by James R. Marshall
Hancock’s Tramway is Back
The old Quincy steam-powered tramway was double-tracked with ore cars in
counterbalance. The brake house is at the top. Circa 1870. SUPERIOR
A cog wheel railroad?
I’ve been following the fine preservation and restoration efforts of the
Quincy Mine Hoist Association in Hancock, Michigan, for many years. Organized
in 1963 with the goal of preserving a major piece of America’s mining history,
they have done almost the impossible, saving a fascinating landmark in
Led by Burton Boyum, a distinguished mining man who furnished most of the
following details, the organization has quite a list of accomplishments.
For several years a method of connecting the fully restored shaft house
complex, high above Hancock, with the Quincy Mine East Adit have been discussed.
Adit is the mining term for an access tunnel to the mine, and this one
is far down the hill near residential Hancock. Visitors may safely explore
the diggings, including some that date back to the Civil War, in a half-hour
With the assistance of Nordberg Manufacturing Company, which made the giant
Quincy hoist, Michigan Technological University and a number of dedicated
volunteers, this site is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Quincy is a wonderful place to bring youngsters to help them understand
more of what made our great United States. And now, a brand-new cogwheel
railroad ties everything together!
Native copper has long been found on Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula,
but real mining began in 1845. Between 1850 and 1890, several mines built
inclined tramways to move the mined ore from the top of the hill down 500
feet to the communities below at lake level for further processing.
Quincy Mine, known as “Old Reliable” for its long and consistent performance
and regular payment of dividends, reached more than a mile and a half in
depth before it was closed for good in the 1950s. In the early days, it
depended upon a double-tracked tramway to deliver the rich ore to the mills.
Using pairs of cars in counterbalance, the cable-driven system worked well,
but by 1888 it just could not handle the volume of ore. The company then
decided to build the Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad to transport the ore
to the concentrating mills. The tramway was dismantled many years ago.
Aware that mining provides the wealth to build our growing America, each
summer thousands visit the Quincy, a highly visible attraction just to
the north of Hancock. They explore the Hoist Engine building, the shaft
house and the many displays portraying the mine’s history. Many take the
opportunity to join the association, gaining titles like “trammer, digger
and…” for a few dollars, which will aid the hard-working volunteer crew.
While many wish to explore the East Adit after learning it is available,
it has not been at all convenient. For a number of years it was known as
the Michigan Tech Experimental Mine, but since 1993 it has been operated
by the Quincy Mine Hoist Association as its Tourist Mine. Shuttling visitors
by van from the shaft house area to the adit was inconvenient and at times
offensive to the community.
As the problem of packaging the two different areas into one complete tour
magnified, Hoist Association vice president James R. Vivian Sr. said, “Why
don’t we transport our visitors to the Tourist Mine by tramway, just as
the old-timers transported the ore?”
The new cogwheel railway is a single-tracked system operating with a 35-foot
As he’s done for a lifetime, Jim Vivian had outlined the real heart of
the “big picture.” Consulting engineers were brought in and the feasibility
determined. A favorable route was located from the Quincy No. 2 Hoist House
to the portal of the Quincy Mine East adit.
Teams visited various cogwheel railroads and inclined tramways and settled
on the cogwheel design. Seeing its value, the U.S. Economic Development
Administration provided $420,000 on promise that the Hoist Association
would raise the almost $200,000 additional to complete the project. To
date, $157,000 has been collected, should your checkbook be a little fat!
Construction began on April 12, 1996, and the project was completed on
November 11, 1996. New members of the team are, as you might guess, most
appreciated and are quickly recognized with credentials in return for their
Project engineer is Robert D. Hitch, P.E. of Hitch Inc. of Houghton, Michigan,
and the tramcar designer is Phil Quenzi, P.E., also of Hancock. Grading
and rail laying was done by MJO Construction of Hancock. James R. Vivian
Jr. is project manager. The whole project was completed by locally based
folks, who now share in the pride of a job very well done.
For those interested in details, the old Quincy Tramway system was a double-tracked
layout with the ore cars in counterbalance. The new cogwheel railway is
a single-tracked system of two sets of 90-pound rails set 4 feet 8.5 inches
apart. The old Quincy Tramway was 2,200 feet in length and dropped 500
feet. The cograilway is 2,300 feet in length and drops 360 feet with a
maximum grade of 35 percent. A toothed steel rack is installed between
the rails for the drive gears of the tramcar.
Boyum is a prime supporter of the Quincy tram project.
The tramcar was built by Royale Construction Inc. of Kearsarge, Michigan,
a neighboring community. The car is 35 feet in length and is 8 feet 6.75
inches in width. Its capacity is 28 passengers and one operator. Operating
speed is 5 miles per hour on the steep grades and 10 miles per hour on
the lesser grades. Visibility is excellent with most of the roof being
Each complete trip is about a half hour, so mine visitors will have as
much time in the mine as they wish, returning to the top on a subsequent
trip. The ride and the incredible view is worth a visit, the many other
areas of interest are indeed “frosting on the cake!”
And should you wish to further support this fine effort, which has earned
several national awards for their efforts, you may stop by this summer
or send them a note. Their address: Quincy Mine Hoist Association, P.O.
Box 265, Hancock, MI 49930. Every single donated dollar is carefully used.
This summer, explore the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!