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Hjorth Brothers Chairlift Manufacturer

company builder kelly canyon idaho id

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#1 passengerpigeon

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Posted 14 September 2017 - 05:44 PM

While browsing LiftBlog today, I viewed the profile of Kelly Canyon, Idaho, looking for photos of the famous Counterfeit Riblet, and came across another rarity, a double chairlift built by the "Hjorth Brothers". Has anybody heard of this company before, and does anybody know more about them? The design doesn't look familiar, so I assume they designed unique lifts rather than working as a contractor, but I could be wrong.

More info in lower posts ~ Admin

#2 iceberg210

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 06:39 AM

They were and are (at least of a couple years ago) a machine shop out of Provo Utah. I talked to them a while back and they said they were basically sub contractors, for someone else who came up with the designs and just had them build the parts, but couldn't remember who the engineers were. Honestly not a bad looking little lift, there's a few more pictures on this site as well. Kelly Canyon sure is a mix of inventive ways to do lifts.
Erik Berg
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#3 sheave

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Posted 19 September 2017 - 08:55 AM

Hjorth Brothers is not the first company I have heard of that just built one or two lifts. I was always wondering who those people are that show up in someone's business and ask for lift parts to build a single lift?

#4 pbansen

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Posted 01 September 2020 - 06:18 PM

We had a couple by Hjorth at Squaw Valley. The story that I was told is that two lifts worth of uninstalled parts were sitting in a yard in Nevada and could be had for some ridiculously low price for the lot. Squaw owner, the notoriously, uh, thrifty, Alex Cushing got wind of the deal and sent some guys out to look the goods over and make a deal. One of the lift maintenance guys, Bob Gebhardt, laid out a line and just dropped a tower in every few hundred feet - no engineering, no nothing. It worked pretty well on the Headwall lift, not so well on Exhibition, where the downline would float above the sheaves on one tower when the upline was fully loaded. Headwall was converted to a Miner-Denver/Yan a few years later and Exhibition to an SLI/Riblet hybrid.

#5 iceberg210

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Posted 01 September 2020 - 07:42 PM

Were they any decent in terms of lifts or? Just curious how they compared to other stuff from the time.
Erik Berg
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#6 pbansen

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Posted 02 September 2020 - 07:56 PM

I can't say, Erik - Headwall had been converted to a Yan by the time I got there and Exhibition was an SLI/Riblet hybrid.

I kind of suspect if the Hjorth lifts had been good there would have been more installations and we would hear more about them. The main attraction for Squaw seems to have been price.


#7 pbansen

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Posted 03 September 2020 - 02:41 PM

I had coffee with my friend Hans Burkhart today and we talked about the Hjorth lifts. The story of the Exhibition lift at Squaw Valley is even more complex than I thought. It was originally a Hjorth lift, acquired as loose parts and installed by Squaw Valley's lift maintenance crew. In about 1975, Hans did a conversion and it ended up with Riblet drive and return equipment, Doppelmayr line machinery and grips and Ski Lift International chairs. They should have called it Frankenlift.

#8 sheave

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Posted 16 September 2020 - 09:41 AM

If they just acquired loose Hjorth parts, where did they all came from? Have there been more Hjorth lifts than the one at Kelly Canyon?

#9 Kelly

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Posted 30 September 2020 - 07:15 AM

