The Trains That Moved A Mountain
by Blair Kooistra
(from Trains magazine, March 1989; with author's permission)
Soaring copper prices bring a last-minute reprieve for Kennecott's Bingham Canyon railroad.
The view is a familiar one, even if you've never been to the sprawling Bingham Canyon open-pit copper mine of Kennecott Utah Copper, 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. It is a picture of industrial might, seen the world over in textbooks and on postcards. The statistics of the pit alone are mind-boggling: 2.2 miles across and half a mile deep, the largest man-made excavation in the world, with over 5 billion tons of material removed since mining started in 1906. After 80 years of nearly round-the-clock digging, a mountain which once stood here has vanished, removed by ore trains lost in the vastness of this pit in the middle of the Oquirrh Mountain range. Three company mining towns which once rimmed the pit are gone, too. The mine had an insatiable appetite -- each ton of ore contains just 7/10 of 1 percent of pure copper, about 14 pounds. and the buildings of Highland Boy, Copperfield, and Bingham Canyon have been hauled away, the ground they sat upon dynamited and carted to the concentrator. (a similar article appeared in March 1974 Trains, titled "Railroad in a Copper Mine")
From the visitors platform on the mine's east side, the scene is as impressive as ever, but a little disquieting now. The constant hum of activity and the dozens of mine trains in its confines hauling ore are gone. Depressed copper prices were to blame when the former Kennecott Copper Corporation, a division of Standard Oil of Ohio itself purchased in 1987 by British Petroleum). shut down the operation for 18 months in early 1985. When the mine reopened in September 1986, employment was down, and the level of activity has never since returned to how it was in 1981, when trains hauled a record 39,160,000 tons of ore to concentrator mills 16 miles to the north on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.
[Photo caption: Grimy GP39-2s 707 and 705 back 22 loads of ore down 4 percent grade above Copperton Yard March 7, 1988 -- a fraction of the 50,000 daily tons from world's largest open-pit copper mine.]
Where more than 100 miles of electrified railroad trackage much of it temporarily plopped down to reach active mining areas in the pit -- once encircled the mine like some kind of berserk round-and-round model railroad circuit, only a few miles remain today. The heavy-duty low line, haulage railroad, on which tall electric motors once moved ore from Copperton yard at the base of this mine to ore-concentrating facilities at Magna, still runs, but yellow diesels, not yellow electrics or green diesels, get the job done today.
That the trains were even here at all in 1989 is a surprise; a year ago, railroad men in this huge hole in the ground were nervously anticipating the shutdown of rail operations entirely. The malaise of U.S. industrial might that created a Rust Belt in the Upper Midwest had bitten Utah's copper industry, and the call to modernize or perish under high operating and labor costs and low copper prices had been taken seriously here.
Rail operations at Bingham today are a shadow of what they were even five years ago, before the World Bank had called in past-due loans to Chile, which cranked up its copper production to pay its bills, flooding the market with copper and driving prices down to as little as 56 cents a pound. Kennecott Copper suffered a $160 million operating loss in 1984, prompting a decision on March 26, 1985, to shut down the Bingham mine. This left 5000 people jobless and staggered Utah's already frail economy. Eight months later, Kennecott's President Frank Joklik announced that the mine would reopen pending labor concessions and modernization aimed at producing 77,000 tons of ore a day with only 1,850 employees.
[Photo caption: Watched by kids posed for photo, Utah Copper 0-8-8-0 108, a 1922 Schenectady grad, barks out across Markham Gulch in period Kennecott publicity shot from collection of Don Strack.]
As part of the $400 million modernization program, Joklik announced the railroad would have to go. It was just too expensive to employ all those locomotives and ore cars, not to mention trackworkers, engineers, dispatchers, and mechanics, when a conveyor belt and pipeline operated by perhaps a dozen people would do the job for less money. A new copper concentrator, to be built just north of Copperton, would forever close the Magna, Bonneville, and Arthur concentrators near the town of Magna.
