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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : features July 23, 2016

2/21/2012 1:13:00 PM
A Day in the Life of a Hard Rock Miner
Exhibit open through April at Clarkdale Museum
VVN/Philip WrightRich Skovlin, retired chemist and member of the Clarkdale Historical Society, has set up an in-depth exhibit, A Day in the Life of a Hard Rock Miner, in the Clarkdale Museum at 900 First North St. in Clarkdale.
VVN/Philip Wright

Rich Skovlin, retired chemist and member of the Clarkdale Historical Society, has set up an in-depth exhibit, A Day in the Life of a Hard Rock Miner, in the Clarkdale Museum at 900 First North St. in Clarkdale.
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Philip Wright
Staff Reporter

Around the Verde Valley – especially Jerome and Clarkdale – much is known about the history of copper mining. We know about the rise and fall of the great copper mines and the boom and bust cycles of the mining and smelter towns. We also know that these histories were always tied directly to the value of the ore.

But what is often overlooked when these histories are told is that the copper fortunes and the mining towns would not have existed without the steel hammers, dynamite and mucking shovels of the hard rock miners who extracted the ore.

“A Day in the Life of a Hard Rock Miner” is an exhibit now open at the Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum at 900 First North St. in Clarkdale. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Society member Rich Skovlin, a retired chemist, assembled the exhibit, which will remain on display at least through the end of April.

Skovlin has put together a collection of artifacts along with interpretive explanations that bring to life what it was like for those men who went into those mines each day. Along with a few special exhibits, he presents the story of what the hard rock miners took to work, how they got to work and what they did at work.

“I mine artifacts,” Skovlin said. It is his avocation. “I’ve found them, I’ve traded them and I’ve purchased them.

“My goal is to bring artifacts that represent a miner’s life or history that have been disseminated, to bring them back into a collection so they can be interpreted,” he said.

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A Day in the Life Continued
He said he then donates most of the artifacts to museums, such as the Douglas Mansion in Jerome. He has given collections of artifacts to museums and state parks in Montana, Wyoming and Arizona.

“I don’t sell,” Skovlin said. “I give them away.”

He said he has given away about 85 percent of his artifacts. But this collection now on display at the Clarkdale Museum is one he intends to keep and show elsewhere.

It is through this display that visitors to the museum can learn about the hard rock miner’s day.

What they took to work was basic to what they did at work.

Exhibit signs explain that until the mid 1930s there were no hard hats. “Miners usually wore wool felt hats. Before 1910 almost all lighting of the workplace was by candle.”

Those candles were worn in holders on the miners’ hats. The miners had to provide their own candles, so before 1900, many made their own out of tallow.

Before 1901, when the United Verde miners won an eight-hour shift, most miners worked 10- to 12- hour shifts and might use three candles.

After 1910 the carbide lamp became widely used by miners.

“Another item that miners could not do without was their lunch bucket,” Skovlin explains. “Most lunch buckets before 1915 had three compartments. The lower space was for water, tea or coffee. The middle tray was for the main meal and the top tray was for a biscuit or desert of some kind.”

The miners’ day actually began when they arrived at the change house. Here, they changed from street wear into work clothes. They would end their day back at the change house where they showered before heading home. The change house in the United Verde Mine was constructed for 1,500 workers.

The exhibit tells that after changing and checking in, “The miners boarded a standard gauge enclosed railroad car, each holding 26 men for the 1,600-foot ride into the mountain to the collar of #6 shaft. The 3,000-foot deep shaft used for transporting men and supplies contained a double-decker elevator for transporting 100 miners down to their work level.”

Once at his work level, the miner would meet with his shift boss or level boss on various work matters. Skovlin explains, “The subjects could be messages from the last shift (mucking crew), assay results from the last adit advance prompting a visit at the drilling face by the mine geologist to mark where to drill next.”

Skovlin says the miner’s chief job was drilling, blasting and timbering. The first step was to drill into the hard rock so that dynamite could be tamped into the rock. A series of holes were drilled in a specific pattern for maximum breakage of ore.

Using dynamite and fuses with blasting caps, the miner placed the first sticks of the explosive into the holes. More sticks of dynamite were loaded into each hole using a wooden tamping stick or spark-proof metal rod. Finally, paper-tamping bags filled with clay were inserted to seal the holes.

“You always used wood, never metal (for tamping dynamite),” Skovlin said. “You didn’t want any sparks around.”

Skovlin said that using fuses of different lengths allowed the miners to time the explosions to go off separately so they could be counted.

Because misfires were a miner’s nightmare, it was critical that a misfire be identified.

Following the blasting, the area around the blast had to be timbered to shore up the rock walls and ceiling so workers could muck the rock into ore cars to be hauled out of the mine.

“The cause of most injuries and deaths was falling rock,” Skovlin’s signs explain. “After a round of blasting the new roof that was created was unsupported. Before any work was done under that section of roof, it was “barred down,” with a heavy steel shaft with a chisel point to remove any loose rock before a timber set was installed.

“Mucking was a common term for shoveling the broken rock into ore cars and tramming them to the transport station for hoisting to the surface,” Skovlin’s exhibit explains.

One exhibit sign explains that, “Before around 1895 the ore cars were either hand trammed or pulled by mules.”

Skovlin explained that mules were tied and wrapped tightly before they were lowered into the mine, where they would spend the rest of their useful lives underground. He said the mules actually were well fed and well cared for because miners were more expendable than mules.

Skovlin’s exhibit tells that mucking crews were paid less than drilling and blasting crews, and timber crews were paid on a scale in between those two crews.

“The principal underground mining method used at the United Verde Mine was horizontal cut and fill stopping,” the exhibit explains. “This method required a firm ore body where drilling and blasting was done in horizontal slices and the broken ore is mucked into ore chutes that lead down to a haulage drift.”

Skovlin became interested in mining at the age of 15 when he and a high school buddy found a lost mine. He said that his friend’s father knew an old prospector. Before the prospector died, he revealed where his mine was located. That prospector was 80 years old when he died in 1953.

Skovlin and his friend found the location and shoveled away many years of rocks from the entrance.

“We found a portal,” Skovlin said. Inside were the old prospector’s tools, all of which had not been used in many years.

Skovlin earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon, and he went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry from California State at Sacramento.

He said that after college, his hobby was placer mining (surface or open-pit mining). “We’d go out on government land looking for gold nuggets,” he said.

“I got really interested in not only placer mining but also hard-rock mining,” he said.

It was through this avocation that Skovlin began collecting mining artifacts.

“I found a lot of artifacts,” he said.

Skovlin married Judith in 1965, and they had a daughter and son. He retired from IBM in 1996 after spending 27 years with the company. In his earliest years as a chemist, he worked for six years in California on ICBMs as a rocket propellant chemist.

He will give a presentation at the museum on Feb. 25 that will go into more depth about his exhibit. That talk will begin at 10 a.m.

On March 15 and 17 he will give the same talk at the Clark Memorial Library. The March 15 talk will begin at 10 a.m. and include a tour of the exhibit at the Clarkdale Museum. The March 17 talk will begin at 2 p.m. and will not include a tour.

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