Champion Spark Plug Mine

A very unique ghost town exists in the White Mountains near Bishop, California in the Eastern Sierra. What makes it most unusual is that it is on the honor system-nobody lives there and volunteers keep an eye on the place. Visitors are expected to be on their best behavior, but incidents of vandalism have occurred and buildings maliciously burned down. Yet, the old mining camp is still in great shape thanks to the efforts of people like Don and Margy Fraser, who worked hard to keep the camp alive.

The Spark Plug Mine is accessed off Hwy 6 about 20 miles north of the town of Bishop at the White Mountain Ranch Road.  Due to problems that the rancher was having, the old road in to the mine was moved from the pump house at the end of the pavement to one third of a mile up on the left. This road is rocky and rough and requires four wheel drive toward the end. A quarter mile before the trailhead a scary four wheel drive road goes to an upper parking area that is only a mile walk from the site. The heat can make the lower trail a miserable experience in summer.

Everything had to be packed into the Spark Plug Mine on mules as no road was ever constructed all the way to the cabins. Ernest Kinney, who recently passed away, told stories of how he helped his dad, Spray, pack mules to the camp in the 1930’s. The mules had to pack heavy equipment in and heavy sacks of ore out. They even devised special swivel saddles to transport long telephone poles around turns on the trail.

It was an amazing operation where all cargo was handled four to six times before reaching the train that ran down by the highway. First, they had to load the mules for the trip down and off load the ore sacks onto trucks. The trucks then drove down to the rail line to switch the ore over for delivery to Detroit. Nothing was easy or fast in those days, but it sure beat having to haul out the ore in wagons like their predecessors did.   

The thing that made the Spark Plug Mine essential and worth all the effort was that the sillimanite/andalucite ore was used to make a superior spark plug for the Champion Company. Both autos and planes used that type of plug in those days.

It was a dentist named Dr. Joseph Jeffery who discovered the claim while looking for a substance to make better teeth out of. That began a mining operation that would last from 1919-1945 and employ a lot of people. They purchased the White Mountain Ranch to provide food and staples for the men and animals. They produced electricity from a Pelton Wheel in an adjacent canyon and tried to maintain a self-sufficient operation.

Robert Boyle had this to say about his illustrious relative,  ” I am researching Dr. Joseph Jeffery who is my great cousin? His brother and brother-in-law formed the Jeffery-Dewitt Insulator Company that operated in Michigan and West Viginia. His first patent for spark plugs was filed in 1906 while he and his brother owned the Reliance Automobile Company in San Francisco. By 1919 he was solely involved with Champion Porcelain Company. Around 1902 he was involved with the SOUTH YUBA Mine which I am still trying to get more information on. I am also trying to trace my great uncle to the operation; Eustase Boyle. My father told me stories of how he had made fortunes and lost them…”

LLewellyn Edson Jeffery contacted me next.  He wrote, “I was named after my grandfather. My great grandfather is Dr. Joseph A. Jeffery. My father, Arthur Benjamin Jeffery, used to tell me stories about the Jeffery-DeWitt/Champion connection. And he often spoke with great reverence about his aunt Muriel J. Woodhouse: her husband, Charles D. Woodhouse (senior), was a well known mineralogist who was also involved for quite some time with the Champion mine at White Mountain and in association with Jeffery-DeWitt.I haven’t been able to find out anything about the DeWitt family, and not much about my grandfather (my namesake) or my father’s aunt Muriel. I managed to wait too long to try to contact Charles D. Woodhouse, Jr. who, sadly, passed away in September, 2000.”

From out of the mine shaft comes another lost relative  from Tucson, Arizona, to add this,  “My Name is David Dewitt Jeffery. I am the grandson of Benjamin Alfred Jeffery who was Dr. Joseph Arthur Jeffery’s Brother. My Grandmother was Saida Kern Dewitt better known to her grandchildren as “Deda”. She was Mortimer Dewitt’s sister. My Father was Benjamin Dewitt Jeffery who also worked for the Champion Spark Plug company in the late 30’s and 40’s.”

