Monday, November 4, 2013

A Short Course on Hard Rock Gold (Part 3)

 (Old hard rock gold mines litter the American West and Southwest.)

For the old timers, prospecting for hard rock gold was pretty straightforward, providing they had enough experience and knowledge to know what to look for. I've talked about these visual prospecting clues in the past in Bedrock Dreams, so I won't be re-plowing that ground here. But if you stick around for this post you'll probably be able to add to your mining knowledge just the same.

"Feet Kickin' Up the Dust"

Finding a gold-bearing seam, vein, ledge, or reef was the primary goal of the old timers. No rocket science here...just common sense. They did what they did with their boots on the ground, mile after mile, eyes peeled for signs of mineralization. All done without the benefit of fancy detection, surveying, or sampling gear.

Gold Concentrators
Metal Detectors

There was a method to their madness in this regard. As one old timer told me some years ago, "You can't really see much ridin' around in a pickup truck or a four-wheeler. Sure, those things can get you where you're goin', but to see good gold sign you need your feet kickin' up the dust. Bein' in a big hurry ain't no help to you in the long run. Slowin' down is."

I can't tell you how important this statement is when it comes to gold prospecting and I suspect many would-be prospectors and miners today would do well to heed this bit of old-timer wisdom. You're not going to find that gold-bearing float or that outcrop racing by it at 40 miles an hour. To see...to really see, you must take the time to walk an area and to key in on visual clues. I know this statement is in stark contrast to how our society operates as a whole, but just because the rest of the rats are racing around in endless circles doesn't mean you have to or even should, for that matter.

Whole New Set of Problems

That said, once the old timers found their hard rock gold they were faced with a much more difficult problem. What to do with it. You see finding the gold was the important thing for many of them but not necessarily the end game. Once the hunt was over, some old timers lost interest in their finds and turned them over for quick cash...famed old-time gold prospector "Shorty" Harris was a classic example of this approach. For free spirits like "Shorty," there was always another bigger and much richer lode to be discovered over the next mountain range.

("Shorty" Harris and "Seldom Seen Slim" back in the day.)

On the other hand, for those old timers who decided to stick things out, a whole new set of problems needed to be resolved because finding a mine was one thing but developing it was another matter entirely. It took resources, manpower, and equipment to develop a lode in the old days and it still does today. Most small-scale gold prospectors and miners in the past (like most of us today) didn't have the resources to exploit their finds to the fullest on their own so they frequently brought in partners or sold off percentages of their mines to companies or consortiums with enough folding green to make things happen.

Not Bad Enough?

To follow gold-bearing veins below ground is no easy task. In the old days it was very hard and dangerous work that required finely honed carpentry, mechanical, and mining skills. Anyone could swing a pick or shovel, but when it came to drilling blasting holes by hand means ("single jacking") or stringing charges you'd damn well better know what you were doing. This was especially true before the introduction of dynamite when gun powder, blasting powder, or even nitroglycerine were used as explosives to move rock and many early hard rock miners died violently in the process.

 (Old timers "single jacking" drill holes using a bit and hammer.)

If this wasn't bad enough, many hard rock miners who spent the bulk of their lives working quartz veins in the early days sickened from a mysterious ailment. No small number of these died excruciating deaths as minute, razor-sharp shards of quartzitic rock lacerated their respiratory systems, eventually drowning them in their own fluids. This was especially true when powered drills were first introduced into hard rock mining. Eventually wiser minds prevailed and thereafter water was used in conjunction with powered hammers and drills to keep the silica dust down in the mines.

Like I've said so many times before, here isn't one thing about gold mining that's easy...never was, never has been, never will be.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


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