Elton Tunnel

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This page was last updated on June 10, 2022.

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The Elton tunnel is a bit of a sad story of a project that was only in operation for about seven or eight years. The Elton tunnel was a project of the National Tunnel and Mines Company, a consolidation of two of the large mining companies in Bingham canyon. Actually, it was the sole reason the company was formed in March 1937 as a merger of Utah Apex and Utah Delaware mining companies. Tunnel construction started right away, in 1937, and was finished in July 1941, with the formal Elton Tunnel Days celebration taking place on August 22, 1941. The company was in operation as long as World War II era subsidies for copper, lead and zinc remained in place, until June 1947. National Tunnel and Mines declared bankruptcy in September 1947 and was bought by Anaconda in October 1948. Anaconda had essentially been the company's shadow controlling partner since its beginning, and called in its $6 million loan when the government subsidies were removed.

Anaconda shut down its mines in Carr Fork in 1948, but continued to do limited exploration work until it opened its Carr Fork project in 1974, closing the project in 1981. Anaconda, which by this time was owned by Arco, sold its property to Kennecott in 1985.

The Elton Tunnel was constructed by National Tunnel and Mines Company as an outlet for the underground copper and lead mines controlled by Anaconda Copper Company, which by the mid 1930s had assembled control of most of the underground mines in the west area of the Bingham pit. Collectively the underground mine was known as the Utah Delaware mine, and the Utah Apex mine. In 1948, Anaconda acquired full control and ownership in the tunnel company and the associated mines. (Mining, Smelting and Railroading in Tooele County, page 77)

The Elton tunnel was 4-1/2 miles long (one of the longest railroad tunnels in the United States), and was constructed to eliminate pumping and hoisting costs, and provide reduced transportation costs, especially for the Utah Apex ores. This tunnel had its portal at the west base of the Oquirrh Mountains about 5,000 feet west of the Tooele Mill and Smelter. The tunnel connected at the Bingham end with the Rood Shaft and the Utah Apex workings in Carr Fork. The water flowing from the tunnel was used for irrigation of farms in the general Tooele area.

The Elton Tunnel replaced the Utah Consolidated aerial tramway between Carr Fork and the International smelter near Tooele. The aerial tramway had been completed in 1910.

(Read more about the Utah Consolidated aerial tramway)

As a historical note, a similar tunnel was planned between Carr Fork and Pine Canyon as early as August 1899, when the Baltimore Mining & Tunnel announced its intention to complete the project that was projected as being 9000 feet in length. The Carr Fork opening was to be 600 feet deeper that the lowest workings of the Highland Boy mine. (Salt Lake Mining Review, August 30, 1899)


Construction of the Elton tunnel started March 29, 1937; construction completed August 22, 1941.

November 15, 1932
The Bingham Tunnel and Railroad company received a permit from the Utah Public Utilities Commission to build a 30,000-feet railroad tunnel from a point three miles east of Tooele, to a point in Bingham Canyon on the property of Park Bingham Mining company, passing through the workings of Utah Apex, Utah Delaware, Utah Copper, Utah Metal and Tunnel, Bingham Metals, United States Smelting Refining and Mining, and Park Bingham companies. The tunnel was to be 10x10 feet, on a grade of two to four inches per 100 feet, and built at the elevation of 5,080 feet. The company had applied to the commission on November 2nd. (Salt Lake Tribune, November 2, 1932; November 15, 1932)

February 1937 was the last month of operations for the two mining companies. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 19, 1941; announcing that the new tunnel was 3,000 feet from being finished)

March 29, 1937
Work began on the new Bingham-Tooele drainage and transportation tunnel. J. O. Elton operated the steam "shovel that turned the first earth." National Tunnel and Mines Company was less than a month old. Initial work consisted of excavating for the tunnel portal, and grading for a new 2-1/2 mile spur for the Tooele Valley Railway. Utah Apex Mining company had purchased the site in 1922. The tunnel was to be 23,000 feet in length, 12x12 feet in cross section, with a four-feet drainage ditch and standard gauge track. The grade will be 17 feet per mile, ascending eastward from the Tooele portal. Both mines at the Bingham end were flooded at the 1300-feet level, and draining them would open up workings to an additional 1200 feet depth. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 30, 1937, "Monday)

(Although "standard gauge" is mentioned above, the completed tunnel was 36-inch gauge. Photos also show that the tunnel was double-tracked, with narrow gauge. A review of all the locomotive records for electric locomotives only shows seven GE locomotives built for Utah Apex, all in 1913-1925. All were 36-inch gauge. There are none listed for National Tunnel & Mines, which was Utah Apex Mining Co., after 1937. The lists do not show any locomotives built for Utah Delaware Mining Co., which was the other company that became part of National Tunnel & Mines in 1937.)

