Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summit Tram Cable Ready to Snap!

Friends of the Saline Valley Salt Tram
SaltTram.blogspot.com    SalineValleySaltTram@gmail.com

As the years pass, researching the true story of the Salt Tram is getting more difficult, as the abundant photos and written first hand accounts from that era find their way into landfills (instead of museums). We  are striving to rediscover the efforts of those who built and ran the Salt Tram, 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 1950'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:

Question 1: 

Until now, it escaped our observation that the track cables cross over each other after they come into the station where they are anchored in concrete. That is, in this case, the heavy 1.25" track cable that comes into the station (where it is tensioned with Weight Boxes at Station 18) on the North side of the summit station crosses over the South side 7/8" track cable to be anchored in concrete on the South side of the station. We will have to investigate whether this is true for the Weight Boxes (at station 18) as well.

Question 2: 

Can BLM be persuaded to mitigate the potential damage to the tramway when the long and heavy track cable (5 pounds per foot!) when it eventually becomes unanchored at the summit station (as it certainly will do in the foreseeable future), or will the BLM be content to "see what happens"  when the cable finally gives way, and hope that it doesn't damage the historic summit station structure for which former BLM archaeologist Kirk Halford and his crew put in so much work. Time will tell! BLM Ridgecrest and BLM Bishop have both been informed of this situation. In fact, Bishop BLM sent a team up to the summit to observe the situation for themselves. We hope they will act soon!
Answer to Question 2: It was decided by BLM to let sleeping dogs lie, knowing that the cable would soon snap from its anchor point and wreak unknown havoc on the Summit Station structure. Well, it finally snapped, as BLM Archeologist Greg Haverstock reported to us in June 2011. Details of the destruction are illustrated below.


Update: June 2011

BLM Archaeologist Greg Haverstock phoned me today to let me know that they would be doing a "Joint Fuels Project" to remove excess fuel surrounding the Salt Tram Summit Station, as well as the Salt Tram Summit Cabin. In the process of doing a field planning examination of the area, he observed that the cable has finally let go!!! He indicated that it landed on the ground about 200 feet below the summit station, and did cause some damage to the Summit Station structure, but it was fairly minimal. We look forward to receiving photos of Greg from the damage and will post them as soon as we get them - stay tuned.

For unkown reasons, this blogspot editor will NOT let me upload the photo images. I will send out the images via email instead, until such time as they can be posted here. This sucks!


Update: November 2010
We got out on a field observation to the Salt Tram in November 2010 (link) and found out a few more things from firsthand observation. Our time was limited in this area however, so the observations remain incomplete. However, here's what knowledge we added to the situation:

1) Background Information: In general, track cables are anchored in concrete from the higher station, and tensioned with wood boxes generally filled with local rocks at the lower elevation station. These "Weight Boxes" would have been suspended off the ground in the Salt Tram operational era, thus tensioning the track cable. Note that positioning the Weight Boxes in a station downhill allows the significant weight of the cable plus the tram carriers to assist in tensioning the cable; putting the Weight Boxes in a station uphill would result in that weight working against the Weight Box tensioning strategy.

2) Track Cables Cross Over: Until now, it escaped our observation that the track cables cross over each other after they come into the station where they are anchored in concrete. That is, in this case, the heavy 1.25" track cable that comes into the station (where it is tensioned with Weight Boxes at Station 18) on the North side of the summit station crosses over the South side 7/8" track cable to be anchored in concrete on the South side of the station. We will have to investigate whether this is true for the Weight Boxes (at station 18) as well. My guess is that it is likely that they cross over as well. Engineeringwise, I'm guessing that the crossing over of the cables provides an engineering advantage of some sort: either (A) crossing over provides greater ability for the cables to stay in their supporting brackets due to cross tension or (B) the crossing over creates greater structural stability by creating a triangular-shaped cable structure, or both. My guess is (A). Below: 1.25 inch track cable on right passing underneath station before crossing over from South to North side of station; photo below is looking East; note the notches in the beam to allow clearance for the track cable - even though it doesn't move? (click to enlarge).

3) Photo of 7/8 Cable on Ground (not attached): We  were only able to make our observation of the Summit Station at night, so it was a bit more difficult to observe (and darn cold too - about 19 degrees!). Below is the 7/8 track cable lying on the ground underneath the summit station.  Below: 7/8 inch track cable lying on the ground detached under the summit station:

Alan and his friend Linus visited the Salt Tram recently (Fall 2010), and excitedly reported some heretofore unobserved information about the Salt Tram Summit Station track cables. Note that this discovery was made by Linus, who was on his first visit to the Salt Tram - an observation that had escaped us to date! (Good work Linus - way to keep your eyes open!). The tramway track cables that run between the summit station and the second tram station (station 18) to the east are anchored at the summit with the cables attached to a large block of concrete. At Station 18 (to the east), it is anchored by two "boxes of rocks" (aka "Weight Boxes"), one for each track cable. Here is what the anchor point at the Summit Station is expected to look like: (photo supplied by Alan)

