Early silver production brought the need to produce charcoal for use in the smelters which processed the ore. Near Willow Creek, six charcoal ovens were built in 1873 to produce charcoal to fuel the smelters. The ovens were built by Swiss-Italian charcoal workers called “Carbonari” and were made from Quartz latite welded tuff quarried near the ovens. The beehive shaped ovens were designed as a replacement for the open-pit system that originated in Italy, because they were a more efficient way to reduce pinyon and juniper into useable fuel.
Vents on the bottom of the kiln allowed for fine adjustment of temperature, and the parabolic shape reflected heat back into the center. The Charcoal ovens produced about 30 bushels of charcoal per cord of wood. All wood types were used in the ovens, including pine, cedar, oak and aspen. The problem with the ovens was their permanence: wood had to be transported to them. In many cases, the cost of transportation overshadowed the worth of the yield.
The ovens are 30′ high and 27′ in diameter at the base. The walls are 20″ thick with 3 rows of vents around the base used to control drafts. It took 13 days to fill, burn and empty a 35-cord kiln. Wood was loaded through the back doors where the ovens were banked against higher ground.
This was a short stop on the trek across the Nevada desert. These ovens don’t look that big from a distance but are actually quite massive. Can’t imagine the heat they must have generated out here in the scorching desert.