THE MINING RAILROADS OF THE CANADIAN BORDER
By Bill Laux
THE BELCHER MINE RAILWAY 1906 – 1914
Lambert Creek WA – Photo Credit: .seahorsecorral.org
The Belcher mine was located on Cooke Mountain, in Ferry County, Washington. The ore deposit was pyrrhotite, a sulfide of iron, which on Cooke Mountain contained appreciable quantities of gold. When smelters opened at Grand Forks, Greenwood and Boundary Falls, there was a market for this ore, since the iron was in demand as a slag forming mineral, and the smelting process recovered the gold.
H.C. Lycett opened the mine and built a three foot gauge railroad in 1906 from Karamin up Lambert Creek to the Belcher Camp, below the mine. The transfer point to the standard gauge was just a quarter mile north of Karamin where a pile of rusty looking dirt (pyrrhotite) beside the BN track indicates the former ore bunker. The two lines were just a few feet apart, the highway being on the old Hot Air grade.
There was a reversing loop on the flat above this transfer point, and the line ran south along the hillside with a double switchback to gain elevation to enter Lambert Creek. In early morning light, the switchback grade can be easily seen today, looking east from the Karamin intersection. The track ran up the north side of Lambert Creek for 8 miles to the Belcher Camp which was on the flat by the creek. The camp comprised some 40 to 50 persons, a school, a store and post office and bunkhouses for the miners and railroad crew. The railroad looped around the camp and had a loading bunker on the south side of the creek where a three-rail gravity tram came down from the mine 1500 feet up on the mountain. The tram had two, 5 ton cars connected by a steel cable that ran over a sheave at the top. The loaded car, coming down, pulled the empty car up. A passing tracks with spring switches in the center, allowed the cars to pass each other. Kenneth Fairweather, the tram operator, had to climb the steep trail to the mine on foot each morning and hoist the crew in the empty car. At the end of the day he had to let them down again and then descend on foot. He got an extra half hour pay for this.
A daily ore train ran down the line to the Karamin transfer bunker. When someone needed to go to town, or when there were company officials on the property, the single passenger car was attached to the ore train by Conductor, Ike McClung. Ed Williams was engineer, Dan Mc Dougal was fireman, and only the brakeman’s first name, Ralph, is remembered. In addition to the ore shipments which went to the B.C. Copper smelter in Greenwood, the settlers along Lambert Creek hewed railroad ties for a cash income and sent them out via the Mine Railway. At the Karamin transfer point the ore was loaded into W&GN ore gondolas to be taken up to Grand Forks. There was no interchange between the GN and CPR in Grand Forks, so the single car of Belcher ore would be coupled to a GN train of empty ore cars bound for Phoenix. The car would be dropped at the Coltern interchange with the CPR, and a CPR train would take it down the hill to Eholt. A westbound freight would then pick it up and take it to Greenwood. The CPR Shay would move it up to the B. C. Copper Company’s smelter on its Motherlode turn.
The Belcher Mine Railway owned two locomotives. No. 1 was a Baldwin 2-8-0, c/n 11005, of June, 1890, built new for the Alberta Railway and Coal Company. It had 16 x 20 cylinders and 37” drivers. No. 2 was another one of the Alberta Railway and Coal Company’s Hinkleys, a 2-6-0, and may very well have been former Trail Creek Tramway No. 1, as that machine was noted at Midway in 1905. As well, the line owned a baggage car, little more than a boxcar with a side door and windows, also probably from the AR&C. The single passenger coach, carefully lettered, “No. 1,” may well have come from the “Turkey Trail,” as it was of the same pattern as those cars. The ore cars appear to have been identical to the old link and pin coal cars of the Trail Creek Tramway. They may have been those cars or others from the Alberta line.
As flags from both Canada and the U.S. were equally displayed on the passenger train for its inaugural run, some Canadian ownership may be inferred. The mine and Belcher Camp lasted until 1914; Ike Mc Clung’s wife, Madge, taught school and the Belcher Camp store supplied the stump ranchers along Lambert Creek. The railroad may have lasted a little longer. A photo of the old Karamin lumber mill shows a narrow gauge track alongside. The Belcher Camp was reported to have carried logs out of Lambert Creek to this mill, possibly prolonging its life for a year or two.
Today Echo Bay Minerals works several gold mines on Cooke Mountain, not far from the old Belcher, and trucks the ore to their concentrator above Curlew Lake.
One thought on “STEEP AND CROOKED … by Late Writer, Artist & Castle Builder Bill Laux”
very interesting story