Friday, May 27, 2011

Roads: My First Machine

My first steed from behind.
            When it became clear that it would be necessary for me to have my own machine to build the road down to the Christine Marie claim, I started looking for used equipment dealers. Through some recommendations I found a man that lived in the small town of Murphy, Idaho who sold used equipment. He had a reputation for good prices and fairness. I went to see him. I explained to him what I needed to do, and that I did not have much money. I also told him that I did not need the machine until next year and asked him if he would look for something inexpensive that would work for me. I gave him $200 for his trouble and left for Wisconsin somewhat depressed.
            Nine months later I got a call from him telling me he found a D-4 dozer that I could have for $4,000. He told me it was old but in good shape and had belonged to the Forest Service. I bought and paid for this machine sight unseen -- something I would not recommend doing today.
The dozer rest before another rough day of road building.
            The D-4 dozer was exactly as described - old but in good shape.  Everything on it worked. There was a hydraulic control to raise and lower the blade. The blade could be angled but only by manually changing it. This required having the machine on level ground, removing pins that held the blade to the frame, moving the machine to line up the blade with a different set of holes in the frame, and replacing the pins -- a process much more difficult than it sounds. And, oh yes, the only naturally level ground in the whole Morrisonite area is the crest of the ridge. The ability to angle the blade allows you to push dirt and rocks to the right or left depending on what direction the blade is angled. This is essential for making a road on steep terrain.
            The dozer, like all construction equipment, had a diesel engine but no electric starter motor. You could not turn a key and start the thing up like a car. The machine had a gasoline pony motor. First you had to start the gasoline motor with a pull rope by rapping the rope around the fly wheel and pulling it fast enough to ignite the gas in the engine. Once the pony motor was running well, you engaged a clutch which turned over the diesel engine. Once the diesel engine started you killed the gas pony motor and you were ready to go. If for any reason the diesel engine died, you had to start the process over again.
The driver's seat lacked much as far as visibility was concerned.
            There have been vast improvements in the operational mechanisms of construction equipment over the years. This was an older machine with three long levers that came out of the floor in front of the driver’s seat. One operated the clutch and the other two engaged the break to each respective track. The transmission shift lever came up between your legs on the floor in front of the seat. The lever that operated the hydraulics for the blade was to the right of the seat. In order to move the dozer forward to the right you had to move the gear selection lever to a low gear, engage the clutch lever pulling it toward you and disengage power to the right track by pulling the right track lever back. Each of these levers has about a 25 lb. pull force to engage or disengage them. Moving leavers all day long with a 25 lb. pull is a lot of work. Also if your right hand is operating the right track lever, you can not use your right hand to operate the blade. Sometimes it is necessary to pull the right lever with your left hand so you can use your right hand to operate the blade. The operation of one of these machines has been described as watching someone on the machine having an imaginary boxing match with the dashboard of the dozer.
Terry, my brother's friend, running the machine.
            Of course, I had no idea of any of this at the time I purchased the machine. My plan was to find someone else to operate the machine for me. This worked out well until it came time to build the road down the canyon to the Christine Marie claim. I then had to learn to run the machine myself.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Roads: Christine Marie

This view shows a close-up of the switchbacks.

           The Christine Marie Claim in the Morrisonite area was filed in the early '70s by Ed Brant. The imaginary lines that form the boundaries of the claim draw a 1500 by 600 foot rectangle over very steep rock slides about half way down the east slope of the Owyhee River Canyon. This claim is located further down into the canyon than any of the other claims. The canyon rim is about 900 feet above the center of the claim, and the Owyhee River is about 1100 feet below. The claim’s length runs north and south with its west side boundary line about 300 feet below its east side boundary line. In the mid-70s a small dozer cut a track down the canyon to the north past the Big Hole claim onto the Big Hole II claim, around the cliff below, across the rock slide, back south to the Christine Marie, and up towards the Amy Ellen.  This was not a road passable by any vehicle, but it was the beginning of one.
I first visited the Morrisonite area in 1984 at the request of Larry Butler, who told me he had purchased the Christine Marie and Amy Ellen claims from Gene Anthis.  Larry was seeking someone to mine the claims and wanted me to look at them and give him a report on what I thought was feasible.
I remember being astonished at the difficulty of the terrain. I understood why so little of this marvelous rock had made it out of this remote location. Many of the people who had worked the area in the past camped on the edge of the canyon rim and walked down the nearly 1000 feet to the deposits. This walk would take an hour or two every morning before a miner could start working. The trip back with any rock might take twice as long. The area below the cliffs on the upper end of the Christine Marie claim is known as the "Nasty Hole" by these early miners -- maybe because it was so difficult to get to. 
The jasper on the Christine Marie Claim is exceptional, but there is very little of it. Every conceivable method of access for equipment has been considered. Building a cable winch system from the top of the cliffs and flying in equipment with a helicopter were discussed and quickly rejected. The only real solution that provided a chance of success considering the risks was to build a road down from the top. It was difficult to accept the effort that this would take, but it was the only way to minimize the time required to get equipment, supplies, and rock back and forth to the canyon rim.
            The next year I found a man with a sign in his yard that said "D-6 Dozer for hire." I took him out to the claims and we walked the old dozer cuts made years ago. After we climbed back out on top he said to me, "Not me. Not with my machine. It’s too dangerous." Another year later I purchased my own machine - an old D-4 dozer and found a friend of my brother who could run it. After working another claim I had in the area, we moved the machine to the canyon rim to start the road down to the Christine Marie claim. My brother’s friend took one look at the job and said to me "Not me. Not with that machine. It’s too dangerous."
            The following year I started working on the road myself with the D-4 dozer. It was a good thing I was ignorant and did not know what I was doing or I never would have done it. It took me two years working about one month each year to build a road barely passable with a four wheel drive vehicle down to the deposits on the Christine Marie claim. I followed the old dozer cut down the canyon creating switchbacks and lessening the steepness of the cut where possible. Once past the cliff, I constructed and entirely new road below the slide rather than follow the old route across it. Some days, because of the steepness of the terrain, limitations of the machine, and roughness of the road, only about 10 yards of road were completed.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to come back three years after I decided to build the road myself with the possibility of swinging my hammer into some rock containing jasper.