El Portal: New Information on the Baryte Mines

After my last post about starting to refine El Portal, I received some additional information and had some fascinating conversation with my friend, Jack, about several parts of El Portal.  The part I’d like to sort out here right now is the information we have, and what we don’t have, about the barium mine at Rancheria Flat, about a mile to the West of El Portal.

The El Portal Mining Company quarry and upper bin on the North side of the river in 1913-1914. Loaded ore cars from the quarry are dumped into the bin on the right.

The things we know:

The history of the barium mine and processing operation is relatively well documented after the National Lead Company took over the site and built a processing plant on the location in 1929-1930.  That plant processed ore from both the North and the South barium deposits (North and South side of the Merced River).  The processed barium was shipped in bags in boxcars over the YV.  

After my post about shipping ore in gondolas, Jack and I had some conversation about if the ore was shipped in gondolas or in boxcars and in what state prior to the National Lead processing plant. 

Things that are confusing:

A 1913-1914 California state report indicates some interesting information about the barium mine.  That report is found here:  https://books.google.com/books?id=97ozAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA571&lpg=PA571&dq=el+portal+mining+company&source=bl&ots=sMna5jKisw&sig=ACfU3U3sRisog-aojW7yHikEBS6HK8Eitw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiBh-HqyPfoAhV0dc0KHV_VD_o4FBDoATACegQICRAt#v=onepage&q=el%20portal%20mining%20company&f=false

The interesting pieces there are the statements about the mine having a bin near the upper mine and one at the railroad.

Another piece of information surfaced, titled “Mining and Milling Barite” that indicates that prior to the National Lead plant being built in 1929, the ore was being marketed “raw” by the company running the mines, and the raw ore was being trucked to El Portal in the amount of about 75 tons a day.  

What I think was going on:

Putting these things together seems like a square peg in a round hole.  I had based my initial plans on a line from “Trains to Yosemite” that stated that the ore was being shipped in gondolas, and the belief that the “bin” at the railroad was in use to ship the ore in those gondolas.  Collecting all the information together, that may not have been the case in 1928.  

I’m going to accept that the 1913-1914 report is true, and that there was a bin at the railroad.  We can see a bin in later photos that was used to supply ballast to the YV from this location.

The 1928 date that I am modeling is a little bit of limbo, with the National Lead operation building their plant in 1929-1930, meaning it’s likely that the bin was maybe in need of repairs.  The hauling of 75 tons of ore a day would be huge from a location like that via truck.  The book “Memories of El Portal” by James Law states that after the railroad closed, the company hauled the ore to their processing plant in Merced.  That is much later, but I think can be sort of a tangential confirmation of the trucking of the ore from this location.

What I think was going on in 1928 is that the mines were trucking ore, up to 75 tons a day, to El Portal for loading raw into gondolas, shipping via the YV, to processing plants closer to San Francisco Bay or maybe occasionally into Nevada where there were also processing plants for this kind of material.  The bin at the railroad may have been undergoing repair work, or for some other reason we don’t have documentation of at the moment, it was out of service.

How these things affect my model rendition:

You’ll see from the revised track plan here that the spur for the rock bin is now gone.  That affects the spotting of cars at that location, and I won’t have a dedicated spot for gondolas.  However, there will still be gondolas at El Portal.  There is a later photo of rock being unloaded from gondolas at El Portal by a bucket crane on the back of a truck with the cars sitting on the Automobile track at the YV station.  This, then, becomes the loading location for gondolas of barite ore, in at least one if not one and a half cars per day.  I’ll need to readjust my thoughts on the number of gondolas again, but the exciting thing is that this means some fun models, and some interesting operation, continues to be part of the landscape of my version of El Portal.

More to come, there are other locations that are now missing from the drawing and some other operational things to share soon.


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