Aladdin Coal Tipple Is One Of Last Of Its Kind And Could Collapse At Any Time

Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time.

AR
Andrew Rossi

June 08, 20246 min read

Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time.
Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time. (Photo by Stephen Conn via Flikr)

The coal tipple in remote Aladdin was one of the most important structures in northeastern Wyoming in the early 1900s. Now, the towering structure that’s one of the last wooden tipples still standing in the American West is at risk of collapse at any time and being lost forever.

Stabilizing the unique mining structure would cost more than $1 million, and the historic structure is already close to falling over. When that happens — not if — a rare piece of foundational history for Wyoming and the country will be lost forever.

"This is one of the last (wooden tipples) in the state and region," said Rocky Courchaine, director of the Crook County Museum in Sundance. "It's a unique coal processing plant, and it's in rough shape."

Coal Country

A tipple is a structure designed to load coal into the various vehicles to transport it, whether that’s a horse-drawn wagon or a railroad car. The angled structure used gravity to send coal down a chute into whatever’s waiting below to collect it.

The Aladdin Tipple, constructed between 1888 and 1895, was built to accommodate coal strikes in northeastern Wyoming. Courchaine said the structure also served a vital purpose when business was booming and families were establishing themselves in the 44th state.

"Local people used to get their wagons and go there for coal for their houses and businesses," Courchaine said. "The little town of Barrett was formed because of the coal mine, and it was right across the street from the tipple."

The Aladdin Coal Tipple was designed and built to be functional, but not necessarily permanent. Its timber construction isn't elegant, but the fact that it's still standing more than a century after its usefulness ended is a unique marvel of engineering.

The tipple became even more lucrative in 1898 when a short railroad line was built to connect the coal mines near Aladdin with the main line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. The 18-mile stretch was called the Wyoming and Missouri River Railroad.

"They could haul it to Belle Fourche over to Deadwood, Spearfish and wherever from there," said Couchaine. "There are stories of people coming over with freight wagons from our area and going to the tipple for businesses, a trip or two a week, to get the coal for the heating systems in this town."

Having a coal tipple so close helped provide a vital energy resource to nearby towns, which made it easier for them to grow. Couchaine said historical records show how the communities of Barrett and Aladdin thrived through the tipple.

"The Wyoming Coal Mine Inspector report stated there was an average number of 35 men employed there at the beginning of 1899," he said. "By the end of 1899, there were 80 men. Tonnage that year was 6,913 (of) lump coal, 334 tons of nut coal, and 215 tons of flax. They started producing good coal out of there, and it was prolific for a while."

Boom To Bust

Aladdin and Barrett were booming and bustling at the beginning of the 20th century. But, as every generation of Wyomingites learns, there's always a bust on the horizon.

The tipple in Aladdin reached its peak productivity in 1901, but the nearby coal strikes were already dwindling. Lump coal tonnage had dropped to 1,000 tons in 1911, the same year the short-lived Wyoming and Missouri Railroad stopped running to the tipple.

"After the coal mine stopped, they put a little four-wheeled gas engine car on the railroad line that would run people to Belle Fouche from Aladdin," Couchaine said. "They'd jump on this little car and take a trip to dances and shopping in Belle Fouche."

Coal tipples were rendered obsolete with the invention and widespread implementation of conveyor belts later in the 20th century. The unique mining structures were torn down or abandoned across the United States with little consideration for their unique historical value.

  • Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time.
    Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time. (Courtesy Crook County Museum)
  • Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time.
    Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time. (Courtesy Crook County Museum)
  • Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time.
    Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time. (Photo by Stephen Conn via Flikr)

A Tilting Tipple

Today, Barrett is a ghost town and the Wyoming and Missouri River Railroad has long since been abandoned. But the Aladdin Coal Tipple shakily stands.

With no coal to transport, the tipple was abandoned as the industry and its people struck out to pursue new mining projects. It's one of the few extant coal tipples in the United States.

The tipple and its location are no secret. Crook County maintains the site as the Aladdin Tipple Historic Interpretive Site only 2.5 miles west on Highway 24 from the town of Aladdin.

The tipple hasn't been entirely overlooked since it fell out of use in 1911. A restoration of the tipple in 1991 straightened the entire structure, added concrete pillars to the bottoms of the ponderosa pine legs, and reinforced the roof to prevent snow and moisture from seeping into the structure's interior.

"They decided to save what they could and keep the tipple up in 1991," Couchaine said. "It was important to do that then, but that was over 30 years ago."

Nobody can or should approach the tipple, as it's surrounded by barbed wire and signs warning of its "imminent collapse." The structure's rarity and historical value make its current condition even more depressing for historians like Couchaine.

"It is rough," he said. "The legs are just ponderosa pine, and they're starting to rot, and it's really starting to lean from the wind. It just wasn't enough in 1991, and it needs it again now."

Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time.
Built between 1888 and 1895, the Aladdin Coal Tipple in northeast Wyoming is one of the remaining wooden coal tipples still standing in the Western United States, but it's in bad shape and could collapse at any time. (Courtesy Crook County Museum)

The Ticking Clock

Saving the tipple is an uphill battle, especially since the structure seems to be going downhill quickly.

"It needs to be straightened out again, which means winches and more supports," he said. "And the funding for this structure is just not there anymore."

The Alliance for Historic Wyoming added the Aladdin Tipple to its list of historic structures "threatened with demolition or neglect." The organization cited a feasibility study that estimates restabilizing the tipple would cost around $1.2 million.

The site is maintained by Crook County and its board of commissioners, which the Alliance for Historic Wyoming said "have instead decided to allow the building to collapse on its own." None of the commissioners were available to comment on the status of the tipple.

Regardless of who does it or how it's saved, Couchaine hopes the derelict structure will be saved while it's still standing. It's no longer useful as an industrial infrastructure, but its historical significance is undeniable.

"It's a draw for us (in Crook County), and it's such a unique thing," he said. "The Aladdin Tipple was so prolific for such a long time, and the coal industry is so large in Wyoming. Letting it fall down just doesn't seem right."

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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