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Old Time Trains

INCO Operations

Ore is mined at 11 mines in the area, sent to three mills, a smelter complex and finally three refineries producing nickel, copper and other metals along with sulphuric acid.

Ore in a 30,000-ton facility is fed through screens and crushers until it is the size of a marble, ground to powder to which water is added to make slurry. Flotation removes much of the rock, producing the waste material "tailings". At this stage nickel and copper ores are separated.

113 with bottle at Copper Cliff 3/22/1988 Peter Raschke/Clayton Langstaff Collection

Acid tank cars on the weigh scales, September 1994. Paul Binney

The nickel ore, called "nickel concentrate" goes two places. Some will have its sulphur content reduced at the sulphuric acid plant. This by-product is shipped in tank cars in unit trains. The somewhat purified ore is called nickel calcine and returned to the smelter to the smelter where it is mixed with nickel concentrate and the mixture thickened through removal of most of the water. This mixture is put into the roasters where sand is added to help separate out impurities into slag, which is carried by rail to the dump.

Molten nickel-copper is made up of 25-ton ingots, and the cooling process forces the copper content to gather together. The ingots are ground up and put through another flotation process, separating the copper and nickel. Nickel is produced in pellet form.

Copper ore is dried to powder, mixed with sand and put through a flash furnace, fired by natural gas (coal was used for many decades); this produces liquid copper and slag, the latter being skimmed off and dumped into "slag pots"; molten copper at 2100 degrees F goes into 120-ton capacity, torpedo shaped, firebrick lined railway cars for its journey, done five or six times a day, to the refinery. There the copper is cast into anodes and further refined through electrolsis.


Ore train on Copper Cliff hill with two units pulling
and a third pushing on the rear, 1995 Paul Binney

Typical ore train hauled by 100-ton number 118. Collection of Dave Shaw

Ore was once (1947) handled in trains of 30 drop bottom cars of 80-ton capacity hauled by two 50-ton (or, one 100-ton) electric locomotives. Daily production in 1947 was 30,000 tons.

108, acq. 1930 (ex Chatham, Wallaceburg & Lake Erie 11, ex HEPC E-11) Westinghouse/NSC 1918,
102 acq. 7/26 (ex HEPC E-7) Westinghouse/NSC 1919, and 110 GE 65-ton #12134 12/36,
(Note that middle unit is M.U.'ed to lead one), hauling slag pots (white is from lime mixture spray used to keep molten material from sticking as it cools). Murray LeMay Collection

South mine, loco at right is waiting to push on rear of ore train at left. This view and one below give
some indication of the amount of wires and poles needed for electric operation. Paul Binney

Wire train at Levack, 1991. Paul Binney

106 with ore train near Levack. Note the upgrade. Collection of Dave Shaw

Slag dumping make a spectacular sight in these scenes, 1989 above and 1994 below. Paul Binney

Molten slag was removed from the plant in special slag pot cars and taken about 3 miles to be dumped as waste. Slag temperatures range from 1,200 degrees F for nickel to 1,600 for cobalt. This operation took place about every 2 to 3 hours, 24 hours a day using 10 car trains requiring two electric locomotives

Coniston smelter: Eight miles of track were once required here along with interchange tracks with the CNR and CPR. Two 80 tons steam locomotives were once used here.

Levack Mine: Three miles of yard track and a four-mile spur to the CPR existed here. Ore, in 60 and 80-ton bottom dump cars was hauled by the CPR 21 miles to Specher for Copper Cliff or 32 miles to Coniston.

Creighton Mine: Yards at No.3 and No.5 shafts consisted of six miles of track. Ore was hauled by the CPR eight miles to Clarabelle for the Copper Cliff plant, and 19 miles to the Coniston smelter.

Garson Mine and Garson sand pit: Located 12.5 and 8.7 miles from Clarabelle, were served by CNR using 8 miles of spur and a further 3 ½ miles of sidings and yard trackage. CNR used 80-ton drop bottom dump cars.

Lawson Quarry: Located 66 miles from Copper Cliff on the CPR's Little Current branch it supplied quartzite shipped in CPR bottom dump cars.

NOTE: Both sand and quartz is used as furnace flux and as mine backfill.

Coal and oil: Large quantities of coal were shipped to the Sudbury area mines and smelters along with other industries and domestic use along with CPR's own locomotives for many decades. Much of it arrived by ship at the Little Current coal dock for movement by rail. Coal continued in use for some years after the railways dieselized in 1960. In the 1970's INCO changed over to Bunker C oil shipped in unit trains by CNR from a Montreal East refinery where it was largely a waste residue left over after gasoline, diesel, furnace oil, asphalt etc. had been made.


In recent years, INCO changed to a rotary dump method at their ore tipple from where ore is sent to the Clarabelle Mill for further processing before going on to the smelter. Existing INCO and CPR drop-bottom ore cars that were in good condition had their doors welded shut, and the fleet was added to with used cars. Two cars at a time can be dumped. A thawing shed is used in winter which holds 16 cars on each of its six tracks, heat provided by natural gas.

Copper Cliff, next to the Sudbury western city limits was once a company town situated next to the vast INCO complex.

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