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Carissa ready to be fired up for visitors

Jun 19, 2013 - By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

Supporters of South Pass City State Historic Site and the Carissa Mine renovation project will numerous changes at the site this summer, all leading up to a public grand opening in August to showcase the latest improvements.

South Pass site historian Jon Lane said the renovation, supported with funds granted by the Wyoming Legislature, has undertaken significant work since the Ranger Mining Edition reported on the project last year.

In addition to aesthetic enhancement and attempts to restore the functionality of various mine machines, Lane said, the Carissa also is a much safer place for visitors now, thanks to improvements to stairwells, lighting, railings and floors.

"The Carissa mine and mill are an incredible window into the life and work of gold miners in the early 20th century," Lane said, "but an important part of the Carissa's story has been missing for decades."

In 2009, The Wyoming State Legislature provided funding to purchase historic milling equipment for the Carissa. In the fall of 2012, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's Abandoned Mine Lands Division supervised the installation of the equipment.

One of the most immediately noticeable changes to the mine site is the improved electrical lighting, visible from as far away as the roadway leading into South Pass City itself. Numerous electrical fixtures, left as bare bulbs, Lane said, as an allusion to the mine's original conditions, have been installed, allowing for largely improved illumination of the Carissa's various machines and passageways.

Water lines also have been put in, leading from the currently flooded mine shaft to the Carissa mill site some 150 yards away. The lines will carry a vital supply of liquid to the restored milling machines, including a massive ball mill that Lane said has already been turned on a run once this year thanks to restorations to its 65-year-old engine that took place in the summer of 2012. The machine weighs in at 23,000 pounds. It was used to crush tons of rock and dirt to release tiny particles of gold.

The original ball mill and several other pieces of milling equipment were removed from the Carissa in the late 1950s.

With the inclusion of a water supply, the ball grinder, as well as other equipment restored more recently, will be able to power up and operate for spectators at August's opening events, as well as future patrons of the historic site.

Those same patrons will also benefit from improvements made to the hand railings, stairwells and floors of the Carissa mill. New artificial turf and wooden flooring has been laid down in most areas of the mill, allowing for a sturdier walking path that will be supplemented by rustic walkways around the site to be constructed over the course of the summer.

An objective of the restoration is to improve functionality while simultaneously presenting an authentic appearance for visitors. To that end, hand railings made from weathered iron girders and piping also have been installed, which Lane said were chosen to maintain the mill site's original appearance.

A small elevated platform has been added as well, which will allow onlookers to peer safely down into the restored machinery as it operates.

The centerpiece event this summer is "Carissa Thunder," set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug 18, when plans call for the ball mill to be fired up for a full demonstration. Lane describes it as "an experience like no other in the nation." Admission is free.

Though the mill will open to visitors in August, Lane said the renovation will be far from over. Ongoing projects include further renovations to the mining shaft itself and an exhibit and display space inside the main mill building, the latter of which is already under construction.

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