By early 1988, the modernization program was completed, ready to assume full operation and relegate the railroad to history. Several Kennecott railroaders, in fact, had taken voluntary severance and had found new jobs. But Joklik's decision to dump the railroad haulage of ore proved to be premature: copper prices soared to nearly three times their price during the copper slump, and Kennecott saw keeping the railroad as a way to keep production - and company profits - high. The announcement came May 12, 1988, just weeks away from the planned shutdown: the railroad would stay as long as high copper prices encouraged production, but the oldest of the two remaining concentrators, the Magna unit, would close permanently in early July. The Magna car and locomotive shops too would close, with many of the workers transferred to the newer and underutilized Dry Fork shops near the Bingham mine.
Rail workers who had intended to gut it out to the end were relieved, and they had - temporarily, at least - the last laugh on Salt Lake Tribune business editor Robert Woody, who had declared the railroad "going, going, gone" in an article on the modernization program. Workers who really had never kept track of copper prices in the past now followed the figures closely, for the future of their jobs on the railroad was now tied to copper prices in a way they never before had to comprehend.
[Photo caption: Backing into 3450-loot-long "6040 tunnel," custom EMD "vista-cab" GP39-2s 707/705 get a move on a cut of loaded ore cars bound for Copperton Yard on March 7, 1988. This reload is now idled by the conveyor delivery system but is kept intact as emergency backup.]
The Bingham Canyon mine operation has never been hesitant to try out new ways to cut the cost of hauling its ore. Two years after Daniel C. Jackling's Utah Copper Company started the world's first open-pit copper mine at the top of Bingham Canyon in 1906, the firm began construction of its own common-carrier railroad to haul raw ore from the pit to concentrators and smelters on the shore of the Great Salt Lake near Garfield, 20 miles north. This no doubt came as a blow to the Denver & Rio Grande Western, which had only recently completed a pair of branch lines from its main line at Midvale to handle ore traffic which reached 12 million tons in 1908. Utah Copper's Bingham & Garfield Railway, incorporated July 8, 1908, as a common carrier, began hauling practically nothing but copper ore. Stiff 2.5 percent grades up to Bingham Canyon from Garfield dictated large steam power, so nine 0-8-8-0's were delivered by Schenectady between 1911 and 1922. Two 1919-built Baldwin 2-8-8-2's were acquired secondhand from Norfolk & Western in 1942.
Inside the pit, 0-4-0T's and 0-6-2T's handled ore and waste rock duties, but soaring production found UCC searching for more efficient power. An early Ingersoll Rand box-cab diesel was tested against the steam power and just-delivered 1926 General Electric steeple-cab motor 700. A 750-volt D.C. electric system won out over internal-combustion motive power, and the company acquired 60 identical 75-ton steeple-cabs from GE beginning in 1928. The diesel was sent packing. Eventually, the mine's electric fleet totaled 76 motors.
After World War II, Kennecott Copper Corporation, which had acquired full control of Utah Copper Corporation in 1923, replaced the B&G with an electrified, 3000-volt heavy-duty ore-haul railroad - the "low line." Constructed with a maximum grade against empties of 1.5 percent and with 3-degree, 30-minute maximum curvature, and state of-the-art General Railway Signal CTC equipment on its 16 miles of main line, the new line began operation in 1947, employing seven 3200 h.p. GE motors to handle more than 20 round trips a day from a new yard at Copperton to Magna. With the construction of the new Bonneville concentrator on the hill above the Magna complex in the early 1960's, a second main was constructed, parallel but higher on the Oquirrh foothills than the original low line. The two lines joined at Central Junction, about 5 miles north of Copperton. Per ton-mile, the railroad was arguably the most heavily trafficked line in a state that hosted such heavyweights as the Union Pacific-Southern Pacific Overland Route and the coal-heavy Rio Grande Soldier Summit line - and both of those were double track. Among single-track line-haul railroads, the new Kennecott main may have been the nation's busiest, both in number of train movements and in gross ton-miles hauled.
