Kennecott Chino Mines Division

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This page last updated on April 15, 2013.

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The Kennecott Chino Mines Division was headquartered at Hurley, New Mexico; the smelter was at Hurley and the mine was at Santa Rita, New Mexico.

From 1909 to 1924, the Chino Copper Company owned and operated an open pit copper mine at Santa Rita and a reduction works at Hurley, New Mexico. In 1924, the physical assets of Chino were acquired by the Ray Consolidated Copper Company. It continued to operate the property until 1926, when Nevada Consolidated Copper Company acquired the physical assets of Ray Consolidated Copper, including the Chino mine and the Ray mine in Arizona. In 1933, the physical assets of Nevada Consolidated were acquired by the Kennecott Copper Corporation, and Kennecott organized the Nevada Consolidated Copper Corporation to serve as the operating company for the Nevada, Chino, and Ray properties.

After 1924, the Chino and Ray properties were managed as a single company, with one general manager, W. S. Boyd. In 1926, Boyd became general manager of all three properties (Chino, Ray, and Nevada) when they were put under single management. In 1930, he became vice-president of Nevada Consolidated and continued in operating charge of the three properties. In 1933, he became vice-president of Nevada Consolidated Copper Corporation when Kennecott organized the company to operate the three properties, and R. B. Tempest then became general manager of the three properties, until his death in May 1938. Harry A. "Hap" Thorne was superintendent of the Chino mine from 1920 until his retirement on April 1, 1942.

On December 31, 1942, Nevada Consolidated Copper Corporation was dissolved and on January 1, 1943 the Chino mine and Hurley smelter became the Chino Mines Division of Kennecott Copper Corporation.

The following comes from the web site of the Mining History Association:

The Santa Rita portion of the Central Mining District is dominated by the Santa Rita/Chino open pit. After the Spanish discovery of the copper deposits at Santa Rita, Colonel Manuel Carrasco and Francisco Manuel Elugea received the Santa Rita del Cobre land grant. Small mines produced high grade copper oxide ores but harassment by the Indians kept production small. In the 1880's, a stamp mill and smelter were built but the venture failed. Next, the Santa Rita Mining Company acquired the property, but failed to discover the main orebody.

The turning point for Santa Rita occurred in 1904 when John M. Scully recognized the similarity between the ores there and those at the Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah. After an extensive sampling campaign, he obtained the necessary financial backing and, in 1908, formed the Chino Copper Company. Open pit production began in 1910 using steam powered shovels and rail haulage in the pit. The first concentrator was built in Hurley in 1911. Flotation circuits were added in 1914. Ore was hauled from the mine to the mill by rail. The company merged with the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company in 1926 and with KCC in 1933. The mine was inactive from October 1934 to January 1937. During part of that shutdown, mine haulage was electrified and electric shovels were purchased. The Hurley smelter began production in 1939.

In the 1950's, KCC discovered ore under the town of Santa Rita. To expand the Chino pit, the townsite was abandoned. Its residents moved to nearby towns. A new concentrator was built adjacent to the mine in 1982. The Hurley smelter was modernized in 1985 to meet the pollution control requirements of the Clean Air Act. It closed in 2002. Both the Hurley concentrator and smelter were demolished in the mid-2000's and the sites are being reclaimed by FMCG.

Today the Santa Rita/Chino Mine is 1,500 feet deep, 1.5 miles across, and still growing. After a temporary shut-down in 2008, Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold (FMCG) resumed production in 2011. Lower grade ores are leached and the copper recovered by solvent extraction/electro-winning (SX/EW). The higher grade sulfide ores are processed at the mill and the concentrates are sent to the company smelter in Arizona.

The following is an excerpt from David Myrick's New Mexico's Railroads: A Historical Survey, pages 185-192.

The copper mines at Santa Rita, now [1993] the property of the Phelps Dodge Company but for many years the Chino Mines Division of the Kennecott Copper Corporation, date back to almost 1800 when a Spanish colonel, Jose Manuel Carrasco, learned of the fabulous deposit. Production began in 1804, making Santa Rita one of the oldest copper mines in the United States. From that time to the present century, life at the mines made the full swing from great activity to a dormant state, depending on the Apaches and other factors.

