In the American southwest, was uranium ore typically transported by rail
? If so, was it in open hoppers like othe types of ore ? Also, can
anyone point me towards any photographs of a uranium loading facility ?
Thanks in advance
AFAIK, all uranium ore was and is processed on site to produce
"yellowcake" (uranium pentoxide), which was/is transported by truck in
variously shaped, rather small steel containers. The ones that arrive
here look like heavy duty steel oil drums. Judging from the _unloading_
facility here, a U loading facility would look like a warehouse. It's a
very, very clean facility, for obvious reasons. Also, uranium
refineries/processors don't advertise their presence, so apart from a
discreet corporate logo somewhere, you don't see anything out of the
ordinary. If you insist on rail, a bland warehouse such as Pikestuff
makes would be appropriate.
U ore would definitely _not_ be transported in open hoppers - the dust
is toxic, and its radioactivity is about 2x average background (which
isn't much, actually, since that's in the same range as in granitic rock.)
Uranium ore is hardly an ore in the usual sense of the word. U is found
just about everywhere, your bones have some in them, for example. (Most
background radiation consists of U, C14, and K20 IIRC.) In igneous rocks
U concentration can be as high as a few hundredths of a percent, in
sedimentary rock considerably lower. "Ore" has concentrations of about
1/2%, thus transporting it to a concentrating facility is much more
expensive that processing it on site. In Elliot Lake (60km from here),
the processing was done underground, in fact.
Yellowcake, while radioactive, is more dangerous for its chemical
toxicity than for its radioactivity.
In the early 1960s, during the big uranium mining boom, uranium ore was
transported from mines in southern Utah and southwestern Colorado to a
Vitro Corp processing facility in Salt Lake City, adjacent to the Rio
Grande's Roper Yard. I believe the plant produced yellow cake and has
since been torn down. It became a super fund site.
I don't know how they got the product out of the plant, but the ore was
transported to the plant in standard, open, GS coal gondolas with burlap
lining the door cracks in the floors to minimize leakage. There was so
little ore in each car that you could often see the floor around the
edges of the ore piles. Each car was weighed, on a Vitro weigh track,
when it was delivered. In the winter, the ore was frozen solid and the
sides of the cars were baked with large banks of heaters and huge
vibrators were lowered onto the cars to shake the ore out.
When Vitro originally opened in the 1950's, the railroaders refused to
enter the property because there were large, uncovered, piles of ore all
around with "warning" signs emblazoned with the nuclear symbol. I don't
know how the railroad eventually got them to take in the loads; that was
before my time.
One advantage to working around the stuff is that your kids can see much better
three eyes than with only two.
Look on the bright side. Since you glow in the dark, you don't need to turn on
lights at night to be able to read your favorite hobby magazine.
One advantage to working around the stuff is that your kids can see much
better with three eyes than with only two.
Look on the bright side. Since you glow in the dark, you don't need to
turn on the lights at night to be able to read your favorite hobby
I find that my extra hands are handy when working on models. Plus I can
test the electrical conductivity with my fingers.
When we took the cars in, we were always met by a Vitro employee who
operated the scale and undoubtedly did a lot of other things around the
plant. He was always completely covered with grey dust. He had a
filter-type respirator, but took it off while he dealt with us. I'm sure
his lungs were filled with radioactive dust.
Many thanks all for the replies. I'm still in the planning stage on the new
layout and this is one possible industry for me to model. It's going to be
set in 1966, so it sounds like open gons were the possible rule. Paul, do
you have any photos? In any case, I'm still looking for some good photos if
anyone knows of any. Amazon has some books on the subject, but I'm not sure
if they'd be much help.
The idea of the very small ore loads is intriguing. I may have to put a
photo by the layout just to persuade the nit-pickers though. Modeling the
burlap would be a nice touch as well.
Also, there is a museum in Grants, NM that covers this very subject. Has
anyone been there ? I have to think they have a bookstore too.
Once again, thank you for the replies.
Michael Perry--Soon to be an owner of a new railroad.
As others have responded, railroads had a very limited role in hauling
unprocessed uranium ore. You may want to consider a railroad role with
uranium a little further into the process. Consider the DOE Hanford site in
eastern Washington state. It had an extensive rail network to bring uranium
fuel to the production reactors along the Columbia River on the north side
of the site (the 100 areas), and then bring the irradiated fuel to the
processing canyons (in the 200 areas) for separation of the desired
isotopes. There's a rough map of the Hanford RR system at:
Milwaukee (at the north west corner) and the UP (at the south east) both
connected with the site. These rail connections to big rectangular concrete
buildings behind security fences could provide an interesting interchange
industry for any RR serving a remote western location in the 50's or 60's.
Loads would be box cars, specialized tank cars, and flat cars with various
interesting shapes under big tarpaulins. As of a few years ago, there were
still a couple contaminated WWII vintage Alco's and cars parked in a
restricted area out on desert. There was also the brand new RR service
building the DOE built just before shutting down the Hanford Site RR which
is now leased to a loco leasing company. Geezer
| In the early 1960s, during the big uranium mining boom, uranium ore was
| transported from mines in southern Utah and southwestern Colorado to a
| Vitro Corp processing facility in Salt Lake City, adjacent to the Rio
| Grande's Roper Yard. I believe the plant produced yellow cake and has
| since been torn down. It became a super fund site.
Campbell makes/made a model of an ore bin that was used for U ore loading -
WWII era; on the narrow gauge.
Prototype was a truck dump against a hill unlike the site of the model in
I don't have any photos but you might contact the Utah Historical
Society in Salt Lake City or the Utah Mining Museum in Helper, Utah (I
may not have the museum name quite right, and as I recall it is mostly
If you have any specific questions feel free to contact me directly and
I may be able to even send sketches if I know what you need.
There are a couple of reasons the loads were small. First, ore is a lot
heavier than coal, so it takes less volume to reach the cars' capacity.
Second, most of the mines were small operations with only an owner and a
few helpers, so they didn't produce much (the car loading facilities may
have been no more complex than a conveyor belt loaded with hand
shovels). I imagine the ore value was such that transportation costs
were unimportant and they could keep their cash flow up by shipping
small loads. An indication of the value is the fact that one switchman I
worked with obtained mineral rights on the little bit of ore that
filtered out of the cars on the yard track where they were held, and
sold it to Vitro. The burlap wasn't a perfect seal.