I did a little history exploring in the last few weeks, I’ll add to everybody’s information about Hjorth Brothers Chairlifts.
As of Sept 2020 the parent company is still active in the South Provo Utah region.
Website: https://www.hjorthbros.com/
Attached File  web-page-capture.jpg (100.66K)
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Notice the distinctive omega logo.
The Hjorth’s have had a strong family and social presence in this region since the 1940s. With ties to many construction and fabrication interests in the area that range from simple water tanks, many public facilities along with larger defense contracts. A Hjorth was also the Mayor of a local town.
In reference to pbanson’s posting, there is a 1964 Utah news article referencing Squaw Valley having a Hjorth Brother’s chairlift… but it’s a rather confusing article also mentioning “opportunities” in the Sierra’s for chairs (I think they meant individual carriers) for Mammoth and other possible projects that they would like to build chairs for (this could mean ropeways or carriers). They specialized in pipe bending (still do) at that time period so individual carriers rather than complete ropeway’s might make sense.
My personal recollection is there were no Hjorth’s in Squaw by 1973…nor was there ever a mention of them by the techs that worked there. Pretty short history. See more info below.
So what happened to the chairlift company that suddenly disappeared in the height of chairlift construction in the 1960s?
Here are the ropeways built per year created by Cameron – Hjorth is highlighted.
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In the early 1960’s the Brothers got together with local civil engineer Hugh McKellar who they had done past work and started “their chairlift division” of Hjorth Brothers Fabrication. I did an extensive search about McKellar and found plenty of “civil” engineering experience but no ropeway experience or projects prior to the Hjorth connection. Let’s put that aside and go to the next bit of information.
In 1953 there was a newer resort (located by nearby Provo) called Timp Haven looking to add a chairlift. Timp at this point had a t-bar and was seeing larger crowds from the Provo region. The picture below shows either a Russian logging site or a chairlift tower being erected. The article caption says “new chairlift being installed at Timp” so let’s go with chairlift rather than logging. The expected capacity was 400 persons per hour, has 18 towers, is 2,500’ long and some towers are 30’ tall. Timp is also touting new toboggan runs being installed (increasing market base is not a new thing). The total cost is $10,000.00 …that would be for the chairlift not the toboggan run improvements. All indications show that Timp’s original chair was not a Hjorth.
Attached File  1953-Chairlift-for-web.jpg (82.57K)
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By 1964 Timp Haven was looking to upgrade and update its slope capacity, perhaps something with more steel would be possible in the newer chairlift designs seen on the market*. Hjorth was selected as the manufacturer and a new double chairlift with steel towers was finished in December 1965.
Article searches in this same time period also mention a Hjorth project in Snow Basin Utah but it is unclear if these were just carriers or a complete chairlift.
On July 14, 1966 Timp Haven was hosting a mother daughter church outing with chairlift rides. As the 20 person group was riding an inside derailment occurred, the results were two fatalities and 7 injuries (this was later changed from 5 shown in the newspaper headline below). It’s important to note that the resort had at least 7 months maintenance experience working with this ropeway before this incident occurred.
I did mention the incident resulted in an inside derailment but the readers should note that a secondary sheave assembly is missing so there is no doubt there are many contributing factors to this incident. I see no derailment systems in the assembly shown. For those that read the tiny text in the clipping below remember the sheriff is speculating on the cause of the incident for the newspaper reporter’s benefit.
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The resulting incident spurred lawsuits by parties toward Timp Haven, the Operators of Timp Haven, Hjorth Brothers and the engineer of the chairlift Hugh McKellar. The picture below shows the incident scene. The family’s prevailed in those lawsuits.
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In August 1970 at a scenic chairlift manufactured by Hjorth located at an amusement facility called Frontierland (about 1 mile north of Jackson Wyoming), had one fatality along with 4 other passengers that were injured. All with the same family. There is no media picture in the various articles I covered but the description of the incident sounds similar to a derailment and the lack of a derailment switch system, there is no note of the actual location of the incident with relationship to any chairlift tower.
Facebook page of the now defunct Frontierland in Wyoming:
The chairlift pictured on the Facebook page shows no derail wiring, switches, rope catchers or rope deflectors.
The people shown in the Facebook pages have no tie to the incident – the page link is posted to show the chair and tower design features.
Attached File  Hjorth-Frontierland.jpg (76.88K)
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Attached File  Hjorth-Bail-Frontierland-for-web.jpg (100.02K)
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Readers should note that Frontierland’s chairlift had existed for sometime and the owners should have been familiar with typical maintenance issues.
The family sued Hjorth Brothers and Hugh McKellar for damages. The family prevailed.

News articles mention: Frontierland, Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Snow Basin and Timp Haven as having chairlifts or parts of chairlifts installed by Hjorth Brothers Manufacturing.
You can and should assign a number of different factors contributing to these incidents. All the blame shouldn’t rest on the manufacturer or constructor. Looking back through time within the news articles we can also imagine: ropeway design maturity, engineering disciplines of civil vs. ropeways, maintenance issues, financial pressures and no ropeway oversight agency. Perhaps all these people and companies would be alive today if those existed back then.

*A number of chairlifts were built in this time period with wooden towers

1 - Timp Haven was later bought by actor Robert Redford and renamed Sundance.
2 – The Hjorth was removed from Sundance in 1995, it had a number of SLI enhancements.
3 – The Frontierland located in Wyoming should not be confused with the amusement park and chairlift at Frontierland in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.
4 – Clarification on pbanson’s post #7…Exhibition was pretty much rebuilt as an SLI over whatever was there before it (I thought it was a Heron like KT and Cornice 1 but it really doesn’t matter). SLI was a true chairlift company – see below. Later rebuilds kept SLI assemblies and towers with the lower terminal being Ribletized with a side pull counterweight design that Riblet’s owner Tony Sowder traded from Martians needing space cheese (this is the only explanation that ever made sense).
5 – SLI History information posted in 2012: http://www.skilifts....?showtopic=9288

#10 Lift Dinosaur

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Posted 30 September 2020 - 02:56 PM

Good work, Kelly!
"Things turn out best for the people that make the best of the way things turn out." A.L.

#11 sheave

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Posted 03 October 2020 - 01:45 AM

Very interesting read, thank you. It took me while to understand that you are not talking about Goforth Bros. (Frontierland was what confused me).

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