If the electrified "low line" was perhaps Utah's most heavily traveled line, it was almost certainly its most obscure. The "Magna Motors" - Nos. 1-7, later 401-407 - served their 31 years in near-anonymity. Overshadowed by the Milwaukee Road's electric operations 425 miles to the north, Kennecott's juice show received little attention. Quietly but quickly, seven Electro-Motive SD40-2's pulled the plug on electrified low-line operation in April 1979, and three MP15AC's delivered at the same time idled a like number of GE-Westinghouse motors that switched the rotary dumpers at the Bonneville, Arthur, and Magna concentrators. The switch to diesel in the pit, however, was much more gradual.
[Photo caption: Rare SD24, switching at Garfield smelter in 1979, stayed busy for nine more years. Maintenance train for "5490 tunnel" gave battery steeple-cab 702 work until 1988.]
By the time shiny new Kennecott EMD's invaded the pit in the late 1970's, electric operations there had been threatened for some time. As early as 1964, the introduction of mammoth haulage trucks in waste-rock operation shouldered the 750-volt steeple-cabs from the upper reaches of the mine. Gradually the dominion of the trucks moved lower and lower down the mine's walls. Need for a fleet of aging mine motors was becoming questioned; maintenance of them, the newest of which dated from 1955, was becoming more expensive. Costly also was the electrification system inside the pit, consisting mostly of temporary steel towers holding trolley wire which could be sledded into place beside trackage on newly opened mine terraces.
Lines of cannibalized steeple-cabs began forming at the Dry Fork shops. Initial testing of diesels took place in September 1973, when Rio Grande GP30 3014 was leased for waste-rock haulage. The black EMD evidently caught the interest of Kennecott management, which leased four more Grande 30's, eight Union Pacific GP30's, and two - would you believe - Santa Fe U25B's.
The leased engines, with temporary Kennecott numbers slapped on their sides, worked side by side with the mine motors until Kennecott's first GP39-2's were delivered in 1977.
As ungainly looking as they were suited to the job of hauling ore, the GP39-2's were equipped with high-capacity air compressors for the 4 percent drop with loads down into Copperton, and they dodged rocks between the rails with pilots and small (2700-gallon) fuel tanks that cleared rail-top by a hefty 13 inches. Their most distinguishing - some might say disgusting - feature, though, was their "vista cab" that soared 26 inches above the rest of the carbody, enabling a pit engineer to see over the tops of loaded ore cars. The first 11, numbered above the pit motors as 779-789, were joined by 10 sisters, 790-799, in 1979 and seven more, 705-711, in late 1980. Two MP15AC's, 701 and 704, delivered in 1978, also prowled the pit. By late 1981, diesels had taken over, and lifeless hulks of pit electrics joined the Magna Motors on storage tracks above Copperton, awaiting the inevitable scrapping or museum donation. One electric motor did survive into early 1988, however, aided by its rechargeable batteries that allowed its operation without the need for overhead wire. Steeple-cab 702 was kept on the property long after its brethren had departed, its exhaust-free operation useful to the railroad for maintenance work in the 3-mile-long "5490 tunnel." When the tunnel was sacrificed as a rail route a year ago  to carry the new ore conveyor belt, the 702's mission was fulfilled, and it left the Salt Lake Valley for retirement in a railroad museum.
Today Kennecott Utah relies exclusively upon the products of EMD for its motive power. The oddball Baldwins and Alcos which used to supplement the electrics in concentrator operations had all been purged from the roster - many to museums - about the time that electrification succumbed. The only real oddities left are a pair of early EMD six-motors, chop-nose SD7 903 and SD24 904. The latter is notable on several counts: it's the last SD24 constructed, the only one-unit SD24 order, and the only 2400 h.p. EMD C-C built without m.u. capability. Both SD's are stored at Magna, the 903 unserviceable.
