MinesQuincy Mine

The Life and Times of Quincy No.2

She came into this world in 1856, offspring to a struggling mine trying desperately to make ends meet. She was a twin, her sister next door erected the same year. She wasn’t the mine’s first, and despite her name wasn’t its second either. The Quincy Mine at the time already had a family of its own, raised atop a different lode found just to the west. Those shafts, however, started off life in disadvantage as the lode beneath their feet – the Quincy Lode – had very little riches to offer. The new No.2 and her siblings, however, had a far more advantageous  start as the lode sitting below their feet – the Pewabic – happened to be one of the region’s richest. The Quincy Mine just didn’t know it at the time. At her birth the No.2 and her siblings were the mine’s last hope at greatness  and the only thing standing between the mine and total failure.

In those early years she wasn’t much to look at. As was customary at the time her shaft house was nothing more than a narrow board-and-batten structure about four stories high . The building’s top floors were occupied by a large iron wheel known as a sheave over which the hoisting rope was hung. Down below was the shaft opening itself, joined by a small winch or derrick used to help dump the rock-carrying kibbles from the underground. Attached to her backside was a shorter addition used as a sorting house. Here men would sort through the rock brought up from the mine. Any rock without copper would be discarded into neighboring piles as poor rock. Pieces of mass copper would be set aside, while any copper bearing pieces of rock were loaded onto tram cars for transport to a separate kiln or rock house for further processing.

The No.2 In Her Infancy
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER, MICH,31-HANC,1–8
Here’s a look at our girl in her earlier years – she’s the one the third from the right. At this age the Quincy No.2 was just a baby, capable of doing very little on her own and requiring the help of the neighboring rock house to make it through day to day. While she could bring rock up from the underground, she could perform only a primitive amount of sorting and could not process the rock in any way. Most of the work she would be expected to do later in her life was at this point done by the sprawling structure found next door – the rock house. It was within this structure that rock she brought up from the underground was prepared for further processing down the hill at the mine’s stamp mill.  There it was sorted and crushed into a size the stamps could handle.

For the next decade the No.2 deepened, as it and its sisters were joined by four other neighboring siblings. Yet the life of a copper shaft was not an easy one – and especially not a long one. By the time the 1860s came to a close, the No.2 had lost five of its brothers and sisters. Some never got off the ground, while others simply had no more to give. As the No.2  entered adolescence only the No.4 was around to celebrate with her.

For the next two decades both shafts forged ahead, continuing to do the bulk of the mine’s work. As the Quincy No.2 reached middle age she was showing her age, her shaft house now antiquated in comparison to the impressive new structures being erected on younger shafts nearby – filled with all the latest and greatest technology. Yet there were still new tricks to teach this old dog, and on her 38th birthday the No.2 received a major face lift in the form of a brand new combination shaft and rock house. And what an impressive sight it was.

The No.2 During Her Adolescent Years
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER, MICH,31-HANC,1–13
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER, MICH,31-HANC,1–13

The No.2 had finally grown up, maturing into the sprawling wood-framed masterpiece seen above. Inside could be found not just a pair of sheaves and a shaft opening, but a fully functional rock house complete with modern rock crushers, drop hammers, and mechanical sorting equipment. While for most of her life the No.2 relied on the assistance of a neighboring rock house for these chores, now she was capable of doing it all by herself with help from no one.

Not only could she do that work herself, she could do it far more efficiently and quickly then her rock house nanny could ever do. Inside rock was carried up to the top levels of the building were it was dumped onto sorting equipment known as Grizzlies. From there rock was sorted into stamp rock bins, poor rock bins, or into crushers. Large pieces of rock were worked in the mass copper wing, where a steam hammer was used to break off poor rock. The bins in the building’s base were elevated above railroad tracks, for easy loading into rock cars. A dedicated steam engine placed in its own wing powered the whole affair. (click on the “Rock House Tour” tab above to get a better view)

While impressive, the Quincy No.2 was still not done. With her new modern shaft house she would continue to be a major producer for the mine, producing a quarter of all the mine’s copper for the years to follow. She lumbered on for another decade but once again changing times and a modern era had outpaced her. As the No.2 entered her golden years she once again found herself out of step with a mine looking to cut costs and increase efficiency. Worse yet her old bones had begun to rot and deteriorate, partially from age but also from the large amount of hot wet air that flowed up from her shaft. Once again the old girl was due for a face lift.