Shortly before the Santa Rita Mining Company was formed by New York men about 1899, efforts were made to connect the mines by rail with the outside world. There was already the Santa Fe branch from Deming to Silver City, so in 1891 an independent group opened a 14-mile railroad under the name of the Silver City and Northern Rail Road Company from Whitewater through Hurley to San Jose, a station just east of Hanover Junction of today. Six years later this short line was taken over by the Santa Fe and in 1898, the Santa Fe extended the branch another four miles to Santa Rita under the name of The Santa Rita Railroad Company.

The big change came in 1909 when the Santa Rita Mining Company was sold to the Chino Copper Company. The latter company, blessed with strong financial resources, made the purchase after large reserves of copper ore suitable for open pit mining had been firmly established.

Work on the open pit began in 1910 by the Chino Copper Company, with side dump cars taking out copper ore and waste rock. Those cars with ore were delivered to the Santa Fe interchange at Santa Rita for the line haul of nine miles to the concentrator at Hurley (unless they were to go to the ore dump). The cars with waste rock were sent to the waste dump. In the early days, motive power for the Chino mines consisted of 21 0-4-0T locomotives of H. K. Porter manufacture with seven weighing 50 tons and the remaining 14 weighing 45-1/2 tons. Not all of the 21 locomotives were expected to be in service at one time. In 1914, according to one observer, two were generally in the shop and another was "held just outside the shop with steam up ready for instant service."

Mine trackage, which began with a few miles in 1910, grew to 14 miles in 1912 and with subsequent additions, the spur to the northwest ore body built early in the summer of 1914 being an example, total trackage soon measured 24 miles.

The very nature of the mining operation, necessitating the expansion of the pit by cutting away the benches serving as the railroad grade, caused a constant shifting and realignment of tracks. As early as 1914 there were four track gangs each of 14 men assigned to this work. For track work on the waste and ore dumps, the same situation prevailed except that even more men were required, the gangs numbering seven, each with a complement of 14 men.

In later years, Alco and Baldwin supplied the steam power but in 1939, the first steps toward electrification of the pit haulage began with the purchase of seven electric locomotives from General Electric. Electrification of the pit haulage was completed two years later.

As the pit became larger and deeper -- by 1963 it was over a mile wide in any direction and 1000 feet deep with 21 bench levels--it became more expensive to remove ore and waste from the pit. Truck operations were instituted in 1952 as a supplement to the pit railroad and efforts were made to speed up train movements and reduce costs. Centralized traffic control was installed for all switches in the pit. Rails in the main tracks, formerly 90 lb. rail (initially 60 lb. rail was used), were replaced with 132 lb. rails. Track repair forces began using powered ballast tampers, track liners, spike pullers, etc. Other procedures were revised.

Still costs continued to climb. A skip hoist, completed in 1962, reduced haulage costs from lower levels by 37 percent. More trucks were purchased and, after careful studies, it was decided to convert the entire Chino pit from rail to truck haulage, with the last ore move from the pit by train taking place on September 5, 1963.

Today [1990] the railroad at Santa Rita is less than five miles in length. Operated in two sections by electric locomotives, one segment moves the cars from the ore bin, fed by the skip hoist at the top of the pit, to the interchange with Santa Fe while the other performs a similar service for ore delivered from the pit by truck. From the interchange at Santa Rita, the Santa Fe assembles trains of 50 cars for the haul to Hurley, dumping the ore into the bins of the primary crusher at the concentrator at Hurley. Since 1939, when the smelter was built at Hurley, outbound traffic handled by Santa Fe is in the form of copper anodes for the refinery. (New Mexico's Railroads: A Historical Survey, Revised Edition, by David F. Myrick; 298 pages; University of New Mexico Press, 1990; paperback edition, 1993; ISBN 0826311857)

By the early 1970s, rail operations had ceased at the Chino Mines Division, although the Santa Fe still transported the ore from the mine to the mill. AT&SF moved the ore in its own cars, using its own power and crews, from the truck-to-rail transloading points at the Santa Rita open pit mine, eight miles to the Hurley mill and smelter, and then supplied the power to push the cars through the dumpers. Kennecott Chino locomotives 50-64 were used in the Santa Rita mine and no. 80 was used in the assembly yard at Santa Rita to make-up the trains for the Santa Fe to move to Hurley.


