National Register of Historic Places in Inyo County

National Register #74000514: Saline Valley Salt Tram Tower and Foundation of West Terminal
National Register #74000514: Saline Valley Salt Tram Tram Tower Above Ghost town of Swansea
18 February 2007

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National Register #74000514
Saline Valley Salt Tram
Swansea - Cerro Gordo Road
Inyo Mountains
Built 1911-1912

The salt deposit in Saline Valley was discovered in 1864. Its potential value was known to the early miners but lack of transportation delayed its development.

The salt deposit was first worked on a small scale in 1903 and 1904 by the Saline Valley Salt Company. Transportation required a two-day roundabout journey by wagon across the Inyo Range by way of Waucaba Canyon.

Building a railroad was impracticable, so an ariel tramway and a pipeline through which the salt could be pumped as brine were considered. The tramway was chosen because it provided a means for shipping supplies into Saline Valley in addition to shipping the salt deposits out.

The Saline Valley Salt Tram was built in 1911 and 1912 to carry salt from Saline Valley to Owens Valley. In its 13½ mile length it rose from an elevation of 1,100 feet at the east terminal to 8,500 feet at the crest of the Inyo Range and dropped to 3,600 feet at the west terminal.

The carriers weighed 800 pounds and held about 700 pounds of salt giving the tramway a capacity of 20 tons per hour.

The tramway required two men at each of the terminals, two men at each of the four control stations, and four line riders who performed lubrication and other maintenance work. All stations were connected by telephone.

The construction required one million board feet of lumber and six hundred tons of iron, which had to be transported over rough, inaccessible precipitous mountain country. Grades of up to 25 percent required a team of eight horses to move 5,000 pounds of equipment.

The construction of the tramway exhausted the Saline Valley Salt Company financially, and in 1915 the operation was leased to Owens Valley Salt Company. This company produced salt until 1918 when it, too, went out of business.

The Taylor Milling Company acquired the Saline Valley plant and produced some salt in 1920. After five years of inactivity the Sierra Salt Company was formed; and in 1926 salt was produced once more. Trucks were used to haul the salt to Keeler over the newly built Saline Valley Road until the tramway was overhauled in 1929. The plant was last operated in 1930, and in 1935 the Sierra Salt Company went into receivership.

Most of the structures within easy access of roads, including both terminals, have been carted off by wood gatherers and junk collectors. The stout 10 x 10 timbers are especially prized.

Adapted from the NRHP nomination submitted in 1974.

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