Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Richest Hill on Earth

Our first stop after leaving Farragut State Park was Butte, Montana.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's Butte was one of the largest cities in the western US, with the population reaching 100,000 in 1920. It began as a gold and silver mining town, but soon copper mining made Butte "The Richest Hill on Earth".  During the boom times ore was recovered using expensive and dangerous underground mining techniques. In 1955 production was switched to less expensive open pit mining, which required the acquisition and destruction of thousands of homes.

The population of Butte is now around 34,000 and mining is a much smaller portion of the town's economy. They have an outstanding museum that documents the mining history of the area and includes a complete mining era town.

The museum includes several vehicles of the period, including an armored payroll car with 1" thick windows and an ingenious "snow machine" built from an old tractor. 
Armored Payroll Car
Tractor Converted to a Snow Machine
The restored town contains dozens of buildings, including an Ice House. Blocks of ice were cut from ponds and rivers and stored in sawdust in the Ice House. Ice was then sold through the warmer months. The curved saw on the side of the house was used to separate blocks that had frozen together during storage.
Ice House
Much of the museum was devoted to the methods and dangers of underground mining.

The basics of underground mining are that a shift of workers drilled holes in the rock face, set charges of black powder (and later dynamite), and then the face was blasted. The shot rock was loaded into buckets or carts and taken out of the mine to be processed on the surface. 
Rock Face Drilled and Loaded with Explosive
The headframe of the mine is the base of operations. Workers enter the mine there, and ore is transported to the surface. 
We were able to climb to near the top of the headframe and enjoy the view. The taller mountains around Butte were showing a dusting of fresh snow. A good sign that we need to continue moving south!!


  1. I had to chuckle at the snow machine. We saw a homemade snow plow from way back at a pioneer museum in Haines, Oregon. They sure seemed to figure things out! I guess that is still true - we just have different kinds of things. Serene

    1. That thing really intrigued me. I wonder how (or if) it they got it to turn!!