Also gone is the modern power that first pushed the electrics aside only a few years ago. The slowdown here in the mid-1980's found Kennecott with too many locomotives for a plant operating at only one-third of its capacity. The seven SD40-2's had been leased from Helm Financial, and were returned to their owner. (Later research has found that the seven units were always owned by Kennecott. ed.) They kicked around on lease to Canadian Pacific until they were sent to the British Columbia Railway on a 10-year lease in September 1986. Nine of the original GP39-2's delivered for the pit were sold to the Katy in late 1984, and since 1983, eight GP39-2's, two mine-assigned MP15AC's, and three of four ex-Rock Island SW1500's acquired for work-train service have been transferred to the haulage division. Thirty-four locomotives remain on Kennecott Utah property: 12 stored, the remainder divided among duties in the mine (seven units), low-line trains (four), dumper service (two) and switching duties at Dry Fork and Magna yards (seven). Two red radio-controlled GP39-2's, Kennecott's most elusive units to photograph, are assigned to do battle with the hostile environment of the company's Garfield smelter. All units periodically visit Dry Fork shop for maintenance.
Dry Fork also maintains Kennecott's rolling stock, the bulk of which is the fleet of 502 homebuilt 100-ton ore cars. Battered by years of abuse in the pit, where on the average each car is loaded at least every day, the backbone of Kennecott's car fleet has shrunk from the 1000 rostered as recently as 1983. Kennecott had been content to let the quantity of bad-order, out-of-service cars grow as the date for full operation of the new slurry system neared, which created a car shortage in early 1988 as the date of slurry startup was delayed and the remaining serviceable cars could not cope with the rail haulage traffic. The remainder of the car fleet consists of 65 100-ton concentrate cars; 18 "precip" cars, used to carry the mudlike precipitate of 97.7 percent pure copper leached from discarded waste rock at the Copperton Precipitation plant to Magna; 18 "rack cars," which carry 750-pound slabs of 92 percent pure copper anodes from smelter to refinery; 100 miscellaneous cars, used for maintenance of way and scrap-metal haulage; and three serviceable cabooses (out of perhaps a half dozen on the property). The few air-dump cars left, formerly used for waste-rock haulage in the pit, are up for sale; most of them have been sold, notably to the Southern Pacific, for whom they were instrumental in shoring up the embattered Great Salt Lake causeway.
[Photo caption: One-quarter mile upgrade from Copperton yard, a downhill mine train, its cars screaming a protest of clenched brakeshoes and the units' howling dynamic brakes straining to hold its 2700 tons of kinetic energy to 15 miles an hour, passes beneath the wave of the future, Kennecott's "great shining hope."]
[Photo caption: Unlike everything else near the mine, the shiny new conveyor belt system above the train isn't covered in a patina of yellowish grime. The conveyor belt is part of Kennecott's modernization program, which is supplanting the railroad to make this mine the most cost-efficient copper operation in the world.]
The conveyor belt begins its 5.7-mile trip from the pit to the new concentrator complex at the bottom of the mine, where an ore crusher situated near the portal of the 5490-foot-elevation tunnel receives loads of ore from trucks. The ore passes under a massive, oil-cooled electromagnet using 60,000 watts of electricity as it sucks up steel chunks damaging to the crushers. The magnet apparently does its job pretty well, for an average of 1500 pounds of metal a day is removed from the ore. Workers frequently discover 300-pound iron teeth from shovel buckets that break off during removal of the ore from the ground. After an initial crushing, the ore is dumped onto the conveyor, which runs through the tunnel, across the railroad and Bingham Canyon road just above Copperton, and heads for the ore storage structure, a huge A-frame building covering a football field-sized pile of copper ore 2 miles away. The ore is crushed one more time to a fine powder, then dumped into a flotation cell, where air bubbles rising through water will attach themselves to copper, gold, silver, and molybdenum particles. This frothy mineral mixture will then be skimmed off the surface of the flotation cells and pumped into a 14.2-mile long, 6-inch-diameter pipeline for the 1-1/2 hour journey to the Garfield copper smelter. Water - up to 39,000 gallons a minute - flows from Magna to the concentrator through a 48-inch-diameter steel-coated concrete pipe; tailings from the concentrating process will travel by a 63,000-foot-long, 48-inch pipeline to Magna, where they will be dumped and graded into a slowly growing man-made mountain. The pipeline system, ironically, will utilize portions of the old Bingham & Garfield roadbed for part of its journey.