Brief timeline:

June 9, 1909
The Chino Copper Company was incorporated under the laws of Maine on June 9, 1909, to acquire the properties of the Santa Rita Mining Company. Properties consist of 131 patented mining claims covering 2,412 acres, situated in the Central Mining District in Grant County, New Mexico. The first section of a five section mill was put into operation in October 1911, and the other four sections came into operation in December 1911 through November 1912, with formal completion on April 1, 1913. (Moody's Analysis Of Investments, Part II, Public Utilities and Industrials, 1917, page 1298)

Open pit operations began at the Chino mine.

February 15, 1924
The stockholders of Ray Consolidated Copper Company and Chino Copper Company voted to approve a merger of their two companies, at 1-2/3 share of Ray for each share of Chino. (New York Times, February 16, 1924, "yesterday")

October 20, 1925
Nevada Consolidated Copper Company has made an offer to combine with Ray Consolidated Copper Company, which already owned and controlled Chino Copper Company. Directors of both companies had approved the merger, and special meetings of stockholders of both companies were planned for November 10, 1925. Both companies were controlled by Hayden, Stone & Company, and their associates. (New York Times, October 20, 1925)

February 3, 1933
Kennecott Copper Corporation owned 98-1/2 percent of Utah Copper Company. After the distribution of Nevada Consolidated Copper to Utah Copper stockholders (in other words, Kennecott) on or before February 14, 1933, Kennecott would own and control 87 percent of Nevada Consolidated Copper Company, which in-turn owned Ray Consolidated and Chino Copper. One year before, at the end of 1931, Utah Copper held 31 percent of Nevada Consolidated. (New York Times, February 5, 1933)

April 28, 1933
The board of directors of Nevada Consolidated Copper Company voted to accept Kennecott's offer to acquire all of the remaining shares of Nevada Consolidated, subject to a final vote by stockholders of Nevada Consolidated on June 1, 1933. (New York Times, April 29, 1933, "yesterday")

July 1933
Nevada Consolidated Copper Corporation organized an employee representative plan for the benefit of its workers at the Chino mine and the Hurley smelter. A portion of the employees were organized in March 1934. (Nevada Consol. Copper Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board. United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth District, August 27, 1941)

September 24, 1934
The Chino mine was shut down due to low copper prices, and negligible demand for copper. Kennecott ordered Chino to reduce its production by 20 percent, but Chino was already working just 13 days in each month and was unable to keep the mine open to support the 20 percent reduction ordered by Kennecott. The Chino mine was closed as a result. (Nevada Consol. Copper Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board. United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth District, August 27, 1941)

October 1934
Kennecott closed its Chino mine due to low copper prices. (New York Times, October 19, 1934, "has closed"; December 19, 1936)

January 1, 1937
Kennecott reopened its Chino mine. The Ray mine (closed in April 1933) was reopened at the same time. (New York Times, December 19, 1936)

The mine and smelter were opened at half capacity in January 1937, but by the end of 1937 demand for copper remained very low and in early 1938, operations were again reduced to the minimum level. There was a wave of labor problems throughout 1937 and 1938, resulting from the local labor organization and a very few of its members causing damage to equipment and delay of railroad operations. (Nevada Consol. Copper Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board. United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth District, August 27, 1941)

December 31, 1942
"In the interest of simplification of corporate structure, the Nevada Consolidated Copper Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary, organized in 1933 to manage our copper properties in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, was dissolved on Dec. 31, 1942." (New York Times, March 14, 1943, citing Kennecott's 1942 annual report)

January 1, 1943
The former Chino Copper Company mine at Santa Rita, New Mexico, owned and operated by Nevada Consolidated, became the Chino Mines Division of Kennecott Copper Corporation.

