July 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on Facebook




 * Please contact owner Sean Patterson for information about visiting Cerro Gordo *



Contact us through email at:


Friends of

Cerro Gordo

The Friends of Cerro Gordo is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation established to assist in the preservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of Cerro Gordo.

Help support these efforts by becoming a member.

Click on the FOCG logo (above) for additional information and to join or make a donation.

First year membership is only $10.

Now Available

Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

ISBN: 978-0970025869

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

Announcing our Arcadia Publishing Book:



Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

ISBN: 9780738595207

Arcadia Publishing Images of America series

Price: $21.99

128 pages/ softcover

Available now!

(Click the cover image for ordering information)

Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or online.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.

We support

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:  echco@msn.com

It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.

Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Credo Quia Absurdum




Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway.

     Click your mouse through the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.



Cerro Gordo's Zinc Era Gets Under Way

By Cecile Page Vargo

Cerro Gordo Mines letterhead. The mines were in Owens Valley, but the corporate offices were located in the more accessible San Francisco.

July, 2014, marks the centennial of the founding of Cerro Gordo Mines Company under Louis D. Gordon and the mining town's rebirth as a major zinc producer. We are forever grateful to the late Doug Gordon, L. D. Gordon's grandson, for making his grandfather's photo archives available to us.

Louis D. Gordon came to the faded mining town of Cerro Gordo in 1911 to find the Union Mine little more than an abandoned pile of burned out ruble. His mine surveys uncovered reasonable amounts of silver and galena. A closer look at the zinc that had been tossed aside during the great Belshaw and Beaudry silver and lead  years told him where the next fortune would come from.

By July 14, 1914, Cerro Gordo was a boomtown once again. Gordon took title to the property as the Four Metals Company went under and reorganized the mines. The Cerro Gordo Mines Company was officially incorporated July 14, 1914, with Gordon as both vice president and general manager. Cerro Gordo’s great zinc era was well under way.

The old Montgomery tramway was soon replaced by a Leschen and Sons wire-rope aerial tramway. At 29,500 feeet, this tramway was capable of moving 16-19 tons per hour. Twenty tons of zinc ore shipped daily from the tramway terminus at the railroad in Keeler to the United States Smelting and Refining Company in Utah, where it was processed. Net earnings for the company from September 1915 to February 1916, were $40,260.

Advertisement for a Leschen tramway.

The force of gravity pulled the loaded ore buckets down the hill and the empty buckets back up. A large brake with three brake bands housed at Cerro Gordo controlled the speed.

The tram had special buckets that could be switched on or off the cable at either end of the line for various services. One barrel like bucket carried heavy grease and oil. Another built with a chain and ratchet, carried the heavier pieces of equipment from the rail head.

Like its predecessor, the Leschen tram was known to have a few brave passengers that ventured to travel up the 5.5 miles from Keeler to Cerro Gordo in empty buckets. The first two miles of line progressed from tower to tower as straight as an arrow.

At the first ridge the tramway was away and across the sky, clanking along over 800 feet above the canyon in some places. The company had no problem with passengers on the ore buckets so long as they carried a canteen of water in case the cable stopped and they were stranded in the hot dry desert sun.

Around 1915 large shipments of slag from the old smelter dumps began. Between 1916 and 1919 nearly 33,000 tons of smelter slag was recovered. The slag dumps of the Belshaw, Beaudry, and Owens Lake Company smelters were almost entirely removed during this time period.

At the 900 foot level of the Jefferson chimney and dike in the Union Mine new deposits of ore were discovered and 8,022 tons of lead and 750,000 ounces of silver were produced between 1911 and 1919.

Electricity via the Southern Sierras Power Company arrived to Cerro Gordo in January of 1916, replacing the steam power that operated the hoist in the Belshaw shaft and the tramway machinery.

A wooden barrel hangs on a tram carrier near the terminus at Cerro Gordo (top, left). A similar carrier is used to transport bundled goods at the Keeler end of the tramway (top, right).  L. D. Gordon pushes off a loaded ore bucket (above). The Lesshen tram's trminus at the Southern Pacific rails in Keeler (below). The old Four Metals Smelter can bee seen in the distance.

A Joshua Hendy 100 horsepower electric hoist, an Ingersoll-Rand Imperial Type 10 compressor, and a 150 horse power constant speed motor were installed. In case of power failure, the old Westinghouse Church and Kerr steam plant was still maintained.

Although Cerro Gordo was thriving once again, the success was not as great as it was during the glory days of Mortimer Belshaw and Victor Beaudry. The Cerro Gordo Mines Company and others constantly searched for new ore locations.

Over $6,000,000 of ore was shipped off the mountain from 1914-1918, making Cerro Gordo the largest producer of lead and second largest producer of zinc in California. The boom of the zinc era could be heard in the East by big money men who definitely liked what they saw.

By the close of World War I, Gordon was squeezed out by others who wanted to gain control of his operations.  He eventually gave up the fight and allowed the American Smelting and Refining Company to gain control of Cerro Gordo Mines.

One hundred years later, the house that Gordon commissioned for his wife and son to live in during his reign on the hill, still stands, as does the bunk house where his workers slept. Scattered among wooden buildings from the bustling late 1860’s and 70’s, a few tin-sided buildings remain as testament to the zinc era. Remnants of the tramway struggle to survive at the base of the tailings piles above town.

A workman poses next to the Gordon House shortly after it was built (top). The Union Mine hoist house during the Gordon era (center). The hoist house today after restoration (below).

Beyond the tailings, hidden from the town view, the recently restored Union Mine Hoist House gleams in the sun. The wind whistling through the dusty streets of the old camp now gone to the ghosts whispers the sounds of a bygone time. A caretaker and a handfull of volunteers struggle to keep the buildings and  histories alive for a new millennium. 






explorehistoricalif.com Copyright © 2014, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by ebray.net