The Spark Plug Mine is about the coolest place a true adventurer would ever want to go. Not only is the hike exciting with ten inch wide death defying sections along the trail, but the cabins are set up with amenities like a deck for watching the sun set over the grand Sierra at cocktail hour. No reservations are required-no pool, no phone, yes pets.

In winter, rugged individuals stay over at the camp to ski up to White Mountain Peak. Some people have been doing it for years since they were kids visiting with their parents. It is a deluxe Spartan experience where the dog’s water bowl usually freezes solid by morning.

Along with the well-kept cabins there is a small museum and tool shed on site. Some people take artifacts while others bring new ones to share. This sort of thing is just unheard of in old mining camps and so far the remoteness of the place has saved it.

No more are the sounds of pack strings heard plodding along the trail with their chains jingling-mules snorting and blowing under the heavy load of groaning leather packs.

This is a story of how a place of hard work and toil became a place of recreation and leisure. It’s totally amazing how that could happen in our modern world.

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17 Responses to “Champion Spark Plug Mine”

  1. Robert Boyle Says:

    Thanks for the above information. I am researching Dr. Joseph Jeffery who is my great cousin? His brother and brother-in-law formed the Jeffery-Dewitt Insulator Company that operated in Michigan and West Viginia. His first patent for spark plugs was filed in 1906 while he and his brother owned the Reliance Automobile Company in San Francisco. By 1919 he was solely involved with Champion Porclean Company. Around 1902 he was involved with the SOUTH YUBA Mine which I am still trying to get more information on. I am also trying to trace my great uncle to the operation; Eustase Boyle. My father told me stories of how he had made fortunes and lost them….

  2. Ed Jeffery Says:

    Hello Windy,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Thank you.

    My name is Llewellyn Edson Jeffery, and I was named after my grandfather. My great grandfather is Dr. Joseph A. Jeffery. My father, Arthur Benjamin Jeffery, used to tell me stories about the Jeffery-DeWitt/Champion connection. And he often spoke with great reverence about his aunt Muriel J. Woodhouse: her husband, Charles D. Woodhouse (senior), was a well known mineralogist who was also involved for quite some time with the Champion mine at White Mountain and in association with Jeffery-DeWitt.

    I haven’t been able to find out anything about the DeWitt family, and not much about my grandfather (my namesake) or my father’s aunt Muriel. I managed to wait too long to try to contact Charles D. Woodhouse, Jr. who, sadly, passed away in September, 2000, I believe. I deeply regret not having tried to make contact a decade or so ago when it occurred to me the first time. He surely would have had many stories and answers for me.

    Also, I didn’t know about the Boyle family connection either and would be greatly interested in hearing about that from Robert Boyle, if you would care to let him know for me. Please feel free to give my email address to anyone who might like to shed some more light on my family’s and the other mentioned family’s histories.

    Thank you, and kindest regards,

    L. Edson Jeffery
    ed.jeffery@yahoo.com

  3. David Jeffery Says:

    Hi Windy,

    I thank you for opening this article up for replies. What a great way for some of us to begin contacting each other.

    My Name is David Dewitt Jeffery. I am the grandson of Benjamin Alfred Jeffery who was Dr. Joseph Arthur Jeffery’s Brother. My Grandmother was Saida Kern Dewitt better known to her grandchildren as “Deda”. She was Mortimer Dewitt’s sister. My Father was Benjamin Dewitt Jeffery who also worked for the Champion Spark Plug company in the late 30’s and 40’s.

    I have a lot more family tree info from the Jeffery perspective if anyone is interested. Unfortunately I do not have anything from the Woodhouse and Boyle sides. I would be very interested in sharing.

    Is there any information you are specifically seeking? I can’t promise but will try.

    Llewellyn (Edson), you and I should contact each other. I will email you to begin at the address you supplied.

    Windy, if others need my email address please supply it to them.

