My Great Adventures…..A Journal

This WordPress.com site follows my happy trails.

Month: August, 2013

Gary Goes To Jail

Gary lived in Great Falls and was my helper on the drill in Hughesville. We were drilling a 3000 foot vertical hole in a remote site. We put the drill and enough supplies to complete the hole on site before freezing ground in the fall. When the hole was complete the drill couldn’t be removed until the ground was firm after the spring thaw. We used a snowmobile all winter for access to the drill for two shifts of drilling each day. Our water was pumped from a creek half a mile away. We had to haul the full core boxes to the road each shift. Under ideal snow conditions the snowmobile worked fine. If the weather turned warm or we got heavy warm snows we spent more time pulling and pushing the snowmobile than we did riding the damn thing. By the time we finished the hole none of us wanted anything to do with snowmobiles.

We were on night shift during a June snowstorm. The drill was surrounded by pine trees and the lights didn’t carry far from the drill. We knew it was snowing and nothing alarmed us. It was a warm storm. Gary went to fuel the water pump about midnight with the snowmobile. When he returned an hour later he was wore out. The snowmobile didn’t like the new wet snow at all. He had a hard time getting back to the drill. The snow was nearly up to the bumper on his four wheel drive pick-up and the wind was blowing in the open spaces. We were six miles in the boondocks. We shut things down and headed for the house. The six miles took us four hours of jamming forward, backing up, and busting forward again. Luckily Gary had lots of gas. We were very happy to see the main highway. The ride was much more exhausting than drilling.

Another night we had mechanical problems with the drill and shut down early. We stopped at Johnson’s bar in Monarch. Gary was riding with me while repairing his pick-up. He used our station wagon to get from Belt to Great Falls while working on his truck. It was Friday night and Gary left with friends. I gave him the station wagon key so he could take it home. About two hours later I went home. Linda met me at the door all excited. Somebody had stolen the station wagon from in front of the house. She had called the sheriff. She wasn’t amused when I laughed and explained it was Gary. If Gary made it home it was all right. The sheriff would have called if they stopped him. We called the sheriff the next morning to cancel the theft report. Sure enough Gary went to a convenience store in Great Falls on Sunday afternoon. When he came out he was looking down the barrels of sheriffs deputies pistols. Gary was locked up and interrogated for several hours before they realized the theft had been cancelled. Linda still wasn’t amused when I laughed about Gary getting nailed.

Gary wasn’t amused when they hauled him away……..and never borrowed the station wagon again.

Babies and Beer Cans

We rented a mobile home in Belt, MT while working at Niehart and Hughesville. Linda was expecting our third child. Her sister Patti Ann came to help out with Jamie and Dori while I worked. Patti Ann’s visit was the first time Linda had seen her since she was critically injured in a auto accident. She was on summer break from college.

My drill was located a couple miles out of Niehart. We set up a plan so Linda could call the lady who ran the post office in Niehart if she needed any assistance. The post mistress would get somebody from town to come to the drill and deliver the message. The system worked perfectly as I received the message late one morning. I shut down the drill, sent my helper home, and headed for Belt. I passed through the little town of Monarch and broke out of the canyon into the prairie. One of the ranchers was moving about 300 head of cattle down the highway headed for the summer ranges in the Little Belt Mountains. This was a common occurrence on Montana highways. Working through the cows is easy when they are coming towards you as the cows will part for your vehicle. When the cows are going the same direction you are going it’s very slow working through them. They could care less whats behind them. As luck would have it the cows were going my way. I finally got close enough to one of the wranglers to let him know my wife was in Belt in labor. He pushed ahead with his horse and opened up a hole for me. I never thought I’d see the last cow.

Linda was packed and waiting when I got home. She said goodby to Patti Ann and the kids as we headed for the hospital in Great Falls. A few hours later our son Jody was born. His birth was without complications and Mom and son were doing fine. A couple weeks later Jody and Patti Ann made their first visit to Yellowstone Park at Gardiner. At the motel Jody spent the night sleeping in a dresser drawer while Jamie and Dori slept with Patti Ann.

Jamie and I took Patti Ann to a real, old time, wild west, small town, rodeo during her visit. When we arrived in town on Sunday morning the main street was littered six inches deep in beer cans down both sides of the tire tracks. Every window on Main St was boarded up and the juke boxes were the only furniture in any of the bars. We had heard about the parties, but never dreamed a town would go to such extremes to host a rodeo. The highlight of the rodeo was a cowboy with his performing buffalo. It was a great experience for Patti Ann to get up close to all of the events. We were glad we missed the Saturday night on Main St.

