Spokane surveyor seeks resting place for tramline builder

I must say that email can be a curse. Oh, I admit, it has made my life so much simpler in so many ways, and has opened up new doors of communication, but having to process up to 40 messages every day sure is time-consuming.

That said, and the inevitable spam aside, email can be a blessing. Some days I open my mail and, voila!, I have another subject for Chronicles or for my website.

This one, from Jim McLefresh, is in reference to my numerous columns and my book, Riches To Ruin, which tell the fascinating story of the Mount Sicker copper mining boom of a century-plus ago.

Jim, a Spokane GPS surveyor, has written a book on Byron Riblet. Never heard of him? Well, if you’re an avid skiier, you’ve probably ridden one of his creations. He perfected tramlines to haul ore and materials at mining and industrial sites; you know them as ski lifts.

It was for a tramline for hauling its ore down the mountain to the EN for shipment to the Ladysmith smelter that the Tyee Copper Co. commissioned Riblet and his brothers. The company was prompted to do so, no doubt, after watching competitor Henry Croft build an extremely expensive narrow gauge railway from his neighbouring Lenora Mine to the smelter at Crofton.

Henry’s Lenora, Mt. Sicker Railway, considered to be an engineering marvel because of the extreme grades on the eastern slopes of Big Sicker Mountain and the switchbacks required on Mount Richards, broke his company financially. Not so the Tyee Co.’s tramway which worked, efficiently and economically, from day one. In fact, when the Tyee Mine shut down, the Riblets’ creation was recycled at another west coast copper mine.

Anyway, Jim McLefresh is seeking the sequel to a column I wrote in November 2011; in exchange he sent me a biography of Byron Riblet, 1865-1952, originally published by the U.S. Department of Mines and Surveys. Having finished his book, he’s on a new quest – to see that poor Byron Riblet is finally put to rest in a proper manner.

It turns out that Riblet’s ashes are still sitting "on a shelf" at a Fairmont, Wash., cemetery, 62 years after his death! As are those of his wife, who died in 1959, and his daughter some years later. Jim McLefresh wants to fix that: "I’m a surveyor myself and he was a surveyor and engineer. Besides, this is just not the way anyone should be treated. My goal is to get him and his family off the shelf."

To this end, he has "a commitment of support" from the Inland Empire Land Surveyors Ass. of Washington and from the Inland Empire American Society of Civil Engineers and he’s seeking other sources. Once a year, the cemetery holding the ashes chooses "a person to receive special honours. They will pay all costs and make a monument with a short summary of his life on it."

Which is why Jim has approached me re: the missing Chronicles of three years ago. He wants to write the biography of Byron Riblet for the headstone. It’ll only be 100-150 words long but it must be accurate and as informative as possible. My reply to Jim is in the mail – email, of course.

As for the Tyee tramline, three of its timber towers stood until just a few years ago when loggers needlessly brought them down. But if you go to the Tyee Mine (and you can drive there in an ordinary vehicle, the roads are in such good condition), you’ll see the last survivor, this one of concrete. And, if you look due east, you’ll see a notch in the hill – hewed out to accommodate the cable-driven ore buckets which descended to the EN at Tyee Siding, just north of the Somenos Road crossing.

Here’s hoping that Jim McLefresh successfully puts Byron Riblet (he didn’t mention the wife or daughter) to rest. As a foremost engineer and inventor, Riblet certainly deserves that much.


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