Electrification of the rail haulage system at Chino was completed, and the last steam locomotive was retired. (Parson 1956, page 126)

The first seven of a total of fifteen 75-ton electric locomotives were delivered, numbered as Chino Copper Company 50-56. A seventh locomotive came later in 1940, and five more came in 1941 and 1942. The last two, numbered as Chino 63 and 64, were delivered in late 1950.

In 1949, a Baldwin VO-1000 diesel switcher locomotive was transferred from Utah Copper Company's Bingham & Garfield Railway. Delivered as B&G no. 801 in 1942, it became no. 80 at Chino and was used to switch the loaded and empty ore cars at Santa Rita, assembling trains for movement by AT&SF to the Hurley smelter.

In 1954, two large 125-ton electric locomotives were delivered. In 1958, and additional two 125-ton locomotives arrived, making for a fleet of four 125-ton locomotives, numbered as Chino Copper Company 101-104. Photos as late as 1959 show them still with their 100-series numbers, but they were soon renumbered to numbers 1-4.

September 5, 1963
After conversion of the entire Chino pit from rail to truck haulage, the last ore move from the pit by train took place on September 5, 1963. (David F. Myrick, New Mexico's Railroads: A Historical Survey, page 191)

Kennecott Chino shut down a major part of its railroad operations.

Chino Mines Division transferred three 125-ton electric locomotives to Utah Copper Division, where they were rebuilt and renumbered to UCD 408-410 for service on the mill car dumpers.

(Read more about these three 125-ton electric locomotives)

Read more about these three locomotives as Utah Copper Divsion numbers 408-410)

In 1967 Kennecott Copper Corporation at Chino, New Mexico, conducted the first feasibility study and prototype test of trolley-assisted large mining trucks. The truck used was a Unit Rig Model M-100 with a 700 hp diesel engine, General Electric motorized wheels, and 24.00x49 tires. The testing indicated that the truck, carrying a payload of 123 tons up a 1,300 ft ramp at 7 percent incline, was able to increase its maximum speed from 6 mph to 13.5 mph by using trolley assist. The maximum voltage that could be maintained was only 634 volts and it was reasoned that a higher speed would have resulted if a higher trolley line voltage could have been supplied. (Truck Haulage Using Overhead Electrical Power to Conserve Diesel Fuel and Improve Haulage Economics (February 1981), by David M. Lake & William Brzezniak, General Electric Company. Presented at the 110th AIME Annual Meeting)

April 1970
Chino Mines Division sold eight 75-ton electric locomotives to International Nickel Company.

(Read more about these eight 75-ton electric locomotives)

Six of the 75-ton electric locomotives remained in service at Chino until the end of rail operations in 1972.

December 1971
Chino Mines Division transferred its last 125-ton locomotive to Utah Copper Division, where it was placed into service as UCD 778.

(Read more about this last 125-ton locomotive)

(Read more about this locomotive as Utah Copper Division number 778)

Rail operations had ceased at the Chino Mines Division, although the Santa Fe still transported the ore from the mine to the mill. AT&SF moved the ore in its own cars, using its own power and crews, from the truck-to-rail transloading points at the Santa Rita Pit, eight miles to the Hurley mill and smelter, and then supplied the power to push the cars through the dumpers. At the Santa Rita pit, 75-ton electric locomotives 50-64 were used. Until it was transferred to Nevada Mines Division in 1963, diesel no. 80 was used in the assembly yard at Santa Rita to make-up the trains for the Santa Fe to move to Hurley.

(Photo of Chino no. 57, taken by Steve Swanson in 1979)

Kennecott/Mitsubishi Joint Venture

June 1980
Kennecott Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation signed an agreement to form a joint venture that would implement a modernization program at Kennecott's Chino mine. (New York Times, June 11, 1980)

Kennecott Corporation had spun off its Chino property under the name of Kennecott Santa Fe Corporation.