Niehart was a great little mining town……and they had a real full service post office.

StrawBerry

Strawberry was born in 1881. He was in California and got rattled by the San Francisco earthquake. His travels landed him in Butte, Montana working for the Anaconda Mining Company. In the 1920’s Strawberry staked some mining claims on Carpenter Creek in the mining town of Neihart, Montana. Linda and I met Strawberry when we camped not far from his log cabin in 1975. We have never forgotten this amazing old prospector and miner.

Strawberry read some mining articles about the superior qualities of German steel being made with molybdenum as an alloy. The occurrence of molybdenum while mining for silver and zinc in the Neihart area was very common. There was no market or demand for the molybdenum so it was just a wasted by product. Nobody mined for it. Strawberry felt there was a future in the molybdenum. When mining properties were depleted of silver and zinc the miners would let their claims expire. Strawberry methodically picked up these properties and refiled them as molybdenum claims. Over the years the chrome-moly tools became popular and Strawberry’s claims drew attention from the big mining companies. My job at Neihart was drilling a 2500 foot core hole on one of his claims.

Strawberry’s cabin was a unique design. The cabin was on a little knoll and had a six foot high elevated walkway which extended 100 feet to his outhouse which was also elevated. In the winter all he had to do was clear his walkway to maintain toilet access. No snow tunnels for Strawberry. He always told me the only mistake he made was building the cabin to last for 50 years. He didn’t expect to live into his nineties. No lights for Strawberry. He went to bed and got up with the daylight. On cold mornings he cranked up the fire and stayed in bed until it was warm.

Our children Jamie and Dori loved Strawberry. They would go to the creek with him and watch him do his laundry and let it dry on the big rocks. He would sit and chat with them while chopping ingredients for his rutabaga stew. Jamie claimed all Strawberry made was rutabaga stew and biscuits. Linda would frequently send the kids with desserts and plates of dinner for him.

Strawberry would come over carrying his antique shovel and pick. He loved to show me his old mines and prospects up on the mountain. He couldn’t go alone, but I could drive close and off we’d go thru the trees on an old path. Soon he’d pull back some branches and show me a small tunnel or outcrop where he used to mine. His recollection was remarkable. He was still a miner at 94 years old.

Strawberry was the last of the old prospectors……….and he loved every minute of it.

44 Magnum’s and Dribbles

We lived in Gardiner,MT while drilling at Jardine five miles away. The bar of choice for the drill crews was the Blue Goose. Montana had no restrictions on carrying firearms as long as they were exposed. There was always somebody running around with a pistol and holster. Linda and I were at the Blue Goose one night having drinks with several friends. One of the local hires on our drill crew came in with his brother. Everybody liked the brother for his sense of humor and personality. He was always a live wire. He was short, thin, and his cowboy boots and western hat took up more height than his body. He was bragging to everybody about his new 44 Magnum pistol. As the night progressed everybody had a good time and most were feeling no pain. The brother announced he was going home to get his new 44 Magnum. I had seen a few of these shows before. Linda and I decided to go home. An hour later when the bar closed the brother was just outside headed home. He was practicing spinning and holstering his new pistol when he dropped it into his holster with his finger on the trigger. It didn’t hurt the pistol at all as the bullet tore a hole the size of a lemon through his thigh. Thank God all he lost was a little of his own meat. If that bullet would have hit a bone he could have lost a leg.

A family from Southern California bought an empty diner a few doors down from the Blue Goose. John’s parents bought the diner so John packed up his wife and children and moved to Gardiner also. John hired out with Boyles Brothers at Jardine and was my drill helper. Our families became very good friends. I always laughed when picking John up for work. I always dressed light until we got to work. John came off his front porch wearing half of what he owned. He’d have all kinds of clothes and full insulated coveralls on before he left the house. The pick-up heater would nearly suffocate him as I stayed comfortable in my flannel shirt. He’d crack the window and get a few breaths of cold winter air once in a while. I always acted like it wasn’t noticed.

We were drilling underground on nights when John learned a lesson. One thing you learn as a miner, pay attention to dribbles of rock or pebbles hitting your head or shoulders. You react immediately to get away. The dribbles might be a precursor to something big. I was drilling and John was about four feet away leaning up against the timber. A dribble of rock hit my hard hat and John was levelled as I ran through him. I stopped ten feet away as he was trying to determine what happened. He shook himself off and got over it.

Poor John thought the world was ending……..but it just dribbled a little bit.

