Empire Mine’s gritty mine yard has a new attraction that whirrs, clanks, weaves and creaks. “After almost three years in the making, visitors can now see a Cornish Pump Engine in action,” said Over-the-Hill Gang member Jim Ward. “It’s been a labor of love, resourcefulness, and just plain hard work; yet each time we see the engine in action, we’re aware that it truly is history come to life, adding new authenticity for visitors to enjoy.”
Docent and past President of Empire Mine Park Association Jim Dierberger purchased the hardware from the Nevada County Historical Society, and a few parts were donated or reconstructed. Originally built around 1880 by the Fishkill Landing Machine Company in New York, the Cornish Pump Engine was powered by steam. At that time, ground water was an ever-present challenge, and the Cornish Pump was the only practical way to remove the water from deep mines. The pump engine on the surface was connected to a vertically separated series of pumps in the mine that were vertically spaced about 200 feet apart. On each pump stroke, the water was lifted about 3 feet. Connecting the engine to the pumps was a set of large timbers that rose and descended in response to the force exerted by the Cornish Pump Engine’s walking beam.
“Not only did we have to put the pieces together like a puzzle,” Ward explained, “we needed to build concrete benches to stabilize and support its substantial size. We also needed to make adaptations, such as driving the fly wheel with an electric motor instead of steam. Specialized skills and endless patience were required too. Bob Hansen’s meticulous mechanical skills, for example, were vital when it came to aligning the bearings. Everyone pitched in to breathe new life into this old workhorse piece of equipment.”
The Over-the-Hill Gang is comprised of dedicated volunteers who share their time and varied talents to help maintain and improve Empire Mine State Historic Park. Last year they completed a working Two-Stamp Stamp Mill that was donated to the park in 1975. It’s now a highlight of many park tours. In addition to Ward, other members include Tom Bumgarner, Bob Flanigan, Frank Hamlin, Bob Hansen, Ed Kittredge, Gary Larsen, Tom Newmark, Jim Schroeder, Dick Spoerer, Alan Trood, Mike Whitsel, Steve Wolf, Bert Wymer, and Don Schmidt.
Located between the Blacksmith Shop and the Hoist House, the recently-completed Cornish Pump Engine is now part of many public tours and special events. Phone the Visitor Center, (530)273-8522 or visit The Empire Mine website for further details.
Content submitted by Courtney Ferguson