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Libby's Industrial District, Troy Mine partner to move ore to plant via rail

by Brandon RobertsWestern News
| January 14, 2009 11:00 PM

The Big Cam III Cummings diesel and 32-volt electrical system roar into motion, creating enough torque to move the eight ore-loaded rail cars from the Industrial District to a line adjacent the main Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway track that runs through Libby.

Charlie Croucher blasts the horn from his engineer’s seat of the 1951 General Electric locomotive, or loci, as he advances on the Fifth Street Crossing, hoping traffic heeds his warning.

Filled with copper and silver from the Troy Mine, the cars will travel east to a smelting facility in Canada.

Croucher, along with Alan Olson and Dan Kneller, were formerly employed by Stimson Lumber, which once dominated what has become the 411-acre Industrial District. With the closing of the finger jointer plant, they are now on the district’s payroll switching rail cars, operating the loci and conducting the final step in getting the Troy ore to market.

The old loci once ran a 600-horsepower Cooper-Bessemer coupled with a 72-volt system. Though the new power plant on paper is half the old system, Kneller said it is able to create the same low-end torque but wide open will hit only 10-12 mph.  

“There have been a lot of characters operating the No. 10 loci over time,” Croucher said. “I’ve heard stories of other engine numbers that used to run the Libby Southern, but this is the only one left.

“The rail is the last thing here that is still in operation since the mill was going full steam,” Croucher added. “We are operating the loci because we had the previous knowledge and expertise to do it. So, we partnered with the Industrial District and assumed the responsibilities to continue services for the mine.”

Doug Miller, general manager of the Troy Mine, said they lease the facility and pay for the loci by the hour.

“This is a pretty important part of our operation,” Miller said. “There are not too many sites to load ore and without this opportunity we would have had to have developed our own station.”

The district’s track system, which as Croucher mentioned was referred to as the Libby Southern, was an extensive network running mill products and moving up to 40 full cars a day.

“This rail is the bloodline of getting all that material to the main track,” said former Stimson mill manager, Gene Chappell.

With the recent snows, it took the three men some backbreaking hours to dig out the track in order to transfer the cars. Not only digging around the track, but also using an air gun to blast snow from the switching stations.

The mine’s loading station used to exist in Troy, but it was removed. When the mine reopened in 2004, they approached the Industrial District to do the truck-to-rail transfer.

The mine is currently leasing a 160-by-400-foot section of the old Stimson plywood plant, which was donated to the district. Croucher said he never though he would see rail cars coming out of the plywood plant again.

“This is an additional opportunity for the Industrial District to assist the Troy Mine in getting their product to market,” said Paul Rumelhart, executive director of the Kootenai River Development Council.

The KRDC is an independent contractor for the Industrial District to conduct and manage economic development on the plot.

The Industrial District was created in May 2005 with Lincoln County resolution 701 with the intent of stimulating local and regional commerce. 

Rumelhart said the district is currently self-sufficient, running on rental income and grants.

Slated for this spring is an updating and upgrading of the rail system within the district, which will be paid for by grant and completed in conjunction with BNSF.