Thursday, November 17, 2016

More than thrown on the wall to see what sticks

Disappointment tears at the very fabric of life. And hope is about the only thing disappointment respects. Imagine, if you will, the disappointment Col. Nathaniel P. Turner felt when he realized that his crowning engineering achievement, the hanging flume above the Dolores River, was an exercise in futility. Imagine the despair when he found there was no hope for the project, and years of his life’s work were for nothing.
“In 1886, several companies were formed to work the placers at Mesa and Cottonwood Creeks, wrote Ben H. Parker, Jr., of Golden, in an unpublished doctoral dissertation in 1960, at Colorado School of Mines. “The following year the Mesa Creek placer properties came into the possession of the Montrose Place Mining Co. capitalized at $5,000,000.”
According to the Engineering and Mining Journal (1887, v 44, p 263,) this company claimed to have 600 acres of placer ground underlain by gravels 12 to 115 feet deep worth from 50 cents to $7 per cubic yard. In a feature article on the company’s operations, the Engineering and Mining Journal (1890, v 49, p 563-565) reported the following.
“… In the spring of 1888, the ground was prospected by the aid of streams of melting snow and trifling amounts of water afforded by the Mesa Creek, quite a small stream. The result, however, was so satisfactory that the company decided to build a ditch and flume to a point 10 miles above (on the) San Miguel River.
There was about half and half ditching and fluming … the total cost will be about $75,000 when finished, and it is expected to be completed within a few months … This work was commenced at the lower end where the greater part of the flume is (because) the forest from which the lumber obtained is located nearest that point. Now work is going on at the upper end…”
“The flume traverses the whole length of the Dolores Canyon, which is about four miles. It is fastened to the walls of the cliff … and for a long distance elevation above the river of 300 to 400 feet. It is very firmly built and has been fully tested to carry the volume of water, which will pass through it when finished… In getting the levels, the work was very dangerous, the man being lowered down over the cliff… marking in read paint the line to be followed by the construction gang. As the supporting timbers were put into place, the floor of the flume was laid and the derrick pushed out ahead, from which other supporting timbers were raised and secured to their places. Under favorable conditions, with a gang of 12 men, 250 feet per day have been erected. At one point on the line, nearly 200 feet long, the rock projects out, forming a sort of canopy, and is so shaped that it was impossible to support the flume on brackets, and is hung from bolts, driven in overhead, on which the flume swings … , “ reported the Mining Journal.
The flume was six feet wide and four feet deep; it was set on sills fastened to the cliff with iron pins and supported on the hanging end by posts or inclined timbers pinned to the cliff beneath. More than 1,800,000 feet of lumber was used to complete its construction.
According to Frank Hall in History of the State of Colorado (1895, v4, p235):
… The operative plant of the Montrose Pacer Mining Company, formed of St. Louis capitalists, and managed by Col. N.P. Turner, an experienced California miner, is one of the remarkable mining triumphs of engineering in our state…
The company owns six and half miles of mining ground on the Dolores River. To successfully work them by hydraulic process, it was found necessary to tap the stream thirteen miles above, and carry the water by ditch and flume the entire distance. For more than six miles this flume is supported on brackets from and overhanging cliff, ranging from 100 to 150 above the river and from 250 to 500 feet below the summit of the gorge. In places the cliff hangs over an angle of fifteen degrees and such water as escapes strikes the opposite side of the river 100 yards from its base. A wagon road was constructed along the cliff at the apex, from which workmen were let down by ropes for the purpose of drilling into the face of the cliff, inserting the iron brackets (pins) and setting the flume thereon,” wrote Hall.
“Col. Turner was engaged more than two years in perfecting this wonderful enterprise. It carries 80,000,000 gallons of water each 24 hours. Its grade is 6 feet, 10 inches to the mile and its cost is something over $100,000. At the placers the latest improved hydraulic machinery is employed, and the work of cutting and sluicing began in the early summer of 1891. Col. Turner’s lowest estimate of the gold contents of the ground is 25 to 30 cents per cubic yard and he washes down the great main sluice from 4,000 to 5,000 cubic yards daily. The gold is extremely fine, and can only be saved by the liberal use of quicksilver. At the time of my interview with him at Ouray, and afterward and Montrose in September, 1891, he had made no general cleanup of the sluices, but had taken from the head four our five balls of amalgam about the size of hen’s eggs, and a partial indication of the precious metal being saved. It was, of course, wholly impossible to determine the results of the season until the final investigation to occur at th close of the operations for the year, but he was very confident that large profits would accrue to the company for many years to come.”
August 8, 1891, the Engineering and Mining Journal (1891, v.52, p170) quoted local newspapers as reporting the company had just made a cleanup of $80,000 after a run of 6 weeks with one giant. (This conflicts with Halls report, however.)
Parker said he found no subsequent reports of operations or production by the Montrose Company except for a short news item in the Engineering and Mining Journal (1897, v. 64 p 345) which reported the operations were suspended in 1893. The gravel deposits below the mouth of the flume are much less extensive than the company’s reports indicated and their value probably proved only a fraction of the company’s estimates, he said.
According to author Kenneth Jessen, in his book Bizarre Colorado, “the placer miners who discovered the fine gold on Mesa Creek Flats had little difficulty recovering gold with their pans; however the gold was such a fine powder that it washed right through the sluice and remained suspended in the water. It became clear the entire investment in the flume was lost. Col. Turner became so disheartened over the complete failure of the project that he went to Chicago, rented a room. And shot himself though the head.”
Various efforts continued to try to make the project pay for several years after it completion. But according to information by Hanging Flume on the Uniweep-Tabaguache Scenic and Historic Byway, “The end of the venture was sealed with ‘The Panic of ‘93’ when Wall Street futures came tumbling down in 1893. Just like today, the effects of Wall Street encompassed the entire nation including Colorado’s western frontier. In the end, the Hanging Flume was considered a failure. It was left hanging on the sandstone canyon walls, and all that remains is what you see today.”

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