Kennedy Tailing Wheels

The monstrous, fifty-eight foot diameter Kennedy Tailing Wheels are a one-of-a-kind creation. Although not built during the Gold Rush, these huge wooden wheels were a direct result of a Gold Rush event and are probably the most remembered artifacts of any visit to Jackson today. The wheels were built in 1914 in response to federal anti-debris laws and court cases reaching back to the 1880’s; no longer could the mines dump their wastes into the rivers and streams, polluting the water and causing serious flood dangers to the farmers in the valleys below. All mine tailings had to be impounded. As the Kennedy Mine’s impound dam was located behind two small hills and about a half a mile away from the mill, the wheels were built to lift the tailings up over the hills to the dam.

The ore from the Kennedy Mine was crushed in their one hundred-stamp mill on the south slope of Humbug Hill. The tailings, or “waste,” were then mixed with water in the slime plant and allowed to flow down a one thousand-foot-long flume to the base of Wheel #1. Anchored to a concrete foundation, the three-story-tall wheel lifted the tailings forty-four feet in redwood buckets, and then emptied them into a flume which flowed to the base of Wheel #2. From the top of Wheel #2, an eight hundred-foot long flume carried the tailings over Jackson Gate Road to Wheel #3. Up another forty-four feet and down another flume to Wheel #4 which lifted the tailings for a final time up and over the top of the hill and into the impounding basin in Indian Gulch.

The wheels worked twenty-four hours a day, from December of 1914 to 1942 with few stoppages, each day lifting 850 tons of waste up and over the hills. When the Kennedy Mine closed in 1942, the corrugated iron buildings which had enclosed the four wheels were torn down for scrap. Suddenly, four looming wooden wheels appeared on Jackson’s horizon, much to the delight of later day artists and photographers. The wheels are located in the Jackson Kennedy Wheels City Park, north of town about a mile along Jackson Gate Road. Two wheels have fallen since they were uncovered in 1942, Wheel #3 in 1963, and Wheel #2 in 1970. Recently steps have been taken by local citizens, county and city officials to help preserve the last two standing wheels.

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