Friday, September 30, 2011

Mining the Christine Marie: My Second Machine

 My friend Jake leased on the “Big Hole” claim from Lissa Caldwell. She was the wife of Tom Caldwell who worked the claim in the middle 1970s. Tom owned the claim, and Lissa inherited it when he died. It was originally purchased by Tom’s father and given to Tom as encouragement for his mining activities. Tom was known as a very good agate miner and was hired by other claim owners to work their claims.

Before Tom Caldwell decided to try mining Morrisonite, most of the mining had been done by hand. The lay of the deposit on the Big Hole Claim – later renamed “Jake’s Place” – on the precarious hillside was pretty well known because of all the previous hand work. Tom decided to ask Jake to help him get started and open up the deposit so that it could be mined more efficiently. Tom owned a CAT 955 track frontend loader, and Jake owned a Case 850 frontend loader. They moved both machines, a compressor, drill, and explosives out to the saddle above the deposit and set to work. They built the two still existing cabins in 1976 on the saddle so they would be safe from vicious weather which came across the ridge.

Jake and Tom drilled 12 foot holes with Tom’s 80 pound hand-held sinker drill, filled the holes with explosives, and broke up the rock. They then used both frontend loaders to push the barren rock over the edge as they worked down the side of the steep hill towards the deposit. They did this over and over for about three weeks without getting any jasper. About this time Jake moved back to mine Bruneau where he knew he could produce rock he could sell easily.

The area that Tom and Jake exposed is known as the “South Pit.” This area produced some very fine jasper. Some pieces from this area have gone to the grave with their owners at their request. A piece from the South Pit, now in a private collection, was featured in our 2008 Calendar of Fine Agates & Jaspers during the month of October. Most of the jasper in the Morrisonite area is found in shattered or cracked rock, in or under steep rock slides. One time Tom was working in the South Pit with his 980 frontend loader, and a rock slide buried his machine with him in it. He dug himself and his machine out by hand and got his machine up 600 feet, back on the saddle. Tom did not mine much Morrisonite after that.

The South Pit is now buried under about 20 feet of overburden which was mined from the North Pit on the Big Hole/ Jake's Place Claim and Veronica Lee Claim in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Tom’s drill was found years later rusted and frozen up. It was put in a container with oil for a year in an attempt to salvage it. After it was working again, I took it to Mexico where it has become responsible for most of the Coyamito Agate in the market today – there is not a deposit on the Coyamito ranch that does not have holes made by this drill.

Tom’s frontend loader ended up in Herrington’s Rock Shop in Adrian, Oregon. Jake obtained the machine with a lease, performed some repairs on it, and moved it back to Morrisonite in 1986. Jake sold his Case 850 to Glenn Pegrem who used it on some of his claims north of Jordan Valley about 35 miles from the Morrisonite claims.

Jake watched me build the road to the Christine Marie for two years with my ancient D4 Dozer. He told me that I needed a better machine and said he knew where I could get one that would not cost too much. He introduced me to Glenn, and, one year and $8,000 later, I had a Case 850 frontend loader – my second machine. I returned it to the Morrisonite area, and it stayed there for eight years.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Christine Marie: My First Jasper

My First Christine Marie Morrisonite Specimen
I had a productive day working on the road with the dozer, and I was getting close to starting the last downhill stretch of the road. I walked the road back up to the cabins and made supper – a ½ mile and 600 foot climb. I was full of anticipation that I soon would be mining jasper. This was the middle of June, and the days were long. I walked over to Jake’s cabin told to him that I thought I would walk back down and inspect the area I intended to mine. I walked down the south canyon. This canyon contains the rock formation known as the pinnacle which is in the center of the Amy Ellen Claim above the south end of the Christine Marie Claim. The descent is steep from the top of the canyon, but it is a shorter distance than walking down the road, and there is a good game trail to follow.
The pinnacle (right) is on the opposite side of the photo from the Christine Marie mine (left).
                The area which had signs of good jasper is a strange mixture of very large rocks (5-10 tons each) and small shattered rocks (1/2-2lbs.). I could see that it would be necessary to route the road underneath the largest rock on the side of the hill. I would probably start working under the big rock. I saw a small piece of jasper sticking out of the ground. I picked it up and wiped off the dirt. The piece was loose and not attached to any larger rocks. It was part of a seam with a very dark blue – almost black – outside and a soft looking light blue “egg pattern” on the inside. It had a gemmy consistency and a beautiful pattern. I immediately started back up the canyon to show Jake.

The Pinnacle above the Christine Marie Claim.
After the steep climb out of the canyon, Jake and I sat in his cabin examining the rock. “You know,” Jake said, “there are two good sides to that rock, and there should be two more pieces of that seam down there.” And then, to my surprise, he said, “Let’s go down and take a look.” For the third time that day, down the canyon we went with about two hours of light left in the sky. I had not marked the spot where I found the jasper, but I felt sure I could get right back to that spot.

We walked all over the side of the hill, but could not find another piece of jasper like the one I found earlier. We climbed back up to the cabins and arrived with just a glow left in the western sky. In the next eight years of mining this area, I never found another piece of this vein.
The Christine Marie Mine at its most dug.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roads: Going Over the Edge

 The rock ridge that extends out towards the Owyhee River from the Jake’s Place mine becomes a vertical cliff before it meets the talus rock slope below. This is the first place that I could move the route of the road out of this canyon and onto the rock slide between this canyon and the next. After the nine switchbacks down the canyon, the road had to go past the base of the cliff, across the rock slide between the two canyons, and down into the next canyon. The area that contains the best jasper on the Christine Marie Claim is in the slide between the next canyon and the one after that -- on the southern portion of the claim.

                I had just finished building switchback number nine and was looking down towards the cliff that I had to go around. It looked like I had one more, steep slope down. Then I could lessen the slope of the road and even build it level to the horizon for a while. The rest of the road would be a downhill route around the sides of hills to the south end of the Christine Marie. There would be no more switchbacks.

I was having a lot of trouble building the road around the corner at the bottom of the cliff. There was not a lot of rock to work with and not much room to move it either. I had to angle the road down again to get past the lower end of the loose rock slide created from the mining above. I was in a bunch of big rocks when I got stuck with the dozer almost sideways on the road. I could not move backwards and the only way forward was down over the slide and down the slope.

                Rationalizations for actions in dangerous situations are easily colored by desires that do not reflect reality. I remember thinking that I could just drive the dozer down the slope and start working on the road from the other direction. Never mind that ten tons of steel goes down a slope with a great deal of speed, that the machine could roll over easily killing me in the process, or that operating the dozer on a 60 degree slope might be a little different than operating on flat ground. But the road had to be built.

                I went over the side. I lost all control. I grabbed the right clutch to straighten the machine out as I felt it slide and immediately grabbed the left clutch as I started to slide the other way. With my right hand free I slammed the hydraulic control forward lowering the blade. Rock collected in front of the blade and stopped the machine upright facing straight down the hill. The ride lasted about four seconds.

I sat down on a rock for about 10 minutes with my whole body shaking. I had survived the catastrophe which resulted from a very rash decision.

I walked up to where Jake was working and told him what had happened. The next day he brought his front-end loader down, continued construction on the road down past where I went over to the side and built a spur road over to, and just under, my dozer. I started the dozer, drove it onto the spur road and up to the main road. Getting back on the machine was one of the hardest things I have ever done.