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Phelps - Dodge Copper Smelting


Laurel Hill, Queens

Laurel Hill Works Smelter Refinery Copper Newtown Creek


THURSDAY, 22 MARCH 2012 - 23:59

update summary:

created 03/07/2012

Visitors please take note !

The collection of images on this website, which continues to grow; is due to the unprecedented and selfless contributions of the current owners of photo archives.

These people made their generous contributions to this website in good will, and allowed me to post their images online for the entire railroading community to view and appreciate, in admiration if these Fallen Flag Railroads.

In return, I strongly request that you please respect the ownership copyrights on those said images.

Other than that, please enjoy the history, thanks for taking the time to visit, and don't forget to sign the guestbook on the main page! 

~ Phil


courtesy of  S. Lynch - LIRR History
added 07 March 2012


Property & History


  Phelps - Dodge Copper Smelting & Refining began operations at their Laurel Hill location in 1920, but their occupancy of the property predates this with a chemical plant at this location.

   The Laurel Hill copper refinery was built in 1905 by the Nichols Refining Company for electrolytic refining of 'blister' copper. Most of the copper was done for Phelps-Dodge Company, and came from it's smelters in Arizona. In 1928, Nichols built another refinery near El Paso, Texas. In 1930 Phelps-Dodge acquired both refineries. After P-D acquisition, the Laurel Hill refinery processed scrap copper from the eastern US, and blister copper from the southwest, and possibly some from South America.

   An electrolytic copper refinery would take 'blister' copper (95-99% pure copper), and by an electro-chemical process produce 99.99% pure copper (electrical grade) cathodes. The waste 'sludge' from this process would be mostly gold, silver and / or other precious metals. This would be treated at a precious metal refinery, often on-site at the copper refinery.

July 6, 1951 - Phelps - Dodge; Laurel Hill, Queens, NY
Fairchild Aerial Surveys
New York State Archives Digital Collections
Click on the image above for larger unannotated photo.
Use the back arrow on your browser to return you here.

added 07 March 2012


   The end products at Laurel Hill would have included copper cathodes (sheets), and copper 'wirebar' (a 265-pound bar that would be melted and drawn into wire).

   The Phelps - Dodge Laurel Hill Works closed in 1983.

Phelps - Dodge - 2000 - Laurel Hill, Queens, NY
B. Ente photo
courtesy of  S. Lynch - LIRR History

added 07 March 2012


   Standard gauge spurs into the Phelps - Dodge Plant tied directly into the Long Island Railroad Montauk Branch at approximately MP 2. Long Island Rail Road did the standard gauge switching for Phelps - Dodge:

courtesy of  S. Lynch - LIRR History
added 07 March 2012

   The following information comes from Steve Lynchs' Long Island Railroad Website - Long Island City page:

   Freight cars destined for Phelps-Dodge were stored in Bliss yard, where the afternoon "Bliss Job" would bring new cars in from Yard A and make up the afternoon train, following the drill order, for the Laurel Hill job.

   Bliss Yard was used by LIRR freight and had an engine terminal so that steam engines did not have to run reverse all the way to Morris Park. This was also gone by 1957. In my time, Bliss yard was used to store cars for Phelps Dodge, Van Inderstine and other customers between Greenpoint Ave and PD. Also cars for Murers sidings were stored here. Crews reported at Yard A and brought cars to Bliss before making up their trains for their respectful switching areas.

   The afternoon Bliss job made up the train for the crew that switched Phelps Dodge..."

   Laurel Hill job went to work at Yard A and usually went right to Laurel Hill siding to gather all westbounds ordered out from Phelps Dodge and several other sidings in the area.   These westbounds were taken to Yard A and the crew would return to Bliss, put the engine in the west end of it’s train in the yard. The conductor rode on the rear (lead) car, using a back-up hose so that he had control of the air brake.

   The move was made with hand signals. In the dark these were made using an electric lantern.

