MinesQuincy Mine

The Quincy Method (p3)

Mining at its most basic level is nothing more than an exercise in transporting rock from one point to another. This process begins underground soon after the rock is blasted free from its subterrarian home as it is loaded into tram cars for transportation towards the nearest shaft. There it is transferred into skips and brought thousands of feet up to the surface. While it may seem that this would be the end of the journey, it has really just begun. Now the rock has to be moved to a stamp mill for processing – a complex that is often located miles from the shaft from which the rock was extracted. Even then its journey is not complete, as it then must be hauled to a smelter for a final level of processing – a journey of another several miles if not dozens depending on where the smelting is to take place. Finally the finished copper product must be hauled to market – which meant a ride on a lakes steamer for an oversea journey of hundreds of miles.

Like the rest of the copper empire’s mining methodology, the manner on which this transportation occurred was fine-tuned and perfected over decades to insure the quickest and most efficient system was in place. This is a good thing since in the beginning most rock was hauled largely using muscle power alone – be it an animals or a man’s muscle doing the hauling. Later those animals and men were replaced by tram roads – ore cars pulled along tracks by an endless loop of cable.  The Quincy Mine would install its tram road system in 1860, a tramway which included an inclined portion heading down the hill to the mine’s stamp mill on Portage Lake. Rock from the shafts would first be hauled along this tram road to a centralized rockhouse before heading on down the inclined portion to the mill for processing.

The Quincy Mine Tramway and Rockhouse
Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER
This tram road was a rather remarkable piece of engineering – its impressive scope seen in the old archive picture above. In addition to the incline portion heading down to the mill there was also an elevated portion which connected several of the shaft houses. That impressiveness came at a cost, as all that exposed wood was prone to deterioration and needed replacement from time to time. Quincy’s tram road would be rebuilt several times during the mine’s life, extended and contracted as shafts were brought online or closed. Though a standard rail line would eventually make its way into the surface plant, that railroad would be relegated to just coal handling while the tram road continued to move most of the mine’s rock. As the new century approached, however, that would all change as Quincy would be forced to relocate its mill due to government order making the tram road obsolete in the process.

This was because Quincy’s new mill would lie nearly a dozen miles distant, too far to be served by the old tram road.  To cover such a distance a full-fledged railroad was needed, forcing Quincy to built such a railroad between its mine and mill – complete with steam engines pulling long lines of rock cars. Thus the old endless loop tramway that had faithfully served the Quincy for decades was dismantled and removed from the landscape. The era of the tram road had come to an unceremonious end.

The Copper Rock Silos

The new railroad meant a subsequent change in how rock would be handled at the mine’s shafthouse’s as well, as no longer could they be served continuously by tram cars  heading back and forth to the rockhouse. Steam trains did not have nearly the same turnaround time, and even with multiple trains running along the line simultaneously shaft houses would still have to wait for a train of rock cars to take away its copper rock riches. Since a mine couldn’t simply shut down a shaft to await the arrival of those rock cars, it would have to have a way to store the copper rock on site until a train of rock cars could arrive. This meant the addition of storage silos at shafthouses – large iron canisters in which copper rock could be stored awaiting its removal. These bins would then be placed directly over spurs of the railroad to allow trains of rock cars to be loaded effortlessly by gravity.

The Rock Silos of the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
The Rock Silos
These storage silos make up a major component of the Quincy No.2 Shaft/Rockhouse – exposed towers of iron and steel that rise over four stories above a rugged concrete pedestal. The Quincy No.2 has four of these silos with the two largest seen in the photo above – one used to store stamp rock ready for the mill and another to hold mass pieces of copper rock that could be taken directly to the smelter.  Both of these silos are fed from the No.2’s rockhouse level which sits directly above them. As with all else in the shaft/rockhouse these silos are the end result of decades of fine-tuning rock handling in order to produce the most efficient system possible. As such the copper rock silo seen here at the No.2 was the largest the mine had ever built – capable of holding 2,000 tons of rock inside its cylindrical confines. This was a ten-fold increase from the mine’s earliest bins, which would only muster some 200 tons of rock. As a result the No.2 could operated far longer before needing its silo emptied, ensuring that no matter what happens along the railway the shaft could stay operating unimpeded.

