Posts Tagged: Gold Mining

Bob’s Corner: Mining with a Steam Shovel

Bob Glen Eyrie

Howdy, and welcome back to Bob’s Corner!

Today, I thought we’d talk about another type of ore removal. Since a gold mine is normally thought of as a below-the-surface operation, we tend to think of mineshafts, elevators, and total darkness.

In reality, Cripple Creek District gold is just as likely to be found in surface material. Or, at least material that is easily collected at or near the surface. In Cripple Creek, the famous Molly Kathleen Mine, still in operation as a tourist attraction, began with a lump of Quartz found on the surface.

A lady named (are you ready for this?) Molly Kathleen Gortner went in search of the herd of elk her son had talked about. Stopping to rest, she looked at her feet and saw the rock. She knew enough about mining that if you found a piece of quartz that had shiny veins of gold running through it, you pick it up and stake a claim. She did, and soon became the richest woman in town.

The video shows a steam shovel (or bucket, depending on where you’re from) that was a tremendous improvement over backbreaking pick and shovel work of those early days in the 1890’s. It could be driven up to a hillside, and one person could move tons of material in no time. The equipment in the video is actually parked near the entrance to the Molly Kathleen Mine. From the looks of things, this steam shovel will still be there when you visit.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jQr4azp0qk&w=560&h=315]

 

The active mines in the area to this day have resorted to this Open Pit type of mining. There is no danger of cave-in or elevator malfunction. Modern techniques consist primarily of explosives to blast sections of rock, then mechanical shovels to load it into trucks that haul it to a crushing mill. It may take tons of ore to produce ounces of gold, but this keeps the expense down so the mine can actually be profitable.

What aspect of mining most fascinates you?

Bob’s Corner: Mine Elevators and Ore Cars

Glen Eyrie Bob

Bob Hodgson

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.

Headframe

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQJI4CTy-JA&w=420&h=315]

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.

Typical ore cars

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WgnBOfyFng&w=420&h=315]

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Bob’s Corner: Headframes and Cable Hoist

Bob’s Corner Glen Eyrie Bob

The pursuit of riches drew tens of thousands of colorful characters to Cripple Creek in the 1890s. The boom town provided me a canvas on which to draw my stories in The Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series.

Good news! My hubby Bob agreed to flesh out the workings of a gold mining camp in that era for us. Headframes and Cable Hoists is the first in the series of articles and videos by Bob.

AND NOW, BOB’S CORNER . . .

With a nod to Bullwinkle J. Moose, and his Bullwinkle’s Corner, I have agreed to share what I know about mining in the 1890’s with Mona’s readers. My hope is that I don’t come across as Mr. Know-It-All. (Another of Bullwinkle’s famous characters)

Today’s subject is the most visible part of hard-rock mining–the headframe and cable hoist.

When you drive through Cripple Creek, the first thing you notice on all of the hillsides are the piles of rock, looking like giant gopher holes. They are, indeed, circling holes that are dug straight down into the solid rock. A mining claim protected the owner from anyone encroaching on their ore. The claim was described as a certain surface area and down, literally to the center of the earth. If you had any hope of keeping any of the gold you recovered, you had to stay within your surface measured area.

Lawyers were kept busy protecting the claims from anyone cutting across underground and into your claim. It’s hard to believe, but a lawyer was a good thing at a time when Sam Colt’s famous invention was a more popular deterrent.

Which brings us to the headframe. In order to get men and equipment into the mine, they had to be lowered by cable. Likewise, any ore had to be lifted up and out. And some of the mines in the Cripple Creek District were more than 1000 feet deep.

Two styles of Headframe. The one in the foreground also has a cable hoist. Notice the spoked pulley at the top.

A steel structure was built over the opening, with a pulley at the top. The headframe was built tall enough to lift any elevators or ore buckets clear of the mine, and sometimes enough that a train could pull through, depositing the ore directly into the cars.

At one time, every one of the holes I mentioned had a headframe. If a mine failed to produce, the headframe was moved to the next hole. No effort was made to fill in the holes, so a night-time stroll on the hillsides is not recommended.

A cable was strung over the pulley, and down the shaft of the mine. This took a lot of cable, so it would be wound around the spool of a cable hoist. The cable hoist could be powered by electricity or steam at the time, but steam was a more reliable source of power. It would be extremely disconcerting if the local generator went out when you were at the bottom, or for that matter, anywhere along the way. More on the elevator situation in a later post.

In the video, you will see a steam cable hoist, with a description of it’s basic workings. Also, in the video, I refer to the ore buckets and elevators, and I promise I will show them to you next time. I felt it was more sensible to start at the top.

Click here for video.

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