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Smelter Processes Copper Ore

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on the tramway which delivered copper ore to a smelter in Encampment. This prompted a question concerning the smelter, so I’m rerunning a “Postcard” from more than 10 years ago. Oh, how quickly we forget… 

By 1900, “Copper was King” in the Grand Encampment Mining District of south central Wyoming. However, with all the tons of ore in the Sierra Madre Mountains and the nearest railroad over 40 miles away, it was nearly impossible to get copper to market. 

Thus, the founding fathers and promoters of the area decided to build a smelter and then a railroad to ship the valuable metal to market. 

By 1902, the construction of a smelter at Encampment had been accomplished under the name of the Boston & Wyoming Smelter, Power & Light Co. 

The smelter was erected between the towns of Riverside and Encampment, on the west bank of the Encampment River and was built to serve mainly the Ferris-Haggarty mine with its 16-mile long tramway delivering ore. 

It contained the equipment necessary to transform copper ore to consumable metal. Roasters, or blast furnaces, melted the ore into two products – matte and slag – the matte consisting of copper, iron, gold, silver and sulfur, with the slag consisting of silica, alumina and other materials. The molten metal was placed in ingots or “pigs” and consisted of copper, which was about 99 percent pure. 

Blowers for the blast furnaces and air compressors in the smelter plant were driven by machinery, which employed water power developing 1,200 horsepower. The water was supplied by a four-foot wide pipe made of wooden staves and steel rod clamps, extending to the smelter from a 23-foot high dam and reservoir located four miles south on the South Fork of the Encampment River.  

But, then that’s water down stream for another postcard. 

The smelter was capable of handling an estimated 300 to 500 tons of ore per day. However, without a railroad to the site, the pigs had to be hauled by team and wagon to the Union Pacific at Walcott 40 miles north. 

As early as 1890, plans for a railroad from Walcott Junction to Grand Encampment, through Saratoga, were laid. However, it wasn’t until 1907 that the first iron horse steamed into Saratoga and it was 1908 before the first passenger train pulled into Encampment. 

By this time, the smelter had burned down twice, copper prices had tanked and the Penn-Wyoming Company went “bust.” 

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