Close View of Copper Rock Silo at Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
Close View of Copper Rock Silo
Today of course the bin holds nothing but empty space, as its contents were emptied soon after the shaft’s closure in the 1930s. Its a good thing too, because after a century of exposure to the elements and a lack of maintenance have left the iron panels making up the silo’s exterior peppered with holes and tears as the panels rust away. To help support the massive amount of rock found inside, a series of outside braces (two of which can be seen above) are attached to the bin to insure it keeps its shape even when filled to the rim with heavy copper rock.

The Foundation to the Copper Rock Silo at the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
The Foundation
Also supporting that massive rock silo is a robust concrete foundation placed at its base. The foundation is pierced through its center by a narrow tunnel, dividing it into a pair of parallel half-circles. Though it looks to be solid, the foundation is in actuality hollow as the concrete seen above only serves as a shell for an interior space filled up with poor rock.  The rock served as a soft bed for the copper-rock being dumped inside, and kept the wear and tear of the concrete itself down to a minimum.

The Loading Tunnel of the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
Down the Loading Tunnel
That tunnel cutting its way through the foundation’s center had a purpose as well. It was there to provide egress for train cars so they could park underneath the silo to loaded via chutes lining the silo’s base. Those cars would be pulled through this opening by a locomotive, stopping the cars under the line of chutes seen protruding down from the tunnel’s roof. The chutes connect directly to the rock silo above, and were used to empty its contents into the waiting rock cars below. Here we find another innovation of the Quincy Method as the usual arrangement of chutes found at other rockhouses across the Copper Country has been replaced with something new. While those other rockhouse’s would have used chutes placed directly above the tracks, Quincy instead utilized a pair of chutes set on either side of the tracks. This would double the speed in which the cars could be filled as well as insuring the silo was emptied more uniformly.

Rock Chutes and Control Booth of the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
Rock Chutes and Control Booth
Peering inside we can see those chutes in more detail, though today their bottoms look to have rusted out. Below those chutes can still be found the tracks of the rail line which once made its way through the space. The rails are narrow gauge, as was the rest of the Quincy Mine’s railroad. Along the far wall is a collection of conduits snaking their way into a small opening seen in the center of the foundation. Those conduits are actually compressed air lines, and the opening served a small control booth carved into the foundation. Within that booth stood a man who was in charge of opening and closing the rock chutes – a task done via compressed-air powered doors found at their terminuses.


The spur rail line serving the Quincy No.2’s stamp rock silo was one of three such lines which made their way underneath the towering structure. Two additional parallel spur lines also served the structure, one found just forward of the main stamp rock silo and another piercing the structure between the rock silo and the shaft opening itself. Both of these spurs were served by rock silos of their own, only the type of rock housed in those silos was different. For the spur piercing the building the silo was filled with worthless poor rock, while for the spur running alongside the building its silo contained valuable mass copper. As for that second silo, we’ve seen it before as it sits right alongside the stamp rock silo we’ve already explored.

Mass Copper Silo of the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
Mass Copper Silo
Like its adjacent stamp rock brother, the mass copper silo has deteriorated substantially. Most notable is the collapse of the silo’s feed tube which can now be seen peeking out of the silo’s old chute opening. This feed tube would have connected the silo with the rockhouse floor far above – the very same tube in which  workers would have dropped pieces of mass copper after being worked by the drop hammer. Also missing is the chute itself, which would have once sloped downward from the dark opening seen above. When intact the chute would have allowed the mass copper stored here to be dumped into a waiting rail car sitting alongside. That copper could then be taken to the mill or directly to the smelter.

