The east end of Broadway was abuzz with activity on Saturday September 27th. About 9am, Butte mining engineer Larry Hoffman arrived with his Boom Truck, Bill Antonioli brought a forklift down from the Contact Mill, and a crew consisting of Dave Harris, Jim Waldbillig, Phil Richardson, Jim Hyatt, and Don Dee Kennedy began erecting a stamp mill at the historic James Stuart or Hope mill-site, where the first silver mill in Montana was constructed in 1867. It should be noted that the youngest member of this crew was 52 and the oldest 76 years of age, and several hundred years of mining, milling, and mechanical expertise were represented in this group. Ted Antonioli and Loraine Bentz Domine of GCHS, and mill neighbor Julian Ricci were on hand to photograph and video the proceedings. And naturally, numerous sidewalk supervisors offered commentary and encouragement!
The process began two years ago when the Granite County Historical Society decided to create a historic park at the mill-site in collaboration with the owners, the Antonioli family. Then last summer a group consisting of Larry Hoffman, Jim Waldbillig, Dave Harris, and Phil McDonald took apart a 10 Stamp Mill located at the Royal mine east of Princeton. The mill, belonging to Harris and Paul Antonioli, was transported in pieces to the Stuart Mill Site. One 5 stamp battery appeared to be in good enough condition for a working demonstration if the main supporting timbers were replaced and if it was placed on a concrete foundation. The stamps might then provide a functional educational display of 19th century milling technology.
Larry Hoffman has been involved in the creation of two previous stamp mill displays, and drew blueprints for foundations. Last fall forms were laid and concrete poured for this foundation. Timbers from the Bimetallic headframe were salvaged for the uprights and precisely machined by Phil Richardson at his shop in Missoula. Since then Jim Waldbillig and Dave Harris have been assembling the framework on site. By Saturday their work was done and the mill framework was ready to be erected. When Hoffman lifted the upright timbers and gently placed them on the foundation the fit was exact! After the uprights were bolted into place, support timbers were added. Suffice it to say that a lot of precision leveling and drilling were needed to make the bolts fit.
By afternoon a timber cross beam was placed with the assistance of ladders and scaffolding. Once done the tired but undaunted crew began the final endeavor of the day: placing the HUGE camshaft in place into the trunnion bearings. This proved to be trickiest part of the job. An additional winch was called for so Don Dee went home and got his Jeep. After Dave carefully lubricated the bearing surfaces, Larry hoisted up the camshaft, with Jim Hyatt handling the slings and the Jeep winch helping position the shaft from the north. Except for a short period, when the wheel caught on a bolt and the angle of the drop-in had to be slightly shifted, the camshaft fell into place and then to everyone’s delight, spun freely!
Many more hours of work will be needed to install the pistons and get a power plant up and running. So continue to watch for activity on the east end of Broadway. If you are inspired to contribute toward the project costs, donations will be accepted by Granite County Historical Society Treasurer Steve Neal.