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One of the most interesting things of the Mullan School Centennial celebration in August of 1989 was a tour, albeit a brief one, of the Lucky Friday mine, east of town. For many years the Morning Mine was the main source of income for the people. It started near the surface of a mountain on the north side of Mullan, and progressed downward to about the 4800 foot level, or maybe even deeper. The number Five tunnel near the top of the mountain was one start of the early diggings; a single lane road was cut into the hill, with switch backs, to reach it. The tunnel opening was still there a few years back when Betty and I and some others visited it. We didn't have hard hats or lamps, so we didn't go in. Besides it was blocked with a strong gate.
|Friends Leo Henikman and Eugene Scribner stand outside a prospector's tunnel, at a sixth grade picnic.|
There were other mines in the area, too, like the Hunter, the National, the and the Snowstorm, but they all "petered" out a long time ago and now even the Morning has been mined out and the mill dismantled. Some of these mines caved in later years leaving big glory holes in the mountain sides. Lucky Friday Mine, relatively new diggings, is the only active mine in Mullan. It was interesting to both Betty and me--to Betty because she had never been in a mine before, and to me because the mining techniques used now are so different then they were when I worked in them.
Our tour of the Lucky Friday started with miners strapping batteries to our waists and lights to hard hats which they insisted we wear. We were led into the elevator cage and lowered to the 5100 foot level (which placed us well under the sea level since Mullan is at about 3400 feet elevation. It was a rapid descent but a relatively clean, dry and smooth ride unlike what I expected from the olden days.
At the working level, we were shown safety precautions taken, muck cars pulled by diesel powered "motors", skip pockets, sloped tunnels leading to stopes where the mining was taking place and underground equipment repair stations. Some of the equipments were actually assembled at the station levels since they were too large to be brought down by the elevator. The powered units had catalytic converters to keep the air uncontaminated, and air movement in the tunnels showed us that a ventilation system was in operation. We returned to the surface, clean and dry. We didn't even need to dust off our clothes.
My father worked many years in the mines. I have a picture of him and his crew in working clothes, soft hats and carbide lamps outside the "dry" of the Morning Mine. When I started mine work to help pay for my schooling at the University, hard hats and safety toed shoes were required. The first summer, I had to use a carbide lamp attached to my hard hat. Every time I went past a whiz bang, my light would be blown out.
My father and his crew
Maybe I should do a little explaining. In the Lucky Friday mine, they appeared to have fresh air to the workers. In the Morning Mine, forty years ago, an air compressor east of town, provided high (?) pressure air to operate the mining equipment and provide breathing air which was doled out through whiz bangs (nozzles) with small orifices drilled in them. The whiz bangs, attached to air hoses, were directed toward the workers, which was a detriment to lighting when carbide lamps were used. When you were alone in the stopes and your lamp went out, you were in the black est darkness and didn't dare to move--you waited for someone to come find you. It helped when they provided us battery packs and head lamps. Electric lights were strung up in the stations and in the tunnels leading to the stopes, but not in the working areas.
The ore was in the stopes. In the Morning Mine the ore was in nearly vertical veins which ran east to west. A shaft was dug from the top station to about the 3800 foot level and from there another shaft was dug to about the 4800 foot level or so. Stations were cut at 200 foot levels and tunnels cut from the stations to the ore veins. The ore was taken out by drilling, blasting and mucking fioor by fioor from the lower level up to the next level. It was easier to mine upward and to drop the ore down to the ore cars. The veins were not exactly vertical so a hanging wall and a foot wall resulted. To insure the walls wouldn't try to meet each other, caps or big timbers were placed on posts between the walls and headings from three inch planks wedged in on both ends. When ore had been removed for several fioors up, doubling up caps would be placed in the fioor above the drift and fioored over. Then the miners drilled and blasted out waste pockets into the hanging wall and the waste rock was used to fill in where the ore had been.
The drift tunnel followed the ore vein and contained the rails for the battery powered motors and cars to travel on. The miners drilled holes into the face, tamped in powder with fuses and caps, and lit the fuses at the end of the shift. The next day the muckers moved in, dropped the ore into muck cars on the fioor below and cleaned the area so that the timbermen could put in a set of timbers. The muckers dumped the ore into small skip chutes and the motormen emptied the skips into bigger ore cars and hauled them to the station to be dumped into yet another skip pocket. From there the ore was pulled up to the main station and from there hauled out to the mill, crushed and washed. The heavier concentrate was taken to the smelter and the waste products washed into the river, which now is not allowed.
When the muckers were through with their work, they helped the timbermen and helpers setting the caps on posts. After the caps were in and heading put in, the space between the caps were covered with three inch thick lagging (five foot long planks of varying widths) to keep rock from falling down on the workmen, and to provide a fioor for mining the next level up. Each set would take out five feet of ore. The miners setup their bars for the liner or drilling machine and drilled holes into the face in such a manner that when blasted, the ore would be forced back from the face and away from the walls. It wasn't just a matter of drilling holes into the face--they had to be drilled in at specific angles. The holes would be filled with a specified amount of powder and fired in the proper sequence.