December 1980
Kennecott Corporation announced in December 1980 its intent to form a partnership with Mitsubishi for Chino Mines Division. Mitsubishi was to acquire a one-third interest in Chino, which produced 62,000 tons of copper in 1979, compared to Utah Copper Division production of 206,000 tons of copper in same year. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 23, 1980)

March 1981
Chino Mines Company was formed in March 1981 for the purpose of owning and operating the copper mine located at Santa Rita, New Mexico, and the copper smelter at Hurley, New Mexico. Chino Mines Company was a partnership whose original partners were Kennecott Santa Fe Corporation, a subsidiary of Kennecott Corporation, and MC Minerals Corporation, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation. Kennecott Santa Fe owned a two-thirds interest in Chino. MC Minerals Corporation owned a one-third interest in Chino.

March 2, 1981
"The Kennecott Corporation said it had transferred a one-third interest in its Chino copper mining and processing facilities near Silver City, N. M., to the Mitsubishi Corporation for an initial cost of $116 million. The transfer is part of an agreement announced earlier under which Mitsubishi will put up one-third of the cost of modernizing the facilities, a project that is expected to cost more than $350 million. When the modernization is complete, Kennecott said, copper production at Chino should increase by about 70 percent, to about 110,000 tons a year, from about 65,000 now." (New York Times, March 3, 1981)

March 2, 1981
Mitsubishi of Japan took a one-third interest in Kennecott's Chino Mines Division in New Mexico. The agreement giving Mitsubishi one-third interest in Chino was signed on March 2, 1981. (Deseret News, March 2, 1981)

Mitsubishi's one-third interest in Chino was $116 million, to pay for modernization. One-third of copper production to go to Mitsubishi. No change in name, all 1,800 employees will remain as Kennecott Minerals Company. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 3, 1981)

Sale To Phelps Dodge

September 11, 1986
The Standard Oil Company announced that "it had agreed to sell two major units of its copper mining subsidiary, the Kennecott Corporation, for about $220 million. The Cleveland-based energy company said it had agreed to sell its two-thirds interest in the Chino Mines Company in New Mexico to the Phelps Dodge Corporation. It also said that it would sell its Ray Mines division in Arizona to Asarco Inc., the New York mining company. The remaining third of the Chino Mines is owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation. The two units represent about half of Kennecott's annual production capability. The sale of the two operations leaves the mining unit with its copper division in Bingham Canyon, Utah. The Utah mines have been closed since March 1985 and are undergoing a $400 million, three-year modernization program. Standard Oil said the sale was part of a reorganization in which it planned to divest itself of certain operations that it considered inconsistent with its long-term strategy. 'After completing a study of all our operations, we decided to focus on our strengths, and that is primarily in petroleum,' John F. Andes, a Standard Oil spokesman, said." (New York Times, September 12, 1986, "yesterday")

January 1987
Effective on January 1, 1987, Phelps Dodge Chino, Inc. (formed in 1980) purchased Kennecott Santa Fe's two-thirds interest in Chino. At approximately the same time, Mitsubishi restructured its ownership of Chino resulting in Heisei Minerals' ownership of Mitsubishi's one-third interest in Chino. Phelps Dodge Chino, Inc. became the managing partner of the Chino mine.

July 31, 2003
Phelps Dodge purchased Heisei's one-third interest in the Chino mine. (U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook, 2003)

November 19, 2006
Phelps Dodge announced that it would be acquired by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. The purchase price was reported to be US$25.9 billion in cash and stock. (Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold news release dated November 19, 2006)

March 19, 2007
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. completed its purchase of Phelps Dodge Corporation, creating the world's largest publicly traded copper company. At that time, Chino Mines Company became a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. The purchase price was reported as $26 billion. (Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold news release dated March 19, 2007)

Copper giant Phelps Dodge became the sole owner of Chino Mines in 2003 when it bought the remaining third of the company that had been controlled by Heisei Minerals Corp. (a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Materials Corporation). Chino Mines joined Freeport-McMoRan when that company acquired Phelps Dodge in 2007.

