Clay Day

by kfrego

One of my great adventures happened while drilling at the Thompson Creek Mine in Clayton, Idaho. My crew had two underground drills and one surface drill operating on two ten hour shifts. From the portal of the mine to the surface drill on top of the mountain was over ten miles by one lane dirt forest roads. There was an alternative one mile route via a dozer road which switchbacked it’s way up the steep face of the mountain just west of the mine. The dozer road required a good four wheel drive whether going up or down. Some of the switchbacks were so tight you would have to back up and re-align to get around the tight radius’. I didn’t mind going up the dozer trail, but coming down was pretty hairy. At times you had a several hundred foot drop several feet away from your tire track. Linda rode it one time with me and refused to ever try it again. She was used to steep logging and mining roads. Regardless which route was used, the areas in proximity to the mine had red clay which was treacherous when wet. That’s how I got in trouble.

I was at the mine on a rainy morning. Both underground drills were doing fine so it was off to check the surface rig. I had my ATC 90 in the pick-up and decided to take it up the dozer trail instead of driving around via Squaw Creek. Dave Earl was on shift for Floyd Marshall’s Centennial Mining crew. Dave, in his early 60’s, owned a bar in Challis and had a wealth of mining experience. He knew the Thompson Creek area inside and out. He gave me a stern warning about going up the wet dozer trail with that three wheeled toy. Like an idiot I scoffed at his warning.

The ATC got me about half way up when the clay building up on the tires stopped me. I scraped them clean, rode 100 feet, and had to stop again. I had a brainstorm. I turned around and went downhill fast to throw the clay off the tires. It went pretty well until the front tire built up with clay and the fender braked it to a stop at about fifteen miles per hour on a steep down grade. I went over the handle bars and landed on my feet running downhill. All I could hear behind me was the loud clunk each time the ATC hit the ground as it tumbled end over end behind me. I was running too fast to turn and went straight off a switchback down a pile of dirt and rocks for 50 feet before I realized the ATC wasn’t bouncing behind me. The ATC was a big clay ball, but no bad damage. Four hours of scraping tires and slip sliding in clay got me back to the mine. I knew Dave saw me coming down the dozer trail, but he stuck his head in a newspaper when I hit the shack. He nonchalantly asked if I enjoyed my ride.

Actually the ride wasn’t bad…….it was the tumble, the tire cleaning, the walking, and the clay that ruined my day.