The Poor Rock Spur at the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
The Poor Rock Spur

The Poor Rock Spur

The final rail spur serving the Quincy No.2 Shaft/Rockhouse could be found here – halfway between the the main silos occupying the shaft/rockhouse’s front half and and the shaft itself. Though the restored dump car seen within its maw is labeled as a poor-rock car, this particular rail spur in actuality several purposes at once. In addition to hauling away poor rock, rail cars utilizing this spur also carried tools, used drill bits, crushed rock, and even large pieces of mass copper from time to time.

Poor Rock Chutes at the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
Poor Rock Chutes
Peeking inside that opening we find the first of many chutes dropping down from the structure above. This particular one was for poor rock, connected to a small poor rock storage silo buried within the structure a floor up from here. Poor rock from the underground would be dumped from he skips into that bin, and then sent down this chute to be taken away by rail cars. Next to is is another smaller chute – an item which looks more like some type of heating duct. This chute was used by an attendant working the poor rock level of the structure, where a the structure’s third rock crusher was set up in the shadow of that poor rock silo.

This third crusher was not to produce stamp rock, but instead to created crushed rock to be used for a variety of purposes around the mine site – rail ballast, road material, or just standard fill for a variety of other projects. Like its brothers up in the rockhouse level, an attendant was needed to insure rock that shouldn’t go into the crusher did not. Any large pieces of rock to bulky to fit into the crusher was tossed into a hole in the floor, where it would tumble its way down the heating-duct looking chute seen above.

More Poor Rock Chutes at the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
More Poor Rock Chutes
At the other end of the rail spur opening are two other chutes dropping down from the ceiling. The one to the right was attached to a small silo (which can be seen just behind it) holding the crushed poor rock produced by the poor rock floor crusher. The one on the left is yet another poor rock chute coming down from the poor rock level – though its exact purpose is a mystery to me.

In addition to the chutes there was yet another method in which cars could be loaded along this rail spur. That was through the use of a pair of overhead cranes which entered this space from the adjacent shafthouse…

The Rail Cranes at the Quincy No.2 Rockhouse
The Rail Cranes
Those cranes were simple crane blocks attached to trolleys riding along I beams extending over the rail spur.  The chains and trolleys are now gone, but the I Beams on which they once ran can still be seen running across the space just above the rock car. Originally these cranes would have passed into the adjacent shafthouse through a large opening – an opening now boarded up and covered as seen above. Behind that newly added wall stands the skip road itself and a large concrete ramp on which various items brought up from the underground could be dumped. These items included spent drill bits, various tools, timbers, and the occasional large piece of mass copper. Any of those items could then be loaded up on the overhead cranes and brought over this rail spur to be loaded onto rail cars.

Of course no tour of a shaft/rockhouse would be complete without a look at the portion of the building dedicated to the shaft itself – which sits just behind this faux wall. Its into that space that we head next…

To Be Continued…

Be sure to check out the other parts in this series:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

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  1. I’m guessing they did not use a locomotive to load the cars. More likely the track had a slight grade, the locomotive would push the cars under the rockhouse and leave, the mine workers would use the handbrake to roll the cars under the loading suites.

  2. After looking at the intricate design and Innovation that Quincy pioneered it is no wonder to me that they were the most profitable company in the region. Is it a fair assumption that Quincy had the highest incidence of mass copper due to the load it was working? As usual Mike this group of articles is so intriguing! Thank you!

  3. Quincy was only the most profitable in the region back in the 1860s, as they were one of the first to successfully work “non-mass” copper (conglomerate/amygdaloid). After that they were far exceeded by Calumet and Hecla, who were sitting on the mother lode. The great engineering you see resulted from competition and declining copper prices – they had to reduce operating costs wherever possible to remain in operation. The size of the shaft/rock-house and hoist at Quincy #2 were designed for efficiency, not giant production. Other mines to the North were using way more power and hoisting way more rock (Calumet, Tamarack, Ahmeek, etc.). What was remarkable about Quincy was that they managed to stay profitable for so many years and not be bought out – while all other mines in the region became part of C&H (North of Hancock) or Copper Range (South of Hancock) or just closed. What’s remarkable today is the amount of equipment and structures that remain. While the industrial powerhouse of Calumet had most of the equipment scrapped (like most of the other mines), Quincy was kind of planning to return to operation someday. Then eventually the property was secured and now Quincy is the largest collection of industrial ruins in the area.