The new system at full capacity will produce 77,000 tons of ore a day, less than the combined peak capability of the existing Magna, Bonneville, and Arthur concentrators of 105,000 tons, but with newer and, obviously, cheaper-to-operate equipment. Initial limited testing of the completed system began January 17, 1988. So high is Kennecott's confidence in the new delivery system that production has increased to three shifts a day. Combined with the rail delivery system's volume of 34,000 tons a day, Kennecott can now concentrate more ore than the three concentrators combined could handle.
[Photo caption: In a 1940's vista from a flagman's tower on the south side of Bingham Canyon, UCC 85-ton steeple-cab 719 (GE, 1928) grinds back to the mine with empty waste rock cars. Across the canyon, beneath the Car Fork bridge and the B&G shop, is the town of Bingham Canyon.]
[Photo caption: Low Line then and now: On August 12, 1976 (above), two tall "Magna Motors" take loads down through Cyprus. Four days short of 11 years later, a consist of later "triples" (below) eases a train of 86 loads through a gentle S curve 5 miles below Copperton.]
Railroaders who had made a career of keeping the trains moving are slowly getting used to the new system. "I'm having trouble learning not to speak ‘railroad' around the conveyor belt people," Ronald Burke, ore delivery train foreman and 34-year veteran in the pit says. "It takes a real effort, but after the railroad gets into your blood, it's hard to get out." Burke came back to work in the mine from a job as an elevator repairman after the 1985 shutdown to help with the modernization program.
Literally raised on the edge of the mine in the company town of Copperfield, vacated in 1958, Burke calls himself "the last of a breed," a career railroader whose family was bitten by the railroad bug. His father was a brakeman in the pit, his grandfather a yard-master for the old B&G, and his mother-in-law worked on a track gang in the pit during the man-hungry war years. When it came to looking for a career after graduating from Bingham High School in 1950, there really was no choice. Well-paying summer jobs given to the sons of Kennecott workers made the decision easier.
[Photo caption: Foreman Ron Burke peers out across vastness of mine April 11, 1988, as Garry Hill's GP39-2's 710/708 load their train on the 6040 reload.]
Burke stops his yellow, mud-coated 4 x 4 company pickup truck near the bottom of the pit and gets out, eyes scanning the yellow-streaked, gray mine walls for signs of movement: 13 giant electric shovels scooping dozens of cubic yards of earth out of the ground, huge trucks hauling a payload of ore, a mine train backing into a tunnel. All appear as mere specks. "This mine sure looks to be in a slow motion," Burke says. "At one time, we had 22 train crews in here per shift - nine alone hauling waste rock. We used to have (self-propelled) rail cars 50-feet long leaving the mine office 30 minutes before shift changes, going up into the pit to bring crews to their trains."
Burke paints a picture of the good old days here, when jobs went begging for lack of warm bodies. He hired out as a trackworker before becoming a brakeman a few years later. There used to be 15 track gangs in the mine when Burke hired out. Now, one gang does the work on the remaining few miles of track. Brakemen, engineers, and dispatchers who work the pit now number 25, down from the 420 employed in 1983.
"Tracks used to come up to the ‘V' level in the pit (7700 feet above sea level). It used to take two hours to come out of Copperton through all the switch-backs to get to the top," Burke says. The old B&G yard was located at the "A" level at 6290 feet - 22 track levels from the top. Below that, 22 more terraces, designated by their elevation, held trackage. In 1944, the pit contained over 120 miles of track.
