Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Salt Tram Mysteries Revealed in May 2010

www.SaltTram.blogspot.com   SalineValleySaltTram@gmail.com
Salt Tram history is rapidly disappearing, and we are striving to rediscover the efforts of our forefathers in order to give proper recognition to their hopes, dreams and abundant sweat from an era that is rapidly fading from our memories. We are actively seeking out information about the mining of Salt in Saline Valley between 1903 and the 1940's, including: documents, photos, articles, stories, artifacts, etc. If you can help us out, please email us at the address above - Thank-you! --Tim and Brian Waag, the Waag brothers (aka E. Clampus Waagus).
Caution (PLEASE READ): Climbing around on the tramway is dangerous because its really old and defnitely unsafe, so don't even think about it. Shoot, just getting to it requires some perilous hiking, and if you don't believe me, just take a look at the Zig Zag Access Trail (or what's left of it). Plus, climbing on it weakens it and endangers your life. Also, the Saline Valley Salt Tram is on the National Register of Historic Places and should be treated with the respect that it deserves. What little remains is of great historic value, and should not be disturbed in any way. Heck, its probably against the law to move parts of the tram around, and certainly a crime to take home some of the few bits of it that remain (though you'd have to ask your friendly local BLM agent for details). So please treat it with the respect it deserves, so that future generations can enjoy whats left, without you messing it up. Really. Please. You can see its listing on the National Register of Historic Places at these web links:
National Register of Historic Places 1          National Register of Historic Places 2

Salt Tram Exploratory Trip: May 1 - 8, 2010
Introduction: Brian and Tim could do the trip by themselves and get a large amount of research accomplished. Adding members to the exploratory team is only being done on the basis of your ability to cooperate and work as a team in order to accomplish more tasks than Brian and Tim could do alone. Communication, teamwork, and safety are the keys to this trip. Our style is to break into teams and give them tasks to accomplish. We will keep in touch via daily plans and use of FRS radios, which work relatively well in the areas we will be hiking and camping.

The plan: To explore what is left of the Saline Valley Salt Tram operations and tramway that are still "en situ", or "on the gound". We will be using our extensive research materials to measuring and examining each tower, comparing it to the Patterson Diary, photographing and evaluating, and searching for the many camps and trails that existed to support the tram, etc. etc. etc. We will not compromise in our thoroughness, as we do not plan on doing this again!

Approximate Itinerary (Subject to change WITH notice to team members):
Sat. 5/1/10: meet in Olancha
Sat. 5/1/10: head out to Saline Valley and make camp near the Salt Tram
Sat. 5/1/10 - Tues. am 5/4/10: explore the Salt Tram between the Salt Lake and the top of the Zig Zag trail.
Even if it is VERY hot in Saline Valley, we plan on doing Phase 1 in SV.

Tues: am 5/4/10: leave Saline Valley via South Pass and shower and re-stock in Owens Valley
Weds. 5/5/10: head up to Salt Tram Summit Station and Cabin, and explore the Salt Tram in teams on both sides of the Inyos
Sat. 5/8/10: wrap up exploratory meeting and head for home

If you are interested in participating in this trip, please email us at the address listed in the profile on the home page of this website. Note that you can participate in the entire trip, or just Phase 1 or Phase 2.

Our most recent Salt Tram research trip (L to R): Doug, Brian, Rubi, Bob

We picked these dates in order to balance between too early in the year (late snowdrifts clogging the roads and trails near the summit) and too late in the year (hotter than hell). Brian, Tom and I aren't really hot weather guys (that's an understatement) and prefer cold to hot. But you can't control the late season snow drifts. We have done mid April backpacks to Beveridge, only to find severe difficulty driving through large snow drifts at the top of the Inyos, as well as along the upper flanks of the trail between Burgess Mine and Goat Springs. Obviously, we don't want to get caught with snow on the ground, as that will hinder our research. However, other years, we've gone into Beveridge from Saline Valley, where it has been in the high 80s to low 100s in APRIL!!!!

Note that the photos below are of a particularly wet snowy winter of 2005 in the Inyos. Most years, the snow is gone by mid April, except for harmless pockets located on the North facing slopes, in the shadows.

Here are some examples:
Beveridge in May 2005 (Inyo Summit Road on approach to the the Burgess Mine; note that Brian is getting winched out of the snow, even with mud terrains and  lockers on all 4 corners!)

