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Smith Mine: Deadliest Coal Mine Disaster in Montana

Smith Mine: Deadliest Coal Mine Disaster in Montana

The Smith Mine is near Bearcreek, Montana, in Carbon County, not far from Red Lodge, and it’s the site of the deadliest coal mine explosion and fire in Montana history. At 9:37 on a Saturday morning, February 27, 1943, there was an explosion of methane gas in the mine. 74 of 77 miners died, either from the blast itself, or from suffocation in the ensuing fire. One rescue worker succumbed days later as well, bringing the death toll to 75.

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A Brief Revival in Creede, Colorado

A Brief Revival in Creede, Colorado

Nestled among the mountains in Mineral County, about 130 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, lies Creede, a mountain town originally founded on the silver boom. The end of the boom led to a rapid decline for this picturesque little burgh in the San Juan Mountains, but a wartime need for metals in World War II led to a brief revival in Creede, Colorado.

Creede, Colorado

The first silver discovery in this area was at the Alpha mine in 1869, and Creede started to grow in the 1870s. Precious minerals were discovered in Willow Creek Canyon in 1889, and over the next two years the population of Creede boomed from 600 residents to more than 10,000. Robert Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, took up residence in Creede during the boom years, and he met his end there when Ed O’Kelley shot him dead on June 8th, 1892.

In 1893, Creede was put to sleep by the silver panic, also known as the Denver Depression of 1893. Miners and their families left in droves, and Creede teetered on ghost town status. Zinc and lead mines provided enough for the remaining residents to scratch out a living, and the local economy even got a slight bump during World War II when metals were at a premium.

It was during that time, in 1942, that renowned photographer Andreas Feininger captured these photos of Creede for the Office of Wartime Information.

Creede, Colorado

Several of Mr. Feininger’s exposures were color transparencies, giving us a rare look at 1942 Creede in full-color. Below, some zoom views.

Creede, Colorado

Creede, Colorado



Creede, Colorado

Above: A birds-eye view of Creede in 1942.

Creede, Colorado

A look at the mining operation in Creede.

Creede, Colorado

More mining photos from Creede, 1942.

Creede, Colorado

The alcohol signs are abundant in the shot above–signs for Love’s Liquors, Phillips Liquor, Weaver’s Beer Parlor, and Walter’s Beer are all present.

Creede, Colorado

Some slice of life photos from Creede.

Creede, Colorado

Creede, Colorado

Creede, Colorado

Eventually, even the WWII mining activity would fade in Creede, as the demand for metals for the war effort ended. The last mine closed in 1985.

Creede, Colorado

Today, Creede survives as a tourist town with a population of 290 residents. In 2015, YouTuber Hunter Pontious captured flyover drone footage of Creede, Colorado in 4K resolution. Watch his amazing video below.

Photos by Andreas Feininger. Drone footage by Hunter Pontious.
Original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Mining Relics and the Majesty of Spearfish Canyon

Mining Relics and the Majesty of Spearfish Canyon

One of America’s greatest scenic byways winds through the Black Hills between Spearfish and Lead, South Dakota, featuring waterfalls, thousand-foot cliffs, and roadside turnoffs where travelers can stop and photograph the sights. Spearfish Canyon is so beautiful, some scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed here.

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Tiny Aladdin, Wyoming is For Sale

Tiny Aladdin, Wyoming is For Sale

Aladdin is a former coal mining settlement in Crook County, today a tiny roadside stop in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming, just a short drive from Devils Tower National Monument. Census records indicate a peak population of 200 people during its coal mining heydey, but today, only 15 residents reportedly remain. The centerpiece of Aladdin is the 118-year old General Store which does a brisk business serving travelers on the road between Devils Tower and Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

Aladdin, Wyoming

In July of 2014, the owners of Aladdin put the town up for sale. A sign on the door of the store reads, “This town is for sale. Store, house, bar, trailer park, post office, 30 acres, $1,500,000 firm.” There have been several interested buyers, but so far, no takers.

Aladdin, Wyoming

Any potential buyer with plans to operate the General Store would have to make a strong commitment of both dollars and labor. There is no running water at all in the store (travelers use outhouses when necessary), heat is provided by a wood burning stove, and running the town is a full-time job, seven days per week.

Aladdin, Wyoming



Aladdin, Wyoming

The inside of the store is absolutely packed with antiques and souvenirs. We spent a good twenty minutes inside shopping and imagining what it was like in the 1800s.

