Aerial Tramways in Utah

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This page was last updated on December 28, 2023.

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Today's ski lifts, in their early years, were first installed using a technology first developed for the use of aerial tramways to haul ore and other materials from mines, and just about any other material including stone and lumber. Bingham Canyon was the home of several aerial tramways, the two longest being the Highland Boy and United States Mining tramways, before the growth of the system of railroads that served the mines in the canyon.

In the mid 1870s, a German engineer by the name of Adolf Bleichert designed what today is known as the "bicable" (or bi-cable) aerial tramway, meaning a stationary cable that supports a series of buckets that themselves are moved along by use of a hoist and moving cable, exactly the way a ski lift operates. He started the Adolf Bleichert & Company to design and install aerial tramway systems for mining companies worldwide. The U. S. license holder was the Trenton Iron Works of Trenton, New Jersey, who went on to install literally hundreds of systems, including several timber and lumber companies.

There were numerous bi-cable aerial tramways of the Bleichert design in Utah in the 1899 to 1910 era, including the system installed at Park City, Utah in 1902 at the Silver King Coalition Company's mine. The lower terminal of the Silver King Coalition became the symbol of Park City's ski industry. There were four aerial tramways in Bingham Canyon.

An article in the New York Times in October 1897, about an eight-mile Bleichert tramway to be built over Chilkoot Pass in Alaska, mentioned that at the time there were fifty Bleichert bi-cable tramways in the country. (New York Times, October 12, 1897, "Chilkoot Pass Tramway")

Many cable tramways were constructed due to difficult conditions along the proposed route, such as crossing over a mountain ridge or high mountain pass. In most other cases, a cable tramway was a necessity due to steep terrain between the mine and the loading terminal, and building a railroad would have been extremely expensive.

Aerial tramways were an alternative to having a railroad branchline built. For the mine operators, cost per-ton was the deciding factor, with all costs being included in the calculations. The capacity of rail cars was a major factor, since at that time the typical rail car carried about 35-40 tons. railroad construction was expensive because modern earth-moving equipment was not available; it was all done by hand. Steam shovels could be used, but they were large and required their own specialized support systems.

In about 1905-1915, as soon as rail car and railroad capacity was increased due to steel construction for the cars and better steel for the rails, along with better infrastructure, the costs became more competitive, with aerial tramways remaining only where increasingly better earth-moving and modern civil engineering could not put in a railroad branchline. The cost-benefit studies included the mining companies having to maintain their own tramways, compared to a railroad branchline being maintained by the railroad company.

The typical Bleichert aerial tramway used buckets that varied between seven and nine cubic feet, depending on the weight of ore or other product being carried, which in turn dictated the capacity, which was usually between 700 and 1000 pounds in each bucket. Early miners saw the potential of a free ride right away, and there are numerous photos and stories, just here in Utah, of men riding the buckets up and down the mountain. It would have been a very simple design change to swap a bucket for a chair.

As for the speed, a Bleichert aerial tramway used buckets that detached from the transport cable using one of Bleichert's many patents, and were suspended from the stationary cable by wheels. At each terminal, the buckets were detached and either loaded or dumped, with workers manually moving the buckets via a system of circular I-beams that looked identical to what we see at a ski lift today. The speed was slow enough that a man could walk next to the traveling cable and be able to manually attach the bucket to the moving cable, yet fast enough that tons-per-hour production was not adversely affected.

Utah Installations

(Shown in approximate chronological order)

(All were Bleichert design, except Yampa mine, which used the Leschen design.)


February 17, 1900
The new aerial tramway at the Centennial-Eureka mine at Eureka in the Tintic district was , "virtually complete." Capacity was reported to be 125 tons every ten hours. The coal elevator to load empty ore buckets on their return trip was not yet complete. (Deseret News, February 17, 1900)

December 11, 1900
The towers of the Silver King aerial tramway were under construction. (Deseret News, December 11, 1900)

April 26, 1901
The wheels and rollers of the Silver King tramway have been installed, and the wires are being strung. (Deseret news, April 26, 1901)

United States Mining Company - During 1902 these mines were connected with the Rio Grande Western railway, a distance of about three miles by a Bleichert wire rope tramway. This tramway was installed with an estimated capacity of sixty tons per hour. Owing to certain changes which have been found necessary since the erection, the tramway has not been able to handle the estimated capacity. Additional towers, strengthening certain parts and some minor changes in design, will, we believe make the tramway satisfactory in all respects. We expect to have these changes completed before June 1st of this year. (Salt Lake Mining Review, April 30, 1903)

December 30, 1903
"It will take about three weeks to complete the rebuilding of the tramway feeding station which recently burned at the Old Jordan mine in Bingham." (Deseret News, December 30, 1903)

February 9, 1904
"The machinery for the new headhouse of the United States Mining company's tramway at Bingham is being installed, the ropes being stretched, etc. The line will probably be in operation in a few days." (Deseret News, February 9, 1904, "Concentrates")

