Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mi Sueño (My dream)

Agua Nueva Vein Agate from the Mi Sueño claim.
Once upon a time there was a Mexican cattle rancher named Rodolfo Quevedo who loved agates. He traveled to El Paso often and knew an agate dealer in El Paso named Richard Vaughn. Vaughn’s Lapidary was one of the dozen or so rock shops in El Paso in the 60’s and 70’s that brought rocks and minerals to the U.S. market. Mr. Quevedo hired some workers to mine a new agate he liked and brought it to Richard Vaughn’s rock shop in El Paso. Richard called me and said I should come and look at it. A meeting was arranged and I went to El Paso to see the new agate and meet Mr. Quevedo.

Hole in the ground where the Agua Nueva was mined.
The agate was fantastic. It was a vein agate with the purple, yellow, rose, and white banded tube formations over a gold toned moss. I made a deal with Rodolfo to buy all the production and arranged with Richard Vaughn to accept the agate from Rodolfo and send it to Wisconsin. Rodolfo told me the agate came from the Agua Nueva ranch.

The Gem Shop, Inc. introduced this agate in the 1974 Tucson Show and sold it for many years until it became unavailable. All that Rodolfo would tell me was that something happened on the ranch and there would be no more agate for at least 10 years.

Agua Nueva to be mined from the right side of the valley.
In the early 1990s I had the opportunity to visit the Coconut geode mine east of the town of Esperanza. The road from highway 45 to Esperanza goes right through the Agua Nueva Ranch. I asked my guide, if there was time, could we look at the place where the Agua Nueva agate came from years ago. We stopped at the ranch, got permission and directions after talking for over an hour and drove as close as we could to the deposit. The workers, years ago, had set up a camp along the river bed about half a mile away from the working. We walked up a side canyon to where the agate came from and looked around. All the diggings were on one side near the head of the canyon. Only hand digging had been done and there was no claim monument to be seen. The digging was not very extensive and I was certain there was a lot more agate in the ground. Again, I wondered why the production had stopped so abruptly years ago.

The erected monument.
After my unsuccessful attempt to mine Apache, I considered the possibility of mining the Agua Nueva agate. I checked and there was no claim on the area. I cannot own a claim in Mexico, myself, without a Mexican company. The approximate cost for forming a Mexican company at the time was about $6,000, and I looked for ways to do this with less financial risk. My friend, Don Burrow had moved to Aldama, Mexico some years earlier and formed a company called Agata Aldama. I asked him if his company would file and hold the claim for me if I paid all the expenses. He said sure, but it would be necessary for me to come to Aldama, Chihuahua and show them where it was. I flew to Chihuahua City and Javier, Don’s partner, and I bought the cement blocks and mortar, drove to the deposit, erected the monument, and established the claim, Mi Sueño, or My Dream. Now all I had to do was figure out how I was going to mine it!

Friday, April 6, 2012

My First Mining Venture in Mexico

The dozer on the ridge. Notice the claim monument on the right.
With the possibility of mining the Apache Agate in mind, I asked my friend, Brad Cross, to visit the deposit with me to get his ideas of where to work. Like Benny Fenn, Brad suggested working in the back to the west into the ridge from the main pit. Now all I needed was a machine.
                I thought about bringing my Case 850 front end loader down from Oregon but that would cost about $3,000- just to move it to the border. That money could just as well be put towards a machine that was closer.
                Much to my surprise, I found an old HD-9 front end loader in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and with Benny Fenn’s help, made arrangements to move it to Mexico. I moved my travel trailer to the ranch over the 27 miles of dirt roads and drove back to Casas Grandes to travel with the truck carrying the HD-9. The direct roads to the mine are impossible or a large truck carrying a heavy machine, so we went further south to Galleana and then back around on less hilly and straighter roads to the back side of the ranch. We unloaded the machine about 4 miles from the deposit. From here it was necessary to drive the loader cross country to where I had my trailer parked at the edge of the mine. The route was not particularly difficult except for a sandy arroyo I had to get through. While backing up a steep sand hill on the far side of the arroyo the motor stalled and the loader would not restart.
The dozer and ridge before beginning mining.
So, there I was, broken down in an arroyo one mile from the nearest dirt road, 30 miles from the nearest paved road, in a foreign country where I only knew a few words of Spanish. In the United States to get a mechanic to come to you is not easy and to have a mechanic drive 30 miles on a dirt road then cross county on no road to fix your vehicle is next to impossible; but not in Mexico. Mechanics in Mexico have the reputation of being able to fix anything and soon bolts were flying off the machine like rain. Still the young mechanic could not determine why the engine would not turn. He told me he was going back to town to get his father. The next day the old man got out of an old pick up truck, sat down in the sand 10 yards from the machine and asked his son, who lay under the machine with his hands up inside the guts of the engine, several questions. In 5 minutes he figured out what was wrong, never touching a wrench. A sleeve bearing on the side of the crankshaft has slipped and jammed, not allowing the engine to turn. Another day and it was fixed and put back together. Two mechanics, 3 days, a few parts, driving 40 miles (about 2.5 hours) each way, and the bill was??? The mechanic wanted $150 for the whole job. I gave him $400 and we were both very happy.
                I worked into the back wall of the deposit, as suggested, but found nothing. I had to be very careful of not getting to close to the original pit because it was filled with wet mud under a relatively dry surface. It was difficult to tell where it was soft and where it was not. I did get stuck once and had to dig the machine out by hand and put rocks under the tracks to get it out.
                I worked for three weeks with Rojellio, the ranch owner, helping me. I ran the loader about 6 hours a day, six days a week, and only came up with a small amount of agate. Unless the agate was concealed deeper, it did not continue into the ridge like Benny and Brad thought.
A beautiful specimen from the collection of Mike Ignatowski.
                With only one week left to work I decided to experiment and moved the loader to the far front of the old pit and started to dig several trenches to see what was there. After a day or so I hit some agate. Much to my surprise they were all very close together as if they were buried together in a pit. They had a very thin, bright red band of agate around a clcite interior. None of them were worth keeping. The pod, or group, of agates was about 700 pounds in size with individual agates from 1- 25 pounds each. I started another trench not too far away and hir another pod of agate. This pod held about 500 pounds of acceptable agate, although it did not have the same pattern that the agate from the original pit had. At least I had something to bring back.
                My first mining operation in Mexico was a complete disaster. The expense and effort far exceeded the value of the production, but I was still optimistic about future operations in Mexico after actually doing it once.