    I have some cousins who would love to come over to visit the mine sometime. Maybe we can set something up. I was there about 6-7 years ago but there was snow and it wasn’t the right time to be hiking.

    Thanks so much again,

    David D. Jeffery

  4. Robert Boyle Says:

    There was a second Champion Spark Plug mine in Oreana, Perching, Nevada that appears to have been managed by my great uncle, Eustase M Boyle who was the oldest of the Boyle brothers.

    regards

    Robert Boyle

  5. Dorothy Ann Jeffery Gentry Says:

    I just spoke with my brother, David D. Jeffery, and he referred me to this site. This is good. I am older than Dave and may have a few more memories, which I am more than willing to share.

    My grandpa, Benjamin Alfred Jeffery, used to stop by our home often after he left his workday at the Champion plant in Detroit – on his way to his home in Clarkston, Michigan. Many days he worked in his shop in the basement of his home which was well equipped with lots n lots of big pieces of machinery. I was told he could do as much there as he could at the factory. I would go down to his shop and spend hours watching him work making all sorts of different things that I didn’t understand. He was very serious in nature, but a good and kind man. Although his education was only through 8th grade, he had a very keen and inventive mind and used it well, being very intelligent. In his younger yrs. he and his brother Joseph started what is referred to above as the Champion “Spark Plug Mine”. There is a story behind this.

    My grandmother, Saida Dewitt Jeffery, was a very warm and loving women and would invite us to spend many weekends at her home, where
    she spent hours playing with my brother and sisters and spoiled us greatly, much to our pleasure.

    I do not remember ever meeting my grandfather’s brother, Dr. Joseph Jeffery. There was an Aunt Josie, whom we really loved, who lived with my grandparents until she died. I think this was my grandad’s and Dr. Joseph’s sister, but it could have been Dr. Joseph’s wife, Josephine.

    I have other information which could probably be jarred from my memory with a little prodding, so if there are any questions that I might
    be able to help with please contact me.

    Ann Jeffery Gentry
    gentrywa@msn.com

  6. Marjorie Michelle Woodhouse Says:

    Hello, Cousin! I am Muriel Jeffery Woodhouse’s only surviving child. I would be glad to sharer any information I have on the family. Being retired, I have been working on the family genealogy and trying to trace Dr. Joseph Arthur Jeffery’s family from when they came from England and settled in Canada and then some came to the U.S. The information on this Blog is very helpful, though it can be confusing trying to sort out all these relatives with the same name!
    Please be in touch! Michelle

  7. Benjamin Jeffery Cornish "Jeff" Says:

    Fantastic background. I’m one of B A Jefferys older grandchilren, and am sitting at Deda’s desk which I inherited from my mother Jane — her 2nd youngest child. Still haven’t found the seceret compartment.

    Hello, cousins!!!

    Jeff

  8. Tamara Jane Cornish-Haynes Says:

    Great granddaughter of BA and Deda Jeffery. Granddaughter of Pat and Jane Jeffery-Cornish. Daughter of Benjamin Jeffery Cornish. My 2nd sons name is Jeffery Haynes.
    I am very interested and excited to learn, find and share any information and stories regarding my family!

  9. Beth Perry (Woodhouse family) Says:

    Hello Family from All Over! I am Great Granddaughter of JAJ, down through the Muriel Jeffery Woodhouse Family, my Mom is Marjorie Michelle (above).
    I also have a son (age 9) named Jeffery and he so excited to know there are others out there who spell their first name in a different way. His school science project is on inventors so were to web to look up JAJ and BAJ… and here you are!
    Tamara, how old is your Jeffery?
    peace, Beth
    dbjwperry@verizon.com

  10. Randy Williams Says:

    Please don’t let this thread die, keep talking

  11. Ed Jeffery Says:

    I finally found out what really happened to my grandfather L. Edson Jeffery. Anyone who wants to know please contact me by email and I’ll discuss it with you.