The history of Phelps-Dodge dates back to 1834, when Anson Phelps, a one-time saddle maker, and his son-in-law, William Dodge, a merchant in dry goods, joined forces to organize a New York City-based mercantile company. At first it traded American products to England in exchange for copper, iron, tin and other metals. After growing into an accomplished mercantile and metals company, the company entered mining in 1881 by investing in the Detroit Copper Mining Co. in Morenci, Arizona. Phelps-Dodge quit the import-export business altogether in 1906.

Phelps Dodge developed copper deposits in Arizona and New Mexico, ultimately obtaining mines in Chile and Peru as well. The company was among the first in the industry in the early twentieth century to convert to open-pit mining from the conventional underground method. In the mid-1980s, Phelps Dodge was the first to use "solution extraction and electrowinning" on a large commercial scale.

June 5, 2007
The smoke stacks at the former Kennecott/Phelps Dodge smelter at Hurley were demolished as part of the site's reclamation. (YouTube video)

The Chino mine and processing facilities are located at Hurley, New Mexico, near the historic mining community of Silver City. It is one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. The Chino mine covers over 9,000 acres. The pit is 1.75 miles across. Chino is a porphyry open-pit copper mine and was one of the first low-grade, open-pit copper mines in the world. (Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. web site)

Chino was reactivated in 2003 after mining operations were idled in 2001 due to low copper prices.

The open pit mine presently covers an area of approximately one square mile at the perimeter, with additional areas on the perimeter used as rock stockpiles. The uppermost level in the pit is located on the east side at the 6,750 foot elevation and the lowest level in the pit is currently at the 5,400 foot elevation. Mining takes place on a 3-shift-per-day, 7-day-per-week basis.

Material is designated as sulfide ore, leach ore, or low-grade leach ore. Loading of the materials in the Santa Rita Pit is accomplished with electric shovels varying from 17 cubic yard to 56 cubic yard dipper capacity. The size of dipper used is dependent on whether the shovel is operating in high or low density material.

The existing haulage truck fleet moves approximately 60,000 tons per day of ore, 151,000 tons per day of leach rock, and 228,000 tons per day of waste rock. Ore is delivered to the concentrator primary crusher; leach ore and no-leach rock are delivered to stockpiles on the perimeter of the pit. Haul distances are currently averaging about 13,000 feet with 600 feet of lift.

Equipment at the mine includes a P&H 2800XPA shovel and Caterpillar 797 360 ton capacity haul trucks.

The Chino concentrator restarted operations in January 2004 after a three-year break. Production has continued at the solution extraction/electrowinning (SXEW) plant throughout these periods. The smelter stopped operating in 2002 but resumed operations in 2004 and production has increased since then. In 2005 the smelter was permanently closed.

The highest quality ore from the mine (0.65% copper) goes through crushing, grinding, and flotation processes. The end product is copper concentrate containing up to 30% copper, which is pumped through a pipeline to the Chino smelter.

At the smelter, dried copper concentrate is fed into the furnace with 97% pure oxygen. The concentrate particles "flash" and melt. Molten slag is separated from the copper-rich molten matte. Further processing converts the matte from 60% to 99.8% copper, which is poured into anode molds on a casting wheel. Each copper anode weighs 850 pounds.

The Solution Extraction-Electrowinning (SX-EW) plant produces copper anodes that weigh about 200 pounds each. This 99.99% pure copper is the highest quality copper produced at Chino. Chino is one of the SX/EW facilities producing copper cathode as feedstock for Phelps Dodge's rod mills.

(Wikipedia article about the solution extraction/electrowinning process)


(Read more about the locomotives used at Kennecott's Chino Mines Division)


Chino Mine -- Google Map showing location of Chino open pit mine


Nevada Consol. Copper Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board. United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth District, August 27, 1941 (general description and history, and labor problems in 1937-1938)

El Paso Herald Post, Friday, May 1, 1942 (Harry Thorne's retirement)

More Information

"Copper & Nickel Electrics" -- An article from Traction & Models magazine, May 1971, about the sale of eight Chino electrics to International Nickel Company in Canada.