I had several different jobs. Since my dad was a shift boss, the foreman assigned me to work for him the first summer. You would think that I could take it easy with the boss being my father but I had to produce so that others couldn't say, "He can take it easy, his dad is boss." The fact is, no matter who was my boss in later sessions, I had to keep going so that a wrong report wouldn't get back to my dad.
My first years were as a mucker and I earned six dollars a day. I had to see that the ore got into the ore cars, and the areas were clean so timber sets could be put in. Once I filled three ore cars before lunch, using a square faced "uni-lever mucking machine" or shovel. I sat down to wait for the motormen to come remove the cars and to bring back empty ones. As I sat waiting, the foreman came by and asked how I was doing and I explained that I was waiting for the motorman to come by. He told me that the nine tons of ore in the cars I had just filled would pay my wages for the next five or ten years. He said he would see the motormen about getting me cars. A little later he came back and said the motormen had problems and that I should just find a clean lagging to sit on and wait. At quitting time I asked one of the motormen if he got his train back on the tracks. He said he never that problem that day, but he had ignored my cars because the foreman told him to. Two muckers always worked together in the stopes. One would drop the blasted ore into the car on the fioor below, and the other would tram it to an ore chute, and bring it back to be refilled. One day my partner was on the fioor above to fill the car and when I came back, he was gone--to the can or to find a cigarette or something. I filled cars and trammed them many times that day because the area had to be ready for the timbermen to put in their set. That evening as I was sitting in the station, really tired because of my double duty, the boss asked if the place was ready for the set to be put in. I said it was but not too good. He saw my partner hamming it up with others but didn't talk to him. The next morning he had us finish the clean-up of the area and later moved us to another area to clean up in preparation for doubling up caps. He had me work at one end of the stope and my partner at the other, about six sets away. When he came back before lunch, he looked at my efforts and said something about a good job and I heard him scream at my partner for his efforts. I was given a job as a timberman helper and my mucker partner didn't come back to work at our level again. After that I got six and a quarter dollars a day.
One year I worked in a cave-in area. The timberman was trying to catch up the cave, so he had me come help him and his partner to set up new timbers. He went above to lower the timber to us with an air hoist, and his partner and I were to put it in place. The timber came down and we signalled him to stop, which he did belatedly. When we signalled to hoist up he lowered it some more. We signalled hoist again, and he came down storming about inept helpers. He sent his partner to the hoist where he was supposed to be in the first place, and in about an hour, the timber was in place, almost. He sat on a butt cap in front of the whiz bang, and directed me on how he wanted the cap, the position of the cable hook-up, and its level since it was being placed on the caved muck instead of posts. When he was satisfied, I threw a lagging from it to the existing set and he asked me to spike it in. Since my tools consisted of a shovel, sledge and a pick, I said I couldn't. He started yelling and, still sitting in front of the whiz bang, said that if I was so lazy, just tell him, and he would do it. I told him, in anger, where to go and I went back to my task of breaking a big boulder with a sledge hammer. It wouldn't break, adding to my frustrations. Near quitting time, a miner came by on his way to the station, saw my frustration, and then took a few light taps with my sledge and shattered the rock. He said I was trying too hard. "Just a few light taps." He should have added, "in the right places."
A few days after the episode with the timberman, I went fishing with my parents, getting a Friday off. While we were in Montana on a forest road, ready to hike up to a lake, a friend came by in his car and said that there had been a big cave-in in my work area and the timberman had been killed. His partner had not been seriously hurt. Cave-ins happened occasionally, and precautions were taken to prevent them. When one occured, special methods were used to "catch" them.
Injuries were common in the mines. Before hard hats were required, my dad would often come home with a big bandage on his head as a result of a rock falling down on him. Even hard hats weren't always successful in warding off hurts. One time while I was helping set up for gobbing a mined-out stope, I got hit with a big rock while crossing a timberslide on a lagging. The harness inside my hat cut my scalp and when my partner heard me groan and saw blood on my face, he grabbed me so I wouldn't fall down to the drift, about fifty feet below. In the Lucky Friday they now imbed anchor bolts into the backs and walls of drifts and tie in steel wire netting similar to storm fencing to prevent rock from falling on the workers. In spite of all the precautions taken, though, workers still get hurt. Many years ago a friend working in the Morning Mine shaft, fell and as he was going by a station he hollered, "Good bye boys." He lived through it but lost a leg and had a big scar on his neck. He became a shoemaker, and I helped him quite often, to say thanks for the haircuts and for the rides to Butte and to Spokane. By the way, he had the first automatic shift Oldsmobile in Mullan, a year before they came out on the market. Injuries weren't the only mining problems--boils plagued the workers and I can remember my dad lancing and sucking out the cores of boils with a heated milk bottle. Infections were also common since the water in the stopes used for rinsing clothes and wetting down down the drillings and muck was not clean. Any cuts became infected unless a thorough washing was done in the dry, followed by a dousing with mercherochrome. Our drinking water wasn't too pure either nor was it chlorinated. It came down to the stations in wooden kegs with an open spigot and were placed on a rack in drift. To get a drinkf you tipped the barrel until water fiowed from the spigot. I think that the can was placed quite close to it also. Cockroaches were a problem too. Once I helped tear down a powder shed and when I lifted one of the fioor planks, the cockroaches were like a moving carpet. My dad told me to check my lunch pail closely when I left the dry--mother wouldn't appreciate cockroaches in her pantry. He spoke from experience.
