Saturday, December 10, 2016

Copper! The Story of Ajo, Arizona Part 2

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Ajo, AZ

In my previous post I began a brief history of the small Arizona town where we spend much of the winter.  In that post I located the town of Ajo within the state as well as describing how it came to be a boom town during the hey day of copper  mining.   Click this link to jump to part 1 (Ajo Part 1)

As John Greenway was building the infrastructure of Ajo, he was losing no time in laying out plans for what would become at one time the 4th largest copper mine in the US.
Another hurdle to opening the mine was the lack of a good supply of water.  Ajo's water came from a scattering of very poor wells, and Greenway knew this would not be nearly enough to operate the mine.
Ajo's early hand dug wells

In 1924 Greenway's geologists located a promising spot for a new well north and east of town.  A shaft was hand dug 645' feet deep and a pump was installed.  Over the next decades new wells would be drilled into this same aquifer to supplement the water supply, eventually bringing in 13 million gallons a day at the height of operations.  The water comes out of the ground at over 106 degrees.  In the winter the water sitting in the above ground storage reservoirs cools so that tap water is tepid, in the summer, residents turn off their water heaters... the water in the above ground steel tank reservoirs never really cools that much and the hot tap becomes the cool water (sitting in your hot water tank) and the cold tap is, well.. hot!
  After the mine shutdown, Phelps-Dodge the owners at that time, saw the wisdom of continuing the supply of water and sewer services, even as they sold off the mine- owned housing.  Needless to say with the mine shutdown Ajo has plenty of water!

The New Cornelia was the first mine in Arizona to embrace the use of the new powerful steam shovel.  John Greenway's work on the Panama Canal made him a firm believer of the power of the technology of the day.  This powerful shovel and lots of dynamite would make open pit mining economically feasible.

Ok, this is not from the New Cornelia- however it is similar ;->)
In 1948 the mine saw advantages in replacing the steam shovels and steam locomotives, with not diesel, but electric models.  Workers laid out 400 volt electric cables to the mobile shovels, and the locomotives were diesel/electric.  Laying the track at no more than 3% grade was necessary to allow the engines to climb out of the pit with their complement of seven to eight haul cars fully loaded. Each power shovel could load an 80 ton load into a single rail car in about 5 scoops.   According to the docent at the mine overlook, the mine employed a crew of 200 just to lay track.  A double row of tracks went in a spiral up from the bottom of the mine and out in loops on the tailing piles.
The New Cornelia Copper Mine 2013

Each of the stepped rings you see in the pit above is 40 feet tall and more than 40' wide.  The pit is a   mile and a half across, and over 1,100 feet deep.  The haul distance from the bottom of the pit to the waste dump was 7 miles, and to the crushers, 5-1/2 miles.

 Greenway was brilliant mining engineer as well as a competent and compassionate manager.  To attract quality miners, and to keep a stable workforce he built worker housing, and provided them at a reasonable cost.  At full operation the mine employed more than 1400 workers, and supported numerous other support business around town
Typical Ajo Mine Workers House
Each house came complete with a 4 foot high chain link fence around the lot and each came with a "mine standard" garage off the alley in the back yard.

Each mine house came complete with a shed or garage off the alley
The standard garage is roughly 20 feet long by 12 feet wide on a concrete slab, wood framed with galvanized metal roof and walls- one for each house.

Now that the houses have been sold into private hands many have been cleverly updated.
Nicely Remodeled Mine House
We met and talked with the owners of this beautiful home in Ajo.  They are from the Tacoma, WA area, and have been living here full time for more than 10 years now.

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

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