope is still manufactured today to the same standards as the early mining days. On a light note, much of the mining business was paid "on the come" in mining shares that were never worth much, if anything. My family joked about that after the company was gone. The long abandoned crumbing 35-acre plant (and 3-blocks of company provided houses) still exists in downtown St. Louis as a testament to the German immigrant Leschen family.