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Pioche is a great little "living ghost town" located in central Eastern Nevada, near the Utah border. It was first settled in 1868, and became the county seat for Lincoln County in 1871. Lawlessness raged in Pioche, and it is said that 78 men were murdered before the town saw its first natural death; talk about the Wild West! Full scale mining has operated in the area since initial discoveries were located in the late 1860s all the way up to around 1978; smaller scale operations continue to this day, including the still-working Prince Mine (west of Pioche). The first truly independent narrow-gauge railroad in Nevada was built in 1873 with the Pioche & Bullionville Railroad (aka Nevada Central Railroad, no association with the later rail line built in 1880 under the same name between Austin & Battle Mountain, NV), formed to haul ore from the rich Pioche-area mines to milling facilities at Bullionville, a total distance of some 20 rail miles. The P&BRR was abandoned in 1881, but some of the former grade was utilized for the Pioche Pacific Railroad (built in 1891), which hauled ore from the No.1,3,5,7,9 Shafts and Raymond & Ely mines on Treasure Hill to the Summit Mill (formerly located near the Wheeler Monument by the current aerial tramway station), and also featured a 15-mile long line north of Pioche to Jackrabbit (originally called Royal City).

Mining activity in the 1870s was dominated by the Raymond & Ely and Meadow Valley Mining Companies; in 1872 the recorded total output from the Pioche area mines was an amazing $5,462,000, with the Raymond&Ely mines producing $3,700,000 of that total! Dozens of mines pepper the mountainsides surrounding Pioche, but some of the more dominant mines in the immediate area are the No.1 Shaft (a prominent feature of the area), the Raymond & Ely mine just to the east of the No.1 Shaft, and the Nos.3,5,7,9 shafts (none of which are publicly accessible today, although a private mining company currently works the Nos.5 and 7 shafts). The Burke Tunnel was created to access the lower levels of these shafts & other mines nearby, and provide an easier way to remove the ores from these lower levels & deposit these ores into the aerial tramway, for processing at the PCM&R mill.

In 1890, following a slump in mining activity, the Raymond&Ely, Meadow Valley, and Yuba Mining Companies were merged into the Pioche Consolidated Mining & Reduction Company, with famed mining magnate William S. Godbe at the helm. The PCM&R bought the remaining assets of the Pioche & Bullionville RR, and in 1891 started construction of the Pioche Pacific Railroad. The new rail line ran from the area of the current aerial tramway (next to old No.9 Shaft), along the hillside westerly to serve the R&E mine and No.1,3,5,7,9 Shafts, then eastward downhill to the new PCM&R mill built to the east of town. A later 15-mile extension was built northwest to Jackrabbit (aka Royal City), to serve the mines there & at Bristol (via aerial tramway). The railroad originally carried ore to the Summit Mill, until completion of the PCM&R smelter at West Point. The Pioche Pacific ran sporadically until 1948, when it was finally abandoned.

The PCM&R smelter (which still remains intact today, gaurded by a watchman) was built in 1891 just to the east of Pioche, at a place called West Point, to process the ores mined in the area; the original mill burned in 1893, but was subsequently rebuilt. The Pioche Pacific Railroad (PPRR) built a spur to the mill to more efficiently haul ore directly from the mines on Treasure Hill to the new mill. In 1907 the Union Pacific built a standard-gauge line from Caliente to the PCM&R mill, using some of the former P&BRR grade through Condor Canyon. Now the ores processed at the PCM&R mill could be hauled to markets even less expensively than before. In 1912 the owners of the Prince Consolidated Mining Company (located on the western side of Treasure Hill, about 2 miles or so from Pioche) completed the Prince Consolidated Railroad, a standard-gauge line that ran northwards around Treasure Hill, then turned eastward to cross the narrow-gauge Pioche Pacific RR at a point named Atlanta, and eventually connect with the UPRR's Pioche Branch behind the PCM&R smelter. This railroad line, along with the entire UPRR Pioche branch from Caliente, would lie in place until 1985, when the UPRR finally abandoned & scrapped the line. Reportedly, the entire line was offered at a fair price to the Lincoln County Commission in the very early 1980s, but the county commissioners declined the offer due to lack of funds; many in the area lament this, as they point to the success enjoyed by the Nevada Northern Railway just a short distance north of them in Ely, and believe that they could have duplicated this success had the Lincoln County Commission purchased the former Pioche Branch (from Caliente through Pioche to Caselton & Prince).

