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Kennedy Tailing Wheels

Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park
LOCATION: 1200 N Main Street, Jackson, CA 95642

The Kennedy Mine and its unique elevator (or sand or tailings) wheels system c1914-1942 conveyed mine waste over two hills to an impoundment basin in Indian Gulch, almost a mile away.  Study it and you will appreciate the extreme measures the mine took c1911-1915 to keep the rich mine open.  Why were these extreme measures necessary and what did these wheels do?

The Kennedy's miners tunneled, sank shafts, and crushed ore from the mid-1850s to 1942.  Like many mines,  the Kennedy piled the waste from its milling processes adjacent to its mill. Though both federal and state governments had anti-debris commissions by 1911 to regulate the erosion of this waste into waterways, we can find no record that the state forced the Kennedy or its adjacent neighbor, Argonaut,  to corral their waste. 

wheelBy 1911, the Kennedy was among the most productive mines in the Mother Lode – that stretch of lode from El Dorado County south – and its pulverized waste was piled high beside two old shafts and the new eastern, vertical shaft, about 2,000 feet away.  Then, in January, 1911, those waste piles were pummeled by a deluge of 20 inches of rain. That relentless downpour sent tons of   "slickens" - slime and sand - into creeks and onto farm and ranch lands below.  The slickens filled the creeks, and flooded or washed away farming land to varying depths.  Slickens covered some valley ranches and farms inches deep.

Soon after the deluge, local newspapers reported "rumor of suits" against the Kennedy and other mines.  By that March, the Dispatch reported farmers had formed an Amador-Calaveras-San Joaquin anti-debris association to seek flood damages. Amador farmers headed the group and committee.  In June owners of Jackson's Zeile, Kennedy and Argonaut gold mines met with 15 farmers of Ione valley.  "The farmers have organized into a mutual protection association," the paper said.

Whether through anti-debris or mutual association or other means, the farmers long met with mine owners culminating in an agreement on March 3, 1913.  The result: no damages asked; no payment of legal fees; but a demand that the principal mines in the Dry Creek watershed had to impound mine wastes no later than December, 1914 or shut down.

Even before signing the agreement, the Kennedy had begun work on a unique elevator-wheel system    patterned after a wheel in Montana, connected by long launders or flumes, to remove waste from the mine site and lift it over two hills to the impoundment in Indian Gulch south and east of the mine.  Carpenters and artisans named William Daugherty, F. G. Cooley, John Dake, Elbridge Post,  J. Combs and others built the wheels at the mine, assembled, checked, disassembled, drayed them to selected sites, and reassembled and erected in reverse order, 4, 3, 2, 1.

damBy June 1913, while wheel construction continued, 15 men began working in Indian Gulch on the giant dam which would create the impoundment basin.  By this month wheel four was completed and by March, 1914, all wheels were up and operating while work continued on the dam.  The dam was completed at or soon after the agreement deadline that December but the wheels were lifting waste to the impoundment site some months before.

A 1915 state mineralogist's report described the wheel system's operation thusly.  Waste from (a new) slimes plant joined sands from clarifiers and by gravity flowed into a launder 990-feet long to the first  elevator (or wheel).  The wheel's diameter is 68 feet.  Lining the wheel's inner surface are 178 buckets (18x8") which lifted the waste about 48'.  Another 75-foot long launder took the liquefied waste to Wheel 2; it raised the waste and deposited it into a launder which crossed Jackson Gate Road atop a high trestle for 800' to wheel three; another lift, a launder run of 160' to wheel 4; another lift to clear the second hill, and down a launder 1,000' to the impoundment basin.

Each wheel was operated by an electric 15hp, 900rpm induction motor and each had a giant belt of ¾" canvas, 20" wide, 125' long, and 800 pounds in weight.  The belt from motor circled a hub on the wheel to rotate it.  A later mining bulletin described the dam as multiple-arch, 455' feet wide by 43.8' tall.  It can be seen not far from here with a drive and a short walk.

The Kennedy Wheels, protected by corrugated steel sheds, operated with few interruptions 24-hours a day, from 1914 until the U.S. Government closed the mine in 1942.  Soon after, when the price of scrap metal soared, the wheels sheds were dismantled revealing the wheels to the world and the elements for the first time in 28 years.

They soon became a Mother Lode mining tourist attraction and were probably the most photographed relic of the quartz mining era in California.  They also became part of the (City of) Jackson Wheels Park.