Copper mining in Victoria commenced in the 1850’s, but a major forest fire and flood in 1858 stopped mining operations for nearly a half century. The Victoria Copper Mining Company was reorganized in 1899, reopened the Victoria Mine, and ran it until 1921, when it closed permanently. A hydraulic compressed air plant was designed and built by Charles Taylor of Montreal for the Victoria Mining Company. Opened in 1906, this plant used the power of falling water from the Ontonagon River to produce compressed air, at a pressure of 117 pounds per square inch, without using any moving parts.

Schematic of Compressor

Schematic of Taylor Mine Compressor.

Referring to the schematic, water enters the system from the reservoir through the flume, D. It flows up to C, then pours down to B through small tubes (3/8" to 1/2" diameter), entraining air as it does so. The velocity down column E is such that the air remains entrained until it reaches the separating chamber, G. The water returns up column H to be discharged and the air is available via pipe K. The air pressure available is determined by distance G to L and working head of the water is determined by distance M to L. Not shown, a vent pipe may be installed into the separation vessel and extended to the water line. If the air overfills, the water level drops exposing the end of the vent pipe and venting air until the water again rises to submerge the entrance to the vent pipe.

Shown below is the compressor built by Taylor at Ragged Chute, near Cobalt, Ontario, similar to that constructed at Victoria. In the specific case at Victoria Mine, a concrete dam measuring 300 feet long and 10 feet high was built across the river that diverted water flow to a 6,000 foot long canal having a sectional area of 350 square feet. At the end of the canal, the water entered three vertical shafts.

side view of Ragged Chute compressor

Taylor Compressor at Ragged Chute. The Victoria Mine compressor had a similar configuration.
Larger view.

These shafts, each penetrating 342 feet deep, lead to an underground air storage chamber 282 feet long, from 18 feet to 57 feet wide, and from 22 to 25 feet long, with a capacity of 80,264 cubic feet. At the other end, a 40 foot long tunnel with an 18 feet by 10 feet cross-section, led to an inclined shaft which carried the water back to the river 71 feet below the entrance point, thus giving the Victoria Mine plant an effective head of 71 feet.

Two pipes lead from the underground chamber, one a 24 inch air pipe carrying the compressed air to the mine, and the other a 12 inch vent which served as an automatic governor for the plant. When venting, the mixed air and water appeared as a geyser, usually with spectacular results.

The design production of the unit was 34,000 to 36,000 cubic feet per minute or free air.  The performance was measured with the results below:

Air Water Eff.%
free air,
10,580 14 128 1,430 13,057 70.5 1,741 82.2
11,930 14 128 1,623 14,820 70.0 1,961 82.3
 8,238 14 128 1,248 12,710 70.6 1,700 73.5

This air compressor plant was last used in 1929-1931, when the Victoria Dam was built and all that remains in terms of visible surface structures are the three intakes enclosed by a steel framework, all of which were originally enclosed by a small building.

Four of these facilities were built and only one remains in operation today.  About ten miles southeast of Cobalt, Ontario, the Ragged Chute facility still supplies air to surrounding mines.

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