Andrew loses his boot in the drift, and we take 15 minutes to find which hole it sunk into (the holes were too deep to reach with an arm). Result - a very wet, icy, cold boot for 13-year-old Andrew, and a scolding from his Dad (me) for not following in big foots' (that's Brian) footsteps!

Here is Beveridge in April of 2005 (near the Ridge Cabin):

This is Survivor Peak on the S wall of Beveridge Canyon.
The white patch to the right is where Goat Springs is located!


1) INTEREST: The first requirement is interest in the Salt Tram.

2) FITNESS: extreme fitness to be able to pull off some of the more insane hikes that we are planning to do in what appears to be a LARGE amount of time, but will actually be a very LIMITED amount of time. Note that if you are NOT in top physical shape, there will still be assignments that we can give to you  that will contribute to our exploratory mission.

3) DESIRE TO RECORD HISTORY: a strong desire to investigate, calculate and understand the historical salt tram operation in support of a successful research body on this amazing operation.

4) BRAINS: strong education background in engineering or history, particularly electrical or mechanical engineering is a big plus, as we have equipment to examine and understand, and measurements to make to support calculations regarding the physics and engineering behind the tramway. Also looking for people who have sufficient expertise in operating a handheld GPS so that we can precisely record the location of each tram tower and station, the roads and foot trails that access them, the location of the many historic camps along the way, and knows how to download them into a computer format that we can read, such as .tpo (national geographic topo software). Brian and I use Macintoshes and the powers that be have made downloading onto our computers more difficult than ever.

5) COMMITMENT TO SOLVING PROBLEMS: I swear, it'll still be a fun trip - yes, abundant amounts of steak and alcohol, just like always, but we hope to spend many evenings under the communal tarp examining and discussing the days results well into the evening (and yes, with Jack to help clarify our thinking!).

6) TASK ORIENTED: We're looking for people who can be given an identified task or assignment, and carry it out, much like our last trip, where we divided into teams, and did tough hikes down from the Inyo Summit Ridge, hiking down routes delved from satellite images that indicated terrain suitable for plunging the go-devil down 2000 feet to the bottom of Daisy Canyon (no, we haven't found the Go Devil route yet, but I believe we will on this trip). The teams of Rubi and Alan, Brian and Bob, and myself (solo, of course) tried 3 different routes to the bottom. For me personally, I was lucky to make it down without injury, but that's just par for the course when you're wandering around the Inyos in places where it is likely that no humans have every been before, or at least not in the last 100 years.

Photo below: one of the handful of cliffs that I scaled (solo) with a full loaded backpack, while searching for the Go-Devil route; there were no reliable handholds and I came very close to just tossing my backpack down this 20 foot cliff face and picking it up at the bottom!

Examples of tasks: we know there were 2 wells and a water pipeline at Tramway (the tram settlement near Swansea) - you could be assigned a task to find them - do we know where they are? Um, no, that's why you have been assigned to look for them; we do have clues that we will give you, but keep your walkie talkies on and find the wells - don't give up until we call you in. etc. (actually, that's not true - we found one of the wells on our November research trip to Independence, but neglected to take a photo or a GPS location - some researchers we are, eh?).

I found this text in one of our research documents:
In 1998, Halford and photography instructor Daniel McIntyre led a team of volunteers from the San Clemente High School photography class to the Inyo Mountains. Their project: to assess and document with photos, the condition of the Tram at that time. They focused on the structures on the gentler-sloping west side of the Inyo Mountains. The students created a record to be used by archaeologists, students of history, and the public into the future, long after the tram towers and control stations have been erased from the landscape by the forces of nature.

When we first visited the Summit Cabin, it had the display sign shown on the left, rather than the one that is currently up there (and which I do NOT currently have a photo of), and I believe this was the signage used by Kirk Halford's summit-area restoration efforts.

This 1998 survey was done only on the west side of the Salt Tram, but their objective and ours is the same: to create a record of what is left of the Salt Tram at a point in time, before further deterioration occurs. There is no evidence to suggest that this has been done before, so we are doing it now. We intend to produce a book on the Salt Tram for public consumption, as well as a research archive that captures and analyzes all of our research sources and materials.


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