Aladdin, Wyoming

Just down the road from Aladdin is a former coal tipple, now a state historic site.

Aladdin, Wyoming

During its operational days, this tipple facilitated the coal mine at the top of the slope. A mine car would carry ore to the top of this structure and “tip,” dropping a load of coal down the chute into a waiting Wyoming and Missouri Valley railroad car at the bottom.

Aladdin, Wyoming

If you enjoy abandoned places and the high plains, check out our book, Churches of the High Plains.

Aladdin, Wyoming

There is a quite nice, paved walking path that leads from the bottom of the tipple to the actual mine entrance at the top, and you will be treated to an amazing view if you make the short, uphill hike.

Aladdin, Wyoming

Aladdin, Wyoming

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media LLC

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Ghost Town: Silver City, Idaho

Ghost Town: Silver City, Idaho

This is a guest post from international photojournalist Jerry Nelson of JourneyAmerica.org.

The sun doesn’t set in Silver City. It pulls a curtain across the mountains as it moves.

At 6,000 feet, the ghost town sits in a bowl surrounded by 8,000 ft. mountains. The darkness settles on the western face first, then drifts across the valley floor, as though it didn’t want the day to end. Moving like a miner at the end of his shift underground, the shadow makes its way up the eastern face before merging in secrecy with the night.

Silver City, Idaho

The stars announce their presence in bursts of constellations and galaxies that can’t be seen by city dwellers. The town that thrived before Idaho became a state doesn’t have light pollution.

Silver City is one of the few mining towns that didn’t explode in flames or evaporate into 21st-century consumerism. Visiting Silver City is going back into history only to find history isn’t decades old, but rather still around us every moment.

Silver City, Idaho

I was in western Idaho shooting a couple gigs for some clients when one asked me if I wanted to see a real, genuine, old-fashioned ghost town. I couldn’t help but think, what other kind of ghost town is there if it’s not “…genuine” and “old-fashioned.”

Jumping into their beat-up jeep with the olive paint held together by brown rust spots, we moved along the road watching the animals fight for space with passing tumbleweeds. Leaving the modern world behind us, we turned left and didn’t stop until we landed in the past, 25 miles later and a 125 years ago.

Silver City once had over 20,000 people living inside its sprawling lots and acreage. Over 1000 mines honeycombed the peaks while eight saloons kept the miners thirst away and three brothels kept them happy. A general store was the entry for nourishment and provisions. Even a hospital existed.

Silver City, Idaho

Today, there are still 75 structures left. Built between the 1860s and early 1900s, today they stand vacant and solitary as though waiting for flickers of former residents to come back home.

When Silver City was relishing its zenith, the metropolis had a baker ‘s dozen of streets, seventy-five businesses, three-hundred homes and a population of about 2,500.

Some of the country’s major stage lines operated in the area and in 1874, Silver City had the first telegraph and daily newspaper in the territory. Telephones were in use by 1880 and the town was “electrified” in the 1890s.

Silver City, Idaho

If you look carefully, you can discover four distinct burial areas despite nature’s voracious struggle to reclaim them.

Being a child of the 50s and 60s, I felt as I might see Gene Autry tie up his horse at the old hotel that hasn’t changed in 100 years and maybe Tom Mix coming out of the tavern after killing his thirst — with a sarsaparilla of course. No beer or whiskey for my childhood champions.

The streets were sandy. Just as they should be in the shades of recall. The saloon doors rocked solemnly in the stiff evening gust and the church on the hilltop, Boothill, was the only building that made the evolution from cowboy movie into the 21st century.

Silver City lies 70 miles southwest of Boise in the Owyhee Mountains. Take Highway 78 out of Murphy and turn on Highway 95 near Sheaville, at the Silver City turnoff. The town is only accessible by car from about Memorial Day until the end of October. The rest of the year, a snowmobile is needed.


Author Bio:

Jerry Nelson is an American freelance-photojournalist. He turns his pen and camera on social justice issues globally. When he’s not traveling, he lives in Buenos Aires with his Argentina wife, Ale, and their cat Tommy. Contact Jerry today at jandrewnelson2@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter (@Journey_America)

All content copyright Jerry Nelson, Journey America, and Sonic Tremor Media.

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Ozark Ghost: Rush, Arkansas

Ozark Ghost: Rush, Arkansas

This is a guest post on historic Rush, Arkansas from international photojournalist Jerry Nelson of Journey America. His comments are included below.

