Friday, July 29, 2011

Roads: Driving the Scout to the Christine Marie

The scout is parked in the center next to the cabin, covered in snow.
 It became apparent to me while working on the switchbacks that I would never be able to construct them with enough of a radius to accommodate my truck. Even with enough room to back up a few feet there was not enough room for my truck to get around several of the switchbacks. I had to find another vehicle with a smaller turning radius to go up and down from the cabins to the Christine Marie Mine.
I found an old four-wheel drive International Scout with large tires that had been used for snow plowing. It had a few problems (it was so rusted that a piece or two would fall off every mile or so), but had a good V-8 engine. I towed the Scout to the mine and used it to drive from the cabins down to the mine. Even when the road was in its best condition, on the trip down and up I encountered all of the following. 
A view of the mine from the dozer.
In the beginning, the drive down after going over the edge is easy but steep. The first four switchbacks have been improved slowly for many years and are passable even with my truck. The approach to the third switchback is very steep and rocky and this switchback’s turn is tight but possible. The fourth switchback turns into the “Big Hole”/Jake’s Place mine. The fifth switchback turns out of the Jake’s Place mine and is on level ground compared to all the other switchbacks. 

The next section of the road down the canyon between the fifth and sixth switchbacks is the steepest. The sixth switchback on the lower end is not big enough to make the turn without backing up once, even with the Scout. This switchback is level so other than backing up once, it is not a problem. The seventh switchback is up against a cliff and is very steep. You cannot stop on this turn going down or up. This turn could be made with the Scout if you were careful to be as far left as you could before you turned down to the right. This was a little scary because the drop off to the left of the road after the right turn was severe.
Notice the steepness of the switchbacks.
The eighth switchback is tight but level and like the sixth switchback required one back up to get around it. Sometimes on the way down it was possible to make the turn if you hit the turn just right. The rest of the road goes around the cliff, down across the rock slide from the mine above, and down into the next canyon on the Christine Marie. The rest of the road has three steep places but no more switchbacks.
Driving the Scout up to the cabins is an adventure every time you do it. First you must go up at the proper speed – fast enough to provide the best traction and not so fast as to encourage spin-outs. Approaching the eighth switchback you must stay as close to the drop off on the left as you can and turn right directly into the cliff and stop. This will leave the vehicle slightly uphill. You then either let the Scout roll back, turning hard to the left aligning the vehicle to the next uphill stretch, or put it in reverse and slowly back up to the edge of the cliff. Once in this position you can get a running start on the next stretch and switchback number seven. It is important to get good speed on this section because you cannot stop on switchback seven. If you do stop on switchback seven it is very hard to get going forward again, and it may be necessary to back down to switchback eight and try again. The Scout must be driven fast enough to slide the back wheels around the corner.
Gene working at the mine.

The next stretch up to switchback six is not as steep and travel to it is easy.  At switchback six you must stop, back up, and get lined up for the longest and steepest assent on the road. Enough speed is necessary to achieve the momentum necessary to keep from spinning out before you get to the top of this stretch and enter the Jake’s Place mine. The only other spot that can cause problems is the steep area past switchback three. Because you have to slow your speed around the turn, the steep rocky part can easily cause the tires to spin aimlessly after you get around the corner.

One time I decided to check the odometer on several of my trips up and down the canyon. Each time the odometer read ¾ of a mile from the cabins to the mine and 1 mile from the mine to the cabins. The ¼ mile difference is the amount of traction-less tire spinning necessary to get up the steep road to the cabin!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Roads: The Broken Oil Pan