Trains out of Copperton could reach the pit by means of a four-switchback route to the 6190-foot level, or through three tunnels bored to minimize the haulage of ore upgrade: the 18,000-foot-long "5490 tunnel" (Utah's longest railroad tunnel, constructed in 1961), a 6250-foot tunnel at elevation 5840 (built in 1952), and a switchback and 3450-foot-tunnel combination (built in 1944), which deposited trains at the 6040-foot level. Upon arrival at the mine, a train would be routed by a pit-traffic dispatcher employing radio-controlled switches onto one of the many temporary tracks to the proper loading point. Prior to train radios, train dispatching in the pit was partially accomplished by flag signals from workers at shanties perched perilously on the sides of mine terraces.
Before 1983, the ore likely would have been loaded into trains directly from the hillside, but even as the catenary for the recently retired pit electrification was coming down, the "initial wave of modernization we are going through now" was going on, according to Brian Kammerer, the mine's crushing and conveying general foreman. Falling copper prices had made mining more expensive, and new mining in the pit concentrated on cutting back existing mine terraces to reach new ore deposits, rather than expanding the mine. This reduced the ratio of waste rock to ore from 3:1 in 1979, when Kammemer came to work, to 1:1 today. Trains - even those pulled by new GP39-2 diesels - were being steadily edged out of a job by a fleet of massive trucks, more flexible than trains by virtue of their ability to go anywhere without the need of tracks. Today, the huge (150-ton-capacity) ElectraHaul and Caterpillar diesel trucks prowl the mine. There are 33 of them, and each of their six 10-foot-diameter tires costs a cool $10,000. Little wonder, then, why the smooth-as-pavement, 100-foot-wide haulage roads in the pit are kept free of loose rocks that can reduce a tire's 4500-hour lifespan. Trains were relegated to a series of reload tracks, where ore brought in by truck from the mining area could be loaded into cuts of 30 cars for the trip down to Copperton.
Only two miles of rail now remain inside the pit. A reload track just outside the 5840-level tunnel, with a springswitch-equipped passing track, handles the mine trains. The old 6040 level reload track remains in place but unused, security against mishaps on the conveyor or the 5840 reload that would hinder production. The third reload track was removed when the conveyor belt took over the 5490 tunnel. "We really made money when that reload was in - that was a peachy one," Burke says. "We were up to 50 cars per train there at the end." Using the 5490 tunnel also avoided one of the mine's chief operating hazards: the 4 percent drop down to Copperton.
The outbound yard tracks of Copperton yard are strewn with brakeshoes by the thousands, evidence of carmen kept busy replacing shoes worn out by just a few trips down the hill with retainers set-a holdover from the days of electrics but a safety practice too good to give up. Bringing a 2700-ton train of rock down a 4 percent grade requires "more skill, more thought, and more attention" than running mainline freight on, say, a Union Pacific main line, according to Garry Hill, a Kennecott engineer who's worked in the pit since he was laid off after a two-year hitch with the UP. "When I ran on the UP, five to ten pounds of air was enough to hold a train back from Echo to Ogden. Here, we use 20 to 25 pounds and about five notches of dynamic braking." Hill says having diesels with dynamic braking simplifies life for pit engineers. "Once in a while, we'll have cars with bad brakes. It's easier with the diesels to come down; you can have five or six cars on a 30-car train with no air on ‘em and you can handle it with dynamics, but with the electrics, you only had your air to work with."
The steel nerves of an engineer keeping a rocking, rattling train in check, however, pale in comparison with those of brakeman working trains in the pit. They must ride the front of ore trains, which descend to Copperton with engines on the uphill end. Keeping an eye on trackage ahead, a brakeman on a train in trouble can simply step on the "tailhose," a device connected to the train air line, to make an emergency air application. A runaway track at the bottom of the hill helps keep the accident rate low on the steep descent. All loaded trains descending from the mine must whistle when passing an annunciator leaving the 5816-foot-level yard, where retainers are set up and where trackage emerging from the 5840 tunnel joins up with a switchback coming down off the 6040 tunnel line, before the central dispatcher in Copperton can line the switch into the yard. "We used to average about two runaways a year, engineer Hill says, "but since we've come back (after the shutdown), we've only had one:' Hill attributes this to generally better car maintenance, "plus the guys running now are younger guys than before. I hate to say it - I'm getting older myself - but as you get older, your reflexes get slower."
