Carissa restoration benefits from volunteers, donors

Jun 16, 2016 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

The contributions gain importance in light of possible state funding shortfalls.

The Carissa Mine and Mill site near South Pass City State Historic Site is sustained by the collective efforts of a number of workers and volunteers from around Wyoming. The volunteers have become especially vital, as their work has contributed a number of specific pieces to the site that would otherwise be nonexistent. Their contributions could become still more important in the face of state funding shortfall that could affect the Carissa Mine restoration budget.

Substantial contributions have been made by the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. Jon Lane, public programs curator for the South Pass area, said the trust fund has been instrumental in what he referred to as the "Carissa Exhibition Project," an effort to expand and renovate the site in terms approachable to the general public.

These efforts have taken the form of small, human touches, such as lunch boxes, replicas of operator's manuals and personal effects, as well as repairs to several pieces of machinery to make them operational again. The trust fund is currently contributing to renovations of a thickener tank at the site, as well as reconstruction of a bucket elevator.

It also funded the completion of a new section of mine cart rail at the site, which is now occupied by a cart on loan from the Atlantic City Historical Society.

"[The trust fund]'s grant will add both function and flavor to the public's experience and learning at the Carissa," Lane said.

Area artists have also contributed to the project. Dannine Donaho of Snow Deep Designs created the silk screens for use on replica dynamite crates displayed near the mine's lift. Nikki Comes Running Buck of Nikki's Artworks hand-painted a hoisting signals sign, a replica of a sign that would have told lift operators how to communicate up and down the mineshaft. Both are Fremont County artists.

Two men have donated many period tools for hands-on use and display in Carissa exhibits: Lee Campbell of Thermopolis and Al Kiernan of Green River. Lane said others have donated individual pieces as well, many of which were obtained by the volunteers at small sales around the state. Most of the tools are still used by workers in the Carissa's ongoing renovation.

Lane said he's recently received photographs of original Carissa construction from a donor. He said Sheryl Dale-Hoyt of California passed along scans of her grandparents' photo albums depicting a massive 1929 building project at the Carissa. Lane added that Dale-Hoyt's grandfather, Charles Hoyt of Hudson, appeared to have been the general contractor for a project to move Atlantic City's Dexter Mill to the Carissa Mine site to serve as its new mill in 1929.

The University of Wyoming Conservation Corps has been active in restoring and creating trail sites around the mine area. The corps worked on the rock stairs and improved trails inside the mine complex. They also plan to work on additional portions of hiking trails. These projects, Lane said, are run primarily by student volunteers.

The Carissa site uses water extensively in many of its exhibits, since machinery in the mill site often relied on water to work. However, the water lines sometimes break in the bitter cold of South Pass winter conditions. Lane said Roland Flynn, an employee of the City of Rock Springs, often volunteers time to fix such issues--which he was hard at work doing for the Carissa just last week.

"This is maybe the third time that I have worked with him," Lane said. "Roland's varied skill set and enthusiasm for improving the public's experience is a rare combination."

In addition to these many contributions, Lane noted several other volunteers as well, including Bill & Beth Sagstetter of Colorado, who located an original design and logo for replica dynamite sticks to be imprinted with at the site, and Will Meyerriecks of Silverton, Colorado, who fielded questions on wrapping and rolling the replicas. He also noted Charlie Connell of Arizona, who donated a replica equipment tag for the Carissa's Kue-Ken jaw crusher.