Kentucky Mine, at Sierra City

A Small Mine, but with Complete Hard Rock Operations
from Tunnel to Stamp Mill

Music at the Mine:

Mine Tours:

Pictures Taken June 27, 2010
Posted June 30, 2010
2010, Herbert E. Lindberg

After living in the Gold Country for 17 years, we finally took an afternoon to see this wonderful little mine just outside of Sierra City, California.  It's less than 60 miles from Lake Wildwood on beautiful winding country roads all the way.  We went Pleasant Valley road to Route 49, turned left, and then past Downieville to Sierra City. The mine is on the left, well marked by a sign on the road just past the town. Allow an hour and three quarters for a relaxing, beautiful ride to Sierra City at 4000 feet elevation.

The museum and mine tours are run by volunteers of the Sierra County Historical Society, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every day but Mondays and Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Leave a one dollar donation and browse the museum or take the complete tour of the mine, $7 for adults and $3 for children. It's a great tour (about an hour and a half) which I highly recommend. Tours start at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

(Note: we learned during a second trip in 2011 that the museum closes shortly after 2 p.m. if there are no visitors. So, even though you don't plan to take the tour through the mine, make sure you get there before 2 p.m. and/or call to make sure there will be a volunteer on duty at the museum while another volunteer leads a tour.)

The mine was never a financial success because of the low gold content in the rock, but it was operated on and off by small groups of miners from 1850 to 1954.  The smallness of the operation makes the mine an ideal exhibit because the tour follows the entire operation from ore car tracks in its adit (an entrance via a horizontal tunnel into the side of a hill), to a one-man blacksmith shop, a good-size operating Pelton wheel, ore cars and tracks to the nearby 10-stamp mill, another Pelton wheel, and all the details of rock crushing operations.

The tour starts at the portal to the adit.  I believe our tour guide was Judy Lawrence, Asst. Director.

First you walk about 50 yards into the adit, and feel the temperature change from hot outside (90+) to cold (50-) inside.The tracks on the floor of the tunnel are the ones used in mine operations.

The blacksmith fire pit and bellows are in the portal building, at left foreground. View is back toward the entrance.

An operating Pelton wheel is set up in the portal building. Judy didn't tell us what was run by the belt wheel, but my guess is it ran an air pump to drive pneumatic drills and/or provide fresh air to the mine tunnel(s?).

Judy ran the wheel with city water, which you can see splashing out of the cups at left.

Just outside the portal, visitors push an ore cart along a track branch that leads to a tailing dump. This entire area around the portal is made of tailings. Ore was hand sorted into "high grade" ore that went to the stamp mill and low grade rocks that were pushed over the side onto a growing pile of tailings.

The tracks to the stamp mill run across this trestle, which was converted to a foot bridge by adding handrails on each side. The ore car tracks are still in place.  There were no handrails during past mine operations.

The ore cart tracks lead to this dump section, where the ore was dumped onto a steel sorting comb.

Visitors view this region from behind a wood rail.

Visitors see these tilted grating bars (comb) above the stamp mill. Ore rocks small enough (about 3 inches max) for the stamp mill go through the grating and fall into the stamp mill input bin. Larger rocks slide down the grating and into the rock crusher bin.

One floor below is the rock crusher, which crushes the larger rocks into sizes suitable for the stamp mill.

The rack and pinion on the right opens and closes a vertical door that allows a batch of large rocks into the crush chute. Judy operated the door with the hand wheel behind her.  I wasn't close enough to hear how the crusher works, but it's driven by the belted pulley attached to a shaft leading to the crusher.

One floor farther down is the cam shaft and "lobes" which, raise, spin, and drop the 1000-pound stamp mill bars.

Closer view of the lobes and lifter cylinders fixed to the hammer bars.  Friction turns the bars as they are lifted. In this demonstration configuration, all but one of the stamp bars is held up by prop sticks (out of view on the other side).

Still another floor down are the stamping feet and crushing bins. In full operation each stamp bar is raised about a foot and dropped, 75 times per minute as rock, water, and mercury are fed into the stamp box. The mixture becomes a fine slurry which oozes through a fine screen and onto copper plates in the collecting troughs out front. Water washes away the rock part of the slurry and the gold-mercury amalgam remains on the copper plates. Stamping is stopped periodically so the amalgam can scraped from the copper sheets and taken to a retort, in which the mercury is separated from the gold. Judy described the gold ingots from this mine as coin size, not brick size as at Empire Mine.

Judy points to the stamping feet.  These wear and are replaced by new ones, as seen below her arm.

Judy raised and dropped the one active hammer by turning the Pelton Wheel by hand.

A more expansive view, with the second tour group at the railing upstairs.

Outside the stamp mill, with trestle to the portal at right.

Mary next to a cascade of waterfalls, where we had lunch at the Mountain Creek Restaurant in Sierra City

View from our table to the old buildings across the street, and to the beautiful pine forest behind them

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