The above photo is a modern photo and it is easily observed that it is in near-perfect condition, almost like the concrete was poured just yesterday - even though it was poured around 1912. However, the similar anchorpoint for the two track cables at the summit station appear to have been buried under rubble for many years and have degraded significantly; part of this degradation appears to be from the corrosion effect from the salt being carried by the tram itself! The following 2 photos below both show the track cable anchor point at the Summit Station as it appears today; the anchor point for the smaller diameter track cable (south side track cable) is detached and not in the 2 photos (7/8 inch cable); the anchor point for the larger diameter track cable (north side track cable) is shown in the 2 photos (1 1/14 inch cable). (photos supplied by Alan):

Alan just sent me one more photo (below). This one shows the location of the one remaining track cable that is still anchored into the concrete (but just barely). This gives a good idea of the location of the anchor point that is the subject of this discussion.

Alan reported to us as follows:

South Side Track Cable (7/8 inch cable): of the 2 track cables that should be anchored in concrete at the summit, the one on the south side of the tramway has detached from the concrete anchor, and the cable is lodged in the track cable sadle (see next photo below). From my photos below, it would appear that this cable is currently on the ground and NOT suspended from the summit station towards the first tower to the East; we will need to confirm this at the summit station on our next trip up to it. Notice how the photo below shows the south track cable chain link has jammed into the track cable saddle, which is the only thing keeping the cable from plunging down towards Saline Valley! (photo by Alan):

North Side Track Cable (1 1/4 inch cable): The cable that is still anchored in the concrete (barely) and shown above is the track cable that is anchored on the South side of the tram (but crosses over inside the station, and would have supported loaded buckets on the North side of the tramway), which is much heavier, as it has to support the full salt buckets; its cable is 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Alan reports (and you can see in the photo above) that this cable has degraded substantially and is ready to pull out of its concrete anchor at any moment. This cable is suspended above the gaping divide between  the summit station and Station 19 to the East. The photo below shows the heavy North side cable as viewed from the Summit Station and looking towards Saline Valley; note that the cable is still taut where it passes under the track cable saddle (photo by Alan):

After a quick review of my Salt Tram photo archive, I quickly came up with some photos to illustrate the situation. Below is a photo by R2 taken from the summit station and looking east toward Station 19 and Saline Valley. In the photo, the North side of the tramway is to your left, and it can be seen that the track cable is clearly suspended in the air. (click to enlarge).

In this next photo of Station 19, also taken by R2, a close-up of a similar view as the photo above is shown. The photo below clearly shows the northern track cable (the leftmost cable in the photo) hanging in suspension between the summit station and 19. Closer inspection also shows that the southern track cable (the rightmost cable in the photo) is laying on the ground near Station 19. Note that a single traction cable can also be seen in the photo to the left of the 2 track cables, and it too is lying on the ground. (click to enlarge).

Finally, another photo taken of the summit station from a different angle (side view) shows 2 track cables going from the summit station to station 19 to the east. The higher cable is  the northernmost (closest to the photographer) track cable, and the lower one is the southermost track cable. We'll be getting out there soon and can investigate this situation. Thanks Alan for your good work on this subject. (click to enlarge).

Finally, I snagged a fuzzy Google Earth image of the Summit Station, and superimposed some photos illustrating this dangerous situation, with colored arrows showing the approximate location of each of the track cable photos at the Summit Station (click to enlarge):

The above graphic shows the Salt Tram Summit Station through Control Station II to the East. This gives an idea of the geography in which this discussion is taking place. See these links for images of Station 19 and Station 18.

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Document 006 (Doc-006): Ghost of a Skeleton Revisited

www.SaltTram.blogspot.com   SalineValleySaltTram@gmail.com

Question1: Did the author (Willma Willis Gore) write a previous article about the Salt Tram? If yes, then track it down as well.

Question2: Compare photo 8 to our photo of the Salt Tram dryer foundation to see how much is missing today.

Question 3: Continue to try and track down Bledsoe Photo Co., L. A. Cal. and find some more Bledsoe photos.

Question 4: track down photo contributors to this article: the late Ruth Willis Hunter (aka Mrs. Bev Hunter), Willma Willis Gore, Howard McAfee, Carl and Hazel McAfee (pictured in a photo riding the buckets), John A. Simpson, Edward Shepherd of Independence lost $5,000 in the 1940’s (he did ride in the buckets to inspect his investment).

Question 5: determine location of photo in photo number 7

Doc06 Article Analysis:

Article Title: Ghost of a Skeleton Revisited
By Willma Willis Gore
The Album: Times and Tales of Inyo-Mono
Page 2832
Being a quarterly recounting of the nature and history of two California Counties
Vol. V, No. 4
October 1992
Published quarterly by Chalfant Press, Inc.
Copyright October, 1992

Sample page form the article below - page 4 of 5 (click to enlarge) - bottom of 2 photos in the page below is Photo Number 7:

Synopsis: Short 6 page article on a revisitation of the Salt Tram by the author, who is believed to have written a previous article on the Salt Tram. Contains 9 photos of moderately poor quality, but lists names of those who provided the photos.

