Driving along the San Miguel River near the historic town of Uravan in western Colorado, one has to study the cliffs to find remnants of a 10 mile long structure built 120 years ago. Constructed by the Montrose Placer Mining Company between 1889 and 1891, the Hanging Flume ended its service life in 1903 and has since succumbed to weathering, rock fall and plundering by locals in need of timber.
With much of the structure long gone and few existing original documents and photographs, myriad mysteries surround the construction process. Did the workers use a steam engine powered drill, or were the thousands of anchor holes in the sandstone drilled with only a hammer and chisel? How were the frames weighing more than 300 pounds moved into place? These and other questions have stirred up a “flume fever” in residents of neighboring communities. It is known that at its completion, the Flume was a 10-mile long series of wooden and earthen troughs carrying 80 million gallons of water per day to gold mines.
In 2004, Vertical Access teamed with Robert Silman Associates, Anthony & Associates and Western Colorado Interpretive Association (et al.) to document representative sections of the Flume. Eight years later, VA technicians returned to the Flume to begin a new phase of work.
Keith Luscinski and Donn Hewes were on site February 10-12 to gather more information on one particular “hanging” section, that is, a section that was built on the side of the cliff. Taking dimensions and recording deterioration, the two technicians gathered information to prepare for reconstruction of the 50-foot long section that is slated to take place in April. The building process will not only help answer questions about the original construction techniques, but also provide residents and visitors of the area with a representation of the original structure.
Vertical Access will be working with other members of the project team over the next two months to acquire the necessary timbers and arrange construction logistics. As part of the preparation process, VA has constructed a 1/8-scale model of two sections of the Hanging Flume. The model has already proved valuable by providing insight into the assembly process. Stay tuned for updates on the final product in April!