Hill has been involved in one runaway - and that one was enough, he says. "I was a brakeman in 1976 when we ran away. I told the engineer we had five cars without working air, but he said he could handle it - but it was one of those times when I guess he couldn't." Descending with 30 loads, riding the front beam of the train, Hill "realized we were in trouble about 100 yards downhill from the ‘16 yard' when we were already going 25 miles an hour. When the phone poles came by like a picket fence, I knew that I better hold on for dear life."
[Photo caption: High cab gives engineer Melvin Bru a great view as giant electric shovel loads his train.]
[Photo caption: In 1960's scene, motor 754 rattles along temporary trackage near bottom of pit with empties. Collection of Don Strack.]
The train shot downgrade at up to 60 mph before being routed onto the runaway track, all cars still on the rails and no damage other than frazzled nerves as a result. Hill's engineer was "relieved to see his brakeman with both arms and both legs. I asked him what happened. He just shrugged." Hill is a fatalist about his job. "My day is coming again soon. You drop 500 to 600 trains a year down this hill and your number keeps moving up."
[Photo caption: Snaking down into Copperton Yard, pit train with 799/798 on rear (as customary) comes off the 4 percent, double-track main from the mine with 23 loads. MP15AC 122, assigned to job since new in 1978, dumps ore at Magna concentrator in February 1988.]
Two-man crews handle a pair of mine trains on two 8-hour shifts; on Thursdays, when the conveyor is shut down for regular maintenance, an additional mine crew is called. Each crew can squeeze in three round trips a shift, hauling an average of 85 loads a shift. Loading a train takes about 1-1/2 hours, and crews are changed out at the end of their shifts right in the pit. Locomotives are refueled every four days in the Copperton yard and visit the Dry Fork Shops only when maintenance is necessary. The shops can rebuild a locomotive, but the prohibitive cost of moving the wheel-truing equipment from the Magna enginehouse to Dry Fork means that occasionally a locomotive can be found in the otherwise-vacant building to take out the flat spots.
In a practice similar to that of steam railroads in their infancy, pit engineers are assigned locomotives on the assumption that they'll take better care of an engine knowing that they'll be stuck with the same one the next day.
Garry Hill, for example, is assigned locomotives 708/710. He feels that every engine is different, that one may have a sticky air valve, another may have a dead throttle notch. Even though the locomotives are more often than not coated in a brown grime, engineers still have pride in their machines, and several of them have adorned units with personalized decoration. The 711, for instance, carries a painted pair of dice on its cabside (what else?); sister 793 is dubbed "Jaws 3."
About 10 times a day, a pair of GP39-2's will tie onto a train of 80 or so cars of ore in Copperton and move out onto the low line for the 14-mile trip to the concentrator complex. The 4600 h.p. EMD duo comes short of the 6400 h.p. from a pair of the old Magna Motor electrics, but from Copperton, it's all downhill anyway and the EMD's dynamics alone can keep an average-size train in check. Until March 1988, low-line trains would utilize "triples," a GP39-2/MP15AC/GP39-2 consist nearly matching the power of the old electrics, their smaller driving wheels less prone to slippage. But the electrics would "pull and pull," to quote one old-timer in the Magna shops, and with throttle wide open would "go like a striped-ass ape." Power on the low line was finally reduced because, while the triples would easily pull well more than 70 cars of empties up the 1.5 percent ruling grade from Magna's Fogarty yard, capacity and operations and Copperton were ill-suited to handle inbound trains of much greater length. A pair of GP39-2's is limited to 70 empties, dragging up the hill from Bonneville to Central Junction at well under 20 mph. Loaded trains, running downhill, are limited in size only by the capacity of dynamic braking and train air to keep the train down to the 25 mph speed limit; rarely do they exceed 90 cars.
