The Mojave Desert Mining Community of Chubbuck
Larry M. Vredenburgh
revised January 1996
Around every mining activity across the United States towns sprang up. Many of these became ghost towns after the mining operations became unprofitable. One of these is today the site of a little-known company town - Chubbuck, California.
Just prior to the 1906 earthquake and fire, Charles Inglis Chubbuck moved to San Francisco from Ottawa, Canada, and with a Mr. Harris founded a building materials business, "Chubbuck and Harris." Needless to say, with the demand for construction materials after the earthquake, business boomed. Due to tight money at this time, the pair would only take cash for a barrel of lime, one of their products, thus originating the term "cash on the barrel head."
In early 1908 the Ocean Shore Railroad reached Montara, eight miles north of Half Moon Bay and fifteen miles south of San Francisco on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. A few years later Chubbuck began to quarry sand on the beach there. He was forced to cease operations in 1916 or 1917 because of constant problems with waves washing away his equipment.
Just before 1920, Chubbuck entered into a relationship with Union Carbide Corporation that was to last three decades.
The Prestolite Division of Union Carbide had plants in South San Francisco and Los Angeles which produced acetylene gas. When water is added to calcium carbide, acetylene gas is generated. The calcium carbide was produced in electric furnaces at Niagara Falls and shipped by railroad west in steel barrels. At this time acetylene gas was primarily used in gas lights.
After the acetylene was produced a byproduct was produced which consisted of a lime slurry with bluish flakes of carbide. This slurry was drained into a settling pond adjacent to the plant where water could drain off. Chubbuck's men would load the thick slurry into steel barrels bought from Union Carbide and haul them to Chubbuck's plant. Here the material was fed into rotary drying kilns, the resulting pellets were ground in a ball-mill and packaged in multi-wall paper sacks, and sold as hydrated lime.
This arrangement proved profitable for Chubbuck's building material business, and also performed a service for Union Carbide.
However, the lime had a bluish tint - making it inferior in the marketplace. In order to secure a source of white limestone as a whitening agent for the slurry-based lime, in 1921 Chubbuck purchased the 1,600 acres of mining claims along the Parker branch of the Santa Fe Railroad. The limestone was also to be marketed as crushed limestone, and quick-lime - after it was calcined.
The mining claims had been located by Marcus Pluth and Tom Scofield. Pluth had been at Calico and is listed in the Calico Miners Directory for 1886-87. In the 1892 voter directory Pluth is listed as 38 years old, 5 feet 10 inches with dark complexion, brown eyes, black hair, a miner, born in Austria, a resident of Calico, naturalized March 9, 1883 in Lake County California, he was also listed as having a daughter.
Pluth and Scofield were grubstaked by an Irishman named Murphy, who ran a general store in Ludlow. Murphy showed no mercy if one of the several men he grubstaked failed to show good returns.
Pluth and Scofield had made some significant finds. Reportedly they discovered the Iron Age mine in the Dale Mining District and the iron claims at Eagle Mountain.
They spent the hottest parts of the summer vacationing at Pismo Beach where they would spend most of their money. But they did manage to save enough to buy a horseless carriage to replace their worn-out mules.
In 1922 and 1923 there was considerable construction activity at Chubbuck siding. A mining railroad, town and processing facilities were built, however full scale production did not begin until 1925.
A one-mile long, 30-inch gage railroad connected the limestone quarries and the processing facilities. Motive power for the railroad operations came from two small gasoline "dinkies." One of the locomotives, a Milwaukee gasoline engine, and most of the ore cars and rail originally came from a winery at Cucamonga. These cars were all steel, V-shaped, side-dump cars. The other locomotive, a Plymouth gasoline engine, and a few side-dump cars were bought from the construction operations at the Panama Canal.
Later, Chubbuck had some wooden cars made with steel bottoms so the rocks would slide out easily. While these were cheaper to build than the steel cars, the wood could not hold up well to the beating.
