Did You Ever Wonder What’s Inside the Tallest Building at the 4UR Ranch?

Flourite_Mill

     Happy 100 year anniversary to our fluorite mill at the 4UR Ranch! If you have been to the 4UR Ranch located in the historic mining town of Creede, Colorado, you have definitely noticed that big old building sitting on the east side of Goose Creek. Its nostalgic and regal presence towers over the ranch and demands attention; well it’s going to get some!

Genesis

     The vein of fluorite it was constructed for was discovered in 1891 by miners looking for extensions of the Amethyst silver vein that brought so much prosperity. The origin of the fluorite vein is believed to be linked to the three hot springs in the area; with the water depositing minerals and forming the veins over time. However the interest of the time was for silver and gold and fluorite took a back seat until 1911 when Shrive B. Collins, a surveyor of the area realized he could capitalize on the fluorite after realizing its growing importance. To foster his conquest, he organized the American Fluorspar Company and began working the vein. In order to maximize efficiency, a mill was constructed in 1917 to separate and process the mined fluorite.

Cart_Track_From_Mine

The east end of the mill was home to the track the carts containing the raw fluorite used to drop off the raw material

The Mill and Mine

     The mill is several stories tall with each level serving a specific and unique purpose in the processing of the material. The upper floor of the mill contained a station where workers would separate waste from fluorite by hand. As the fluorite ore traveled down the mill it would be washed and separated by several machines and processes. The mill had equipment that would sort the raw fluorite by its size and even had a machine that would later separate it by density, pretty impressive for 1917. After it was all processed it would be hauled to the railroad station just over a mile away at the Wagon Wheel Gap. Lower grade fluorite was sent to Pueblo, Colorado for steel production. The higher-grade fluorite, with a grade of 96% fluorite or more was hauled east for production of hydrofluoric acid.

2nd_Floor_Sorting_Bins

The 2nd floor of the mill housed some of the equipment used to wash and sort the raw fluorite ore.

     The mine, its surface and mineral rights and all structures were sold in 1925 for just under $50,000 to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Steel Corporation or the CF&I. The CF&I invested in the mine and erected several housing structures, a mine shop, an office and several other buildings. Furthermore, they also erected a mule barn to house the working mules that would be used to pull the fluorspar to the railroad in the Wagon Wheel Gap. The mining continued until 1950 when operations ceased. The average number of workers per day in the mill was about 12 while 4 others worked outside on the ground.  

Boilers_and_Furnace

A view of the furnaces that once powered the fluorspar mill

       The CF&I also had a carpenter, a blacksmith, an engineer/fireman and timber men on staff. Furthermore they had over 20 men working underground in the mine daily from miners, laborers and cart operators. In total there were over 40 men working at the operation on average with one shift per day working in the mine and two shifts per day working in the mill. The total production is hard to pinpoint due to lack of access to early records of the mine, however, since CF&I took over operations in 1925, it produced over 115,000 tones of fluorspar concentrate. Some of the structures left standing today include the Fluorspar mill, the shop and the office; many still have the original equipment in their respective buildings.

Belt_Drive_Engine

This is a view from the east of a drive wheel that powered a belt used for the sorting equipment upstairs

Fluorspar in the U.S.

     Today all the Fluorspar used by the US is imported and the majority of it is imported from China. It is used a flux in the production of steel and aluminum, it also plays a part in the air conditioning units found in your car. Furthermore it is regarded as an extremely valuable material in the production of lenses. The material is perfect for camera lenses, telescopes and microscopes because it has low refraction qualities that allow for the most pure picture. A Cannon lens made of fluorite can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Next time you’re near the old fluorspar mill, say happy 100years and consider all the work that was put in to mine this amazing resource from this historic Colorado resort.

Service_Stairs_to_Boiler

A set of service stairs that was once used to service the furnace and boilers in the mill

Cable_Drive_Wheel

A drive wheel at the west end of the mill sits as the sun pokes through the boarded up windows

Water_Pipes_Leading_to_Boiler

Water pipes leave the furnace and boiler to power the various equipment in the mill

 

Sources:

Korzeb, Stanley L. “The Wagon Wheel Gap Fluorspar Mine, Mineral County, Colorado” The Mineralogical Records Volume 24 1993

Copeland, James B. and Vendl, Mark A.  “The Wagon Wheel Gap Fluorspar Mine” 2011 Mining History Journal  

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