Harry Gorham Recounts Flywheel Saga

April 20, 2020  •  Leave a Comment
Gold Hill, Nevada PhotosGold Hill, 1870sThis photo (UNRS-P2310-1) shows Gold Hill, Nev., in the 1870s. Caption on image: Gold Hill Nev. in the 1870s.


by Glenn Franco Simmons
In his book, titled "My Memories of The Comstock," Harry M. Gorham writes about an industrious effort that remains impressive.

"So now I take you back to sometime in the early 80's, I think it was," he wrote. "The machinery had been installed, the pump engine, all except the flywheel. That had been let out at contract secured by the George Emmett Foundry in Gold Hill, the Gold Hill Foundry, with George Emmett, proprietor, John Pitchford, chief engineer and designer."

With 26 years lived on The Comstock Lode, the effort to move that flywheel was cemented into Gorham's memory. 

"It was a momentous hour in the history of deep mining, anyway, in Gold Hill," writes Mr. Gorham, who was born nearly 100 years to the day before my birth. "I have to rely on memory, but the day came when the casting was complete, and was ready to be hauled from lower Gold Hill to the New Yellow Jacket. I think the weight was forty thousand pounds, and it was about fifty feet in diameter. Due to its size, it could not be brought by the usual road, for it would have to pass through a tunnel, and the diameter forbade.

"So it had to be hauled up the steep main street, to the Divide. Who could haul it? Who could superintend such a trip and tour? Who could load it and unload it? Remember, the main street itself was tortuous, and at points had as much as twenty percent pitch. Well, there was one man and his assistant: Tom Gallagher, and his foreman, Ed Swift.

"There was an exhibition of sill, my children. Fifty horses (maybe to be accurate, forty-eight), hitched to tremendous wagons, groaning under the weight of this huge casting, the greatest haul that had ever been attempted in Nevada. It was a thrilling sight to watch the management of that haul, around corners where the leaders could not pull and the strain fell on those nearer, just missing posts on the turns, the quiet control of the animals and their response, over the Divide down C Street; where the load broke into a sewer and was hoisted out; down Taylor Street, into another sewer; hoisted out again, a section of Finlan's wood yard cut away. I cannot tell you more, but it was an epic of horse power and man's intelligence. It arrived, was unloaded, and hoisted up to and swung onto the great shaft of the pump engine.

"Today, we would simply hitch a Caterpillar onto it, and whisk it over the hill. At that time, it was a titanic task.

"I am not sure how long that pump ran. It is a little hazy in my memory, and I am not one to look up days or weeks or months or years; it does not matter, really. You see, that engine was turning over at the rate of three, four, five, maybe six strokes a minute, trembling a little with the effort, the visible struggle. And one day, what was it that happened? I think perhaps no one knew, simply guessed; maybe a counterbalance bolt gave way, maybe a hidden defect was present somewhere, maybe the spidery radius rods of the flywheel couldn't endure the thought of endless effort. Whatever it was, one day, the flywheel that had cost so much money and effort, that had so buoyed up the hopes and promised so much, fell to pieces, a thousand pieces of iron. And with it the hopes and dreams of all who probed and dug and delved in that part of the great Lode."





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