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News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 318

Kirk Halford - "Outstanding Public Land Professional"

Below are photos from just one of the projects Halford has worked on for BLM over the years.
Thumbnail photo of Kirk Halford at the Saline Salt Tram restoration project

On February 7, 2008, archaelogist Kirk Halford of BLM's Bishop Field Office was honored as "Outstanding Public Land Professional" by the Public Lands Foundation.  was presented his award by BLM Director James Caswell and PLF’s George Lea on Feb. 7 at a ceremony at the Department of the Interior building.  However, via a three-way video teleconference connection, Kirk’s colleagues and family in Bishop and Sacramento also joined in celebrating his award.

BLM Director James Caswell (from left), recipient Kirk Halford and George Lea of the Public Lands Foundation at the award ceremony in Washington, D.C.
BLM Director James Caswell (from left), recipient Kirk Halford and George Lea of the Public Lands Foundation

Halford, in accepting the award, thanked his colleagues and partners for their support, with special recognition to his wife Anna and six-year old son, Sean, who watched from Bishop.  He said his work ethic – one he hopes his son adopts -- is "give your best 100 percent of the time and that’s all you can ask."  Sean also gave his own endorsement of his dad, adding via teleconference:  "He’s a very nice man!"

Other accolades came from California State Director Mike Pool in Sacramento, who called Halford “a relationship builder.”  Bishop Field Manager Bill Dunkelberger described Halford as "really exceptional" and added how "lucky we are to have him here in Bishop."

Just one project that benefited from this relationship-building, was restoring the historic "Salt Tram" in the Inyo Mountains.

Halford is standing on a rebuilt loading ramp, part of the Saline Valley Salt Tram in the photo below, and in his employee profile.  Behind and below him is the Saline Valley. Halford worked with many people to help document and restore this bit of American history.
BLM-California archaeologist Kirk Halford stands on a rebuilt portion of summit station of the Saline Salt Tram, with the Saline Valley below

The Saline Salt Tram carried salt more than 13 miles from Saline Valley, over the Inyo Mountains and down to a processing station at Owens Lake. From there it was transported by rail to market. The Tram ran from 1913 to 1930. (text continues below)

One of the tram's tenders and his family stand before the structure in this historic photo
One of the tram's tenders and his family stand before the structure in this old black-and-white photo

The construction of the tram was an engineering and construction feat for its time. It actually included five separate, prefabricated tram systems, linked together by switching or control stations. It rose 7,000 feet out of Saline Valley, crossed the Inyo Mountains at 8,720 feet and descended 5,000 feet to Owens Lake.  Fifty-four miles of 1-1/8 inch cable had to be strung between the towers and control stations, an extraordinary task considering the rugged nature of the Inyo Mountains and the modes of transportation of the day.

In 1974 the Salt Tram was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, recognized as an important aspect of our National historical heritage. The site is one of a kind, built to transport salt instead of silver or gold and is replicated nowhere else in North America, or the world, as far as we know.

In 1998, Halford and photography instructor Daniel McIntyre led a team of volunteers from the San Clemente High School photography class to the Inyo Mountains. Their project: to assess and document with photos, the condition of the Tram at that time. They focused on the structures on the gentler-sloping west side of the Inyo Mountains. The students created a record to be used by archaeologists, students of history, and the public into the future, long after the tram towers and control stations have been erased from the landscape by the forces of nature.

In late September, 1999, BLM's Bishop Field Office and a cadre of volunteers began an ambitious project to stabilize the tram tender’s cabin at the Summit Station.  After losing its doors and windows, its roof had blown of in a violent gust of winter winds sometime in the 1970s. Then fully exposed to the elements, the building began to decay -- with damage to its foundation, interior superstructure and its beautiful wrap-around deck.

The salt tram tender's cabin as it looked in 1998, with doors and windows missing and the roof blown off:
Salt tram control building during reconstruction

The first step of the stabilization project was to record the structure so that its original design and form could be closely replicated.  Architect Brian Webb, with the help of Tom Budlong, recorded the condition of the structure and created detailed schematics. From the remnants of the building, Brian was able to provide scale drawings of what the original structure looked like. The architectural drawings and old photos from the Eastern California Museum (Figure 4) provided a good understanding of the building's original construction and laid the foundation for its stabilization and reconstruction of the roof and deck.  Volunteers worked to clean up the site, sort useable lumber and prepare the building for stabilization.  An inventory was taken, and based on the plans, materials were ordered. 

On Labor Day Weekend 1999, 14 volunteers from the Gear Grinders of Ridgecrest helped transport the materials to the site with their four-wheel drive vehicles.  It took three days to move the lumber six miles over the rugged Cerro Gordo/Swansea road -- which helped show how remarkable the original project was. Stabilization began in early September, led by Salt Tram Historian Don Becker and archaeologist Kirk Halford, and the major portions of the project were completed in October the next year (Figure 5).

With the help of over 30 volunteers the Salt Tram tender’s cabin and a unique part of our historical heritage is being preserved for the enjoyment and experience of generations to come.

A view of the tender's cabin and surrounding landscape, sometime between 1913 and 1930...
A view of the tender's cabin and surrounding landscape then...

..and after the structure was stabilized, in 2001:
the tender's cabin and part of the tram under construction

BLM California News.bytes, issue 318

Last updated: 02-13-2008