BUTTE, Mont. - City officials say thieves in Butte are "scrapping history" after break-ins at historic mining facilities. The Lexington, Anselmo, Steward and Mountain Con Mines have all been hit.
Thieves take copper wire, steel and brass machine parts -- tings like switches and rods. The metal likely ends up in scrapyards, sold for a few dollars a pound at most.
Butte-Silver Bow Reclamation Manager Tom Malloy showed us some of the damage thieves have done to the mine.
Rods once attached to a hoist at the Mountain Con Mine are gone, possibly sold for a few cents per pound at a scrapyard.
"We're not sure what they were connected to, what their function was," said Malloy. "And it's a piece of mechanical equipment, cannot be replaced at any cost."
Evidence of trespassing and stolen machine parts are everywhere -- shards of glass from window kicked in, washers and screws taken off electric boards so the copper can be stripped out.
The price per pound is a little more than $2.50.
"You cannot go downtown and buy a replacement part for that board anymore, because they simply don't make them any more of that style," said Malloy. "So it's a piece of lost history."
Butte-Silver Bow officials like Malloy decided they had had enough and hired a local contractor, C. Davis Enterprises, to restore and repaint the engine room windows with grant money from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
"When they're done, these screens will be put back up on the Mount Con engine room, all of the windows will be secured and the doors will be secured so we can prevent future trespass and theft," said Malloy.
Workers are making screens to put into the basement windows. They're similar to the original style but they've added rebar to make the engine room more resistant to break-ins.
"Butte is putting a lot of money into these mine yards so we can refurbish them and reuse them for tourists attractions and for people to learn about Butte's history," said Butte-Silver Bow Undersheriff George Skuletich.
He said police caught and arrested a person for allegedly stealing metal from the engine room just two days ago.
Skuletich said they need help from people in the neighborhoods around the mines to keep a good eye on them.
"If people see cars around the mine that aren't normally there, shouldn't be there, we encourage them to call us," he said.
And Malloy thanks the neighborhoods for doing just that. "A lot of these Butte people have never seen the inside of these engine rooms," he said. "So it's going to be nice when we're done."
Malloy said his ultimate goal is to open up the restored mine facilities for tours and tourist attractions.