   When all was ready, the crew shoved the train the mile to Laurel Hill switch and the first customer was Phelps - Dodge.

   Phelps - Dodge had four tracks, all on a downgrade toward Newtown Creek and great care had to be taken that these heavy copper cars did not run away while shoving into the property. The usual drill called for about fifteen to twenty cars in and the same number out every night.

   J. J. Earl


   However, servicing the plant itself was extensive narrow gauge trackage of 21 inch gauge. Photos of the remaining trackage can be seen here:

courtesy Google Maps

added 07 March 2012



Phelps - Dodge narrow gauge trackage
Robin Michals photo
courtesy of
"Toxi City - Exploring Brooklyns Industrial Legacy"

added 07 March 2012



Phelps - Dodge narrow gauge trackage
Robin Michals photo
courtesy of
"Toxi City - Exploring Brooklyns Industrial Legacy"

added 07 March 2012



Phelps - Dodge narrow gauge trackage
Robin Michals photo
courtesy of
"Toxi City - Exploring Brooklyns Industrial Legacy"

added 07 March 2012



Phelps - Dodge narrow gauge trackage
Robin Michals photo
courtesy of
"Toxi City - Exploring Brooklyns Industrial Legacy"

added 07 March 2012





   Also from Steve Lynch's LIRR site:

   "A photo taken in the 1950 or 60's shows standard gauge 40' boxcars with cast copper anodes being unloaded, and the anodes being placed on narrow gauge 8 wheel flatcars, with approximately 30 anodes on the narrow gauge rack type car.

   Since each anode weighs approximately 600 to 750 pounds, it is obvious a powered locomotive was needed.

   It is also recorded that rubber tired tractors to move the in-plant cars at well.

   Narrow-gauge trackage was very common in older industrial plants and in other copper refineries. Anaconda's refinery in New Jersey had 30" gauge, US Metals in New Jersey had 24" gauge, the ASARCO refinery in Baltimore had a 21.5" gauge Outside Flange tramway.

   The Phelps - Dodge refinery near El Paso had 30"gauge. By the 1960's plants were being built without the trams, using overhead cranes, trucks and large forklifts to do the job."  

   All known locomotives operating on the actual trackage within Phelps Dodge property, (not including the standard gauge Long Island Rail Road serviced sidings); were of 21 inch gauge.

   According to Jay Reed's "Critters, Dinky's & Centercabs", the Plymouth RGT model was equipped with a Hercules GO-226 engine, and a total of 5 unit were built during the time frame of 1957 to 1960. The RGT model was built with welded frames (and are almost identical to the RDT model which had a different engine). They were equipped with hydraulically operated transmissions.

   According to the Plymouth builders records, three of these Plymouth RGT's went to the Phelps - Dodge refinery in Laurel Hill, Queens, NY.

   The following image is of a Plymouth RGT / 4 (4 ton) which would be very similar in appearance to the 5 and 6½ Ton models used at Phelps - Dodge.

   The 30" gauge locomotive entry is believed to have been purchased by Phelps Dodge corporate offices in NY, but not actually used in the Laurel Hill Works. It is listed for convenience..

Plymouth RGT 4 ton
D. Hamley photo
courtesy "Critters, Dinkys Centercabs" by J. Reed

added 07 March 2012


Phelps - Dodge (Laurel Hill) Roster

number /



model wheel




  Plymouth 3946 10/30/1937 30" 10T DLH 6 B?     new to Nichols Copper,
(Phelps subsidiery)
El Paso, TX
Phelps Dodge Corp, New York, NY [6]
  Plymouth 6160 2/7/1959 21" 5T RGT B     new unknown Laurel Hill, LI [6]
  Plymouth 6188 12/22/1959 21" 5T RGT B     new unknown Laurel Hill, LI [6]
  Plymouth 6235 6/3/1960 21" 6½T RGT P/TC B     new unknown Laurel Hill, LI [6]

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