Ground was broken for the Elton Tunnel, named for J. O. Elton, General Manager of International Smelting and Refining Company. Elton operated the steam shovel that took the first "bite." He had worked for 15 years to get the tunnel constructed. During the planning stages the tunnel was first known as the Tooele-Bingham Tunnel, but was renamed to honor the efforts of Mr. Elton. Tunnel construction was to be completed by Ryberg Brothers, Contractors. Besides being general manager of the smelting company, Mr. Elton also pushed for the merger of Utah Delaware and Utah Apex mining companies, which formed the National Tunnel and Mines Company, the owner of tunnel. Elton was the Vice President of the newly organized mining and tunnel company. The tunnel was to connect with the 2500-Level of the former Utah Apex mine, 22,000 feet from the western portal where the ground breaking too place. The overall cost was reported as being $700,000. (Deseret News, April 6, 1937, "Monday"; with photo; unclear which Monday the article is talking about)

April 20, 1941
The tunnel was 94 percent completed, and was to be 24,100 feet in length, and would connect with the Rood shaft of Utah Apex, at the 2475 level. Water was flowing at the rate of 3,780 gallons per minute. (Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 1941)

(The Rood shaft was named for Vernon S. Rood, manager of Utah Apex during the apex rights case against Utah Consolidated in 1918-1922. Rood died on May 1, 1928.)

May 18, 1941
Work on the tunnel stopped at a point 23,475 feet from the west portal. Work was stopped to allow the drilling of five holes, 55 feet long, that would drain the Utah Apex mine, which was expected to take about two weeks. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 18, 1941)

(A diagram printed in the May 25, 1941 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune showed that the end of the Elton tunnel was 566 feet distant from the Rood shaft, and that horizontal drain holes were drilled to connect the drain tunnel with the mine. The diagram showed that there was 485 feet of "head," meaning that the water level was 485 feet above the level of the Elton drain tunnel.)

The tunnel was dug from the Tooele end to the Bingham end to provide drainage and transportation for the Utah Apex and Utah Delaware mines of the National Tunnel and Mines Co., bringing metal ores to the concentrators and smelter of the International Smelting & Refining Co., at Tooele. At the Tooele end, work progressed slowly due to difficult gravel conditions. As work progressed toward Bingham, long delays came because of wet, loose ground. At the 8472-foot mark, work crossed the contact line between dry gravel and solid rock. Work was held up for two months at the 8850-foot mark because the Basin Range fault was crossed and the ground became very wet. At the 12,000-foot mark, the Dry Canyon fault was crossed and the ground became quicksand; at the 17,800-foot mark, the Occidental fault was crossed and more difficult work forced more delays. The total length was 24,000 feet, and work was completed in July 1941. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 20, 1945)

July 23, 1941
The Elton drain tunnel was completed to a connection with the Rood shaft of the Utah Apex mine. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 27, 1941; includes excellent summary of milestones of the work completed since 1937)

August 22, 1941
The Elton Tunnel was formally opened during a ceremony on August 22, 1941. The tunnel connected the underground mines between the upper parts of Carr Fork, and the Tooele Valley to the west. The tunnel was named for J. O. Elton, General Manager of International Smelting and Refining Company, and its National Tunnel and Mines Company subsidiary which built the tunnel. The tunnel was 24,000 feet long (about 4.5 miles) and took four years to complete. (Deseret News, August 21, 1941; Salt Lake Tribune, August 23, 1941, "Friday")


Elton Tunnel Photos -- An online photo album of photos of the Elton Tunnel, including several taken by the Salt Lake Tribune on August 22, 1941.

More Information

Anaconda In Utah -- Information about Anaconda and how in later years (after 1948), it let the Carr Fork mines remain idle until the Carr Fork Project was started in 1979, but was shut down in 1981.

Carr Fork Mines, 1896-1941 -- Information about the larger mines located in Carr Fork; includes the Highland Boy (Utah Consolidated), Bingham New Haven, and Utah-Apex. By 1941, all were owned by Anaconda and were shipping by way to the Elton Tunnel to the International smelter near Tooele.

International Smelter (Tooele) -- Information about the smelters at International, near Tooele.

National Tunnel & Mines Company (1937-1948) -- Information about the company the built the Elton Tunnel, 4.5 miles long, between Bingham and Tooele. Sold to Anaconda in 1948.