The low line is a heavy-duty railroad in every sense of the word. Cutting through wheatfields, abutting encroaching housing subdivisions, and bisecting ICBM manufacturer Hercules (where, incidentally, Soviet inspectors mandated by the INF nuclear missile treaty have a trackside view of the trains), its high ballast, heavy rail, and CTC were well-suited for the nearly 20 loaded train movements a day which plied this line after its opening in 1947. Jointed 136-lb. rail was supplanted and finally replaced by a program of 133-lb. welded rail begun in 1969. The black goo exuded from flange lubricators track-side extend railwear on the sharper, 3-degree curves, but with trains averaging 5950 tons, rail is still replaced every four years on the tighter radii. Today, with only one train out on the road for each of two shifts, the railroad is underutilized, and CTC operators in Copperton Tower such as Larry Saldivar are rarely taxed at routing trains around each other anymore.
[Photo caption: In front of rail successor - storage/concentrator complex linked to pit by conveyor belt "triple" leads loads from Copperton August 8, 1987.]
Curiously, although the United Transportation Union contract with Kennecott allows for two-man crews on the low line, all trains still run with cabooses, leaving the engineer and conductor to do their jobs in solitude more than a half mile apart. After pulling into the yard at Bonneville, the conductor cuts his caboose off on the fly and rolls it into the clear, waiting for the engineer to bring back the power, tie onto his empties, and back onto the caboose for an air test.
Loaded trains are broken up by "dumper engines," non-m.u. MP15AC's delivered with extra-width cabs which extend about 6 inches [edit: 13 inches] beyond the frame on the engineer's side for greater visibility. Cuts of ore cars are dragged over to the rotary dumpers, where the cars are emptied of their contents into ore crushers in the first step in making concentrate. Finished concentrate is then pulled over to the Garfield smelter, 3-1/2 miles west, by one of the three Magna switchers, which return with strings of anode racks from the smelter bound for the copper refinery between smelter and concentrator complex. Strings of white KCCX tank cars containing sulfuric acid, a byproduct of the smelting process, are also taken for interchange with the Union Pacific at Garfield or the Rio Grande at Magna. Rio Grande services Magna and Copperton with a daily local out of Roper Yard in Salt Lake City using a set of rarer-by-the-day GP30's - occasionally including one of those leased by KCC in the early 1970's. The crew hauls scrap metal to the precipitation plant at Copperton, and the Bingham Branch's 3.5 percent grade up from Midvale often means that three of the classic black and Grande Gold machines get the nod to lug the heavy cargo. Union Pacific's interchange at Garfield is utilized only about twice a week. Contracts with China, Korea, and West Germany in 1987 found surplus concentrate by the carload interchanged for export, most of it moving over the Rio Grande, which also shipped the bulk of 59,000 tons of finished copper produced in 1987. Kennecott spokesman Frank Fisher anticipated production to climb to 200,000 tons for 1988.
Up at the Visitors Center in the pit, the ground shudders. A few seconds later, the muffled rumble of hundreds of pounds of high explosives wrenching ore loose from a hillside 2 miles away is heard. A busload of Japanese tourists nod their approval and return to their binoculars and cameras as they search for the source of the blast, aided by a prerecorded narrative in Japanese of the activity they watch. The tourists come by the thousands here each summer. They buy T-shirts, copper trinkets, and postcards ... plenty of postcards, cards that show dozens of trains strung out along the walls of the pit. That the postcards were produced years ago is of little concern to them; on their greetings to friends thousands of miles away, the glory of Kennecott and of the trains that moved an entire mountain is born again.
BLAIR KOOISTRA, 28, chief photographer for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, is an Illinois native whose family moved to Washington State when he was a teenager. An occasional photo contributor, he returns to TRAINS as an author after a seven-year absence, following six bylines 1976-1981 on Milwaukee Road, UP, and BN Pacific Northwest subjects. He thanks Kennecott's Ronald Burke, Cal Youngreen, Ray Dawson, and Brian Kammerer for their time and patience, and Don Strack, a historian of Kennecott rail operations, for helping to ensure the accuracy of this report.