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The Merced Gold Mining Co.

By John Swiger

T he Merced Gold Mining Compnay was formed in September of 1894 with the purchase of Daniel Cook's estate. A collection of 26 quartz mine claims aggregating some 20,000 acres, it included the mines of the Potosi, Malvina, Louisa, and the most famous of the group, the Mary Harrison. Much of the early efforts of the company were directed to improving and developing all of these mines, and indeed they were all somewhat productive, but it was the Mary Harrison mine that surpassed them all. After about 1897, and until the close of operations in 1904, the Mary Harrison was the sole producer for the company. The total MGMCo. realized from the mine was about $400,000 at the then current price of gold, about $20/ounce. The combined output of all the mines worked by the MGMCo. from 1895 till 1904 was approximately $800,000.

MGMCo. Stock Certificate
MGMCo. Stock Certificate.
The Merced Gold Mining Co. started development almost immediately after acquiring the properties. The first project was to rebuild the 40 stamp mill at the Potosi mine site, and at the Malvina Mine, a new hoist works was erected for the new three compartment shaft in 1895. This was followed by the construction of a dam on Blacks Creek in September, 1895, and completed in the spring of 1896. The timber dam was over 30 feet high and had a spillway 75 feet wide. Two tanks were erected above the dam for additional water storage.

Improvements were also being made at both the Louisa and the Mary Harrison Mines, with new shafts and hoists to increase their production. Later in 1896 the construction a 4 mile 24 inch gauge gravity tramway was begun and completed by June, 1897, to connect the mines with the new stamp mill. After striking a rich vein at the Mary Harrison in late 1897, most of the production was shifted there and a new hoist/crusher building erected over the shaft. An 8-ton 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotive, bearing builder's #1896, was purchased new from the H.K. Porter Company of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the following year. Built in August, 1898, and weighing 17,000 lbs., the wood burning locomotive developed about 3000 lbs. of tractive effort with 24 inch drivers, 7x12 inch cylinders, and 140 psi boiler pressure. The engine was delivered to Waterford by rail in September, 1898. There it was loaded on a logging wagon and hauled to Coulterville by Ollie Fisk, a local freighter, sometimes using as many as 22 mules to handle the steep grades and very rough dirt roads.

An ore train crossing Blacks Creek trestle
An ore train crossing Blacks Creek trestle.
By October of that year the tramway, now a steam railroad, was in full operation. Utilizing 15 steel ore cars of 5 ton capacity each, ore from the Mary Harrison mine was hauled to the Potosi mill site. On the line were two wood trestles, one crossing Maxwell Creek just south of town , and the other spanning Blacks Creek near the mill. The bridge crossing Maxwell Creek was 288 feet long and stood 53 feet high. The locomotive engineer's habit of blowing the whistle while crossing this bridge soon earned the engine the nickname "Whistling Billy", the name it retains to this day. The Maxwell Creek trestle, exhibiting unique construction, sported 5 trussed center spans of 32 feet each, so as to eliminate the need for more bents. The bridge across Blacks Creek, misnamed the Maxwell Creek trestle in Turner's book, was about 150 feet long and about 60 feet in height. It had an A-frame center span giving it a unique character as well. In addition, there was also a long trestle over which the ore cars were pushed by the locomotive and their loads dumped into the ore bins of the stamp mill. 25 lb. rail and stub switches with harp type switch stands were used throughout.

Operations on the railroad consisted of a train of 8 or 9 ore laden cars leaving the Mary Harrison with the locomotive on the rear end of the train facing the cars. Pushing the cars in this manner, the locomotive transported its loads across the trestle over Maxwell Creek and alongside the old Coulterville-La Grange road. Passing the machine shops and engine house/car shops, and over the Blacks Creek trestle, it finally shoved the cars out across the ore dump trestle at the stamp mill to be unloaded. The locomotive was then reversed and the cars pulled back over the line to the mine where they were again loaded. By repeating this operation several times each day, hundreds of tons of ore were delivered to the mill for processing.

A devastating fire swept through the area in 1926 destroying all the remaining buildings and bridges of the Merced Gold Mining Company. All the remaining machinery was gathered from the various sites and sold for scrap, but the Porter locomotive and one ore car were saved and placed on display in Coulterville. They can be seen today in front of the history center at the intersection of Hwy 49 and Hwy 132.


Reference Material Available Online:

Photographs.

Collected Merced Gold Mining Co. Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

California \ Merced Gold Mining Co.
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