Kleinschmidt bought into a trio of mines, the Helena, the Peacock, and the White Monument, in Idaho’s Seven Devils country in 1885. I obsessed most Idaho miners at the time with gold and silver, but these were copper mines. They were difficult to get to on foot or by mule. Getting there wasn’t the problem, though. It was getting copper ore out and to market that was an issue. You can pack only so much ore out in your pockets.
Our money man from Helena thought the solution might be a road down to the Snake River where steamboats could load up the ore and move it to Weiser to catch the nearest railroad line.
Building the road went fast, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Kleinschmidt threw money into the construction, hiring experienced crews and pushing them to work on the road in all weather. It took them a couple of years, but the result was a 22-mile tangle of switchbacks that dropped 3,000 feet into Hells Canyon. The Kleinschmidt Grade was completed July 31, 1891. It cost $20,000.
Lounging in a chair today with our hindsight firmly installed, we can ask why the heck Kleinschmidt didn’t try the steamboat leg of the plan first, before putting so much money into the road. They built the Norma in 1891 for the purpose of hauling ore to Weiser, only to find out that navigating a steamboat up to the terminus of the road was treacherous. At about the same time they learned that little tidbit of information, the price of copper dropped through the floor.
Others had some later success in getting copper out, but no one ever made any money on it. Losing money on mining operations in the Seven Devils has been something of a tradition ever since Albert Kleinschmidt built that twisty memorial to himself.
You can take the Kleinschmidt Grade today if you have a vehicle that is ready for it. Be on the lookout for oncoming traffic. Two rigs can’t get by each other just anywhere on the road.