 

Jardine

Jardine, MT was the remnant of a once bustling mining town which had 130 buildings in 1898. In 1974 the population of Jardine was less than twenty residents. The residents lived mostly in old log cabins from the mining days. The early mining at Jardine was for placer gold. As the placer gold was depleted underground mining continued primarily for gold. The gold miners encountered arsenopyrite and in 1922 concentrates were shipped to Tacoma, WA which averaged 38 percent white arsenic. The mines at Jardine also had some veins of tungsten ore which were developed and mined. In 1948 the mill at Jardine was put out of operation by a fire. Within 60 days the large scale mining and milling ceased operations.The mining district has seen sporadic exploration and mining activities since 1948.

My work core drilling in Jardine in 1974 and 1975 was primarily gold exploration. We operated three surface drills around the clock for several months during the fall and winter. An old tunnel was re-established for underground drilling also. Several of the residents of Jardine worked on our drill crews. We had to haul water from the edge of town to the drill locations on the sides of the mountain. There were many incidents of damaged trucks because the drivers couldn’t brake and steer on the slick steep roads. We fixed the problem. During the winter we would disconnect and cap the brake lines on the front wheels of the water trucks. We also chained up the rear duals and kept the chains on as long as we had snow. The water trucks had flat tanks so we could haul drilling rods and supplies on the trucks.

Jardine had a unique problem with their water system. The town had a gravity feed water system from springs on the mountain. The system was hand built by early residents. They made little miniature flumes out of lumber, placed them in shallow ditches, put wood covers on them, and covered them with a foot of dirt. The water ran continuous to avoid freezing in winter and to keep it cold in summer. The system worked very well with little upkeep. The only problem was when the moose or elk stepped directly on top of the old wood water way. The weathered wood would collapse and shut off the water. The residents would get together, follow the footprints, find the break, and repair the system. Our drill crews would help make repairs if the residents needed assistance.

It was five miles from Jardine to Gardiner on a dirt road through one of the largest elk winter ranges in the country. It wasn’t uncommon to see several hundred elk of all sizes and descriptions driving to work. On a cold morning you could see the plumes of steam from Mammoth Hot Springs as the morning sun illuminated the mountain peaks.

The history of Jardine is interesting………and it’s a shame so few people get to experience it.

Absent Drillers & Crooked Holes

The most accurate way to determine subsurface geotechnical information and mineralization is to obtain core samples. The cores are obtained by drills using hollow diamond bits. The core drilling in the United States was controlled by the people who controlled the industrial diamonds. At one time all of the diamonds were owned by one company. When regulators forced a break-up of the diamond monopoly the core drilling industry was divided by Anglo American and DuBeers. The two drilling companies were Longyear and Boyles Brothers. Both companies were based out of Salt Lake City, UT. The majority of their work was servicing the mining companies of the western states. In the late summer of 1974 I went to work for Boyles Brothers out of their Spokane, WA regional office. Dick Durfee was the regional manager. Boyles Brothers had almost 250 surface drills.

My first assignment was in Hughesville, MT. Tom Marx had two drills operating and I was the helper on one of the drills. The truck mount drills with 40 foot masts, drill mud tanks, and fluid circulating systems were new to me. The drill strings with core tubes and wireline systems to retrieve the cores without pulling the rods were very impressive. I observed the driller very close while performing my work. The driller was late for work every morning. On the third day he never showed up at all. While waiting for him to show up I cranked up the drill and started the pumps. I filled the rods and hole with mud, dropped the core tube into the bottom of the rods, hooked up the rods, and circulated mud through the hole. By the time Tom made his first round in the morning I had drilled a five foot run and emptied the core into the core box. I was hooked up and starting to drill on the second run when Tom drove up. Tom climbed up on the deck of the mud tank and asked where my driller went. I told him he never showed up. Tom couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the core in the core box. I got my first raise after three days working for Tom.

Our next job was in Jardine, MT on the north border of Yellowstone Park. Tom put myself and two other new drillers on an old trailer mount Joy 22 drill with a short mast. It was a learning experience. The drill was always moving around and the blocky rock was hard to core. We drilled a 700 foot vertical hole and the daily production rates were pretty sad. We surveyed the hole and the bottom was 110′ away from the drill. The geologist wasn’t very impressed, but he accepted the hole. All three of us learned how not to do things.

Tom wasn’t impressed by our crooked hole…….but we showed up every day.

Cowboys, Loggers, & Chickens.

