Valles Mines, Missouri, U S A
Founded in 1749 by Francois Valle years before he became Commandante of the Fort of Sainte Genevieve and The King of Spain made him Don Francois Valle for saving their Fort San Carlos (now St. Louis).
270 years later as The Valle Mining Company, his 4000+ acre property every year absorbs 21,000 tons of carbon dioxide and puts out 14,000 tons of oxygen, enough to meet the needs of 63,000 people. [USDA Forest Facts]
Site Map

You Are Here: 

The Railroad through Valles Mines

"I Won't Hire a Man Who Has All 10 Fingers!"

"...Early U.S. railroads used a link and pin coupling that was extremely dangerous to yard employees who had to drop the pins in place as the cars were pushed together..." Encyclopedia Britannica. If you didn't get your timing just right, you lost a finger or hand if the locomotive bumped the cars together too hard. Not the job for "Practice makes Perfect". Workers Compensation would not arrive until 1910. In 1880 the 'knuckle' type automatic coupler began to replace 'link and pin' bringing far greater safety to the railroad industry.

The railroad has played an important part here at the Mines. For our purposes of course the MR&BT picked up our lead ore last during WWII on a line that began in the Lead Belt at Bonne Terre and ran north to the Herculaneum Smelter whose chimney is still visible today and served as the last lead smelter active in the U.S. It appears the smelter shut down under mysterious circumstances.

Our former villager, the late Chester Haverstick, related how he as a 13 year old at Valles Mines Station loaded lead ore into box cars with a coal shovel.

Originally so long ago when the Mississippi River & Bonne Terre ("MR&BT") Line began as a small gauge road, railcars coupled using link-and-pin between the cars. Before MOPAC took the line over in 1885 and rebuilt it to standard gauge, it still had trains that looked like Old train this photograph.

EXHIBIT: Pictures of Tunnel Station and Valles Mines Station in our Lost History Museum.

Gandy Dancers

A typical railcar can hold the load of three 18-wheeler over-the-road truck so they carry a lot of wieght. But how do they stay on track? Railroad workers set them that way and specialist crews called "gandy dancers" for how they worked in chorus to align rails and spiked the rails to the ties by hand. Repairs meant prying the spikes up by hand and by hand tamping the ballast, the loose rock that helps to spread the load on the ties. Ties are wood, sawn from strong trees and have to be to keep the rails in place day after day and load after load. Ties are spiked down through tie plates to keep the rails 'in guage' (4' 8" apart) or the train derails. Rails must stay the same distance apart for miles so someone on the crew used to put a guage bar down on the rails to check.

Nowadays machines are used instead, such as a Tie Layer, Tamper and Regulator. The Tamper raises the track while its paddles go down the sides of the ties and push more ballast under the tie. Rails perfectly laid by machine today protrude only 1" out of the ballast. Then the Regulator sweeps the loose leftover material and vibrates it leaving a beautiful roadbed. But for centuries all this work was done by hand.

"...It was as an adveture that mechanically-powered railroading began - actually on a wager. A Cornish iron-mill owner bet 500 guineas that a steam engine could be devised that would haul ten tons of iron the nine-mile length of the Penydarran tramway; then he engaged mining engineer Richard Trevithick to prove him right. The result was a small, sturdy locomotive that rolled over the course with a string of what were normally horse-drawn cars, carrying ten tons of iron and 70 men..." from "Railroads, The Great American Adventure", National Geographic Society 1977

The Mississippi River & Bonne Terre Railroad or MRBT ran through 
                Valles Mines until the late 1960's.

Exhibited at the Museum of Transport in St. Louis County, this handcar was used on our rail line.