October 30, 1904
A article in Salt Lake Mining Review article made note of the Columbus Consolidated Mining Company starting operations in April 1902. The company's property included 17 different claims, the most famous being the Old Flagstaff. In the two years since its opening, the Columbus Consolidated was reported as having completed 3,500 feet of tunnel, and having installed a mill of 150-ton daily capacity. Other mining companies mentioned included the Continental Mines and Smelting Corporation, which began work in July 1903, having completed 1,500 feet of tunnels since then. The Continental company was also reported as having recently completed a 100-ton mill and the installation of an aerial wire-rope tramway. "...good headway has been made in the construction of the tramway, which will be five miles in length, being the longest line yet built in the state, the material and equipment for which is being furnished by A. Leschen & Sons Rope Company, of St. Louis." "The tram will parallel and supersede about four miles of the old mule or horse tramway." (Salt Lake Mining Review, October 30, 1904, page 18)

June 1907
The Continental aerial tramway was completed at Alta to serve the Columbus Consolidated mine, shipping 100 tons per day. (The Mining Reporter, June 6, 1907, "this week")

February 15, 1909
There were four Bleichert-design aerial tramways in Utah. These included the oldest at the Highland Boy mine. This system was two miles long and carried 200 tons per hour, but has been recorded as carrying as much as 45 tons in one hour. The second system was the Yampa mine's system, carrying ore 2-1/4 miles from the Yampa mine to the Yampa smelter. This second system was a gravity system, and had 23 towers and four tension stations, with the system carrying as much as 75 tons per hour. The third system is that of the United States Mining company, 2-1/2 miles long, carrying 50 tons per hour. The fourth and shortest system at Bingham was the Utah Apex system, one mile long and carrying 10 tons per hour. (Salt Lake Mining Review, February 15, 1909)

January 2, 1913
"An entirely new method for conveying coal from the mine to the tipple is being tried out at this mine [Spring Canyon Coal company]. An aerial tramway capable of handling two thousand tons of coal in eight hours is to be made as an economical means for carrying the coal from where it crops out at high points in the canyon to the tipple." (Eastern Utah News Advocate, January 2, 1913)

The aerial cable tramway and mine haulage system at the Spring Canyon mine combined into a unique operation which used the mine cars as buckets on the cable tramway. The tramway buckets were designed to allow two of them to be placed on a suitable truck and run into the mine like a typical mine car. After loading, the two buckets were attached to the tramway cable, conveyed from the upper terminal to the lower terminal at the tipple, and returned to the upper terminal to be sent back to the mine for more coal. (Elliott, W. R. "A Recent Utah Coal‑Mine Development", Coal Age, Volume 4, Number 4, July 26, 1913, pages 114, 115)

The Bleichert aerial tramway of the Spring Canyon Coal Company conveyed the coal from the mine to the tipple at Storrs, located 3,200 feet distant and 350 feet lower. The tramway buckets each had a capacity of 2,400 pounds each and were used in pairs, mounted on a special truck, as mine cars, replacing the old fashioned "pit cars" used at other mines. At the upper terminal of the cable tramway a special transfer station allowed the buckets to be removed from the mine trucks and hung singly from the cable. The buckets traveled to the lower terminal where they were dumped automatically and returned to the upper terminal to again be mounted in pairs to the mine trucks and returned to the mine for reloading with coal. The loaded in pairs on the mine trucks, the cable tramway buckets were hauled between the upper terminal and the mine opening by one of two 15-ton General Electric electric mine locomotives in "trips", or trains of twelve cars, making each trip responsible for moving twenty-eight tons of coal from mine to cable tramway. To gather the loaded mine cars inside the mine, three 6-ton electric locomotives were used. (Salt Lake Mining Review, June 30, 1913, "The Spring Canyon Coal Company"; four-page article, with photos)

Bleichert Patents

Patent 345828, dated July 20, 1886, Elevated wire rope line

Patent 380982, dated April 10, 1888, Grip for elevated wire rope lines

Patent 380983, dated April 10, 1888, Cable coupling device:

Patent 380984, dated April 10, 1888, Rail for elevated wire rope lines

Patent 433974, dated August 12, 1890, Coupling apparatus for elevated wire rope tramways

Patent 590957, dated October 5, 1897, Gripping device for suspended cable or rope railways

Patent 641261, dated January 16, 1900, Switch for suspended tramways

Patent 682267 , dated September 10, 1901, Gripping device for suspended cable or rope railways (Rudolf Pfaffenbach, for Adolf Bleichert & Co.)

Patent 724203, dated March 31, 1903, Lubricating trolley for wire rope railways (Rudolf Pfaffenbach, for Adolf Bleichert & Co.)

Patent 745659, dated December 1, 1903, Rope railway (Rudolf Pfaffenbach, for Adolf Bleichert & Co.)

Patent 876486, dated January 14, 1908, Trolley car for wire rope or suspension railways (Robert Schutz for Adolf Bleichert & Co.)

Patent 891639, dated June 23, 1908, Rope and cable grip (Robert Schutz for Adolf Bleichert & Co.)

Patent 959595, dated May 31, 1910, Rope railway (Rudolf Pfaffenbach, for Adolf Bleichert & Co.)

Additional patents were filed in the name of Adolf Bleichert & Co., but the designs do not apply to any installation in Utah, which saw its last installation in 1910.

More Information

Bleichert Aerial Tramways (Wikipedia)

Trenton's 1892 booklet (Google book)

Trenton's 1902 booklet (Google book)

Trenton's 1909 booklet (Google book; with Utah photos)

American Wire & Rope's 1914 booklet (Google book; very similar to Trenton's 1909 booklet)

Highland Boy Aerial Tramway -- Separate page at UtahRails about the Utah Consolidated tramway at Highland Boy in Bingham Canyon, Utah.

Photos and drawings