Raising the bar on Aspen’s mining history
A testament to Aspen’s illustrious mining history was raised with a lot of muscle power and little fanfare Monday afternoon.
A crew of five raised a handmade, wooden derrick on the Holden-Marolt Open Space on a little bench above Castle Creek. The derrick is a replica of a tower that supported the steel ropes that supplied electricity from a wheelhouse on Castle Creek to the massive Holden Lixiviation Works. Not only is the 26-foot derrick a spitting image of the original, it was erected in the same spot as its predecessor.
Ray Ingram and Edgar Rojo of Renaissance Woodworkers of El Jebel worked with Aspen architect and history buff Graeme Means over the winter to painstakingly copy the construction using heavy wooden beams, large bolts, washers and nuts, and joints unique to the 1880s and ’90s. They used hand tools on the vast majority of the project, and on Monday they stayed true to using techniques available in the 1890s to raise the derrick.
They first planted a 30-foot gin pole in the ground and steadied it with guy wires. They used come-along winches Monday to lower the gin pole low enough to hook a heavy chain to a rope harness on the derrick’s A-shaped main frame. A chain fall winch, like the ones used by mechanics to hoist engines out of cars, was attached to the gin pole and attached to a rope girdling the derrick.
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Ingram and his stepson, Jace Cheatham, took turns pulling on the chain to pull the derrick frame, weighing more than 1,000 pounds, into place. Its feet were secured to concrete footings so it wouldn’t kick off. Kade Cheatham rounded out the crew that undertook the backbreaking work. They spent most of the day using massive wrenches to tighten the nuts and bolts that hold the frame together.
As of late Monday afternoon, the crew was preparing to add the long legs that provide support to the tower. More work will be performed today to stabilize the structure.
Bring history to life
Aspen Open Space Manager Austin Weiss said the derrick will help bring an important chapter in Aspen’s history to life. A lot of the mining history is rotting away as wooden timbers and metal surrender to the elements.
“We’re continuing to lose the pieces and parts here in Aspen,” Weiss said.
The Holden Lixiviation Works was the “crown jewel” of Aspen’s mining past, he said. The plant and associated buildings sprawled across 22 acres along Castle Creek. The works used a stamp mill, heat and chemicals to extract silver from ore.
The plant operated for about one year. All that’s left of the mill is a crumbled stone and brick foundation on a bench above Castle Creek. The sampling shed is now the Holden-Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum. The salt warehouse is a workshop.
The city has done an admirable job creating paths that wind through the property and sprinkling it with interpretative panels that describe the history. Weiss believes the replica derrick will engage people and draw them in. Very few people using a nearby pedestrian bridge and cruising by on the paved paths are aware of the property’s history, he said.
Additional panels about the derrick’s role in the Holden Lixiviation Works and the effort to duplicate it will be in place later this summer.
Labor of love
Means and fellow Aspen history student Carl Bergman pitched the idea of copying the derrick to city staff. Means had the pleasure of seeing the old derrick firsthand while it was still standing, buried in the woods that grew up around it. He displayed the last remaining chunk of the old derrick that’s still on the property. He, Ingram and Rojo studied the construction technique and materials of the old derrick so they could copy them in the new model.
The city budgeted $15,000 for the project, but it was more a labor of love for Ingram, Rojo and Means. They said they put in countless hours on the project.
“”We’re doing everything the old way — even the wages,” Means said.
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