The Plymouth locomotive transported the ore approximately 600 feet from the quarries to a crushing and screening plant just below the quarry, one mile from Chubbuck. The screening plant yielded five different-sized limestone products. The 5/16 inch and 1-1/2 inch products were taken by the Milwaukee engine to the lime kiln, and the 1/8 inch, 16 mesh and 40 mesh products were taken to the limestone products plant, both at the Chubbuck siding.
The lime kiln plant produced processed lime and pebble lime. The limestone products plant yielded 40 mesh limestone, 200 mesh for whiting, chicken grits and foundry rock in 1 - 1/2 to 2-1/2 inch sizes.
Most of Chubbuck's equipment for the production of lime and limestone, including the two vertical kilns, came from limestone quarries at Baxter, about 75 miles northwest of Chubbuck, on the Union Pacific Railroad.
The kilns were heated by oil stored in underground bunkers. Electricity for the town and operations was produced by a diesel-powered plant.
The horizontal rotary kiln was added when a Texas-based company adjacent to Chubbuck's vertical kilns and as a stock promotion built the kiln and gave it to Chubbuck. It was common knowledge to those in the limestone industry that this was too small a kiln to reach maximum efficiency.
The quicklime was always shipped in boxcars. If it was exposed to rain it could cause a fire - this happened once at the San Francisco plant. Limestone, however was loaded onto open Santa Fe gondolas by elevator.
The Santa Fe Railway tried to give Chubbuck rock-bottom rates for shipping his products. The rates to San Francisco were so low that it ended up by being almost as low as the rates to Los Angeles, yet was much further.
Chubbuck was a town in a true sense of the word. It consisted of a company store, post office, and school. There ware perhaps as many as 30 to 40 buildings, including residences for the some 24 workers and their families, the limestone plants, and powder storage. Visitors would often land their planes on the road north of town.
A one-room school on the west side of town opened by 1932, housing grades one through eight. In fact the 1.8 acres the Needles School district was deeded for the school is still owned by them. Mrs. Willa Riddle was the first teacher, and remained there until at least 1936. Mrs. Sibyl Poyner was teacher between 1940-41, and Mrs. Mabel P. Conner in 1949-1950. No records exist past 1950. The school's yearly enrollment ranged from 13 to 40 pupils.
A post office was established in May 1938, and was housed in the company store. The workers could buy large quantities of the popular Eastside Beer at the company store. The quantities were so large that sales of the beer at least equaled the total sales of all other supplies combined.
Water was brought in by the Santa Fe in tank cars, supplied from wells at Cadiz.
The workers were largely Mexican, earned 25 to 30 cents an hour, and were supplied with living quarters, water and electricity. Most of the workers traveled the one mile to the mine by truck or private car - they didn't take the railroad.
The superintendent's house was the highest building, on the west side of town. The superintendent had to be a real "jack of all trades" - if something didn't work he had to fix it; he couldn't wait for a repairman to come. The superintendent in 1943 was Vernon R. Dick.
At the mining operations, a four to six car train pulled by the Milwaukee engine was backed from Chubbuck into tunnels beneath the crushing plant, where the cars were loaded with sized limestone products. The fully-loaded train would then go downhill nearly a half-mile to the wash, then climb another half mile to town.
A switch directed the train to either the lime kiln or the limestone products plant. Another switch at Chubbuck enabled the cars to be backed into the limestone plant.
During heavy rains there were a few minor washouts and derailments at the point where the railroad went through the wash. The railroad had relatively minor problems compared with those of others in desert areas during the heavy rains of 1939; Chubbuck Lime Company made some modifications to channel the water, thus eliminating future washouts.
The Chubbuck Lime Company got involved in the building of the Colorado River Aqueduct in 1937-1938 by producing a white-reflecting lime coating.
Concrete was poured for the aqueduct, then covered with asphalt to seal in the moisture for better curing of the concrete, and then sprayed on a coating of Chubbuck's "Metropolitan White" to reflect the heat. Without this coating the concrete temperature would have risen nearly 40 degrees, making it much more difficult to properly cure the concrete.
