A New Mexico Ghost Town

By Staff
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An old head rig stands waiting to once again raise men and ore from the workings hundreds of feet below.
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For ignition this 3 HP Witte #B1403 used a battery and spark coil with homemade contacts on the exhaust cam.
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Still piped to the mine is this Ingersoll-Rand compressor coupled to a Waukesha Motor Co. 4-cylinder Model #G-U2F engine. Note the rubber-tired wheels on this 1926 portable.
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This 14x9x14, 309 C.F.M. #7956 Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co. air compressor with 60' flywheels came up here second hand from another mine far away in the desert.
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Like a lone sentinel stands this boiler over the town and the valley below.

35 Pueblitos Road Belen, New Mexico 87002

My little half-ton pickup leaves the Rio Grande Valley behind
and climbs the long hill to the Upper Plateau. The Upper Plateau
reaches out long and wide toward the Continental Divide, but my
little truck turns up a canyon and follows a centuries-old wagon
road. The road takes us further up into the mountains, high above
the now dwarfed plateau, then past the ruins of an ore smelter
built by the Spanish Conquistadors. Another bend or two in the
road, then we pause, unlock another gate, then climb even higher
into the clear mountain air.

The road becomes steeper now, the transmission groans in low
gear and the rusted wheel atop a mine head rig becomes visible over
the top of the scrub pine forest. Then winding around the ore
hoppers my little truck stops amid mine buildings and
equipment.

Once a prosperous community of several thousand the town’s
only souls are now those who reside forever in the Boot Hill
Cemetary across the creek.

There were a dozen or so separate mines here of varying size and
wealth. At the upper end of the canyon at one mine is a hole
several yards across and several yards deep, with no visible way
showing how the rock was removed. ‘Oh, that,’ explains an
old timer, ‘was a cave in. More than twenty men were working in
that stope. They quit for lunch. They were all out, then exactly at
12:00 o’clock noon the ceiling gave way and the mountain filled
the stope completely up leaving the hole. Nobody was hurt. You
see,’ he continued, ‘caveins happen at noon when the sun is
overhead and the gravitational pull of the sun loosens the rock and
WHAMO!’ Myself, I think it was more pure bad luck than pure
pull.

Scattered about the area is the litter of generations past;
rusted cans that once held the carbide for the miner’s lamps,
bearings that made the wheels roll under the ore tubs, bits of
separator screens, pipe fittings here, pieces of lubricators there,
sintered firebox brick proclaiming to have been patented in
December of ’98, and everywhere the clear mountain air is
fouled by the sulfur dioxide coming off the pyrites glistening in
the sun.

One fellow I know was an underground map maker who traveled
about the country surveying mines. He tells about the time in the
early forties when he worked one of the mines here. The drift came
down a 4% grade from the ore bodies about a quarter of a mile in
and the miners would ride the loaded ore carts out. The drift was
narrow, without light and wouldn’t clear a man on the side of
the cart, so he’d wait with his transit at the portals for a
miner to come roaring by with a loaded cart before he’d dare
enter.

The cable from the head rig extends though a hole in the rusted
tin shed to the mine hoist which raised and lowered the miners and
ore tubs alike in and out of the vertical shaft. The hoist was
powered by a 20 HP Fairbanks and controlled by a lever-operated
clutch and brake. A vertical screw is attached to the cable drum
and as the drum turns, a brass arrow point rides up and down the
screw telling the operator the position of the elevator cage which
carries the tubs. In various places are strips of friction tape
wrapped around the cable to further help the operator in the shed
align the rails on the cage with the tracks hundreds of feet below
ground in the mine at the various levels. If the cage is more than
?’ too high a miner wouldn’t be able to push a loaded tub
onto the elevator cage.

Just behind the hoist in the shed is the one cylinder air
compressor that the old timer called a ‘hot-head-banger.’
Made by the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company, the 309 C.F.M. oil
fired compressor was started by heating a bronze pin in the head
with a blow torch while the engine was turned over by a 3 HP Witte
that was belted to it.

A portable compressor on trucks stands along side of the shed.
Both compressors pumped air down into the mine to run the drills
and other pneumatic tools as well as the water pumps that drained
the mine of the spring water that dripped through the walls
underground.

It’s said that one man brought it on a flatbed truck and
installed it by himself. Cramped in the little shed, I was unable
to fit all of it in the photo.

Near by among the trees stands the shell of a boiler with
lettering above the firebox which reads ‘James Beggs &
Company, 109 Liberty St., New York City, New York’. The boiler
is a remnant of the pre-gas days when the hoist was driven by steam
cylinders. Down the hill from the boiler is a pile of coal cinders
25 yards across giving evidence that the boiler ran the mine for no
short period of time.

The mines on this mountain produced metals for more than three
hundred years starting with the first Spanish Conquistadors on
through the Korean War. There are a few old miners left, but they
live in the little town on the highway down in the valley below.
Now and then a mine claim will be sold or leased out to a big
out-of-state company and the people in the little valley town will
turn and look up the mountain and wonder if it will once again come
back to life. Meanwhile the equipment waits silently through summer
sun and winter snow.

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