The No.2 Undergoing Some Cosmetic Surgery
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER, MICH,31-HANC,1–15
If her first upgrade was a sign of maturity, her second was a sign of a shaft that had grown wise after a half century of experience. It was a new century, and the mine was facing a new reality. The copper below its feet had become expensive to recover, and the mine had to cut operational costs as much as possible to stay afloat. A good amount of those costs could be saved at the shaft, and after a half century of time the mine had learned how to limit those costs to a minimum.  While it once took over two dozen men to work the rock coming up from a shaft two decades ago, Quincy knew they could bring that number down to just five while almost doubling capacity at the same time. In order to do that several large changes were required. First the rock bins at the shaft had to be increased substantially to minimize production back-ups. Second the practice of using two sets of crushers had to be eliminated in favor of large more capable machines. And third it had to instal a new set of sorting equipment in a configuration honed from years of trial and error. These were changes a simple alteration or renovation could not accomplish. The shaft rock house at the No.2 had to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Thus in 1908 – as the shaft celebrated its 58th birthday –  the beginnings of this new and improved shaft rock house took shape. As the No.2 was still an important producer for the mine production could not be halted during construction. Instead the new structure was erected around the operating shaft piece-meal, portions of the old building torn away as equivalent portions of the new building were completed. Due to the new structure’s increased height and weight it’s skeleton would be formed from steel in lieu of wood and its foundation built from concrete instead of rubble rock. That improved foundation and skeleton would support a structure nearly 150 feet in height – just under 14 stories. At its base sat a massive iron storage bin for stamp rock – a bin capable of housing some 2,000 tons of material.

No.2 After Her Mid Life Crisis
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER, MICH,31-HANC,1–17
When finished this new towering industrial obelisk had become a shining symbol on the hill of an empire that had reached the zenith of its technological prowess.  Here the ideas, technology and procedures fine-tuned over a half century of mining experience came together into one harmonious monument of corporate efficiency. Where once two dozen men once toiled in the pursuit of copper riches, now only three were required. And while those dozens of men could process just 900 tons of rock in a 24 hour period, now over a thousand tons could be processed in just half the time.

The new No.2 would be joined with an equally impressive surface plant, including one of the world’s largest hoisting engines required to reach the shaft’s increasingly impressive depths. It would toil away for another three decades, its bowels reaching a depth of nearly 9000 feet – just under two miles. Unfortunately while she was graced with a brand new exterior, the No.2 was still an aged shaft on the inside. With her advanced age came the typical problems associated with such longevity – her bones were weak and she was prone to collapses and air blasts. These collapses made the shaft unusable for nearly a year as the mine worked feverishly to repair the damage.  To add insult to injury she would suffer a devastating fire , requiring even more repair work.

This incredible depth made mining incredibly expensive as well, and as the Depression neared the shaft’s excessive costs along with all the problems associated with its advanced age would harken the No.2’s eventual closure.  That would happen in 1931 along with the rest of the mine. At the ripe old age of 75 the No.2 had seen her last skip of copper rock enter her shaft house.

Yet this wasn’t the end for the old gal. Both her and her remaining sisters were kept in good repair for the next few decades as Quincy waited out what it thought would be a temporary economic downturn. It would end up reopening some of its shafts on a limited bases during the war as well, but not the No.2. Yet hope still prevailed as the mine’s new source of copper riches – its own stamp sands in Torch Lake – kept the mine afloat. The No.2 continued to be cared for in the ensuing years but by the end of the war all hope was gone. The company would finally see the writing on the wall and call it quits in 1945. As a result the Quincy No.2 was abandoned as is and left to rot away.

