The Suntrana Coal Mine was in operation from the early 1920's. The present day Usibelli Coal Mine operations are over the hill to the East of this location. As a line side industry this location provided major car loadings of coal going north to the markets in the Fairbanks area.
This would make a great prototype for a load out facility on a model railroad. It is simple and would fit into a blind corner with the interesting geology making a backdrop. You can take your choice of era. There are two tracks buried in the mud today, but in the past there were as many as 6 tracks served by a tipple at this location.
On a June 30, 2007 survey trip to Healy, Shane, Aidan and Pat Durand investigated the out of service tipple at Suntrana. There is an RFP out for demolition of the facilities and Shane's company Central Environmental Inc. may bid on the project. Several photos were taken of the remaining structures.
|The loading tipple has been subject to flooding and there is approximately 6 feet of sand and mud washed in around the base of the structure.|
|The grizzly at the feed end of the conveyor was serviced by trucks coming from the open pit which is over the hill out of site. The grizzly has a hydraulic breaker mounted on the head which was operated from a small control cabin. A large fan was mounted in front of the cabin to blow coal dust out of the way. There is now an expanded metal cover over the grizzly as a safety measure to keep trespassers from falling in.|
|The conveyor motor head is at the base of the long conveyor.|
|This was all enclosed when in operation but makes an interesting display with the sides of the structure removed.|
|The storage tower is outside braced steel and feeds the two track loading tipple.|
|The dog house for the operator was supported under the tipple building. I still have no explanation for the trestle that extends out over the Suntrana River at the opposite end of the structure. Please let us all know what it is for if you know.|
While researching the facility, I was struck by the fact that at least 5 different tipples and structures have occupied this space over the last 80 years. There are few references in "The Alaska Railroad" by Bernadine Prince.
Distance Table No. 11 of 1925 shows the Suntrana branch was 4.4 miles extending from Healy. Two photos of the Suntrana Coal Company circa 1957 appear on page 860. There are no other references there to add to the time line. Hopefully some of our railroading friends in Healy can fill in the details.
Here are other photo references all from The Alaska Railroad Collection at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.
1922 - Suntrana coal mine established
1928 - produces nearly half of the total coal mined in Alaska
1938 - Emil Usibelli starts a logging operation in Suntrana to supply timbers for the underground mines
1940 - becomes the largest coal mine in the Alaskan Territory
1961 - Emile Usibelli purchases the mine
1962 - closed because of serious fires
2007 - State of Alaska requests bids to remove grizzly and tipple
Page created 7/9/07 and last updated 7/10/07