The dozer rests from a hard day of road building.
             Building the road down the canyon to the Christine Marie claim following the old cat track took me two years -- or two mining seasons (about 2 months). It could have been done faster but I was ignorant and inexperienced both with the intricacies of running my new-old D-4 dozer and working on such steep terrain.
            Making the switchbacks was difficult because of the amount of material necessary to push out of the rock slides to make a turn wide enough for a vehicle. In some cases there just wasn't enough rock available to create a smooth turn.
Notice the only level road at Morrisonite running down the cliff on the left.
             On one descending stretch between switchbacks I saw the opportunity to lessen the steepness of the descent by extending the length of the section and making the next switchback up against the cliff on the far side. I started pushing rock onto the old cut slowly raising the new road above the old one. I was encountering many large rocks and moved the Dozer over one that just happened to fit snugly between the tracks of the machine. Beyond it the ground was softer and the Dozer slipped down allowing the rock underneath to crush the oil pan which promptly drained its contents.
            Agate and Jasper mining is financially risky in the extreme. There is no way to measure or predetermine the quality (value) of the material before it is extracted. A gold deposit can be measured and essayed to estimate the value that could be produced. This value can be compared with the estimated cost of mining and a profit projected. This is not possible with an agate or jasper deposit. For this reason most agate and jasper mining operations are conducted with minimal investment and lots of ingenuity, persistence, and the necessity to solve problems with what you have.
            The dozer was tilted downward about 25 degrees -- the slope of the road. The left track was against the rock slide and the blade had a pile of rock in front of it. The whole machine was in kind of a hole with big rocks behind it that I had just traveled over. There was no access to the undercarriage.
Two of the switchbacks on the new road.
            Jake was working a few switchbacks above me so I walked up to consult with him. After looking over the situation he wryly suggested I could hire a helicopter to lift the dozer out of the hole and put it up on top where I could work on it!
            I have always been amazed and comforted by Jake's ability to suggest multiple solutions to any mining problem. He approaches mining problems with optimism, enthusiasm, and the widest range of possibility. Many times ridiculous or impractical solutions clarify what needs to be done and moves the mind away from a negative situation to a more positive direction.
            I dug out the Dozer with a pick and shovel until I could crawl under it. I then carried my tools down from the cabin (600 ft. above) and removed the oil pan. I carried it up to the cabins, cleaned it, and JB-welded it together. Once the epoxy was set, I reinstalled it, put in new oil, got the machine running, and went back to work on the road (about a three day process altogether).
            A quick note on mining supplies: duct tape, wire, JB weld, and some rubber -- which in my case is old inner tube, because you never know when you might need to make a new seal -- should always be close by. 
The dozer rests in Old Boot Dig on the Christine Marie mine for lunch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: The Demise of Jake's Rat

Click to enlarge to see Jake's cabin on the ridge.

In a previous blog, "the peanut butter jar," I referred to a rat that lived with Jake in his cabin. This was an old rat, wise to the threat of man, elusive, and an avid collector of things lying around the cabin. This rat caused Jake considerable grief, and he expressed to me several times that if he ever had the chance he was going to put a bullet in him.
            Not only do rats cause loss of sleep and disappearance of small objects but they have a particular smell that is not pleasant. The phrase, "I smell a rat," which refers usually to an unforeseen danger or problem, comes from the experience of living in the presence of rats. Any one who learns this smell will instantly recognize it the rest of their life.
            This rat had been living in the west wall of Jake's cabin for a long time. We did not know this at the time. Jake also slept on this side of the cabin towards the front. The rat smell was always present.
As if to say, "Jake, don't shoot! I'm no rat!"
            Jake kept a hand gun with 22 long rifle hollow point ammunition in the cabin. This ammo can do a lot of damage. One evening the opportunity arrived when Jake saw a small movement in his peripheral vision. His gun was close by so he grabbed it and waited.  He saw the rat move away from where it was hiding and fired. The hollow point projectile entered the rat’s rear end and literally turned the rat inside out leaving entrails hanging from the beams overhead in the back of the cabin. This rat was not going to steal any more of Jake’s custom knife handles, special rocks, or utensils laying around the cabin.
             After the bullet exited the rat, it ricocheted into a small cardboard box nearby. This box contained blasting caps used to detonate explosives. Why the bullet penetrated the cardboard but did not cause the blasting caps to explode is a matter of divine providence or dumb luck. The bullet was lying in the box next to the dangerous long slender silver blasting caps as if it belonged there.
            I asked Jake about the rat parts hanging from the beams in the back of the cabin. He said he left them there.
The gang's all here. Notice Jake's cabin in the background.