On the far west side of the pit, accessed from Hwy 177 as it heads up the mountains towards Superior, is a visitor's overlook that can be used to watch operations in the pit. The Ray Mine pit is an incredibly massive hole in the ground (Photo #42), and the second largest copper mine in Arizona. Owned by ASARCO, Inc., miners blast and haul an astronomical amount of rock to the concentrator every day. The concentrator strips the copper sulfides - the useful ore for smelting - from the waste rock and presumably copper oxide ores (which are electrolytically refined), producing some 26,000 tons per day. The result of this process is a rock-like substance that's 20-30% copper and thus economically feasable to haul down to the Hayden smelter by rail. Five times a day, sixty 100-ton cars of an empty OT-1 train are pulled up the Ray branch to load out. From the visitor's area, the loadout siding can be clearly seen off to the far right (and down! - Photo #43).
From the point at which we left OT-1 in Chapter 3 (just short of Hwy 177), it took some 45 minutes to get into the mine loop. By this point, the crew had already run around the train and had the power on the south/downbound end of the train, and then backed slowly into the loadout. The train was loaded from the first car behind the locomotives to the end, and then after some delay (presumably a good solid brake check), a call went out over the radio announcing the start of another OT-2 and its return trip through the Ray block. The Copper Basin uses 160.545 MHz and 161.505 MHz, and it's extremely helpful to monitor those frequencies. My observation is that ore trains tend to be quite chatty, especially when MoW people are out and about. I basically sat at the overlook until the ore train had loaded, and then climbed back into the car and awaited a call on the radio. A few minutes later, the call came and I was off down the hill again. I hadn't really intended to chase it back, but the light was so darn good and I was having so much fun, I figured why not photograph the loaded run as well.
My advice is that, as you follow an ore train up or down, contemplate the photographic possibilities of a train going the other way. Unlike most shortlines, a train going the opposite direction isn't hours or days away - with an hour or two, you'll get the reciprical unit ore train running. It's not an if, it's a when. Just such a thought came into my mind about Kelvin. The Ray branch makes a long draw down through town before curving sharply east to join the mainline. The paved road, if you continue south, crosses the Gila and climbs swiftly up into the mountains. From one of these hills, an long shot down across town and up the brach would be very possible. I even drove up, parked, and started to walk up to the top of the hill when I looked through the lens. Because temperatures were nearly 90 and the winds were fairly calm, the air was still, but riddled with heat distortions. Such a long shot wasn't going to work out well in the end. Plus I hate rattlesnakes, and out there seemed like a perfect place to stir one up.
I plopped back down in the car and headed down the hill to Kelvin, looking east rather than west as I passed over the grade crossing. There, back in the trees, sat a train that wasn't there an hour or so before. It's a protected crossing, and while I usually check both ways for safety reasons anyway, I just hadn't noticed the idling motors a few minutes before. Apparently a local had been following the OT-1 I was chasing, and had tied down just past Ray Junction. It had the usual three motor set - all GP39 variants, including both ex-Kennecott Utah units (501 and 502, with their odd cabs), spliced by what must have been 504. I grabbed a few shots of 502 basking in the afternoon desert sun (Photo #44), and then proceeded back up to the Ray Junction Road grade crossing for a shot of OT-2.
The loads roll down the branch at the same crawling speed that the empties roll up to the mine - 10mph - probably because of the grades, weight, and track structure involved. It gives you plenty of time from the point you hear the rumble and the horns for the crossings north of Kelvin to the point you actually have to make the shot work. Even then, between shots, there's plenty of time. Here we see OT-2 both approaching the Ray Block sign (and speed limit marker), with mine tailings piles and mountains in the back (Photo #45). A minute later, OT-2 is over the Old Ray Road crossing (which leads down to the yard, as we saw with the chase of OT-1 earlier) and rounding the corner down to join with the mainline. (Photo #46)
I could have followed the 25mph Old Ray dirt road back out to AZ 177, but I opted to return up along the Ray Branch on pavement instead, and hit the road for Kearny. While I was in Kearny on the trip down to Tucson, I'd seen a shot that would work particularly well for an evening westbound, and the sun was now low enough in the western sky to make it work. As you approach Kearny from the north, you'll see a sign for Tilbury Road. Turn west onto it, and follow it around down towards the railway. Navigational note: you'll need to nearly turn right to follow the road as it meets Bristol Road at the bottom of the hill. Once you're across the tracks, hang a right (north) up to the park. Get out of your car, and walk over towards the track. You'll see a sweeping curve with a backdrop of cliffs, tailings, and the desert mountainscape. It just so happens that a loaded OT-2 finishes off the shot perfectly, as CBRY 503 and crew prove. (Photo #47)
Just as you can't get from the grade crossing where I shot OT-1 the first time to Kearny, you can't do the reverse, either. So, I decided to head back to Hayden Junction, since the light was very strongly from the west. With the highway on the east side of the line, western light doesn't work well unless you can cross the track somehow. Besides, for the most part, the line and the highway are separated by a good distance down to Hayden Jct. anyway.
Between Hayden Jct. and the ore dumper is a short (less than 2 mile) section of track with a steep grade - close to two percent. For a loaded ore train with only three four-axle geeps, it makes for one thunderous show of EMD power. Just to the east/south of Hayden Jct., the line to the smelter crosses the road. On the west side of the highway, there's a large dirt pullout where one can stay safely away from both traffic and trains, but still watch the whole show. Really it would work better in the morning light, but even in the afternoon it's a sight to behold - three GP39s pulling their guts out and filling the air with blue-grey EMD exhaust haze. Twenty-two minutes after passing the grade crossing at Kearny, OT-2 had reached the west end of the Hayden Jct. Yard and was starting into the climb. (Photo #48) If you wait a few minutes, there's also a great shot of the train climbing towards the unloader, with the grade making the power appear above the tail end. (Photo #49)
At 1750h, the train was about halfway through the unloader. (Photo #50) The crew was about to cut off the power and run around, beginning the process of once again becoming OT-1. Exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes after my arrival, the unit train had come full circle, and the endless cycle between the mine and the smelter was about to repeat (Photo #51). It was actually longer than I'd anticipated staying, but it'd been a very good day. From there, I made a quick turn back to up Ray Junction to check on the local, which still hadn't moved. If it had, I briefly had considered following it. As it was, though, the other half of the line - the section from Ray Junction to Magma Junction (Photo #51) - would just have to wait for the next trip.
As usual, I hope you've enjoyed the trip report, and that those of you visiting the area find it useful. I think I've gotten the historical and operational information correct, but I'm always open to correction from those of you more familiar with the subject than myself. After all, some of you probably have years, if not decades, of knowledge about the subject, whereas I'm putting together what I've managed to scrounge up in a few weeks. Corrections and clarifications appreciated - email me.
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This work is copyright 2004 by Nathan D. Holmes (firstname.lastname@example.org), but licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 10D with a Canon 28-105mm USM, a Canon 100-300mm USM, or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.3 IS/USM.