I wasn't always a mucker or a timberman helper. Once I was a timber jerk. This job consisted of taking the timbers, caps, stringers, lagging and wedges dropped on the station by the cager, and hauling them to the drifts where the timbermen could get to them. The timbers would be taken to the stopes, and raised to the work level with air hoists through the timber slides. Ladders were installed in the slides so the workmen could climb to their working area. Getting the timbers on the timber trucks wasn't easy, but the timber jerks learned some laws of physics and got the job done. Timbers weren't the only items handled--the drills, axes, saws, pickaroons (one tine of a pick cut off so it could be used as a pick, hammer and timber hook), shovels and spikes and the blasting powder also had to be taken care of. An interesting thing about the dynamite was the way the cager would throw the boxes onto the station fioor. They didn't fear an explosion--however, the blasting caps and fuses were always handled in a separate load, and kept away the from boxes.
Since I was taking Engineering in school, the mining engineer picked me to help in surveying in the tunnels. It was more fun than using the shovel., As a junior mining engineer, I also helped surveying in the Day Mining Company properties, both underground and surface. In the mine survey, we once had to connect tunnels of two mines together, and to my surprise, it worked almost perfectly! The surface survey meant climbing to tops of mountains in the area to tie in mining claims. One day we were able to sight in two deer with our 30-06 instead of the transit, and ended our deer hunting for the year. I told our boss about it, saying that we shouldn't be paid for the day, but he said he would have done the same thing and considered that we were ahead of schedule in our survey. I mentioned that the Lucky Friday shaft ride was smooth and relatively clean. The shaft was lined with a re-inforced concrete and I suppose it had steel guides. Not so in the Morning Mine. The shaft was lined with timbers to prevent rock from falling down, and guides for the cages and skip buckets were made from straight grained fir timbers about six inches square. The elevator cables were attached to spring loaded brackets on the cages or skip buckets that had geared arms at their ends that rode on either side of the guide timbers. When the weight of the cages or buckets was on the cables, the geared arms would be clear of the guides. If the cable broke for any reason or the cages held up to install the skip buckets, the gears would close in on the guides, preventing the cage or skip bucket from falling down the shaft. Once when I was a freshman at the University, this system didn't work and about ten men fell to their death--the main reason was probably because of the several thousand feet of cable that fell on top of the cage, crushing it. The cables were made up of about quarter inch cables woven into five or six inch wide belts. In my fathers later years of work, he sewed or wove the cables used in the Morning Mine. Cables would be removed from the hoist periodically and carefully inspected for fiaws, broken strands and wear.
The Morning cages were double deckers, each deck holding up to ten men. The shaft was not dry and warm water kept dripping on the "boys" in the elevator car. I heard once that a shift boss in the upper deck had called down to those on the lower deck, "Look out below boys, I'm going the pees'." He was a Finlander with an accent and his remark caused a stir in the lower deck.
Trains were used for transportation in and out of the mines. The cars were like two benches put together on fiat cars, and pulled with an electric motor powered from an overhead cable similar to olden day street cars. The benches were about two feet apart and the miners would sit facing each other with their legs meshed together--sort of reminded me of a zipper. Most of the guys would put on dry clothes before getting in the cars, but some stayed in their work clothes, getting me wet and cold all over again. The cold ride into and out of the mine was two miles long with one bend and a siding in the middle to permit the passing of two trains. It bothered me to see a bend in the middle but I found out that a woman had a mining claim in the area, and the tunnel had to clear the claim. When going out of the mine after the day's work, you could look forward and see a pinpoint of light which grew as we approached the portal. Incidently, we were paid for time from portal to portal. That meant that actual labor wasn't eight hours long. It took almost an hour to get to our work level, and an hour to get out again.
Our work day started and ended in the dry, which was both a shower room and a clothes drying room. It was kept warm and most of us would lay our wet work clothes at our feet while we took our shower. After wringing out the clothes, we would hook them and pull them up to the ceiling where they would dry overnight. It wasn't easy getting into them the next day, because they would be as stiff as boards and were still gritty even after a careful rinsing the day before.
Working in the mines was interesting, and I'm glad I had the experience, but I hoped that I'd never have to work in them again, especially because of the stiff work clothes in the dry. Our tour of the Lucky Friday was nice, but even with all the new inovations, and better safety conditions, I'm glad that I was hired into Civil Service and worked in the Shipyard and the Torpedo Station.