Continuing with our 2018 Summer Tour, we visit a historic railway, Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park, Cave Lake State Park, and a mining town, all within a short drive from Ely, Nevada.
Nevada Northern Railway Museum, a National Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark District
Originally owned and built in 1905 by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company, the railroad and yards served the copper mining region of White Pine County.
The depot, built in 1907 in the Mission Revival and Renaissance Revival, provided service for both freight and passengers.
Kennicott Copper Company took over the mining operations in 1933 and gained control over the railway, yards, and depot. Kennecott discontinued passenger service in 1941 although they continued to occupy the offices until 1985 after donating the yard and railway to the local non-profit for preservation.
Not only did Kennecott leave behind train engines and cars, they also abandoned office equipment and all of the accounting records dating back to the inception of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company. The state of Nevada then acquired the depot for the museum in 1990.
After riding the rails in Skagway, Alaska, and the Black Hills of South Dakota, we decided a guided tour of the machine shop might be more interesting to us.
On the tour, we saw building after building of old train engines, train cars, and all the equipment needed to keep them in working order.
We’ve seen recreated and renovated train depots before, but never have we come across one that contained mostly original furniture, office equipment, and documents that date back 100 years. It was a researcher’s treasure trove of payroll and other accounting records. Genealogists would be in heaven if they wanted to fill in the story of an ancestor that happened to have worked for the railway in the past.
Cave Lake State Park
Cave Lake is a 32-acre reservoir open for fishing and boating for catching rainbow and German brown trout. The no reservation camping facilities looked nice with a fire pit and grill, a table, and space for parking. Showers and flush toilets, but we didn’t see any sites with hookups so campers need to come prepared.
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park
The Ward Charcoal Ovens are accessed on a seven-mile gravel graded road about 10 miles outside of Ely. When I see gravel roads on the map I cringe, but there is no need for shying away from Nevada graded roads. They are sometimes in better condition than our California concrete or asphalt roads.
So what was the purpose of these beehive structures? The 27-foot diameter and 30-foot high ovens, constructed during the mid-1870’s, were stacked with up to 35 cords of wood which was burned for 12 days to produce 50 bushels of charcoal per cord. The smelters required 30 to 50 bushels of charcoal to separate silver and lead from one ton of ore.
In three short years, the silver boom went bust, the trees were stripped from the mountains, and the need for charcoal ended. Prospectors, stockmen, and maybe even a few stagecoach bandits, used the ovens for shelter until it became a State Historic Park.
We took a short trail to the remnants of kilns, and along a stream that gave us great views of the valley.
Today the ovens stand as a reminder of Nevada’s history and allow us to peek into the past.
Someone recommended that we drive out to the town of Ruth where mining operations are still underway. I’m not sure what I expected to see in Ruth, but the last thing I thought I’d see is a town looking to be swallowed up by the stair steps of a mine.
Ruth was founded in 1903 as a company town for the Robinson open-pit copper mine, which as of 2018 was still in operation. In 1955, the houses were offered for sale to the occupants who had been renting. In 1978 Kennecott closed the mines in Ruth and the town went into decline. The mine reopened in 1996 only to close in 1999 and reopened again in 2004.
While some of the homes showed signs of pride of ownership, other buildings looked like they were sitting there waiting for the bulldozer to show up.
Where did that deer come from?
Current mining operations not far from the town continue in 2018.
As much as we enjoyed our visit to Ely, Nevada, it was time to pack up and continue our forward motion toward Colorado. Next up, we move out of Nevada and into Utah where we make our first stop in Fillmore.