Descending 650’ in 90 seconds is no joke. The sheer darkness is enough to scare anyone – big, small, grown, young, man, woman… doesn’t matter. Losing the ability to determine if your eyes are opened or closed, is frightening.
But how far is 650’?
This article did a great job to help visualize just how far down one would travel if heading to the salt mines by comparing the depth to the height of certain national monuments.
Statue of Liberty = 306′
Washington Monument = 555′
St. Louis Arch = 630′
Since the early 1920’s people have been fascinated by the salt mines and have enjoyed descending into the great depths to explore them. The Hutchinson Salt Company realized that turning the unused sections of the mine into a museum could bring many tourists to the area. However, using the one small elevator simply would not work since each time visitors were brought down, production of the salt had to stop until the people were safely in the mine. So the production of a new shaft was started in 2004, taking nearly a full year to complete.
The new hoist was a double-decker elevator built to accommodate 30 people – 15 on the lower level and 15 on the upper level. The new elevator also allowed for larger items to be brought into the mine making the process of harvesting salt easier and quicker for the men below. Some items would require the men to disassemble them so it could fit in the hoist and reassemble it once they were in the mine.
In June of 2013, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum opened.
Tours take visitors through the many chambers ranging from 2,500 to 15,000 square feet with ceilings as high as 17 feet in some areas. Each chamber is separated by a 40 foot square block, referred to as pillars, left intact to support the salt above.
At times, sections of the chamber floor began to rise, so workers used railroad ties to help prevent the floors from moving.
Once items were brought into the mine, they remained below forever. Below is a vehicle referred to as a Mantrip. This type of car was used to transport miners to and from the mining areas.
Miners used railroad cars to help transport the salt along the tracks.
Not all salt was worth mining. Some sections of the walls only contained small amounts of salt, and since it would cost more in man power to retrieve the salt, some areas were left behind.
To help keep track of each section, miners wrote the month, day and year on the pillars indicating when that section of the mine had been worked on.
Since the mine is so far below the surface, it naturally maintains a temperature of 68 degrees with a very low humidity. Because of this, the Underground Vaults & Storage uses 26 acres of the mine to secure such items as original movies, television show masters, medical records, valuable documents and even actual costumes from popular movies. That section of the mine is highly guarded and is not open to the public; however, several items were given to the museum to put on display.