Wyo4News Staff, [email protected] [PRESS RELEASE]
SWEETWATER COUNTY, WYOMING — The Sweetwater County Historical Museum recently fielded a number of inquiries about the Reliance Tipple, a historic site north of Rock Springs that the museum manages.
Tipples were large structures used to sort and load coal. Coal was transported from the mines to the Tipple in four-ton capacity rail carts. When the carts arrived at the upper level of the Tipple, the coal was dumped into a chute by tipping the mine carts over – hence the name “tipple.” The coal passed down the chute and was sorted by size when it passed through heavy shakers and screens, then loaded onto train cars.
Once vital to coal mining operations in the bygone past, tipples have now all but vanished; only two remain in Wyoming, the wooden Aladdin Tipple in Crook County, and the massive steel Reliance Tipple about five miles north of Rock Springs.
Union Pacific coal mining operations in the immediate Rock Springs area began in 1868. In 1910, mining commenced at a site about seven miles north of Rock Springs. More nearby mines soon followed and the coal camp that sprang up near the mines was christened Reliance, which remains today the last of the Sweetwater County coal camps.
A wooden tipple was constructed at Reliance in 1912, to be replaced in 1936 by the steel and concrete structure that still stands today. In its day the Reliance Tipple was capable of processing 500 tons of coal per hour.
At the peak of their production during World War II, the Reliance mines produced nearly 1.5 million tons of coal per year, but by the 1950s, railroads were swiftly converting to diesel-electric locomotives and market demand for coal plunged sharply. The mines closed and the Sweetwater County coal camps – Winton, Gunn, Dines, Stansbury, and Lionkol – ceased to exist, with Reliance the only survivor.
The last of the Reliance mines closed in 1954 and the Tipple was abandoned. In 1988, ownership of the structure and property was transferred to Sweetwater County, and the site is administered by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum. The Reliance Tipple is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While visitors are welcome at the site to view its exterior, the Tipple is fenced, posted, and under video surveillance. Its interior is very dangerous and strictly off-limits. Thanks to technology, however, there is a safe way to explore the interior. A company called Geometria Laser created a “laser flythrough” of the interior in 2012 and posted it on YouTube, where it can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFuriKDeSoE&t=23s. Another Tipple video is also posted here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q3yLiJ2WJM.