    L. Edson Jeffery

  12. Eileen Cordle Says:

    My husband and I went for a ‘toodle’ yesterday to get a heads up on the trail only and where it goes. I need to let you know that your directions to go through a gate at the pump house is not correct. The land owner has put up a chained gate and ‘do not trespass’ sign. We talked to the land owner and come to find out that because of willful property damage has forced him to post these signs. He kindly gave us an alternative route to get to the road. It’s about 1/3 (I’m guessing) mile past the pavement on the left, just past a piped water source. The road will look like it’s heading right back to Hwy 6, but there will be a sharp right, that will get you to the road you need to be on. Enjoy.

  13. Randy Williams Says:

    Anyone want to do a group trip there?

    • Ron Sesco Says:

      This is an amazing place that I’ve been to several times with friends from our church. We find the hike up and the gathering of wood to cook our food and warm up to very relaxing. Be sure to sign in the guest register and leave the place better than you found it.

  14. Rob Boyle Says:

    To all; I finally made the climb up to the Champion Spark Plug mine! I attempted to rent a car with 4×4 which was not going to happen. I then talked to an ATV rental and they said not worth it and steered me to a local who showed me the layout. The next day I hiked by foot which was estimated as 11 miles. Our rental could not make it because we went past the pump house to travel adjacent to the fence line which requires you to cross an open culvert. This is the most challenging 4×4 part. If you elect the pump house shortcut, this is avoided but you need to pass through two gates. In either case you start going up and should be leaning towards the left where as the road leads you into a wash that goes north to south. By car, you would then cutback hard to the left on a very subtle road that eventually climbs the ridge out of site of the canyon until you reach than upper parking area. From there it is a transverse climb although through narrow screed paths. The lower path up through the canyon is much more rewarding, better footing, although a much more demanding vertical climb. The old electrical poles are a great guide.

    Going up in the morning you are in shade mostly and it is good. Coming down in the afternoon though can be very warm and liquid demanding. I almost left stuff up there but am glad I didn’t.

    The hike up from the base camp to the mine is not as easy as you might think. I did this climb alone so I might be saying this with some regret and paranoia. The path is narrow, screed filled and unclear at times. But worth it.

    Finally, the ranch that you skirt around was once owned by the Jeffery family. As I understand it, the Pillsbury family bought it where there was no descendent and it was willed to the caretakers. Coming off the mountain, I missed the turn that would have taken me parallel to the fence line and I ended up starring at the gate that offered the simpler path. I ended up getting a ride from a “local” who said he had no concern with crossing the property.

    Best regards

    Rob Boyle

  15. Audrey Saller Says:

    I visited the Champion Mine mining camp a few times around 1971 with my Dad and his friends, when I was in Jr. High School. My Dad and his friends were scientists working in the aerospace industry, and they were interested in geology. We lived in Orange County and would drive up Highway 395, camp over night in Independence, and stop for breakfast in Bishop before driving to the spot where we would start the hike, with big backpacks on our backs. I remember my Dad telling me that mules used to pack in supplies for the mining camp. At the old mining camp, back in the early ’70s we would find Prince Albert tobacco cans. There was a mess hall up there, old wood outhouses, and the corrugated metal cabins with the white metal bed frames. I remember a creek up there where I would sit on a rock and put my feet in the cold water. We would sleep in the old cabins, and build a campfire at night. I have a few pictures from those days. I am happy to see the pictures attached to this article, and read that the mining camp is still in good condition and well taken care of. I would like to go back and see the place again.

  16. DHSdigital Says:

    If you are interested in seeing historic photos of Dr. Joseph Arthur Jeffery, the Champion mine, and the Jeffery-Dewitt Insulator Co. (as well as Champion Spark Plug Co.), head over to the Detroit Historical Society’s online digital collection.
    http://detroiths.pastperfect-online.com/33029cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks
    There is a lot to see there already, but in about a month there will be much more uploaded to the site, including the entire contents of Dr. Jeffery’s personal photo album of the mine.

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