Rush, Arkansas

Rush, Arkansas is the leftover of a zinc mining town in the Ozark Mountains in north Central Arkansas. Thriving from 1880 until 1940, the mines were important in the development of the railroads.

When World War I broke out, the Rush Creek mines were at the epicenter of zinc mining in the state. Ten mining companies operated 13 mines — more than any other mining district within Arkansas.

Rush, Arkansas

Rush, Arkansas

The buildings and ruins still visible at Rush are all that remain of the mines and the families that lived, worked, worshiped and played there. All traces of other mining districts have disappeared and Rush is the only one left not just with the buildings, but the mines as well.

Rush, Arkansas

The Rush Historic District today looks as it did when it was at the epicenter. The ghost town, mines and waste piles are still visible in the bluffs and set the flavor of an abandoned mountain mining community.

The district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Rush, Arkansas

Photos copyright Jerry Nelson, JourneyAmerica.org
Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media

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Captured: Ghost Town Bodie, 1962

Captured: Ghost Town Bodie, 1962

Bodie, California might be the most photographed ghost town in the world. Tourists and photographers by the thousands visit this former mining community in Mono County every year, eager to see the former city of twelve-thousand empty, in a state of “suspended decay.”

These images were captured by photographer Ronald Partridge for the National Park Service as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Mr. Partridge’s photos illuminate a perfect moment in time, July, 1962, as California designated Bodie a State Historic Park.

Over the decades, Bodie has become a symbol of westward expansion, boom and bust economics, and the enduring fascination with the American roadside — no sleight to mom and apple pie, but put Googie architecture, Route 66 and Bodie, California on the list of things that are authentically America.

Bodie, California, 1962

Gold was first discovered in Bodie in 1839, and according to the HABS report filed in 1962:

“…a quartz vein was discovered in August, 1859; but, though many efforts were made to exploit the area, it was not until 1874 that the great potential wealth of the district became promising, Bodie reached its pinnacle by 1879-80 when the population was estimated at 10 to 12-thousand, and when the production from the mines on Bodie Bluff was at its peak.”

“During all of the productive years the mines contributed 95 to 100 million in gold and silver bullion; and “highgrading” was carried on so openly that it was the magnet for the worst of the underworld who made “The Bad Man From Bodie” notorious.”

Bodie, California, 1962

Notes on Bodie’s condition in 1962 were also included in the report.

“In its present state, the town of Bodie presents an abandoned and desolate aspect to the lone tourist with no moving thing in view unless it is a blade of grass, for there is not a living soul, excepting another tourist, or even a growing tree in the town or on the surrounding hills.”

“Bodie is situated in a semi-arid country at an elevation of 8300 feet where only a scrubby sage brush can endure the rigors of the weather. It is located 12 miles over a dirt mountain road east of U. S. Highway 395 near the Nevada border about 10 miles due north of Mono Lake.”

“An abundance of very good water is available from springs. At one time there were twelve breweries operating in Bodie for this reason.”

Bodie, California, 1962

“The houses and buildings have a uniformity due to the common denominator of the same mouldings, siding and trim which appears to have been produced by a single mill. Also the raw sun-burned and unpainted pine of which the buildings are, for the most part, constructed adds to uniformity in color which blends with the red and brown earth. Variety is achieved by variation in plan and form of buildings and three or four brick buildings that still are standing, which becomes evident only upon closer observation.”

Bodie, California, 1962

Visiting Bodie today requires ten miles of paved rural highway, and three more miles on a gravel road. I’ve also heard it’s cash only, and the nearest ATM is about 20 miles away.

Bodie, California, 1962



Bodie, California, 1962

This is exceptionally dry country and fire is always a concern. Bodie was devastated by fire three times — in 1892, 1932, and 1946.

Bodie, California, 1962

Read more about Bodie State Historic Park at DesertUSA.

Bodie, California, 1962

Bodie, California, 1962

Bodie, California, 1962

There’s little more haunting than a pioneer cemetery.

Bodie, California, 1962

Bodie, California, 1962

The photos on this page have been cropped, cleaned, and enhanced, and are copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

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Toxic Twin: Cardin, Oklahoma

Toxic Twin: Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma is a toxic twin to Picher, rendered uninhabitable by mining industry abuse. In a piece by Sheila Stogsdill in the Tulsa World, November 17, 2010, (the link is no longer active) the population of Cardin is listed as zero.

MJ Masilko snapped these photos of Cardin and neighboring Picher in 2010.

