How it Worked
The Old Ore Terminal was built in 1914 (or 1909) to transport
ore from the Puerto Rico Mine in Mexico, across the Rio Grande
and four miles into the desert. Mule wagons then transported
the ore from the Ore Terminal to the railroad in Marathon.1
Businessmen from San Antonio and Houston raised the $100,000
needed to build the aerial tramway and terminal. They hired
Farmer Jennings from San Antonio to build the tramway, the
terminal, and the road. The tramway ran until 1919 (or 1916),
when it was shut down. Because it was too expensive to salvage,
it was left to rot in the desert. When the tramway was shut
down, the Boquillas region declined as there was less and less
work in the mines.
So that pretty much sums up the history of the Old Ore Terminal,
as well as I can glean from a few of the books available in
bookstores. It's easy to confuse this aerial tramway
with an earlier one that took ore from a smelter in Boquillas
over to the American side, where Barker Lodge is now located.
According to one source, that aerial tramway was
built by KSARCO, the Kansas City Smelting and Refining Company.2 It
simply crossed the river and did not go much farther, as much
as I can tell.
Another source says this earlier tramway was built by ASARCO
(The American Smelting and Refining Company).3 ASARCO
was a Guggenheim conglomerate that consolidated a number of
mining companies in 1899, one of the companies being KSARCO.
I suspect the guide and history books are getting their information
from one or two sources. It's those sources I want to find.
Could it be the Alpine Avalanche? Records kept in Big Bend
National Park? Documents in the Museum of the Big Bend? Oral
So, some of the questions I have are:
“Was there a relationship between ASARCO and the investors
of the aerial tramway and the Old Ore Terminal? Did this aerial
tramway put ASARCO's out of business? What was the name of
this aerial tramway? When they shut it down, did the owners
think it was a temporary closure? (Mining operations in Mexico
were interrupted from time to time as a result of the Mexican
Revolution and Pancho Villa.) Who were the investors? Who was
Farmer Jennings? Is “Farmer” a description, or a name?
Historical information on KSARCO and ASARCO can be found on
the net by typing “kansas city smelting and refining company” in
Google. Much of it comes from the Kansas City Public Library.
ASARCO is still around (www.asarco.com).
The great irony is ASARCO had many holdings in Mexico as a
result of deals struck between Daniel Guggenheim and Mexican
dictator Porfirio Díaz, but now ASARCO is owned by a Mexican
Where is all the hardware? There are a few buckets on the
ground, but where are the arms from which the buckets suspended?
The rollers that are clearly visible on the towers in the historical
photos? All the other buckets? Why does it look like there's
only one cable on the ground when this was a two cable system?
Where all these pieces salvaged for scrap? If so, when? By
When hiking, you'll typically see only one cable on the ground,
but in the historical photos, you clearly see two. So, how
did the aerial tramway work?
There are two wire cables that are looped around pulleys at
each end of the line. The top line is called the "track
cable." It doesn't move. It carries the weight of the
bucket, which is connected to the cable via an arm. The arm
is suspended from wheels that travel over the track cable.
In pictures from my February 2004 hike, you can see a cable
guide that supported the track cable. It's on the end of a
board that was attached horizontally to the support tower.
The lower cable is called the "traction cable".
This cable is moving continuously, most likely from an engine
in the Old Ore Terminal itself. A gripping mechanism above
the bucket grips the traction cable tighly causing the bucket
to move. At either end of the line, a worker can loosen the
grip in order to stop the bucket. This way, buckets can be
emptied and loaded easily by workers. In older, single rope
tramways, the arms were attached permanently to the rope, meaning
the loading and unloading had to happen in time with speed
of the rope as the bucket went in the terminal and back out.
Single rope tramways were pretty much obsolete by the time
this aerial tramway was built.
to be some confusion on the dates of when the Ore Terminal
was built and when it was decommissioned. Some sources say
it was built in 1909 (eg: “From 1909 to 1916, a 6 mile tramway
carried 7.5 tons of silver, lead, and zinc ore per hour from
a Mexican mine to this terminal.” Hiking Big
Bend National Park , by Laurence
Parent, pg. 123, copyright 1996 by Falcon Press Publishing
Company, Inc.) while other sources say it was built around
1916. (eg: “When the aerial tramway began operating during
1916, a branch from the Old Ore Road, beginning near the
north end of Cuesta Carlota, extended southward to the aerial
tramway terminal.” Big Bend Country: A History
of the Big Bend National Park , by
Ross A. Maxwell, pg. 29, copyright 1985, Big Bend Natural
Bend Administrative History, Chapter 1 , The National
Country , pg 28.