  4. There are many rumors and legends about Quincy’s plans, or lack thereof, to reopen sometime after the 1945. They did leave everything intact, and they definitely were rebuilding one of the locomotives when the doors were closed. One persistent rumor was there was miscommunication between New York and Hancock about keeping the mine dry. Another, more telling, tale which I just heard this year from the son of one of the WWII era miners, is they pulled many of the pillars in the #6 territory. That, if true, would mean the only good ground was in the Mesnard section since #7 was done and #2 was a wreak underground. With those two factors in play, the likelihood of reopening was pretty remote especially as time went on.
    Part of the reason the equipment lasted so long was Quincy was playing a tax game, as long as the Feds thought Quincy had a ready to operate mine, Quincy got a tax break. By the 1970s it was pretty obvious the mine was not ready to operate and the breaks went away and the scrapping started. Unfortunately much was ruined before the National Historic Park arrived. We missed an opportunity to say the least.
    Most of C&H’s major equipment on the Calumet Conglomerate was scrapped during WWII for both practical and patriotic reasons. One minor miracle was the saving of the locomotive “Torch Lake” which was ‘hiding’ at Phoenix during the war. It is unfortunate that some of the other equipment wasn’t saved.

  5. Since they “mined” Torch Lake until the late 60’s and operated the smelter into the early 70’s, it kept operations open about 2 1/2 decades after they were actually pulling ore out of the ground, which is kind of remarkable. At least #2 stopped operating in 1945. All others had stopped before that? Surely there were other underground activities happening in the 50’s and 60’s, as least exploratory? When did they stop bailing water?

    1. #2 stopped production in 1931. The shaft collapsed about half way down, according to the oral history. It suffered from the ignorance of the early days when they had no idea they would go so deep. Back then they thought the rock was so stable shaft pillars weren’t needed (if you have been on the underground tour, you can see that where a stope opens into the #5 shaft). By the beginning of the 20th century, the air blasts started as the old stopes collapsed. Local management begged New York to go on the retreat system but was turned down until the 1920s when the air blast problem became so severe even New York couldn’t ignore them. #2 suffered a severe fire in 1927 followed by more air blasts; it was down for repairs about as much as it was in production. As a result the big hoist only saw 11 years of service, most of it light. As big steam equipment goes, it is virtually brand new.
      When Quincy reopened in the late ’30s through August 1945 it was through #6 and #8. #2 was idle and I know of no effort to reopen her. The boilers in the #5 boiler house were gone when I first explored the site in the early ’60s, they probably were scrapped in the WWII years since they knew the #2 hoist would never need steam again. Other than the Homestake exploration at #8, I know of no efforts underground since 1945. The decision to stop pumping remains the stuff of legend. What we do know in hindsight is it looks like they thought about reopening but every year that past after 1945 made reopening more difficult and expensive. We also know the capital investment in #2 would have been better spent at #6 or #8. I would really like the know the rationale that went in to the decision to put so much capital in their most vulnerable shaft, it was becoming a problem child before the hoist was ordered. It is great it survived and is a wonderful memorial to the industry, but it is also a memorial to mismanagement.

  6. #2 stopped operating in 1931 along with the rest of the Quincy Mines, when Quincy reopened in 1937, only #6 and #8 shafts were used, #2 stayed idle. August 1945 all Quincy’s mines closed for good. The reclamation plant opened in 1943, designed and built by C&H for a fee of 8 percent of the cost of building it.
    The only work in Quincy’s mine that I know of was an agreement with Homestake in 1976 to explore the reopening of the mine using #8 for exploration. Michigan Tech also did some at the East adit and south end of the Pewabic using the same agreement. But as we know, it all came to an end.
    They had to pump water to do the exploration in 1976. I would guess they stopped bailing when they shut down the mine in 1945 or soon after.

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