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Pioneer Day
Rossi Retort Dedication at the Rotary Furnace Site
October 11, 2014

On October 11, 2014, the New Almaden Quicksilver County Park Association (NAQCPA) held their 32nd Annual Pioneer Day at the Mine Hill Rotary Furnace site in Almaden Quicksilver County Park. The theme was the rebuilding of the Rossi Retort. The inclined retort was used to process high grade mercury ore. It was used from the WWII era until the closure of the mines in 1975. This is the celebration site next to the rotary furnace. A new interpretive sign for the retort is on the right, covered with a cloth.

Visitors were transported by van along the Wood Road Trail to the celebration site from the Wood Road parking lot off Hicks Road. Mike Boulland and John Slenter drove the vans.

Lunches were prepared by Rebecca and Nancy Mapes.

Trail Watch volunteer Janice Frazier shows her horse Caribe, whom she rode to the event.

Guests get a chance to see the rotary furnace. Normally, this area is behind a locked fence.

Mike Cox explains how the rotary furnace worked. This was actually the second rotary furnace at the site. The original was too large, and the miners were not able to supply enough ore to keep it filled. This smaller one replaced it. The tubes that look like a giant radiator are condensers for condensing the mercury out of the vapor produced in the furnace tube. The condensed mercury was collected in troughs below the tubes. The small building next to the rotary furnace was an office.

Mike Cox explains the operation of the hoeing table behind him. It was used to remove impurities from the mercury that was condensed in the rotary furnace.

This shows the hoeing table. A motor under the table turned the blades. The blades stirred up the impure mercury mixture. The pure mercury settled to the bottom, where it could be extracted into an iron container, like the one held up by Mike.

Mike shows how mercury was poured into flasks that were weighed on a scale.

This is the Rossi Retort. It was originally in use on a nearby hill. It was removed and placed in a pile on the other side of Wood Road from the rotary furnace during the cleanup of Mine Hill in 2000. A crew of volunteers with NAQCPA moved it to this site next to the rotary furnace and reassembled it. The rebuilding crew was Jeff Avila, Bruce Bartlett, Mike Boulland, Jeff Bright, Teri Eggert, Doug Hamilton, Kitty Monahan, and Rich Robertson. (Here is a blueprint of a Rossi Retort.)

Mike explains how the Rossi Retort worked. He is standing near the condenser pipes. Mercury vapor from the retort was cooled in the long tubes and collected in water-filled rubber buckets in the cabinet at the end. The cabinet was locked to prevent theft. Sulfurous vapors were vented off through the smokestack in the cabinet.

Mike points to the retort. Mercury ore was roasted in the two large tubes in the middle, called ore chambers. The ore was dumped in at the upper end and spent waste rock was removed at the lower end. Doors sealed off both ends. A fire on the bottom heated the retort. When it was originally in operation, it was mounted on a hillside at a particular angle, called the "angle of repose." It was just the right angle to make sure the crushed ore filled the chambers, but not completely, to allow the free flow of gases out of the retort to the condenser tubes.

The building next to the retort held lockers, showers, and a restroom.

Ore was placed into the old truck bed above the retort. A gate was used to control the flow of the ore into the retort.

This is the retort itself, showing the top of the ore chambers and the condenser tubes. A fire was built under the tubes to heat them up. Any type of fuel could be used, but butane was used. The retort was simple and economical to operate. Even individual miners could use it.

NAQCPA President Kitty Monahan (left), poses with Roxanne Koopman (right) and her daughter, who are doing a Parks for Life Challenge by getting their picture taken with rangers Paula Burgmeier and Vanessa Clayton. This is a contest where teams compete by scoring points by completing different challenges. One of the challenges is to get your picture taken with a ranger.

Bob Meyer, Marvin Tanner, and Kitty Monahan are at the check-in table, where they are taking donations and passing out event programs.

The tables contain raffle items.

Bruce Bartlett and Rich Robertson (right) were members of the team that restored the Rossi Retort.

Here are some of the raffle items.

John Atwood (right) directed the parking at the Wood Road Trailhead. He is with Dorene and Mike Boulland.

The group settle down to lunch.

Kitty Monahan lets everyone know the ceremonies are about to begin.

Mike Cox is the Master of Ceremonies.

A flag has been raised above the rotary furnace.

Gage McKinney portrays an itinerant preacher who would ride from one mining camp to another. He gives an opening invocation.

Kitty Monahan welcomes the guests to Pioneer Day and explains its history. Pioneer Day was started over 3 decades ago as a way for miners and their families to share stories of their experiences and family histories.

Gage McKinney's wife Ilke talks about some jewelry she brought to be sold for fundraising.

Ranger Paula Burgmeier gives an introductory talk about the park.

Art Boudreault talks about Samuel Butterworth, the first president and mine manager of the Quicksilver Mining Company. He also talks about the book that he and Mike Boulland wrote about New Almaden and the mines.

County Parks Director Robb Courtney (left) arrives with his family.

The interpretive sign for the Rossi Retort is under the park banner.

Bruce Bartlett unveils the sign.

This is how the sign looks, in front of the retort.

This is what the new interpretive sign says. Note the drawing by Jim Campbell.

This is another retort that has been in front of the rotary furnace for years. Note the ore chambers, condensing pipes, and cabinets.

Director Courtney gets a tour of the rotary area.

The locker room building was restored by volunteers.

This was the site of a wooden tank that held liquid sludge from the mercury refining process.

Kitty Monahan holds an iron flask that held mercury. It came from Almaden Spain, which had mercury mines and was the world's main source of mercury until the New Almaden Mines went into production. They did not make their own flasks in New Almaden, so they had to buy them.

Kitty Monahan explains how the rotary furnace worked. In the background is the office building for the furnace and the furnace tube itself.

Artist Jim Campbell shows his pen-and-ink drawings of New Almaden and the mines. He has published a book of his drawings.

Jim's drawing on the upper left shows how the Mine Hill Rotary Furnace looked when it was in operation. It was covered by wooden buildings. The drawing on the lower left is what the Rossi Retort looked like in its original configuration. The retort was underneath the corrugated metal shed and set at an angle on the hillside.

Robbie Lamons (left) and Mary Lee Baiocchi prepare for the raffle.

Created 10/14/14 by Ronald Horii