Interestingly, the line from the PCM&R mill to Prince was initially operated as an independent line, the Prince Consolidated Railroad. It had its own locomotives & rolling stock, and in 1918 the Virginia Louise Mine won a court decision allowing it the right to ship ores over the PCRwy line. The original 2 steam locomotives were operated by the PCRwy up to around World War II, after which (from what I have learned from locals) the steam locomotives were retired/scrapped and the UPRR subsequently handled all rail traffic over the line until abandonment. The Prince Mine continues to be worked to this day, and the Caselton properties were consolidated under Combined Metals Reduction Company ownership. In 1929 CMR concluded that the best way to access the abundant ore deposits under Treasure Hill was to sink a shaft on the western side of the mountain, just northwest of the Prince Mine; this became the Caselton Shaft, and from the 1200-foot level built an 8,000-foot long tunnel to connect the Caselton shaft with the No.1 Shaft on the Pioche side of the mountain. The plan at the time was to have all ores from these mines to be removed at Caselton for processing at a future extensive CMR mill, while the No.1 Shaft would handle only men and equipment. The new, massive CMR mill was constructed in 1940 and operated up until 1978, when it was idled and is currently guarded by several watchmen. Interestingly, larger mills & smelters were physically able to be constructed, but the massive power requirements were more than could be handled by even the biggest diesel, coal, or steam generators at the time; however, once the Hoover Dam was finished and an electrical transmission line was completed to Lincoln County after 1936, sufficient electrical power became available to move forward with construction of mill facilities at Caselton.

In 1923 the Combined Metals Reduction Company (CMR) purchased the PCM&R mines, properties, and smelter. In 1929, to handle the increased output from the re-opened mines and to take advantage of new refining methods, the PCM&R smelter was reconfigured into a 250-ton flotation concentrator; shortly after being placed into operation the entire complex burned to the ground but a completely new facility was constructed and placed into operation by 1930. At the same time, an aerial tramway was built from the newly-reconstructed mill to the area of the No.9 Shaft, next to the Wheeler Monument, to more efficiently transport ore from the mines to the new concentrator & mill. This aerial tramway still survives to this day in fantastic condition, and is an icon for the area.

Over the decades the area mines were operated when gold & other mineral prices remained high enough to be mined profitably, and then idled when prices dropped. Currently there are several mines being reopened as the price of gold remains at historic highs, so if you decide to visit the area, please respect the "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs, gates, and fences.

Please be sure to visit the town of Pioche if you are in the area; it enjoyed a slight population swell in the early 2000s with retirees from the Las Vegas area moving there, and is an extremely friendly small town. Please be sure to patronize the businesses there, and stay the night in one of the various establishments. The famed (or infamous) "Million Dollar Courthouse" offers daily tours in the warmer months and is well worth a visit; it gained its moniker as it was originally budgeted to be completed in 1871 for $16,000, but delays, legal wrangling & litigation, and the monumental interest accrued on the original construction bonds due to all the delays ended up costing the county taxpayers nearly one million dollars! In fact, the final interest payment was made in 1936, 65 years after the courthouse's completion! Be sure to also drop in to the local museum, which is absolutely fascinating & a veritable treasure trove of historical artifacts.

DO NOT ENTER old mines, especially without having the proper equipment. NEVER enter by yourself! We use headlamps for light, with several back up flash lights. We carry a multi-gas sensing meter that measures the oxygen level, as well as methane gas level; however, we do NOT carry rescue breathing equipment. Bad air is a reality for many old mines - carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases collect in lower levels of many mines, as well as in many isolated pockets of the twists & turns of many mines (and you will NOT be able to smell the bad gas before it overwhelms you). We carry extra batteries, rescue ropes, first aid kits, and plenty of water. We also carry a Spot GPS Meter that sends an email w/GPS coordinates via satellite to love-ones before we enter stating our location and that we are OK. We do it again upon leaving the mine to let them know we’re out and safe; this meter also has the capability of sending a help signal and/or alerting 911 via satellite providing GPS coordinates – of course it doesn’t work within the mine itself. The BLM strongly advises to not enter these old mines, so if you choose to do so, it is solely at your own risk. Some mines, have steep & deep drop-offs, as well as difficult-to-see vertical shafts, which could be impossible to get back up out of. Also, even though you may see extensive use of wood ladders, shoring and support platforms inside old mines, this wood is very old and unstable; much of it is rotted (along with corroded nails & bolts) and WILL NOT support your weight. So please enjoy these photos but do not try to enter any old mines.

Pioche, Nevada (1995-2010)
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Bristol Wells, Nevada (2009)
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Caselton, Nevada (2009)
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Ely Valley Mines, Nevada (2009)
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Jackrabbit, Nevada (2009)
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Prince, Nevada (2009)
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