Cardin, Oklahoma

MJ said these photos “are from Cardin, the next town, which is basically right next to Picher, and is also part of the Tar Creek Superfund site. It also seemed totally abandoned.” 

Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma

The Highway Tabernacle once served the hungry and welcomed weary travelers with the promise of peace.  Today, traffic passes but doesn’t stop, and the local residents who once worshipped here are gone.

Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma



Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma

Looks like they just stepped out for some groceries.

Cardin, Oklahoma

Cardin, Oklahoma

Photos by MJ Masilko
Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC



Toxic Town: Picher, Oklahoma

Toxic Town: Picher, Oklahoma

This is Picher, Oklahoma, an American exclusion zone.  An acquaintance with an enthusiastic political streak recently told me Picher, Oklahoma is a ghost town because of a tornado.  It’s true, an F4 tornado did strike Picher in 2008 and damaged 150 homes, but it was merely the final straw. From 2000 to 2010, Picher’s population dropped from over 1,600 residents to twenty.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher is a town destroyed by industrial abuses, specifically, the mining industry.  This former town near the Kansas border dis-incorporated in 2009 and has three real problems.

First, the mining industry disposed of their mine waste, known as “chat,” in huge mounds right on the ground, creating huge artificial hills. The chat is toxic, and the fine grains from the chat piles blow all over town, settle on everything and people breathe them in.

Second, when it rains, runoff from the chat piles gets into the local water supply, as does water from abandoned mineshafts where there are no longer any pumps to keep them from flooding, and the town water becomes hazardous to drink.  The pollution of Picher caused a plethora of health problems for area residents.

Lastly, and most frightening if you ask me, is the undermining of the town.  The lead and zinc mined in this area was gathered from huge caverns excavated underground by the miners.  It was later found the mines had been excavated so close to the surface that tree roots could be seen on the roof of the caverns in  some cases. Portions of Picher collapsed into massive holes which had compromised the ground.  In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers determined 86% of Picher’s buildings were dangerously undermined and subject to collapse.

Our friend MJ Masilko sent in these incredible photos she shot in Picher in 2010, saying “We were on our way to a wedding and only had about an hour to walk around, not even close to enough time!”  Her comments accompany some of the photos below.

Picher, Oklahoma

“A gas station a mile or so outside of Picher, on the Kansas/Oklahoma border.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“The exclusion zone sign and the line of concrete pillars are also just outside of Picher. The concrete things are everywhere, parts of the old mines. And the taller concrete things, I’ve been led to believe, were smelters for the lead.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“These are all from the town of Picher, I believe all from along the highway that runs through there. For such a deserted town, there’s a LOT of traffic through Picher. The only alternative highway to the turnpike between Joplin and Tulsa runs through the center of town. Also if you’re there taking pictures along the highway, everyone thinks it’s a good idea to roll down their window and yell at you. At least they do if you’re 5 months pregnant and dressed like you’re on your way to a wedding.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma



Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“All photos were taken in October of 2010. There are some on here of Main Street, which is a block or two over from the highway where everyone drives through. Somewhere on or next to Main Street was where there was a collapse into a mine, which is what really got the ball rolling on buying out the town. I didn’t see where that hole was, but we only did about 4 or 5 blocks of Main Street, and it was off the side, so could have been by us and we didn’t see.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“More of the buildings that remain along Main Street. We spent a lot of our time over there, because it was quiet and beautiful, exactly how a ghost town should be!”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Today, Picher is known as the Tar Creek Superfund site and is considered uninhabitable, although a few holdouts remain.  It is one of, if not the worst, industrial environmental disaster in the United States, and one of very few industrial exclusion zones on the planet.  Other notable examples are Fukushima and Pripyat/Chernobyl.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Even apartment buildings stand vacant in Picher.  MJ told us she wasn’t aware of the risk of collapse until after she visited and shot these photos.  Scary.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

This one got hit by the tornado.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

If you went to this church, would you stand for the mining industry piling toxic waste on the ground, right across the road?

Picher, Oklahoma

In the forties and fifties when Picher was booming, it was a different time and people did not guard their treasures the way we do today.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Look closely at the photo below. To the left of the church, through the trees, a huge chat pile.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

The chat piles look like the Badlands of the midwest.  Unfortunately, these are now really bad lands and Picher, Oklahoma will revert back to nature in the coming century.

Picher, Oklahoma

See also: Picher’s Toxic Twin, Cardin, Oklahoma.

Photos by MJ MasilkoOriginal content copyright Sonic Tremor Media

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