My partner Denny and I were disappointed when we learned the Cedar Mt Mine wasn’t feasible to put into production. The small vein of high grade silver was contaminated by arsenic. It would take a specialized mill to process the ore. The cost of the mill far outweighed the revenue of the silver vein. The cost of exploration was a good write off for the logger/owner of the claim. Denny and I couldn’t complain as we were well compensated for having so much fun.

Denny had some small jobs to keep us going a few weeks. We went to Lolo, MT and established a portal for a small prospect gold tunnel. The owners were anxious to start mining so we started the job while they waited on equipment delivery. We ate lunch and dinner at the Lolo Saloon nearby. Their primary business was as a bar for the seasonal cowboys, miners, and loggers who worked the higher elevations in the summer. The large log building had three or four horizontal logs for each exterior wall. All of the interior was natural wood. The furniture was all whittled by chain saw on site using local area logs. It was a very unique and beautiful structure. When we started work at Lolo the first word of advice received was to stay clear of the inn after eight in the evening. The loggers, cowboys, and miners had a big brawl of some kind every night.

We returned from Lolo and reopened a depression era abandoned gold mine in Pinehurst, ID. The owners of the mine blasted and collapsed the portal when they left to deter people from entering the workings. After doing some test excavations and sampling we decided to establish a new portal 100 feet from the original site. We would intersect the existing 6 foot wide by 8 foot high tunnel well behind the caved in area. The work was pretty straight forward except for the fact we had several residences in very close proximity of our work. The nearest home had twenty to thirty chickens. Before blasting I would help the lady of the house gather them all up inside the hen house. Chasing chickens was a lot worse work than mining. I would knock on everybody’s door fifteen minutes before blasting to warn them. I always worried about somebody walking out of a house or driving up in a car. The whole scenario was like Beverly Hillbillies. We opened the mine and timbered out the portal. We took cut samples of ore in several areas to complete our contract.

Just as the work in Pinehurst was winding down we had a visit from Charlie Hansen from our hometown of Lyon Mt NY. Charlie was a blast to party with in high school. He had been to the west coast visiting and seeing the sights. He contacted our families to locate us. It was a great visit. We didn’t see many people from Lyon MT. Charlie thought the gold mine was pretty neat. Linda filled him up with pancakes the next morning.

So it goes contract mining……one day a fancy lunch at the bar and next day no lunch because you’re chasing chickens.

Pilgrims & ThimbleBerries

When things were quiet in camp on off days or holidays Linda and I would take the kids exploring. We would pile into the old Jeep Power Wagon and follow the old roads that were seldom traveled. The old roads were made by loggers, miners, ranchers, and sometimes fire fighters. They weren’t maintained at all. Often they would stop abruptly at a slide, washout, or heavy brush and vegetation. While we were riding we would frequently stop and investigate anything interesting. We often stopped to pick wild berries. The kids loved what we called 4th of July or Thimble Berries. They look like raspberries but are much larger, flatter, and softer. They are delicious when freshly picked while strolling the mountain roads.

On one of our expeditions we were a couple miles from camp on a road covered with a couple feet of brush and weeds. The further we went the worse the condition of the road. I found a place with enough room to turn around. We couldn’t see the ground through the thick underbrush. The turn around was complete and I started moving forward. The passenger side of the Jeep dropped off a ledge with the front and rear tires on the passenger side. The poor old Jeep was hung up and wouldn’t move. We strolled back to camp eating thimble berries and letting the kids set the pace. We had all day. Two year old Dori didn’t want anything to do with being carried and four year old Jamie could walk forever. We took a little break at camp before retrieving the Jeep with our pick-up.

Merriam-Webster says a pilgrim is one who journeys to foreign lands. That fits fine in a scholastic world. When you reside in Washington, Idaho, or Montana a pilgrim is somebody who has no clue about their location or surroundings, most notably outside of metropolitan areas. Most pilgrims are from California, Portland, or Seattle. When you reside several months camping in a national forest you will probably meet some pilgrims. Their first comment is how astounded they are to find people in a place like a national forest. My favorite stunt by pilgrims happened in the middle of one lane forest roads. You’d be driving along and approach a car stopped in the middle of the road. All the doors and the trunk would be open. Behind the car in the forest shade would be a blanket spread out on the compacted gravel. On the blanket would be from 2 to 5 people eating lunch. They would be totally astonished to see another vehicle. These pilgrims probably thought they were the first pioneers to ever use this road. We always tried to be polite to them.

The pilgrims were sincere when they did stupid things………a fool can’t help for what they don’t know.