The No.2 in Her Golden Years
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER, MICH,31-HANC,1–279
The old gal would not go quietly into that good night, however. As her remaining sisters fell to the cutting torch or to fire, the No.2 survived. Two decades of time passed and the No.2 could still be found standing tall atop Quincy Hill. By now she had reached the ripe old age of 105 years and definitely looked her age. Rusted and worn, wrinkled and weak, the old girl found herself surrounded by a surface plant largely fallen into ruin and decay.

Turns out, however, that 105 is the new 40 as the Quincy No.2 would find herself once again undergoing an amazing transformation. Her along with the ruins around her fell under the ownership of the Quincy Mine Hoist Association in 1961.  The association would secure both her and her surface plant’s future, as the soaring structure would become a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Towards that end the old girl would receive yet another facelift -this time one more cosmetic in nature.

The No.2 As She Looks Today

That facelift involved removing the old rusted exterior and replacing it with a brand new shiny metal facade the gal still sports yet today. Though she doesn’t look a day over 30, the Quincy No.2 is in fact over 160 years of age (though technically the building itself is only 109 years old). Though she hasn’t seen a rock skip in over half a century, everything she would need to process that rock can still be round inside her. In fact a tour through her interior today is a trip back in time, retracing the footsteps of workers who toiled within her more then a century ago.

Its a journey we plan to take ourselves here on CCE next…

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  1. Mike, great post, and the new format with larger images is great. I’m confused by the first old image from the library of congress. Did you mean to say the #2 shafthouse is third from the left (not the right) in the old image? In other words, it’s not on the far left but it’s the one nearest the center, with the rock house and smoke stack just to its right?

  2. I have often wondered if there was a different shafthouse built sometime between the one in the first photograph taken in 1875 and the 1894 shaft-rockhouse shown in the second photo. The 1882 hoist house seen under the cable stands obviously served the shaft, but I have never seen a photo showing it in service. Whether it was used with the earlier shafthouse or a later one built between 1875 and 1894 remains a mystery to me.

    1. I’m not a mining technology guy, but I wonder if the ropehouse could have once housed a sinking hoist or an auxiliary hoist engine used with the earlier shafthouse/shaft-rockhouse?

    2. After some digging, I found a reference about rebuilding the #2 shafthouse in 1884. This probably wasn’t much different from the original since the rock was still processed at the central rockhouse.

    3. Thanks Paul, after your comment I went back and re-read my sources more closely and there was another version of the No.2 that replaced the one I showed in that first picture. But it was just a larger version of the same – and no rockhouse inside.

  3. In its earliest days, #2 shared a hoist with its neighbors. They would hoist from one shaft for awhile and then move the cable to another. Not real efficient but also not very capital intensive which was important for the new mine. As time went by and the mine proved to be profitable it paid to install dedicated hoist at the major shafts. The “rope” house was one of those hoist houses. More time went by and the shaft was enlarged with two skipways and sunk way deeper. A larger hoist with more rope capacity was needed. This meant a larger drum with increased diameter and face width to carry the required cable. The face width is very important and is the reason large hoists are placed so far from the head sheaves. The fleet angle needs to be kept within the practical limits. The fleet angle is a function to the hoist’s drum width and the distance head sheave in this case. If the angle is too great, the cable will not wind on the drum properly and worse, could climb out of the groove in the head sheave, both undesirable. The “rope” house was too close to the shaft to handle a bigger hoist..
    There is a popular myth that the hoists were placed so far away from the shaft to avoid vibration in the shaft due to the hoist. Not true, look at North Kearsarge where one of shafts has the hoist house built directly over the shaft. A well built and maintained hoist does not vibrate. The fleet angle is the determining factor.
    All that said, as to shaft house, there may have been several intermediate houses before the 1895 house was built. Until then all that was needed was a head frame and a dump.

    1. Thank you for this additional information Paul. It certainly does fill in some missing pieces of the puzzle for me. I have always valued your knowledge of the Copper Country, ever since I read your series of articles in Railroad Model Craftsman in the mid 1980’s.

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