After the contract with the Metropolitan Water District, Chubbuck thought his coating would be practical for those living in hot areas to reflect the heat off their roofs. He first marketed his product as "Metropolitan White," then changed the name to "Snow Coat."
Dixon Chubbuck, son of the Inglis, joined the U.S. Army in 1939, before the U.S. entered World War II. He returned after the war to form his own company to market the "Snow Coat." At one time nearly ninety percent of the houses in Palm Springs had roofs coated with their product. It was still being manufactured in the 1970s. When Inglis left his business, Dixon continued, eventually including his own son, Don.
They also purchased dried calcium-chloride from operations at Bristol Lake and made a product called "Cal" which was used to accelerated setting of cement. It was also used in the "Snow Coat" and in stucco.
The company had their own flat-bed truck that they used on occasion to ship slurry-lime from Los Angeles in the Union Carbide drums. Many of these are still at Chubbuck.
In the late 1940s the Carson Lime Company of Virginia developed a autoclave method of hydration under high steam pressure. This process produced a slick, plastic lime. Plasterers liked this lime because it was comparatively easy to work.
The U.S. Lime Products, division of Flint Kote, was the only company on the West Coast to get the patent rights to the product, called "Miracle Lime." This hurt the Chubbuck company and other lime operators.
During this period Union Carbide stopped shipping its carbide west when they ceased their west coast operations.
These combined events eventually forced Chubbuck out of business. Production from the Chubbuck quarries continued continuously from 1925 through 1948, then intermittently until 1951.
At that time the total production of limestone was about 500,000 tons. Two-thirds of this was used to produce approximately 165,000 tons of lime products; the other third was used directly for limestone products.
The Harms Brothers Construction Company of Sacramento purchased the property, and equipment from the Reconstruction Finance Company (RFC) in 1951, since the Chubbuck Limestone Company had discontinued payments on a loan taken out with the RFC in the 1930s for $100,000.
The Harms Brothers Company intended to mine the limestone and make lime, but too much silica was present in the limestone. Since silica is white like limestone, there is no way to avoid it in the mining operations. They also had hoped to sell limestone as ballast - but the market never materialized.
In its operations Harms Brothers did not use the railroad from the quarries to the crusher, but used trucks instead. About 50 feet of track was covered with as much as three feet of overburden to make a roadway. This rail existed until the 1970s is probably there to this day.
In 1950 the school post office and company store closed. After August of that year the mail was sent to nearby Cadiz. For a few years afterward the population consisted of a few workers employed by the Harms Brothers.
Representatives of several companies were present when the equipment was finally auctioned of by the Harms Brothers, who kept dozer for their own operations. This auction probably took place in 1954. The kilns were sold for scrap. It is not know the disposition of the rail equipment.
The 1955 U.S. Geological Survey map of the area does not show the railroad, although the air-photo used to make the map shows most of the buildings still standing.
The Chubbuck siding was removed when Santa Fe relaid the Parker Branch during the winter of 1975-1976.
In December 1975 someone had built a house, with an adjoining garage on the foundations of the lime products plant. In front was a small ore crusher operated by an automobile engine. By summer of 1977 nothing remained of the house except a heap of trash and the automobile engine.
The only structure that remained standing at that time is the explosives building, a concrete hexagon approximately six to eight feet in diameter.
The sites of the limestone products plant and the company have been bulldozed. Only a heap of rubble remains.
The foundations of the other buildings are visible. Some even have the dying remains of trees that were originally planted around the buildings.
The scars of Chubbuck's mining railroad are still evident, and most of the ties are there. The crushed limestone roadbed is still prominent although slowly eroding.
Dixon Chubbuck interviewed July 31, 1977 in his home;
Orrin E. Dunlap, The first Calcic Carbide Plant: Mining and Scientific Press, February 1, 1896 p. 87.
Tucker, W. B. and Sampson, R. J., 1943, San Bernardino County: California Division of Mines Report Vol. 39, pp 518-520
Wright, L. A., 1953, Mines and Mineral Deposits of San Bernardino County, California: California Divison of Mines Report Vol. 49, p. 173.