 

Hippie Cows and Biting LadyBugs

Camping and working in the Couer D’Lene National Forest was a wonderful experience for our young family. The security of our camper bus gave Linda¬† considerable peace of mind while spending days alone with the kids. We camped in an area of huge cedar trees with many of the trees four feet in diameter at the stump. The cedars provided a lot of shade and the ground beneath them was relatively clear of brush and undergrowth. It was a perfect playground for our two and four year old children.The cedar trees were protected by the Forest Service. If one of them fell over from a natural condition the Forest Service would give permits for making shingles out of the downed trees. The crews would cut the tree in large round blocks, lay them flat on the ground, and hand split the cedar shakes. It was quite an operation to watch as they accurately split the shakes and bundled them for shipment.

There was always something interesting around camp. The kids favorite animals were the Highlander Cattle which grazed the forest lands. The Highlanders are a cows version of the shaggy dog. They are covered with long shaggy hair. They aren’t very big, but the long hair gives them a very distinct look. Often in the evenings or if coming into camp after dark, the cows would be bedded down in the middle of the narrow dirt logging roads. They weren’t overly fond of abandoning their nice warm beds. The horn or headlights didn’t faze them at all. The only thing that would get them moving was a little pressure from a cold chrome bumper. The kids loved moving them out of our way.

One afternoon after work Linda and I sat outside while the kids played. I felt a bite on my arm. To my surprise it was a lady bug. I commented about getting bit just as Linda received a lady bug bite too. They were everywhere and not acting like the lady bugs we were used to. Come to find out we were very close to a large nest of hatching lady bugs. Guess they were just hungry. They were around a couple days. After that the remaining lady bugs never bothered us at all.

Linda had a favorite yearling black bear who often visited her. The young bear would stand behind a small cedar tree across the road, peek around the side, and watch or listen. The bear was intensely curious with music coming from the radio in the bus. It would look, cock it’s head to listen, and try to comprehend what the noise was. If no music was playing the bear stayed mostly hidden. When the music started it would come out again. Linda took lots of pictures of the bear.

My mother spent a couple weeks in camp with us. She had a near miss when a hornet stung her on the neck. She went into partial respiratory distress from the sting. She gradually resumed adequate respiration. We were forty five minutes from any medical facility. Mom, Linda, and the kids were in camp while Denny and I mined underground.

The biting lady bugs and hornets were mean…………that’s why the highlander cattle and young bear were the neighborhood favorites.

The Tent Gets Tossed

Linda and I rented a small house in Smelterville, Idaho while mining at the Cedar Mt mine. We spent most of the week camped on the North Fork of Hayden Creek in a area of huge cedar trees. We would go home on the weekends to do our laundry, make phone calls, check the mail, and restock on groceries. We camped in a 10 foot by 12 foot wall tent. Our refrigerated meats and vegetables were kept in a submerged plastic bag in the creek near the tent. We used a coleman gas stove and lantern to cook and light in addition to our campfire. All garbage was contained and removed from the camp area daily.

We frequently saw bear, deer, elk, and every kind of forest rodent. The bear had never given us any problems around camp. The rodents were always around, but didn’t present any problem. We had a very large black bear sow with two small cubs in the general area. We would see her once in awhile when driving as she shooed the cubs away from the road. We settled in to a pretty normal routine at camp. The kids played hard all day and slept very well at night. In the mornings I would get up, get ready for work while the campfire got going, and make a pot of coffee while everybody slept. When leaving for the mine the coffee was left on the edge of the campfire grill so it would be hot when Linda and the kids got out of bed. Denny and I took the old Jeep Powerwagon back and forth to the mine. Our regular vehicles stayed in camp.

One morning, after I went to the mine early, Linda woke up frightened. Something was wrong, but she didn’t know what it was. As she became fully awake she could hear the muffled movements and breathing of a bear near the tent. The bear snooped around a little, even nosing the sides of the tent a couple times, and left. Denny was still in camp at his trailer across the road. Linda stayed in the tent and screamed for Denny to come help her. Apparently the bear wandered off when Denny came outside to work on his small generator. He never saw the bear. Denny stayed with Linda until she felt comfortable. She could use our station wagon for protection if needed. We never slept in the tent again. The station wagon was the only place Linda would sleep.

We located and bought a small school bus converted into a camper. The people built the bus for a trip into central Mexico and sold it when they returned. We had bunk beds for the kids, a gas refrigerator, and apartment size gas kitchen stove. The kitchen table and storage benches provided us with our bed. It was clean and bear proof. Linda and the kids made themselves very comfortable while in camp.

The bear didn’t mean any harm…….. it just looked around and stole all our meat and vegetables out of the creek.