Source: Sue found a copy of this article in the Independence Free library in November 2009, where we got our original copy of the publication. Subsequently, we got a copy from Linda B. of Independence, who had 2 original copies of the magazine and was kinda enough to donate one copy to us - Thanks, Linda!!!

Current Status: Our copy of the magazine is in good condition, and at the end of our research, I plan on donating it to the Eastern California Museum for their Salt Tram Library.

Information Rating: (out of a scale of 1, 2, or 3, with 1 being the best information, 2 being so-so, and 3 being worthless or nearly so): 2

Useful Salt Tram Information and Leads: 
  • Ms. Gore was a teenager in the late 1930’s and ran a milk delivery route from Lone Pine to Keeler; she recalled the Salt Tram discharge station as a “landmark we knew then only as a tall ugly skeleton of a building”. 
  • Later, assumedly in the early 1990s, she saw that almost nothing was left [of the Discharge Station]. 
  • In the late 1930’s and ‘40’s, salt buckets still hung on the tram cables. 
  • Tram operated for 9 years between 1913 and 1929 when the tram was removed.  
  • In the 1940’s, the cables and buckets still hung on the towers [assumedly where she could see them from Hwy 126]. 
  • Beneath the north extension of the Discharge Station were bins to hold the salt that have been hauled away [no photos show any such bins; the salt just piled up on the ground]. 
  • 250 buckets [286 buckets]. 
  • Mill could process 70 tons of salt per day [dryer could only dry 20 tons per day?]. 
  • Bucket at Discharge Station contained weathered seats. 
  • 16 square miles of Salt Lake covered in salt to a depth of 30 feet. Long before the tram, placer claims were patented for use by Owens Valley people. 
  • Salt traveled in double wagons drawn by 8 to 10 horse teams. It was hauled north through the upper Saline Valley into Cow Horn Valley to Waucoba Pass in the Inyos, then down to the Valley in the vicinity of Big Pine. 
  • Salt was sold in Bishop for table use and in the Owens Valley for preserving meat; 50 pound sacks were packed into the Sierras for use on the summer cattle range. 
  • White Smith and the SVSC sold stock in 1911 and finished the tram in 1913. 
  • Mexican and Indian workers shoveled the salt into pyramids. 
  • Electricity generated at plants in Owens Valley supplied the power.  
  • Salt was graded and sacked at the Discharge Station for shipment on the Slim Princess, the nickname for the narrow gauge branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad that joined the broadgauge to Los Angeles at Owenyo. 
  • SVSC ceased production in 1913. Between 1913 and 1930 the tram operated under 3 different owners. 30,000 tons of salt were shipped, all told, with the largest shipments being made in 1929 when the tram was renovated. 
  • Total investment was about $1,000,000. 
  • Subsequently, the terminal was dismantled for scrap [or burned in a fire???].
Photographs (none of the photos in the article are dated) - Photo 9 shown below (click to enlarge) - this photo was taken as the bucket was coming into Control Station 4 on the west side of the Inyos:

  1. Bledsoe Panorama with multiple white annotations of the day, only 2 of which are readable: “Mt. Whitney” and “Owens Lake”; does not appear to show any of the Salt Tram, though it could be in the photo but unseen due to low resolution; panorama photo is appears to be crudely stitched together via scissors!; photo courtesy Ruth Willis aka Mrs. Bev Hunter
  2. No. 680, Bledsoe Photo Co., L. A. Cal. Photo of Salt Lake Salt Piles with large groups of salt lake workers far in the background; photo courtesy Ruth Willis aka Mrs. Bev Hunter
  3. No. 585, Bledsoe Photo Co., L. A. Cal. Panorama of Inyo summit, with Salt Tram summit station at far left of photo, with photo looking down into Saline Valley; not all annotations are readable, but they include “Summit ???? elev ???”, “Daisy Canyon”, “Saline Valley Salt Fields”, “Station 11”, “Station 9”; panorama photo is appears to be crudely stitched together via scissors!; no caption for photo.
  4. North end of tramway mill; photo courtesy John A. Simpson.
  5. Tramway mill; photo courtesy Howard McAfee.
  6. Discharge terminal with Willma Simpson (Gore) sitting in a “weathered seat” inside a Salt Tram bucket; photo courtesy John A. Simpson.
  7. Salt Tram carryover station (location not recognized); photo courtesy Willma Gore.
  8. Discharge Station Salt Tram dryer (photo facing east); ); photo courtesy Willma Gore.
  9. Carl and Hazel McAfee joyride the tramway (with tent cabin far below in the background); photo courtesy Howard McAfee.
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