Bob here. Welcome back to my Corner.
Today, I want to share a little about the workings of a hard-rock gold mine at the end of the 19th century.
In the Cripple Creek District, the mines were mostly vertical shafts, blasted through solid granite. In a previous post, Headframes and Hoists, I explained that this had to do with the need to not trespass on another person’s claim. Folks were touchy about that.
Blasting a hole through rock requires a drill and explosives. The drill in this era was powered by steam, delivered through a cloth and rubber hose from the surface. Not a major feat when at or near the surface, but mighty noisy and claustrophobic as the shaft made its way down. And way down is where these shafts went. Some of the mines could reach 1500 feet.
As the depth increased, there were horizontal shafts cut to follow veins of gold-bearing ore. Each was carefully surveyed and monitored to avoid any encroachment of the surface measured claim. The court system at the time was glutted with accusations of trespassing, keeping a cadre of lawyers busy with suits and countersuits.
About this time, you’re wondering how people got down into those holes to work, and how the ore got to the surface. Well, in the video titled “Mine Elevator,” you’ll see an example of a typical elevator of the time. This car would have been suspended by cable from the headframe, attached to the machinery we discussed in the earlier post, Headframes and Hoists. Each car pictured would hold six men, and these cars were stacked so that a team of twelve would be inserted into the shaft together. Six men over six men. In total darkness. Slowly lowered 1500 feet into the earth. Some of the larger mines would have a double spool cable rig that would balance the work by bringing up an equal size crew at the same time. That’s twenty-four men suspended by cable in a completely dark tunnel, jerking and bouncing against the guiderails, for fifteen minutes or so, twice per shift. My commute to work suddenly seems tame.
Once the men were in place with their drills and shovels, they would proceed to drill into the rock face. The Powder Monkeys would then step in, to place dynamite charges into the holes and light the fuses. Employee safety was always a consideration. When the fuses were lit, the men would be herded into one of the aforementioned side tunnels to keep them from being injured by exploding rock. This kept the incidence of open wounds down, but the concussion must have been brutal.
The muckers would then follow with shovels, placing the broken ore into wheelbarrows and ore cars. There was a miniature rail system within the larger mines that allowed these ore cars to be pushed to the vertical shaft. The ore cars were tipped into a bucket that was attached to the same cable that deposited the men into the mine. This is seen in the video titled Ore Bucket. These buckets were also stacked to get the most material out as possible with each trip. Overzealous bucket loaders were frowned upon. Any ore that was loaded over the top of the bucket edge would have found its way back down the shaft. The hardhats of the day would have been of little use against a five pound rock falling 1500 feet.
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