Photo of a train ramp in Anaconda Montana
Photo of an old mining locomotive in the Butte, Montana mining museum

Weekly Gem #269, A Truly Loco Way to Spend an Evening

4/1/22

Location: This Hidden Gem is at the intersection of Sycamore St. and the Butte, Anaconda, & Pacific Railway tracks in Anaconda, MT (see the Clue Me! Map).  This ramp is a reminder of the how some Anaconda working stiffs chose to spend their time off. Suppose you worked at the old Anaconda smelter, putting in long hard days. What do you do in an evening? Why, you put in some long, hard hours building a ramp for some local entertainment.

Long story short, Butte, Montana is about 25 miles east, and was called the ‘Richest Hill on Earth.’ The copper from Butte was brought to Anaconda for smelting. The copper ore going in and the highly purified copper anodes that came out of the smelter were all carried by rail, and locally they were handled by locomotives much like that shown in the photo. Although these locomotives were small, they were also extremely fast as locomotives go, and were constantly chugging between the smelter and the railyard, getting the copper anodes ready for shipping to points east. Unfortunately, by the 1920’s and 1930’s, these small locomotives were no longer practical. They were relegated to the side-track, replaced by larger locomotives that could pull larger and heavier trains.

So, what should be done with these perfectly good, but obsolete locomotives? That’s where the ingenuity of the Anaconda smeltermen came to the fore.

It apparently began with someone bragging about their new-fangled motorcycle, which they said they could use to jump one of the locomotives. One of the smeltermen immediately upped the ante, telling this fellow that he would jump his motorcycle, with him on it, with a locomotive!

The challenge was on, and dozens of smeltermen worked evenings and weekends for several weeks to build the ramp. From the back side, you can see the old rails splitting off and cutting in to the ramp, which had rails embedded.

They then ran a few tests, to make sure they could clear the motorcycle, and its rider. They were able to get a little over half a mile head start, so were at full speed, and then some, by the time they reached the turn onto the ramp. They put a big pile of hay just before the ramp, so the engineer could ‘safely’ leap off before the locomotive continued up the ramp, and off the jump.

These activities brought quite a number of spectators, and there were even some wooden bleachers installed nearby so the crowds could get a good view.

This all led up to the big day. The tests showed that the locomotive could definitely clear the motorcycle, but at the last minute the owner of said motorcycle decided to watch from a distance rather than be on the motorcycle during the jump. This turned out to be good judgement on his part, as that run didn’t work perfectly. The locomotive came off quite well and with good speed, but was a bit nose-heavy, and dived down faster than expected. The nose easily cleared the motorcycle, but jammed into the ground … it balanced precariously for a moment, then fell backwards with the rear portion of the locomotive obliterating the motorcycle.

At that point they had used all of their locomotives (each only useful for a single run), bringing Anaconda’s locomotive jumping phase to an end.

But you can still see the old ramp, a reminder of the good old days, and the fun that could be had with a motorcycle and some old trains.

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Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.

Clue

A train jump?

Description

A ramp, with rails, and a drop.

Why It's Interesting

This ramp sparks the imagination, leading to the invention of stories that are suitable for publishing on the first day of the fourth month. ; ]

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